After writing my last post on 7 Ways To Take Better Photos, I immediately got an overwhelming amount of requests inquiring about my photo editing process as well. It’s one of the most common questions I (and a lot of other bloggers) get asked – “How do you edit photos?” Everyone wants to know about editing. They want to know what apps to use, what filters will make their images brighter, how to add a lens flare, whatever. And in this day and age with thousands of photo apps and online hacks, literally anyone can edit photos to look semi-professional.
But here’s a little secret I’m going to let you in on – editing programs won’t make you a great photographer. You need a creative eye for that – an understanding of composition and light, an ability to capture moments and tell a story with a single snap.
That being said, what post-processing can do is take a good photo and make it even better. There have been plenty of times where I’ve taken a photo that was perfect in terms of subject or composition, but it fell a bit flat in colour or contrast, and by simply pulling it into an editing program to play around, I was able to bring it to life by changing up the saturation and exposure (amongst many of the other amazing things you can do).
So, to fill the bellies of you hungry beasts, I’m laying out all the programs I use and showing you my own examples of how to edit photos so you can play around and create your own awesome style.
*note that while my style is usually quite desaturated and monochromatic, I’m using a range of images to showcase different editing functions.
EDITS // (Lightroom) For this image of the bathroom at the Drake Devonshire, I bumped up the exposure, highlights and contrast, and also desaturated the image. Then I shifted the tint to more magenta to get rid of the green hue overall… then pulled up the green saturation just to make the plant pop.
EDITS // (Lightroom) For this one I struggled with the edit because the original white balance was so off – I wanted to get rid of the overall blue without compromising the blue of the water. I ended up using a preset I had bought to get me started and adjusted it from there, amping up the orange saturation for the dock and skin-tone, and changing the hue of the blue to be more aqua than deep blue.
Programs I Use To Edit Photos
A’ight guys, before we kick things off, let me preface this by saying I am in no way an expert. I’m not trained as a visual editor and when I look at the shit my best friend (who is an art director) can do in Photoshop, it blows my mind. That being said, I’ve learned how to use these programs so that they work for me and my skill level, and each time I use them I learn something new.
So instead of giving you a full education on each program, I’m sharing a high level look at stand-out functions of the apps I use and how it can change the look of your photos. My main piece of advice when it comes to using these programs is to spend time playing around with them, trying different edits on the same photo, and understanding how each function can amplify the image.
EDITS // (Lightroom) At first glance, this might not look like much has been done, but a few edits have taken a flat photo and made it more appealing. I used a pre-purchased preset to bring out the highlights and features in the rock face, then used the hue tool to make the blue sky a bit more turquoise.
The main program I use. It’s part of the Adobe Suite and you pay a monthly membership, but honestly, I do about 80% of my edits in Lightroom and then maybe use a few phone apps to make some tweaks. Guys, Lightroom is THE SHIT… especially if you’re not a pro at Photoshop. It’s easy to use, and the more you play around with it, the more intuitive it becomes. If you want a run-through of Lightroom and its functions, I highly recommend a Skillshare course to guide you through it (because duh, there’s one for everything).
Here are the main functions I use when editing in Lightroom:
Which stands for Hue/Saturation/Luminance. I prefer my photos to have a muted saturation, but my camera pulls in allllll the colours. This toolbox allows you to change the saturation and luminance of specific colours in the photo rather than the overall saturation (great if you want to bring down a leafy green background without desaturating the skin-tone of your subject). Want your water to be more turquoise than royal blue? You can use the hue slider for that, friend!
Ever take a photo that is SUPER warm or icy cold? That’s where your temperature function comes in. You can use the dropper tool to quickly adjust to the neutrals in your pic, but I prefer to use the slider function to get exactly the warmer or colder tone I need for the photo.
In the White Balance toolbox, there’s also the ‘tint’ tool, which compensates for a green or magenta tint. Sometimes your image will pull in these hues (like the bathroom image above), and this slider lets you tweak it to perfection.
There are plenty of times when I want to make a photo look a little moodier, and that’s where the shadow/highlight function comes in handy. Playing with the exposure function will lighten or darken your entire photo, but with the shadow tool, I can lighten/darken the shadows without affecting the highlights (and vice-versa when using the highlight tool).
My favourite thing about Lightroom. People are constantly asking how bloggers/photographers make their Instagram feed look consistent, and presets are an easy way to do this. A preset is essentially a group of edits you’ve done on one photo that you can save and apply to any other photo in the future (like a filter, but one that you’ve made!). They save LOADS of time. My friend Alexa has a job that requires her to shoot for a number of different restaurants, each with a distinct vibe. To ensure the images are consistent with their respective brand but different from the rest of the restaurants, she’s created a preset for each.
