Week 6: Editing

FYI: I do not get any money for endorsing PicMonkey. I simply chose this program because it is available for free use to anyone. And it is fun!


So here we are...our final week. We've learned so much, haven't we? What a journey! From the basics of photography all the way to where we are now: editing our photographs.

I like to think of editing as the gift of digital photography. There is certainly a need for capturing an image in-camera that is properly exposed (or over/under if that's what you intended) and does not need to be messed with in an editing program. That should always be our goal as photographers. But there is something about the editing process that can take our image and add even more creativity to it. It can compliment what we already tried to achieve in-camera.

It is not much different from shooting film. Different film types do different things to photographs: a greenish hue, a yellowish hue, a bit of grain, muted colors or colors that pop, etc. I believe that as digital photographers, we still yearn for that unique quality to each photograph. And by editing our photographs and adding specific touches to them, we are essentially recreating that.

Over the years I have found myself trying to minimize my editing. I want the challenge of capturing a photograph in-camera that I am completely pleased with, and one that I don't want to mess with after. But that doesn't always happen, or I find that the image just feels a little lack-luster and I want to add something special to.

In the beginning of my career as a digital photographer, I found myself easily going overboard with editing. There were/are so many things to do with an image! It's fun to mess around and play with different techniques. And I believe that this is a phase almost everyone goes through, because it's just so much fun! And eventually, over time, you learn what you like and what you don't, what compliments an image and what distracts from it, and what your own style is. But first, you have to play around! Try everything! It's all part of the learning process.

For the purpose of this course, we will be using PicMonkey, a free online editing program available to everyone! I personally use Photoshop CC and Lightroom to edit my photographs, but they are expensive programs (well worth the investment if you plan on making a living doing photography) that not everyone has access to. PicMonkey is the perfect program to get you started and take your photos to the next level!

I will be using the photographs from the shoot in week 5 for this process, because I want to bring you from the beginning right through the end. So let's get started!

Basic Editing Techniques

There are a few basic editing techniques I use right away when uploading a photo. Those include the following:

  • exposure (is it too light? too dark?)
  • contrast (do the darks and lights pop?)
  • saturation levels (are the colors too saturated or too muted?)
  • sharpness (is my image sharp and crisp enough, or do i want to boost the sharpness?)
  • crop and straighten (is my image framed the way I want, or do I want to crop something out? also, is it straight?)
  • temperature/white balance (does my image look too yellow? too blue? too red?)

So those are the basics that I always check when uploading an image. Because I try very hard to get a good image in-camera, I often don't have to mess with a lot of these basics for every image.

I want to run through the steps of starting to use PicMonkey. First, go to their website here.

Once you are on their website, you will see the home screen that looks like this:

Where it says "edit a photo" you want to click that. A box will pop up allowing you to select an image from your files. Pick the one you want and it will upload it into PicMonkey.

Once you have loaded an image, it will bring you to a screen which looks like this:

You will see your image to the right and all your basic editing tools to the left. Those are the tools we will use to get started with the editing process.

I'm going to start by uploading this image into PicMonkey:


So, just taking a quick look at this, it is pretty well exposed. I like the values here, and I don't see anything over/under exposed. But I want to boost the exposure just a bit to make the whites whiter. They seem a little gray to me because they are slightly darkened. So let's make that brighter...

Screen shot 2012-07-25 at 12.07.52 PM
On your editing panel, you'll want to choose "exposure". You have a few options here:

Screen shot 2012-07-25 at 12.10.46 PM
If we boost the "brightness" we get an image that looks like this:

We've lost some of the contrast and color pop that was in the photo in the original state. I'm not a fan of this washed out look because we have so few colors grabbing our attention already. When I see a photo like this, I want to see colors pop from the basic background.

Now, we have another option called "highlights." This basically brings out all the highlights in the photo a little bit more, while keeping the saturation and contrast in place. So I boosted the "highlights" to 18 and I got this:

We've retained more of the color and contrast, but made the whites brighter in the background. Perfect! Now I want to just boost the contrast a wee bit to make the lights and darks pop even more. You will find contrast on the same editing panel to the left under "exposure." I boosted the contrast to a 4. It doesn't take much. Depends on your photo. I just needed it a little bit. My result is this:


Just a subtle difference, but I liked it better than without a contrast boost. Now that we've done that, next on my list is to check is to check my saturation. Do my colors pop? Are the reds too red, or not red enough? Saturation is found under the "colors" option. It's very easy to overdo the saturation on an image. You may like the way the red in the shoes and shirt pop, but I always check the skin to see if the tones are even and not too unnatural. Here's an example of going too far with the saturation:

Screen shot 2012-07-25 at 12.27.18 PM
Can you see how red her face is? That looks very unnatural. If we boost it just a bit though, we can save her natural skin tones but also bring the colors out a bit:

The saturation was boosted to a 10, which allowed the reds to pop a little more, but kept her skin tones normal.

