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!
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.
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!
We see so many photographers put watermarks on their images, but why do we actually do it? The main reasons I hear are:
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.
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.
Remember that every photo you take brings you one step closer.
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.