Editing can make or break a photo. Good editing can save a poorly exposed photo or a photo where you messed the white balance up. Poor editing can look tacky and unprofessional. Everyone has their own editing “style” – mine tends to be warm and bright with a little bit of an artistic flair. Some like a very clean edit and some go SUPER artsy. It’s important to figure out what you like.
I’ve said this many times but being a good photographer is more than just having a good camera. In the past I’ve shared some tips and tricks to help improve your portrait skills but today I’ll be sharing some simple tips that will take your good photos to great.
It’s important to point out that the BEST thing you can do to make editing a lot easier is to make sure you properly expose, set the white balance, and shoot in good lighting but let’s be honest, life happens. We make mistakes in our settings; a cloud quickly blows over and throws off the white balance in the middle of shooting a pose. That’s perfectly fine - everyone makes mistakes and shooting in ideal lighting isn’t always an option. These tips will help rectify some common issues with SOOC (straight out of camera) shots and take your final product to the next level:
Shadow Save/Highlight save
The Shadows/Highlights tool is useful for when you need to brighten shadows or tone down highlights. I often use this for when the background is much darker than the subject, or for backlit shots when lighter areas lose detail from being blown out too much.
This photo I took at an engagement shoot was taken on a very cloudy day and in because I exposed for her light hair and top, the pretty green background ended up a little darker than I wanted. Using the Shadows/Highlights tool helped to lighten the background.
To use the Shadow/Highlights tool:
1 | Go to Images
2 | select Adjustments
3 | then Shadows/Highlights
4 | Adjust the sliders as you see fit.
For this photo, the shadows at 20% is perfect. It brings back just enough detail to the background. Try not to increase the highlights or shadows too much though, you’ll lose too much contrast and the image will look very flat. Less is more with this tool.
Getting the white balance right can be tricky. Sometimes when you’re shooting, the lighting shifts between sun and clouds and often, the white balance gets off in some shots. You can easily tell if the white balance is off. If something that is supposed to be white (like a top, sign, etc.) looks yellow, blue, or green then the white balance needs to be adjusted.
In this photo, I was shooting quickly as the sun was going down and in the last few shots, the white balance was way off. And I mean it’s WAY off, but it happens! This was a beautiful shot of her and I wasn’t going to pass it up because the white balance wasn’t right.
To adjust the white balance:
1 | Go to Images
2 | select Adjustments
3 | then Levels
4 | You’ll see three eyedroppers: Black, Gray, and White. Select the white eyedropper and then click on an area of the photo that is supposed to be white. This can also be done with gray, just make sure the gray you choose is a medium gray.
For the photo above, I changed the white balance based off of her (supposed to be) white top. It will still need more adjustments but making sure the color is on makes it a solid foundation for further edits.
Nothing makes eyes pop more than light reflecting off of them, making them sparkle. In portraits (especially close ups), eyes are the focal point and without that “sparkle” they can look dull. If you’re shooting in heavy shade or when it’s cloudy, you may not get quite enough light in the eyes. An easy way to enhance that is to use the dodge tool. The dodge tool lightens whatever you click on.
To use the dodge tool for brightening eyes:
1 | Select the Dodge tool on the toolbar (it looks like a lollipop)
2 | Because pupils are dark, select Shadows
3 | Make sure Exposure isn’t any more than 50%
4 | Click a few times over the existing highlights until the eyes look “sparkly” enough
Just don’t overdue it or they’ll look like an alien.
Everyone has imperfections. I’m not huge on heavy retouching because I like to capture people honestly but I will remove things like acne, bruises, or scars. To fix minor blemishes, I use the spot healing brush.
To use the healing brush for minor blemishes:
1 | Select the Spot Healing Brush on the toolbar (it looks like a bandaid)
2 | Change the size of the brush to JUST larger than the blemish or spot
3 | Click! Sometimes the spot healing brush doesn’t work so if you’re getting a funky dark spot instead of a nice smooth cover, select the regular healing brush then alt + click next to the blemish before clicking on the actual spot.
The clone stamp can be used in a similar way but instead of blending, it just takes an exact copy of whatever you alt + click. Besides blemishes, the healing brush and clone stamp can be used to remove a stray hair, a distracting sign jutting into the background (this works best when the background is well blurred), and more subtle yet distracting elements.
Actions are a tool that most photographers use. Some make their own and many buy them. Using actions is a great way of ensuring that your photos are edited consistently, and it helps when processing many photos from a shoot or a wedding.
To use an action to edit a photo:
1 | Install the action by double clicking the file in your downloads folder
2 | Open the Actions panel in photoshop (Windows > Actions)
3 | Click the action you want to use
4 | Adjust the opacity of the individual layers in the layers panel until you are happy with the results. Depending on the photo, you may want to remove some layers or increase the opacity on others.
The actions I use are from Florabella Collection. They have multiple sets ranging from basic to artsy. Actions don’t replace a well-shot photo, and you’ll often have to make some of the above tweaks before running them, but they are an investment that is definitely worth it.
Some of these edits (like brightening highlights in eyes) may seem subtle but photo editing is all in the details. It's important to analyze the photo and eliminate or downplay distracting features in the background, remove blemishes, correct the white balance, and so on. Even when running an action, pre and post-action editing is necessary.
Have any questions about Photoshop or photo editing? Comment below or send me a message!