Woman holding a camera by Ammentorp, 123RF
Clicking on the shutter is the first step in creating a great photograph. The finishing step that turns an average photo into a professional photo comes during the editing process. In a time where countless images meet our eyes every day, it’s essential to take photos that stand out.
Most, if not all, professionally taken photos on the internet have been digitally altered. It could be minor alterations like tweaking the exposure or a more dramatic edit like distorting elements within the photo. If you’ve never edited your photos, you now know why even your best shots look nothing close to the images of your favorite photographers’ work.
In this article, you’ll learn how to turn your average joe photos into professional photographs in 8 simple editing tips.
1. Find your personal style
Girl photography under Neon lights by romablack, 123RF
We’ve all heard the phrase: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is also applied to every person’s preferred editing style. While some might like to shoot black and white for its timelessness, others prefer a modern take with harsher contrast and vibrancy. Eventually, they develop a distinct style that makes them them.
To develop your style, start by emulating the works of photographers and creators you admire. What seems to be the common theme? What is it about their work that inspires you? How does it influence your works of photography?
2. Master a photo editing program
Edit of a beach photo by eloisaconti, 123RF
Knowing an editing program's ins and outs is excellent for building confidence in a photographer. With the handy tools and numerous features of a good photo editing app or program, you can enhance, alter or transform your photo into something surreal and artistic. Don't be afraid to experiment!
There are many terrific photo editing programs and apps on the market. Many of them have free versions with very capable features. By mastering a photo editing program, you can maximize the full potential of your skills as a photographer. It also helps if the program has file organization features to keep your workspace neat.
3. Play around with filters and presets
White house interior by bialasiewicz,123RF
If you’re new to presets, this will be a time-saving new introduction for you.
Presets are these neat little photo editing recipes that follow a combination of settings to achieve a specific look. Think of a particular tweak in saturation, vibrancy, temperature, and more to achieve a cinematic, moody look. Then you can save it and paste it onto other photos.
Presets are especially useful for large batches of photos that require some cohesiveness to look good together. For example, all images that came from a wedding photoshoot should use a similar if not identical preset to look good as an album.
There are many free presets readily available to download online. Many photographers and creators out there also have presets for sale.
4. Use the crop function
Man playing with his dog at a basketball court by tanya69, 123RF
Cropping removes unwanted edges from an image to give more focus to your main subject. Often, amateur photographers leave too much space around their main subject, not leading the viewer's eyes to the image's primary focus.
The crop feature is available on all photo editing apps and your phone. If there's too much distraction from the main subject, crop it out if possible. However, try not to crop someone's limbs away as it might make the image look awkward.
5. Straighten line
Aerial view of a parking lot by dedmityay, 123RF
Straightening an image is a straightforward yet effective way to make a photo look more professional. It’s also very overlooked in the larger scheme of photo editing. An unintentionally crooked image is a no-brainer way to tell someone is an amateur.
Photo editing apps usually have an auto straighten option where it will straighten any wonky lines that it detects. Some even have more advanced tools that can straighten lines or adjust distortion.
For example, when doing architectural or urban photography, you might notice that the lines of buildings or roads have skewed or converged. That’s where advanced photo editing features like Pixlr’s Transfer Tool will come in handy to straighten those lines.
6. Understand white balance
Top view of a dining table by sonyakamoz, 123RF
White balance is adjusting unrealistic colors to make an image look natural. An image’s white balance is affected by the different lighting conditions that it was taken in. For example, the results might have a cooler color temperature if an image was taken during an overcast sky or under indoor lighting.
In other words, white balance can affect the overall mood of an image. Learning how to manipulate an image’s white balance would help you achieve the results you want.
How will a warmer or colder color temperature help elevate your image? Will it hinder the picture instead? For practice, try shooting the same subject with different white balance settings to see what each setting does differently.
7. Master the exposure triangle
Little boy photographing his mother and brother by somemeans, 123RF
The exposure triangle is made up of three major components — ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. As hinted in the name, these are the main elements that will affect the exposure of an image.
The most important rule of the exposure triangle is to strike a balance within the three components. You'll have to compensate whenever you adjust one component by adjusting the other one or two components to balance the exposure.
For example, if you want a faster shutter speed, you have to use a wider aperture or increase the ISO to compensate for the lack of light entering the lens (from a quick shutter speed).
8. Remove unwanted clutter
Young boy seated in front of laptops by stylephotographs, 123RF
In photography, details are everything. It’s vital for photographers to always know what is in the background of their subject. If there’s a distracting object behind your subject, re-angle to hide the distraction.
But of course, not everything can be removed during the shooting process. For some situations, you can only do this post-production. That’s where photo editing tools like Pixlr’s Magic Wand come in handy to help remove unwanted objects. This editing step will make your photo look much better, with less taking away the attention from the subject.
Get out there, shoot and edit
Returning to our first message in this article, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s no right or wrong way to edit an image. Whatever looks good and adds value to you as a photographer, do it and have fun!