How did you learn to edit?

Registered: Jan 05, 2005
Total Posts: 876
Country: United States

Been a decent photographer for a long time, and have abided by the "take it the right way in the camera" theory, however I think the thing holding my photography back is the little extra touch everyone else seems to have. I seem to over sharpen, or over saturate, boost the contrast too much and I know it's wrong but it never seems to look "perfect" like so many images I see here. I'm purchasing Lightroom (can't afford PS CS) and want to take my photography to the next level but am not really sure where to start to fix my bad eye when it comes to editing. Any help would be HUGELY appreciated.

Registered: Dec 13, 2010
Total Posts: 4170
Country: United States

To me, "editing" means selecting the winners from a shoot. And this piece of software is all you need for "editing."

Registered: Nov 07, 2005
Total Posts: 10471
Country: Australia

To get a good start in editing or just the basics you must start with colour management. You need to have your monitor correctly calibrated and profiled or else what you see is probably not what you've actually got.

Then the basics are relatively easy -
Pick Adobe Standard or Camera Neutral profile. None of the garish alternatives.
Adjust white balance so that the colours look right / plausible.
Adjust exposure so that it looks right / plausible for the scene and / or subject. This includes adjusting contrast if necessary, preventing burnt out highlights of important details, salvaging details from dark shadows, etc.
Capture sharpening is compulsory but should never show any obvious halos or graininess at contrast edges. If it does then you've gone too far.
Let Lr do the output sharpening at first.

There's a heap of other controls but it's easy enough with a profiled monitor to judge whether the image at least looks like it might be realistic even if it is not perfectly accurate. In fact, a perfectly accurate capture will not look realistic because at the scene our brains and eyes adjust to variations in light between bright areas and shadows and we see details everywhere, but in a print there is one flat scene in front of us at one distance and the contrast ratio is fairly low so that we do not adjust - we therefore need to have the brightness range compressed enough to make the print seem like what was photographed rather than actually like what was photographed.

A lot of books and stuff on editing or using photo software will just show you a multitude of ways to do the clever stuff that is quite unrealistic and definitely in the artistic category. That is harder to learn than the realistic basics and for your application mostly unnecessary.

- Alan

Registered: Oct 22, 2004
Total Posts: 38169
Country: United States

Plan to learn when I hit 70 or so...too busy sellin' SOOC shots at this point in time.

Registered: Dec 23, 2003
Total Posts: 20936
Country: United States

Folks like myself on Critique will offer suggestions, feedback, illustrations. I work with LR 95% of the time.
Cookbooky but helpful approach in Kelby's books.

Registered: Feb 02, 2009
Total Posts: 17906
Country: United States

What are you objectives for editing ... production, technical, fine art, PJ, they will likely yield very different answers regarding approach and source.

Registered: Jan 28, 2005
Total Posts: 11353
Country: Canada

The best way to learn Raw conversion and post-processing (distinct from editing) is to play.

You got that? To play. Play with serious intent but still having fun. The main thing while playing and fooling around with the software is to be very observant.

All kids are scientists (until the stupids and the culture beat it out of most of them). The main thing they share with scientists is that they try different things. Scientists are more methodical about controlling variables, but the principle is the same.

So take a picture and take a control and vary it carefully observing at full screen on a good monitor (or whatever you have that comes closest) the effect as you go a little, about right, and too far. Then pull back to where you think the edge is between too far and good. Observe that for a short while. Then pull it back a bit more and compare. Move it up a bit and compare.

Do this a lot with lots of pictures.

Then combine controls. Push the saturation as far as you want it and then fiddle the contrast. You'll notice that increasing contrast also increases apparent saturation. So pull saturation back a bit and then add contrast. I usually adjust contrast first and only then add any saturation.

Read up what you can. The Martin Evening books are the most comprehensive and therefore I prefer them. There are video tutorials and the web has a vast amount of free material in written and video form.

There is no substitute for practice, but have some fun doing it. Study of theory and tutorials is very good background and shortens the learning curve but not by half or replacing it.

Registered: Oct 12, 2003
Total Posts: 2825
Country: United States

When I was learning , it was by scattershot reading of books by different Photoshop experts - eventually one or another writer would explain a technique in a way that would light up the old bulb - and lots of experimentation. I started out with a used copy of a book on Photoshop 6 by Deke McClelland.

I highly recommend the books on Photoshop and Lightroom for photographers by Martin Evening, a practicing commercial photographer who lays out the info with great clarity - he publishes new books on the programs for each new version, and also the Peachtree Press series, 'Real World Adobe Photoshop x'.

Registered: Aug 24, 2002
Total Posts: 4446
Country: United States

Do some research to narrow your choices. Then download some of the free trials and try a couple tools out to see which seem to mesh with how you perceive images should be edited. Every tool has a style and philosophy behind it as to how it approaches the task which sets it apart from the others in the marketplace.

Then experiment. Push sliders to their max (and min) to see what they do and how they affect your image. Experiment some more. Read about editing from the multiplicity of sources that exist in print and on the web. Pay for a course if you feel that's not enough.

Compare your images to those here on FM. Post on the "Photo Critique" forum to get feedback and pointers. Experiment some more. Submit images to the Weekly and Monthly assignments to help you set goals.

Registered: Oct 25, 2002
Total Posts: 2136
Country: United States

Monito wrote:
The best way to learn Raw conversion and post-processing (distinct from editing) is to play.

You got that? To play. Play with serious intent but still having fun. The main thing while playing and fooling around with the software is to be very observant.


Registered: Oct 12, 2003
Total Posts: 2825
Country: United States

You can play and learn with Photoshop Elements, which has a lot of the Photoshop functionality for a fraction of the price. Lots of fun to be had.

Registered: Mar 22, 2005
Total Posts: 1287
Country: United States

Still learning, just don't let it take over your taking images.

Registered: Aug 23, 2008
Total Posts: 1106
Country: United States

Post processing, for me, was learned by using photoshop alone for 2 years, then using Lightroom for 2 years.

I look back at some of my older stuff that I thought was good at the time, and can't believe that I thought it was great. Like anything, constant use and practice is what it takes

Registered: Jul 12, 2011
Total Posts: 935
Country: United States

Monito wrote:

All kids are scientists (until the stupids and the culture beat it out of most of them).

Coming from the perspective of a science teacher, that is the best phrasing I have read (or heard) on the state of scientific illiteracy.

To stay on topic, messing around in Lightroom for hours has produced better and better results. Looking at some of my older experimental processing is sometimes cringe inducing, but I'm sure future me will feel the same way about my current processing.


Registered: May 29, 2005
Total Posts: 1992
Country: United States

All the technical knowledge in the world will not give you an artists eye.