You can also purchase presets (plenty of photographers sell theirs), but I advise you to use them as a jumping off point and adjust to make it your own style. I recently did a trip to New Brunswick and had never edited deep, dark landscape shots of forest, so I bought a preset from someone who specializes in editing those types of photos. I used it as a foundation, then continued to edit in Lightroom until it looked exactly how I wanted (and what I knew the client would like).
*to save edits on a photo as a preset, simply go to Develop > New Preset, and save.
EDITS // (Lightroom) This is a perfect example of personal preference – many people might prefer the high-saturation of the original, but my style is generally more shadowy, muted hues (depending on who I’m shooting for). For this shot from Australia, I pulled it into Lightroom and heavily desaturated the greens (and a bit of the blue to bring down the edge of the tablecloth). I played around with the shadows as well, but besides that, it was a simple edit that made a pretty big difference.
If you’re not into Lightroom and want a mobile app to edit photos, the only one you need is Snapseed, hands down. It’s free, Google made it (so you know it’s legit quality), and it gives you plenty of the same functions as Lightroom (minus the presets and individual H/S/L colour tools). It’s all about making custom edits to your photos, rather than throwing crazy filters on them. Learn it, use it, love it.
Here are some of my favourite tools to edit photos in Snapseed:
Once I figured what this tool did, my mobile editing life was changed. You know how sometimes you edit a photo and it looks amazing, but one of your subject’s face is more shadowed than the others? The brush tool allows you to make ‘spot edits’, so you can zoom in and quickly edit specific parts of the photo, from the exposure to the saturation or temperature. I use this to decrease the saturation of my hair anytime it looks brassy in a pic!
The heal tool can be a bit of a bitch to use sometimes, but once you get used to it, is a major asset. It basically lets you easily remove unwanted objects from your photos, and in the photo below of the coffeeshop, you’ll see I used the heal tool to remove the sliver of a poster on the wall in the far left corner. It doesn’t always work (especially if the background is busy), but the more you play around with it, the easier it gets to manage. It is however, excellent for removing pimples!
I’m crazy when it comes to lines in a photo. Sometimes you’ll take a photo and notice that the perspective is off and the lines of the wall are wonky and can’t be fixed simply by image rotation.
As you can see in the photo of the coffeeshop below, the electrical lines are all slanted (which just totally killed my vibe). I brought it into Snapseed and used the Vertical Perspective tool in the Transform function, and was able to easily straighten the lines in a few seconds.
EDITS // (Lightroom + Snapseed +VSCO) As you can see, this image was waaaay too warm for my liking. I made white balance and colour corrections in Lightroom, then pulled it in to Snapseed to straighten the lines with the vertical perspective transform tool (and also used the brush tool to spot edit the over-saturation of yellow in the lights). To give it a bit more contrast, I used the S2 filter in the VSCO app.
EDITS // (Lightroom + VSCO) Uggggh, the white balance is always so off at my cottage. I pulled this one into Lightroom to warm the temperature and also desaturate the blues quite a bit. I bumped up the orange saturation to give my skin a bit more of a glow, then brought it into the VSCO app and added the A6 filter for a crisp contrast.
Additional apps I use
As I said, I do most of my edits in Lightroom, followed by Snapseed… and that’s pretty much it. I do sometimes use a couple of other apps to make minor tweaks, whether it’s spot editing or to just punch up the photo that teeny bit more.
Here are some of the other apps I use to edit photos:
I like VSCO, but would never use it as my main editing tool, simply because it doesn’t have the same flexibility as Lightroom or Snapseed. I use it simply to add a final bit of punch to an image through filters (I generally only use A5, A6, M6 and S2). The great thing with VSCO filters is that you can tweak the strength on their filters, so sometimes setting it at +1 is all you need, rather than the full effect at +12.
Okay, be careful with this one, grasshoppers. FaceTune is a mobile app that most people use to smooth out their skin and essentially transform their face and it’s usually SO. OBVIOUS. I use FaceTune mostly for the ‘detail’ tool, which allows me to spot edit and brighten/sharpen certain parts of the photo (eyes, words on paper, a piece of jewelry). I’ll also sometimes use the smooth function on parts of skin (like hands or facial bumps) but VERY sparingly.
Not so much an editing tool, but it’s a mobile app that allows me to preview what a photo will look like in my Instagram feed (similar to UNUM, but much more intuitive). I’ll often edit a photo for the ‘gram, pull it into Mosaico and realize it’s way too warm or pink against my other pics, which gives me the heads up to bring it back into Snapseed for quick adjustments. An excellent tool for those looking for consistency on their feeds.
EDITS // (Lightroom + Snapseed) I loved this photo, but needed to make a few tweaks to make it fit cohesively into my Instagram feed. In Lightroom, I cooled the temperature and desaturated the whole image, then changed the hue of the green tree to a more blue-green and also pulled down the blue saturation of the window to the left. I then brought it into Snapseed and used the heal tool to get rid of the ‘318QU’ in the bottom right. And voila!
What apps, tips or tricks do you guys use to edit photos?
Let me know in the comments below!