The next thing we would check is the temperature of the photo. Often, if you are shooting inside under incandescent lights the temperature (or white balance) can end up being very yellow in a photograph. To fix that you would want to use the "temperature" option under the color menu. If your photo is too yellow, slide the bar over to the blue side. And vise-versa. I am pretty pleased with the temperature in this photograph, so I'm not going to mess with it.

Next on our list is "sharpness." I often don't sharpen a photograph unless I feel that I want some details to be very clear. This image doesn't really require it, but if you had an upclose shot of a face, you may want to sharpen the features a bit, which can really bring out the eyes. Here's an example:


Now, look at her left eye. See the difference? It's subtle, but it's important. The bottom photo was sharpened to a "14."

The last thing I always check for is crop and straightening. Do I like the image the way it is, or would I like to crop something out on the left or right? If so, you can use the cropping tool on the menu at the top. And if you find your image is quite straight (I am so obsessed with this!), go down to the "rotate" menu and use the straightening tools.

So those are all the basic editing techniques I use when uploading a photo. As I said before, I often don't need to do many of these because the particular photo just doesn't require it. Use your best judgement...if you are super happy with an image, don't change it! But if you find it could use a little extra help to make it even better, then go for it!

Creative Editing

Creative editing takes less thought and more intuition. You have to look at the overall photograph and decide what kind of feel it has. Does it have a soft feel? A vibrant feel? An urban feel? A hazy feel? Most of the time I go by my intuition about a certain photograph and what I want it to say, and from there I am able to easily figure out what kind of creative editing I would like to add to my photograph.

You want whatever creative editing you choose to add to your photograph, not distract from it. This is key. Sometimes it's easy to go overboard and end up with an image that is so far from the original, that you lose the original intention. There is a balance between what comes out of the camera and what you end up with after editing. You always want to edit a photograph to compliment what's already going on in the image.

I'm going to choose a few photographs from the shoot and show you how I would edit them and why. Most of the time I will take a photograph and know immediately how I will post process it, so choosing a style tends to happen naturally and instinctively. The more you shoot and the more you edit, you will develop this too! But for now, play around with all that's available, decide what you like and what you don't, and HAVE FUN!

Okay, let's get started. I'm going to choose this photograph to start:


Just looking at this image I know I want to sharpen it a bit to bring some clarity to her face, especially the eyes. Beyond that, I try to see what colors I like in the photographs and what would compliment them. I really love the gray of the pavement and how that goes nicely with her blue jeans, and then I notice a similar gray in her sweater. I love green and blue tints on photos with a lot of gray, and my new favorite is a yellowish haze.

When I bring this photo into PicMonkey, the first thing I'll do is sharpen it under the basic edits menu bar. When you are done your basic edits, click on the second icon down on the left to get to the "effects." This is where all the creative editing happens!

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.00.33 PM
You'll see a variety of effects that you can use. Each one does something different. I know that for this photograph I want something that will add a bit of a green/blue hue and also pop the colors a bit. I went down to the "Intrepid" effect and tried that out:

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.05.03 PM
Now, I like that. I like the effect it has on the colors already present in the photograph. I like how it's added a slight vignette around the edges which adds a neat touch to the pavement in the background and allows the focus to be even more on her face. However, it's a bit strong for my tastes. Luckily, PicMonkey allows you to adjust the strength of each effect. YAY! So you need to find the slider bar that says "fade":

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.03.52 PM
When I faded it 36%, I got this result:

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.13.07 PM

The effect is muted a bit and leaves more of her natural skin tone present. That's the one thing you want to be careful of when adding effects: always check the skin colors and make sure you didn't make your subject look like a green alien by mistake! Hey, it happens...

When your colors seem to be a bit off, I often like to think of the color wheel and which colors compliment others:



So because her face is looking more green/blue to me now, I can add a little overlay of a yellow/orange to even it out a little if I want. To do this, I went down into the "Toolbox" under the effects menu. From there I selected the "Tint" option which opened up a box like this:

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.23.09 PM

Under the "color" I selected a nice shade of a light orange/yellow. I played around with the different advanced options and chose "screen" as my filter. Screen lightens an image at the same time as adding the tint. You can play around with all the different options under "advanced" because each photo will require a unique setting. I then faded the tint to 87% so it very minimally changed the tones:

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.23.30 PM
It's a very subtle difference, but it's there.

