10 Basic "Do's and Dont's" of Photo Editing

June 13, 2015  •  1 Comment

As some of you may know, I've spent a decent amount of time working in the Film and TV industry in Hollywood - as a Cinematographer, Editor, and as a Colorist. As a Colorist, I developed a skill set that transfers quite well to photography, and has served me incredibly well both in my professional work as a photographer and cinematographer, as well as in my personal artistic work.

Recently, I shot a set of photos for a client who owns some vacation rentals - I've done similar photos for her in the past, but this time, one of the final images in the set used so much editing, I thought a post on the subject was worthwhile, as it's something I haven't written about yet.



So, without further ado, here are 10 do's and don'ts of Photo Editing:

Do:

  1. Shoot with editing in mind - this means shoot RAW, and even if you can't plan every single part of your shot or your shoot, try to build habits that serve you well later in Lightroom.
  2. Underexpose for landscape, overexpose for portraits - highlights clip easily, skin looks muddy and sallow when underexposed. Exactly what the number is will vary depending on your equipment and your own personal style - experiment.
  3. Understand that even the best camera's dynamic range is limited, my A7R tops out at about 14ev.
  4. Give yourself room to crop! As you'll note, I didn't crop this image at all. This is a problem. I need to work on this. Many times I've been editing a photo, wishing dearly I could pull wider just a touch because I accidentally cropped out someone's toe, or ear, etc. You can't make it wider. You can only make it tighter.
  5. Shoot with as low an ISO as you realistically can; the lower the ISO, the more dynamic range you can eek out before noise becomes a serious problem. In the sample pic, you'll note that if I had been taking my sweet time instead of hustling through a shoot to get everything necessary in a tight timeframe, I'd have been able to shoot a longer exposure time, higher F-stop, and a lower ISO. When I'm in a hurry, I like to keep my exposure speed to at least 1/160th of a second to prevent vibration blur, etc.

Don't:

  1. Expect that what you see right out of the camera represents the true character of an image. Sometimes something amazing is hiding outside of what's currently visible.
  2. Underestimate the importance of editing your photos well. If I didn't edit my photos, I'd probably only have a dozen pictures on my entire site.
  3. Get too cute. It's one thing to see a photo and for it to be notable that it has been edited, it's another for it to be gaudy. (I realize of course that the sample image I've posted here is quite borderline gaudy) The difference is sometimes a fine line - and sometimes, an extreme edit is purposeful, intentional, and conveys a critical feeling that contributes to the photograph. Try to keep your editing tasteful, and always ask yourself if what you're adding contributes to the feeling the photograph is intended to evoke, or if it has no effect, or worse, a deleterious one. It's very easy to use Lightroom's tools to create things that look very artificial and unnatural, and while I (obviously) enjoy pushing the boundaries a little sometimes, I generally try and keep things in the range of the quasi-believable. Sometimes the key to this is a generous amount of feathering on your masks - sometimes it is a very high-resolution mask that has barely any feathering. Skies and soft shadows like feathering. Defined objects like faces and tree trunks like defined masks.
  4. Crush your blacks and clip your highlights. Look at the histogram, and attempt to maintain at least a small amount of detail in them while using the exposure slider to get the body of the image where you want it, and the contrast slider to push the boundaries until they just brush the edges. (obviously there are occasions where clipping is desirable, and in these extreme edit type situations, of course, go right ahead, I'm generalizing)
  5. Rush. Take your time. Have a cup of coffee, read the news, throw digital poo on Facebook, etc, and come back to things later. Sometimes I'll look at an edit later on and want to entirely re-do it. Using the "Virtual Copy" in Lightroom is very useful for doing this and not losing your previous edit.

 

Well, that's it for this post, hope you all enjoyed - feel free to hit me up with any questions or point out my mistakes (in a polite way please).


Comments

1.Richard Ostrand(non-registered)
As for "underexposing landscapes," perhaps you were concerned about overexposing the sky and its subtleties that so easily wash out. I always keep a Cokin-P mount with at least one gradated, neutral-density filter in even my most portable kit for just that concern.
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