Avoid These Common Editing Mistakes

How to not edit your photos

The best way to learn your unique voice as an artist is to experiment. Explore new techniques and learn how other photographers create the photos that inspire you. There are many right ways to learn editing and shooting techniques, but there are also many WRONG ways to do it. I understand that art is a reflection of someone’s individual style, but certain things look awful 100% of the time and it’s important to know what they are so you can avoid them. Creating an image is like cooking. You don’t have to follow a recipe exactly as it is written, but there is no reason to put buttercream frosting on your salmon. Gross.

I’m going to break down some of the most common editing mistakes. If you do some of these things, no worries. You’re not a bad person. This is an opportunity to kick a bad habit and focus on developing some good ones. Let’s dive in!

What to avoid

editing mistakes Photogs Unite!

Selective Color

Selective color is the technique of desaturating specific colors to make certain elements of the photo black and white. The intention is to draw attention to specific elements, but this is not the correct way to achieve that.

When we look at an image, our brains detect the largest, the brightest, and/or the elements in sharpest focus. This is scientifically proven. Knowing this, we can use these factors to show order of importance in our images. We can add off-camera flash on our subject to make them brighter than the background. We can use a shallow depth of field to blur out the background and keep our subject sharp. We can also fill a majority of the frame with our subject.


Another color faux-pas in the editing process is to increase saturation to an unnatural level. I shoot RAW and I will increase the vibrance of 99.9% of my images. Vibrance will make your colors, well, more vibrant, without making them look over-processed.

When we see photos with colors that are enhanced beyond a reasonable level, our brains recognize this dissonance and we’re turned off to the image. Our brains can suspend belief, but only to a point. Look at the photo below to see how vibrance compares to saturation.

Zombie Eyes & Plastic Skin

Just like with color enhancement, it is incredibly important to balance the level of skin softening and eye brightening we do on our images. A little bit goes a long way. There is software available, like Portrait Professional, that is affordable and really easy to use. It’s too easy to use, actually. Just a few clicks and your subjects face is shaped differently, their eyes are bleached white, and their skin looks like plastic. Let’s stick to the food metaphor. Salt and pepper make food taste better. But would you use a handful of salt to season your plate of food? Nope. You just use a dash or two. If you need to add some more, go for it. All editing software has sliders so you can control the level of change you’re making. Start small and dial it up if you need to.

Here are some things to avoid, and how to do it correctly. If you are not familiar with some of these tools/techniques, I’ll be adding videos to my Youtube channel to cover it. Stay tuned!


  • Real eyes are not pure white. Instead of making them white, use a hue/saturation adjustment layer and lower the amount of red over the eyes to minimize the appearance of blood vessels.
  • Avoid sharpening the eyes. Instead, you can boost the clarity to make them pop a little. If you are using photoshop, use Unsharp Mask or a high pass filter to subtly add definition. Dial back the opacity of the adjustment layer to make the eyes look as real as possible.
  • Double check that your color corrections don’t change someone’s eye color. Your client will not be happy with their photos if the eyes in their portraits are no longer theirs.


  • Do not remove wrinkles from someone’s face. Removing wrinkles from someone’s face is like changing their eye color. People are supposed to have wrinkles after a certain age. Instead, soften the shadows under the wrinkles to minimize their appearance. You can do this with the clone stamp tool at 30% opacity on the ‘lighten’ blend mode.
  • Be careful when using skin softening software. It is really easy to over-process the skin. The best way to tell if you have done too much is to zoom in to 100% and see if you can still see pores on their skin. If you can not, or really have to search for them, dial back your processing.
  • One method I use to process skin is to duplicate the layer, apply Imagenomic Portraiture to the skin at 100%, then reduce the opacity of the processed layer until the skin looks clear but real.



What does a watermark even do?

We see so many photographers put watermarks on their images, but why do we actually do it? The main reasons I hear are:

  • Protection from stealing images online
  • So people know who took the photo
  • Everyone else does it
  • So your client doesn’t just print the photo from your website instead of buying a print from you.

Here’s why and how you can avoid those situations without adding an obnoxious watermark to your images. Because seriously, placing a large watermark, or several little ones, only degrades the quality of your photo and makes people not want to look at your photos.

  • Anything on the internet can be stolen, even if you put your name on it. The best way to protect yourself is to register your images with the federal copyright office so if they are stolen, you can receive financial compensation. You certainly can place a watermark on the image, but do it without taking away from the impact of your photo. If someone uses your image with a watermark, you will have a stronger case against them in court for their copyright violation, but it’s a balance of not degrading the quality of the image.
  • There are two ways you can make sure people know who took your photo without placing a giant obnoxious watermark on them. The first: develop a style so unique, people have to know it’s yours. Most photographers can look at a Sue Bryce, Lindsay Adler, or Annie Leibovitz photo and know who took it. Be unique. Create your own voice. People will seek you out for that. The second way: place a small, not obnoxious logo in the bottom corner of the photo. It’s not a bad thing to have your name on your art, but if it in any way distracts from the viewer’s experience, don’t do it.
  • Just a lot of other people do something, doesn’t mean it’s right. Remember when mullets and stonewashed jeans were in?
  • Do in-person sales with your clients instead of sending them digital proofs. Or collect payment ahead of time before you send them digital images so even if they try to pirate the images and make crappy prints form the low-res files, you still got paid what you’re worth.


Don’t be a faux-tographer

If you are ever unsure about how to edit your photos, look at reputable photographers to see what they’re doing, and not doing. And if you want a good laugh, check out http://youarenotaphotographer.com to see how terrible things can really get.

Lastly, if you have any questions about ANYTHING photo-related, join my Facebook group Photogs Unite! and ask me. I’m here for you.

As always

Remember that every photo you take brings you one step closer.

About the Author Mike Lloyd

Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.

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