Now, the next thing you can do if you have a subject close enough is to do some "touch ups" on their skin. Are there any blemishes they would like removed? Perhaps you want to smooth our their skin a bit to create a more even tone? PicMonkey allows you to do all of that and more! To find the touch-ups, go to the options on the left and select the little lipstick icon:

Screen shot 2012-07-28 at 1.35.26 PM

I decided to airbrush her face just a bit to smooth out the skin, but for this you want to make sure your fade is pretty high because otherwise it can look very unnatural. Just go over the skin with an appropriate brush size and presto! Smooth skin!


Now, I think this photo is looking pretty good. Almost done. But I'm just not satisfied with the contrast. It seems like we lost some of it with the effects we added. So, I'm going to go back into the "basic edits" and boost that contrast just a bit. This is the final image:


So here's the before and after:


It's really amazing just how much you can add to a photograph, isn't it? I'm going to pull a few other photographs from the shoot and edit them using PicMonkey and tell you exactly what I did.

Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Highlights 19%
  • Exposure: Contrast 5%
  • Sharpen: Sharpness 3%


  • Film Stock: Tri-X 0%

Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Brightness 21%

Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Brightness 11%
  • Exposure: Contrast 20%
  • Sharpen: Sharpness 5%


  • Polaroid Film 50%
  • Boost 12%


Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Brightness 8%
  • Exposure: Shadows 18%
  • Exposure: Contrast 8%
  • Sharpen: Sharpness 5%


  • Time Machine: Norma 67%
  • Intrepid 32%

Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Shadows 15%
  • Exposure: Contrast 16%
  • Sharpen: Sharpness 3%


  • Dusk 67%
  • Boost 17%


Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Brightness 25%
  • Exposure: Shadows 14%


  • Boost 10%
  • Yester Color 59%

Basic Edits:

  • Color: Saturation 13%


Basic Edits:

  • Exposure: Contrast 32%


  • Cross process: Red: 56%
  • Tint: yellow: advanced: hardlight: 68%


Editing Wrap-up

Editing is such a creative process in itself. The ways to create a unique image are just endless! Over time, you will streamline your editing and discover what you like and prefer. Don't be afraid to play around. Try it all! If you are planning on taking photography to the next level and eventually make a living with it, I would recommend looking into the following programs:

Another thing to keep in mind is to provide some consistency to your edits. If you have photographs from one shoot, try to edit them all similarly. A mix of color and black and white photographs are fine, but keep the editing effects consistent throughout the shoot. This will provide you with a very cohesive group of photographs to present to clients.

But go experiment and have fun! Editing is one of the most creative elements of digital photography.


Week 1: Basics

Creative photography is all about pushing boundaries, but in order to do that, you need to have a firm grasp on the basic elements. When you have a good solid foundation under your belt, you can break rules and stray from the "expected" to create unique and creative images. But before you can start breaking rules, you want to feel really comfortable with the basics.

For DSLRs (digital single lens reflex), I use a Canon 5D Mark iii and a Canon 5D Mark ii for backup. In 2013 I made the switch to Canon after 8 years of shooting with Nikon. All pictures of digital cameras in this post are of the Nikons. For film cameras, I use a Pentax K1000 and a Canon AT-1. The film camera pictured in this post is the Pentax K1000.

If you are one of the course participants using a point and shoot or phone camera, do not feel discouraged! Having a good understanding of photographic basics will allow you to explore ways to acheive a certain look using what equipment you have, or after in an editing program (we will use and discuss a free option online available to everyone!). And if you find you absolutely, positively adore photography and all it has to offer your creative life, you can consider upgrading to a film or digital SLR someday, and you will know loads about it!

We will be diving into these core elements of basic photography:

  • exposure
  • aperture
  • shutter speed
  • reading your meter
  • shooting modes
  • ISO
  • Depth of field (DOF)
  • noise

For this week's main lesson, we are going to be discussing four of these key elements: exposure, aperture, shutter speed, and depth of field!


Exposure is basically how much light is allowed in to create an image. You can overexpose an image, which results from having too much light. With overexposure, your image will look washed out and lose details. These are also called "blow outs" or "highlights" and can not be reversed, even in an editing program. You can also underexpose an image, which results from not having enough light. The image produced will be dark, and lose details due to the lack of light. Depending on the severity of the underexposure, you can recover some of the lost details in an editing program. Proper exposure uses just the right amount of light to produce an image that retains all the details of the subject, and captures the subject in the way you intended.

