Deciding how to edit a photograph

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View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow
View from the leading edge at the top of Yewbarrow

Following my last blog post on the Essential Skills for photography, the question was posed “Where I’m stuck is the step between picking the strongest image and playing with software. How do I decide what to do with it. ” This seemingly simple question is one of the most fundamental in photography and is one that I found myself wrestling with for a number of years. This is how I resolved the for myself. As I am a Landscape Photographer I will speak about scenes but you can apply this approach to most forms of photography.

The key to deciding how to edit an image doesn’t start when you download the image to your computer, it starts much earlier. It even starts before you even lift the camera to take the shot. It actually starts when you spot the opportunity to capture an image. When something catches your eye and you recognise there is a photograph to be taken, at that moment you should be working out what has captured your attention.

Having identified something that is attracting you to a scene you will begin to take photographs. It’s unlikely your first image will be what you wanted (if it is you are either amazingly talented or very lazy) so you need to experiment with angles and composition. As you work with a scene your vision for the image should become stronger. This is the vision that will become so important when you come to edit your image later.

Having a strong vision is the key to understanding how to edit your image.

Having selected the image that you want to work with; the one that best represents your vision, you should ask yourself 2 questions:

  1. What defects is the image suffering from that I need to correct? Perhaps it’s too bright or it looks a little flat. Perhaps it has a lot of dark areas which look ugly and need to be opened up. Spend time looking at the image and identify what you don’t like about it. Defects in the image hide your vision from the viewer.
  2. Now consider your vision and ask how can this image be enhanced to better convey my vision for the photograph? This should take you right back to the reason for taking the picture in the first instance. Why did you take the picture? How can you emphasise this aspect of the image to the viewer?

As you consider these questions, make notes about the changes that you would like to make. Don’t try to get all technical about how you will make the adjustments, just describe the changes. If you want to make some dark areas lighter, write that down. If you want to make the pinks more vibrant and colourful, write it down. If you think the image looks a little hazy and you want to give it more snap, write that down.

Once you have the list of changes you need to write out a plan for the adjustments you will make. Start with the global adjustments and work down to the smaller localised changes. Also try to make the corrections and fixes (question 1) before you make the enhancements (question 2).

I hope I haven’t made this sound easy as it’s not. It takes years of practice to develop your own styles and preferences as well as the skills necessary to be able to make the adjustments. But preserve and improvements will come.

Starting image for the scene above.
Starting image for the scene above.

3 thoughts on “Deciding how to edit a photograph

    Charlie Nowaczek said:
    August 26, 2014 at 9:46 pm

    Reblogged this on Charlie Nowaczek.

    alan@systemstl.co.uk said:
    August 27, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Very nice capture and post process Robin, was this one of your micro 4/3 camera shots?
    Regards,
    Alan

      thelightweightphotographer responded:
      August 27, 2014 at 7:19 pm

      Thank you. Yes it was shot with a Micro 43. The Olympus OMD EM5 with an Olympus 12-40mm lens. On the climb up (I came up at the end point in the picture) I was pleased I wasn’t carrying anything larger. On the way down at the other side I think I came off at the wrong point and found myself wishing I just had a point and shoot with me.

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