Photography for Beginners - Editing

Photography for Beginners Series – Photography Editing

You might have an amazing encounter, photograph it and then look at it on the computer and think “oh blast! It doesn’t look right!” Well lucky for you I’m here with some easy fixes to help you get your images back to how you want them. I’ll try and lay it out sequentially so you can work through it as I would.

Cropping photos

The landscape behind the subject of chopped down trees helps to tell the story of the portrait.


The first port of call I’ll start with during an edit is cropping. This is because if you crop it’ll change a lot of the composition and balance of the image. It might be that I’ll turn a landscape image into a portrait one through cropping in which case the rest of the edit I’ll do will be vastly different. With that in mind it’s best to think about what you’re trying to portray with your image when cropping. For example, if you have a nice portrait shot with a beautiful background, you might want to offset the group to one side so that you can see more of the background. Conversely, you might want to get in really close on an image to show more detail on something.


Saturation, White Balance and Temperature

This should be done early on in the process before you do any tweaks to the image’s histogram. White balance is usually done in camera but sometimes it gets it wrong and you’ll need to fix it. The way to do this is look for something that’s “true white” (this could be someone’s teeth or the outside of the eye) and adjust the slider until it’s the correct shade of white. Temperature essentially alters the mood of the image. Warmer images are more inviting and colder, bluer images are more dramatic and contrasting. Saturation is a tool to be careful of as it can quickly ruin an image if not used cautiously. Use small adjustments of saturation to bring the colours back to how you saw them. I would suggest you try not to oversaturated an image as it’ll be blindingly obvious to anyone looking at the image that it’s not a true reflection of the scene.

The Histogram

Every image you take has a collection of information spread throughout it from black through to white. The histogram is the graphical representation of this information. Sounds very complicated, I know, but bare with me. The histogram is divided up into five “chunks” – Blacks, Shadow, Midtones, Highlights, Whites. A well captured image will have information spread in a rough bell shape across the histogram. This means that there’s nothing lost in the black parts of the image or the whitest parts The landscape behind the subject of chopped down trees helps to tell the story of the portrait of the image. Any edit you do to an image is effectively moving parts of the histogram around. When you understand this, you’ll have a much better concept of how to fix or alter an image.


By bringing up or down the exposure you push the entire histogram to the right. This effectively “lightens” the image. The problem here is that you might end up over-exposing an image and having it too bright. The way to make sure you don’t over expose is by watching that histogram. If there are lines running right up into the edges like in this graph, then you’ve gone too far. As a rule of thumb I like to bring the exposure up just before those lines reach the right hand side of the histogram.


Bringing down the highlights on this image helped to bring detail back into the feathers.

Shadows and Highlights

These make up the two ends of the histogram and tweaking these can help bring detail back into areas which were previously too dark or too bright. This is particularly important when you’re shooting an image with lots of contrast – i.e. with lots of dark and light areas. Bare in mind though that if you go too far with the shadows and highlights you can make an image look quite “processed” and a little fake. Using these sliders can really save an image but its worth using them with caution!


Contrast essentially pushes the edges of the histogram outwards. This makes the darks darker and the highlights brighter. This is useful for creating drama in an image. It can be useful to use the contrast slider when you have a histogram which has lots of data in the middle of the curve but not much at the edges. It can help bring a little more information to the shadows and highlights for you to be able to manipulate. Bringing down the highlights on this image helped to bring detail back into the feathers.


Sharpness, Dehaze and Clarity

This image has had small adjustments to the sharpness and clarity to bring out detail in the feathers.

Sharpness, Dehaze and Clarity

These three tools are probably the most overused in all novice photographers’ work. They essentially all do tiny adjustments to the contrast, shadows and highlights to bring the appearance of more detail into an image. They do tend to make images look more dramatic since they essentially push the highlights and shadows to the edges but they come at a cost: they all tend to introduce noise into an image. This makes an image lower quality with grainy artefacts throughout it. I use these tools very carefully so as not to make an image look fake or poor quality. However they can be a lifesaver in a pinch.

Exporting and onwards

Once you’ve done your edits it’s time to export them. Think about where you’re posting them or printing them and try to use export settings to match. For example, if they’re just going on Instagram then you don’t need to export at the highest resolution because the website will just compress them anyway. You’re better off exporting them at a lower resolution to have a smaller file and a better image when it’s uploaded. As you practice editing you’ll find your own style and process. My methods might not work for you but they will offer a framework for you to explore other techniques. Have fun editing your shots!

About Will Hall

Will Hall – Wildlife Presenter and Photographer. Will is an animal biologist from Hampshire, UK. He has a passion for bushcraft, wildlife and tracking which has lead him to pursue a career in outdoor education and adventure. His videography work has been seen on BBC and ITV while his photography has been featured in the Times, Telegraph and Mail. Will is currently living in Scotland where he works as a bushcraft instructor and wildlife guide in the highlands; teaching young people about nature, conservation and bushcraft – often through the medium of photography.

Why not visit Will’s Instagram for more inspiration.

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