AMATEURS GUIDE TO PHOTOGRAPHY: HOW TO EDIT PHOTOS

Our photography roadtrip out to the Royal National Park and the Cronulla Sand Dunes was done to the soundtrack of vintage Kpop and Jpop and a burst of Hamilton (cheers Andrew!), while finishing job applications on my laptop, which gives you some idea of the weird hybrid life I've been leading for at least half a year. But the apps are submitted (into the voiiiiid as usual), the photos are shot and I'm here to talk about editing photos at last (make sure you've read Part 1 and Part 2 of this guide first)

But first, let's talk about the awesomeness of Cathy being willing to lie on rock for a solid ten minutes while I sprawled awkward under a rock ledge with my butt in the air and elbows digging in the rock, murmuring things like 'just move up a little---wait too much, back down, okay turn your head to the side by 2 degrees, wait too much, back a little......'. 

After bush-bashing our way across a lake to the Cronulla Sand Dunes in time for golden hour, the place seemed like something from an alien landscape and a perfect place to get Cathy to twirl around in her extremely photogenic white skirt and pour sand in front of her face. Just beware going barefoot in winter- your feet will freeze.  


Disclaimer: I am largely self-taught photographer and these are general tips gleaned from personal experience, not expert opinions. Always happy to learn more - leave me a comment if you have things to add!  

The one thing I would say to anyone interested in photography is that they really should edit their photos - that's really the one thing that tends to separate a 'photographer' from a 'person with a camera'. Editing in photography is how you distinguish your photo from another person's, and is how the same photo can look vastly different when edited by different people. 

Speaking as a person who used Photoshop for years, use Lightroom if you can - it speeds up the process so much. I still use Photoshop for close edits of portraits because it's more precise but Lightroom is great for everything else. If you're just starting out, phone apps like VSCOCAM, Snapseed or Darkroom, or FireAlpaca for dekstop are awesome. Functionality will be more limited for phone apps as you can't create your own filters, but don't let that stop you!

It's difficult to teach photo editing since everything is a matter of taste and essentially boils down to 'just play with the dials until you're happy'. My taste leans towards towards slightly desaturated, monochromatic and 'natural' colours, and I like to play up the reds and warm tones in my photos. Things I personally dislike will be referred to as 'Beware' notes. 

  • Beware: The HDR trifecta. HDR in itself is a problem about 95% of the time but when you get too enthusiastic about the trifecta (saturation, contrast, clarity), your photos may as well be HDR without
     
  • Beware: The Retro/Faded cliche. I used to be a victim of this too but it's pretty played out and rarely looks good - you really kind of need the slightly uneven image quality of film or it just looks like you've layered something over a crisp digital image. Also please don't overlay 'grainy/old film' textures unless you really know what you're doing. The 'Instagram faded grey' look is also a bit of a cliche at this point and dying out a little in favour of deep blacks that give your photos much more dynamism and depth.
     
  • Settings you should explore: temperature/tint/white balance (make sure your photo isn't too yellow or too cool), curves (a more intuitive way to adjust brightness/contrast) and hue/saturation/selective colour. This is where you can really start exploring your 'style' - do you like your reds more orange? Do you like really aqua blues? You can change all that here. 
     
  • Sometimes photos only need light editing but you should still edit: Ideally, you actually want to avoid adjusting as many settings as possible because it suggests you got it right from the start - but photos will always look better with a little editing than no editing. 
     
  • Save your edited settings as filters to save time! You can do this on Lightroom (it's also faster sometimes to 'Sync Settings' than save 1928402 versions of the same filter because you need to adjust to the lighting). You can create Actions on Photoshop.
     
  • Sharpen your images and straighten them - this is like dotting your i and crossing your t! My pet peeve is an image that isn't straight and/or is not tilted enough to look intentionally tilted.
     
  • Use the transform function: If you've shot something that's slightly off to the side, you can tilt along the X or Y axis to make the image look more front-on (but don't overdo it and be aware there may be some distortion or loss of image quality).  
     
  • Avoid background competition: By this I mean any bright colours in the background, any weird shapes that might distract the viewer from seeing the main subject of your photos. This is also why I don't like shooting graffiti tunnels - with too many clashing colours vying for your attention, the photo can easily look chaotic. Either edit them out using the clone tool or desaturate them so they're not noticeable. 
     
  • Don't burn your highlights: I'm still guilty of this occasionally but if you overexpose too much, you may lose information in the highlighted parts of your photo. This mostly depends on getting your exposure right when shooting.  

Some before/after examples above - I concentrated mostly on editing out and desaturating the blues, and bringing out the warm tones