As a photographer and business owner, I get asked a lot about editing. Will you give me the unedited files from my session? Isn’t the only reason for editing to cover up bad photography? Do you remove acne and flyaways? What programs and presets do you use?
Over the next few articles, I’ll spend some time breaking down these questions, but first I want to firmly establish some typical reasons why photographers edit their photos.
Editing is not an excuse to not be intentional while taking photos. Your editing abilities should never give you the mindset of, “It’s fine if I don’t pay attention to lighting, or posing, or any of my camera settings, because editing will just fix it all.” Editing is a tool, and a useful one if used correctly, but it should never be exploited as a reason to stop learning and growing in your photography abilities.
I typically look at editing from three viewpoints: a form of further artistic expression, a way to better reflect one’s perception in the instant the photo was captured, and a method of more effectively invoking the emotions felt in the moment.
With programs like Photoshop, photographers can create incredible pieces, such as these double exposures that combine two images shown below. Beyond the creation of double exposures, editing programs allow one to discover the enhancing effects of features like fake snow (see my last post for a Narnia themed styled session as an example!) to achieve looks that convey the ideas conceived in storyboard work.
(double exposure examples courtesy of Frances Brown)
Reflecting Your Perception
Often we assume that the original camera photos are completely unedited, but every camera actually adjusts photos a little bit in some way in the capturing process. This small-scale editing might occur through your set ISO, aperture, or shutter speed, the file size you’re shooting on, or other camera settings, but there’s always something affecting the development of a contrast between the moment you photographed, and what shows up on the back of your camera. Consequently, making tweaks to camera settings like exposure, contrast, temperature, white balance, and saturation can help a photo better depict the situation it captured. Take a look at the example below. This photo was from a session where the light was changing quickly, and I wasn’t able to adjust my settings with an equal speed as I would have liked. However, by playing with the exposure and adding my favorite preset, I was able to edit the photo in a way that better depicts what my eye saw in the moment.
This category of editing also includes any cropping, straightening, and finishing touches intended to make your images look nice and polished overall, as well as any specific focus on certain subjects of the image that eliminates distracting parts of the photo and leads to better documentation of the moment.
Visual interpretation doesn’t always express all the feelings involved in a moment. We might edit a photo to have the perfect white balance and exposure, with everything technically just right, but a camera doesn’t naturally focus on the grandpa in the corner crying as he watches his grandaughter walk down the aisle like the human eye does. Sometimes we have to use editing tools to draw attention to and expose the moments that were the center of attention in the mind’s eye at the moment, but aren’t always the first thing that stands out when looking at the resulting photo. Take this photo from a family session. The original features some people walking in the background that might distract from the subjects of the photo, but by removing these people, the focus goes back to the family.
Homework: In the coming months, I’m going to be talking more about how I edit and the tools I use to accomplish what I’ve discussed here, and I’d love to use some of your photos as examples! Email your RAW photos to me at email@example.com, and I’ll walk through exactly how I’d edit them in some upcoming articles.
More editing before and afters: