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.