There's so much I can say about exposure in reference to "creative photography" and breaking the rules, but I want to save that for later. I want you to master properly exposing an image first. I like to think of proper exposure as capturing your subject the way your eye sees it.

And how can you know if your image is properly exposed, you ask? That's where your camera's light meter comes in!

If you are using a DSLR, your light meter is located in one (or two) different places. I have a meter on both the top of my camera by the aperture and shutter speed dials, and there is also one located in the viewfinder towards the bottom. This is the one I use always. It is the first thing I look at when looking through the viewfinder. By studying your light meter, you can then properly expose an image!

When looking through the viewfinder at your light meter, you should see something like this:


The "0" in the middle of the meter indicates proper exposure, while the "+" indicates over exposure (too much light), and the "-" indicates under exposure (too little light).


Above are two examples of an overexposed image. Notice the "blow outs" where the photo loses details. Those details can never be recovered.


Above are two examples of underexposure. Sometimes when an image is underexposed, you can recover lost details, but it all depends on the image.


Here are two examples of a properly exposed image. All the details remain intact, the colors, tones, and lighting are all true to life.

I always tell students to err on the side of underexposure. I typically shoot with my camera settings slightly underexposing an image, because if I find it a wee bit too dark, I can always increase the exposure or brightness in an after editing program like Photoshop, or any free program should allow you to do the same. But if I overexpose something, it is much harder to get back any lost details.

Now, take a moment to pick up your camera and find a place to stand. Look through the viewfinder and while doing so, turn 360 degrees around, while staying in the same spot. You will notice the light changing depending on where the camera is pointed. Now, do the same thing again and keep your eye on the light meter. Notice how the exposure will change. Sometimes I find that by just changing my position by a quarter of an inch will result in a completely different exposure!

If you are using a phone or a point and shoot, you can do the same thing while looking at the image through your screen. Sometimes with my iphone, it takes the exposure a minute to catch up and adjust, so you can see where an image would be overexposed or underexposed given the amount of light available.


There are a few ways to achieve a properly exposed image. Let's dive into those different options. You've probably heard the terms "aperture" and "shutter speed" before, right? If not, don't worry. But these are the two most important components to a properly exposed image.

Let's locate the aperture and shutter speed controls on your camera. If you are using a DSLR, there will either be one or two dials on the top right hand side near the shutter release button (what you push to take the picture). If you have just one dial near the back, you will need to locate the button near the shutter release that you engage while turning the dial to switch from shutter speed control to aperture control. It should look something like this...


If you are using a film camera, your shutter speed is controlled by a dial on the top, while the aperture is controlled by the actual aperture ring on your lens. It will look something like this:


If you are using a point and shoot (there are so many different ones!), please look in your manual to find out if and how you can control things like aperture and shutter speed. They will be located in different places depending on the camera. But if you have any questions at all, or need help, please contact me! If you do not have controls for these available on your point and shoot, don't worry! We will achieve the same look in our editing program when we dive into that, so you just need to understand what each component does.

And those of you using a phone camera, you can also achieve the same look either on your phone (depending on what Apps you own), or with an after editing program. But we will discuss all that soon!

Aperture (also known as "f-stop") is one way to control the amount of light entering into your camera's sensor (the sensor measures the amount of light and reports that to your meter). It is located in your lens and is measured in numerical units like f1.4 all the way up f22.. Let's think of aperture as a water pipe...the smaller the pipe, the less amount of water is going to be able to flow through it. The larger the pipe, the more water will be able to flow through it. Your lens is the same way! A larger aperture means more light will be able to reach the sensor, and a smaller aperture means less light will reach the sensor.


Here's an example of what the aperture looks like inside your lens. (Source) And here's the part that always confuses people at first (including myself!)...the smaller the number (like f1.4 or f2.2, etc.) the larger the opening, meaning that it lets in more light. The larger the number (like f22), the smaller the opening, which lets in less light.

So, let's say you are outside on a bright sunny day. The sun is shining down, there are no clouds...it's just FULL sun. You have to properly expose an image. So, since there is abundant light, you'll want to use a smaller aperture to diminish the amount of light that reaches your sensor.

And if you're inside at night, or on an overcast day, you would want to use a larger aperture to be able to let in as much light as possible!

There's one more thing that aperture controls, and that's depth of field. Depth of field (or DOF) is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a photograph that appear in focus. Now this is something that I find most people come to me to find out how to do...they want that "look" in their photographs. They want to have one person or object completely in focus, but the background slightly blurry, and they can't figure out how to do it! The frustrating thing for many of you if you're trying to achieve this look, is that your lens limits your ability to create a really small depth of field. Most DSLRs come with what's called a "kit" lens. The range of aperture settings will typically start anywhere from a f3.5-f5 on a kit lens, while another lens purchased separately could open up to a f1.4, which will give you the greatest depth of field.

