When you first take a photograph, whether that’s digitally or with film, that is the beginning of the photograph’s life. From that point, you can choose to edit it whichever way you want. You can increase the shadows to give it a darker edge, or push the brightness up so that the colours really pop.
The key is subtlety, and knowing when to stop. Many photographers are guilty of editing photographs beyond recognition, so it’s all about choosing the right editing platforms and doing it tastefully. You have to enhance the photo’s best qualities without changing too much of the original end product. It’s a difficult balance to reach.
If you want to learn how to edit photos properly, like a professional, then continue reading.
Best photo editing software for photographers
We’ll start with the software. Here are the best software programs you should get if you want to edit professionally. Optimising your photos for the web comes with its own challenges, but we like to think that the following platforms make it as easy as possible.
Adobe Lightroom has always been popular with photographers because it’s just so easy. Lightroom is perfect for photographers who think that Photoshop is too complicated. It steers clear of confusing jargon and gives clear guidance (and even has tutorial videos) to its users.
It also has a bunch of different features, including:
- Device support
- Fixing/blurring tools
- Brush/gradient adjustments
- Camera and lens correction
- Face detection
- Customisable sliders
But of course, we can’t talk about photo editing software without giving Adobe Photoshop at least an honorable mention. This is the software package which most photographers will have started out with. It’s also favoured among illustrators, artists, and designers. It’s a creative weapon!
If you’re looking for more basic editing features, Lightroom is probably your best bet. If you’re wanting to go really in-depth however, then Photoshop is perfect. It’s for professionals, and has a significant learning curve to it if you’re relatively new to photography and editing.
Its features include:
- Sophisticated multi-layer editing
- 3D design functionality
- A wide range of filters
- Expert retouching service
- In-built tutorials
- Adobe’s Creative Cloud Plan gives you both Lightroom and Photoshop – the best of both worlds!
Corel PaintShop Pro
An underdog in our software selection, the Corel PaintShop Pro package is a great online option that is accessible, easy to understand, and simple. To many hardened professionals it may seem a little elementary, but if you’re just starting out (or you’re at intermediate level) then you can’t really go wrong with PaintShop Pro.
There’s also an impressive selection of filters to play around with, and the platform is perfect for students of photography who want to experiment a bit.
The package includes the following:
- AI powered features
- Easy user experience
- Helpful tutorials
- Simple menu navigation
Don’t be put off by the strange name, Gimp is an up-and-coming editing package that has many of the best features of paid packages but comes without a price-tag. That’s right, it’s free! For a free tool, Gimp does everything from retouching and enhancement to filtering and competition, making it a formidable contender in our list.
For photographers looking for entry-level editing packages, Gimp is up there with the best. It works seamlessly on multiple devices, as well as Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems.
Here are some of the features you’ll get with Gimp:
- Digital retouching
- Easy and helpful file management tools
- Easy to use menu
- Great vignette feature
- Support for other plugins
But how do I edit photos like a real pro?
Now that you have an idea of which editing programs you’d like, we’re going to run through some of our tips and tricks for editing photographs, and what some of the terms mean.
Here’s what the professionals do first…
The following steps are, more often than not, a professional photographer’s first ports of call when it comes to editing a photo. They’re the things that, if done well, can brilliantly transform a photo while staying true to how it was taken.
Crop, crop, crop
You should think about composition first. How is the photo framed? Look at the main elements of the photograph, and how they relate to other elements in the photograph. Keep in mind the foreground, middle ground, and background.
Often, a simple crop is all that’s necessary. All decent software packages should have a composition grid, so that you can ensure that the elements in your photograph are centred and level. With a good crop, you can remove bits that aren’t needed for your photo, emphasise the most important elements of the photo, and intensify the drama.
Cropping is an essential tool for every photographer. Use it well!
Keep an eye on your exposure levels
The next thing you should look at is exposure. All editing software should have a dial or meter which you can increase or decrease as needed. At the time of shooting, exposure is often out of your hands. If light seeps into the lens, it can’t be helped!
However, you can put this right when you edit. If a photograph is overexposed, the colours can be washed out. They’ll look paler than they really were when the photo was taken because it has been exposed to too much natural light. But, if it’s underexposed, the colours will be dull and shadowy. You can actually salvage an overexposed photograph with a good editing tool!
Make those colours pop with the temperature setting
Because of conditions previously mentioned, sometimes you won’t get the right colours when you come to look at your photos. You could take a photo of a really bright, vivid building only for it to look underwhelming when you get your photos back.
Fortunately, you can just up the temperature on your editing tool to ensure the colours return to how they were in real life. It’s like magic! It’s not cheating either, if you use it sparingly.
Alongside the temperature setting, you should also have a play around with the following settings: vibrance, hue, and saturation. These all have effects on the colours in your photographs.
Sharpening or blurring effects
If a photo you’ve taken is a little blurred (it can happen, especially if you’re shooting a moving image) then you can use the sharpening tool to great effect. You can add extra sharpness to an image, or blur it around the edges to create a vignette effect.
Whatever your intended purpose, sharpening and blurring tools are great assets for an editing photographer. You can even mess around with the depth of field perception to create a slightly ‘out of body’ effect.
Give the healing brush a go
If you have a real attention to detail and want to iron out any inconsistencies within your photo, you should try the healing brush. Most photo editing software will have it, and it’s great for portrait photography (although it’s frowned upon, many fashion photographers will use the healing brush to remove any skin inconsistencies or imperfections).
Healing brushes are good for landscape photography, too. You can really iron out any distractions in the foreground. Give it a go!
Shooting like a professional
Now that you have the skills and knowledge, it’s time to start editing. For many photographers out there, editing is just as fulfilling as actually taking the photographs. It’s fun to experiment with your photographs to see how far you can push them. Get the most out of your photography and, most importantly, play around with it. Experimentation is a great way to improve your photography skills.