Take a look at your camera lens if you are using a film or DSLR camera for this course and locate the aperture measurements on your lens. They will be located on the lens in two places:


When I shoot, I always adjust aperture first thing. When I see an image, I know exactly how I want the depth of field to look in my mind, and because I am so familiar with the aperture settings and the kind of depth of field that results from each, I am able to quickly adjust my aperture to achieve that look.

Here are some examples of different apertures and the depth of field each achieves. I focused on the dandelion. Pay close attention to what happens to the background...


f1.4 is the WIDEST my aperture will open up. So not only is it letting in a LOT of light, it's also giving me the narrowest depth of field. The only thing that is in focus is the dandelion in the center. Even the stem is blurred.


With the f2.2, you will notice more detail in the foreground and background.


The f2.8 gives you even more detail. This is a good portrait setting...it allows your subject's face to be fully in focus, but the background to be blurred.


With the f4, the image is starting to lose some depth and appears flatter.


With the f8, all the objects in the foreground are now in focus and the background is clearer.


The f16 produces a very flat image. There is virtually no depth of field; only the farthest objects (buildings) are out of focus.

I find that most people are looking for a narrow depth of field in their photos to create an interesting, eye catching image. A narrow depth of field allows you to focus on one object in a photograph, so that when a viewer looks at that photograph, their eye will automatically focus on what was intended.

To summarize, aperture not only helps to control the amount of light reaching the sensor, but it also allows you to choose a depth of field.

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the other component to achieving a properly exposed image. Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera's shutter is open. Shutter speed is measured numerically as well, with the numbers representing seconds. Depending on your camera, your shutter speed will range from full seconds to 1/8000th of a second, or more! In most cases, you'll like be using a shutter speed of 1/60th of a second or more, because below 1/60th of a second, you will likely get blurred images (from shaky hands holding the camera, or objects in motion).

Now, to tell you the truth, I rarely think about shutter speed when taking a picture. My main priority is always aperture, and obtaining the look I want through that. So I always set my aperture first, then I need to adjust my shutter speed accordingly to properly expose my image. So really, all I'm actually considering when taking a photograph is the aperture. The shutter speed is just something I adjust to compensate for whatever the available light is.

The only time I consider shutter speed before aperture would be if I purposely wanted to show motion in a photograph.

If I wanted to capture a moving subject and show its motion but keep the background in focus, I would use a very slow shutter speed. (FYI: hand holding a camera at a slow shutter speed is tricky. I have very steady hands from practice, but you can use a tripod if you find that it's a problem for you.)

Here's an example of showing a subject in motion:


Here's another image I captured long ago showing motion:


Shooting Modes

Now that we know what aperture and shutter speed are and how they affect exposure, let's wrap this lesson up with a brief overview of shooting modes. We will only be discussing three.

Different cameras offer different modes, but DSLRs will tend to offer them all. These modes allow you to choose what you would like control over. In manual mode (M), you have full control over everything. You need to not only adjust aperture, but also adjust shutter speed in order to get a perfectly exposed image.

In aperture priority mode (A on a Nikon, Av on Canon, you are only in control of the aperture. The camera automatically adjusts the shutter accordingly to properly expose the image.

In shutter priority (S on a Nikon, Tv on a Canon), you have control over the shutter speed, but the camera automatically adjusts the aperture.


If you're using a DSLR, locate the dial (typically found on the top) or in the menu that allows you to select your "shooting mode." Some point and shoots have this option as well, such as the Nikon Coolpix P500 and Canon Powershot S95, among others.

For this course, if your camera allows it, I want you to focus on solely shooting in manual mode (M) to really master these basics. But in the future, if you are looking to simplify your shooting, or find yourself in a situation where kids are running around and you don't have time to manually adjust to be quick enough to capture the shot, you can put the camera into one of these modes and cut down on your adjusting time.

I will say, from my own experience, that I have not been particularly happy with my exposures when I use a mode like aperture priority. I find that they tend to be slightly overexposed on my Nikon. I shoot 100% in manual, and found that the more I did it, the faster I became at setting up a shot, and I rarely miss a shot because I am adjusting aperture and shutter speed!

So that wraps up our intro to basics. It can seem like a lot at first, but keep in mind that proper exposure all comes down to these two things: aperture and shutter speed. Once you master those, you will be confident and comfortable with shooting in manual mode!

Don't forget to download the worksheet and challenge for this week that will help you to get comfortable with all that we learned in this lesson!