5 Things to Avoid in Photo Editing / by Dylan Kotecki

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There’s a particular art to maximizing the potential of a photo when you’re editing. Some people like to go to great lengths to process their photos while others stick with more simple editing styles. With anything today, there are great edits, and there are not so great edits. I want to give you my list of 5 things you should avoid when editing your next photos.

Don’t Oversaturate

The first thing you should avoid when editing is to over-saturate. Over-saturating a photo can cause a lot of color distractions and make photos seem overly processed and fake. Too much color in a photo can be distracting to your viewer, so it’s always smart to keep an eye on your saturation. Saturation can either make or break a photo. Take a sunset photo, for example. There’s a huge difference when increasing the saturation to bring back some cloud color and making your beautiful scene look as though it was processed in Microsoft® Paint. A lot of the time people have a decent saturation of color in their photo straight-from-camera, but they turn it up because everyone likes a little color boost. I know I do, I tend to increase the saturation most of the time I’m editing a photo. However, anytime I’m dealing with saturation I lower it to 0 first. Next time you want to modify the color saturation in your photo try dragging the slider to 0 and pause for a second. Look how beautiful it looks in black and white. Maybe it would look better that way, it doesn’t hurt to try. Right? Are you fiending for some color? Okay now grab that slider and stare ONLY at the photo itself and not the saturation control. Drag the slider back until you find the saturation adjustment you are looking for. I think you’ll be surprised at how little you need to make a big difference.








Don’t Always Stay in Color

Another thing people often overlook in photo editing is that they don’t have to have color in their photo at all. The absence of color in photos can be remarkably helpful in increasing your photo’s contrast and tonality. Color can be distracting so desaturating it can remove distractions around your photo that may not be appealing to the viewer. Also, there is just something so genuine and timeless about a black and white look on a photo. A lot of the times when I convert my photo to black and white it’s when I can’t get the look I’m going for with color. Sometimes it takes me awhile to figure out that I need to go monochromatic. Often I wish I would have made it black and white in the beginning to see how it looked. Generally speaking, if your photo looks good in color, it’s probably going to look good in black and white as well. 



Don’t Overdo the Details

The third thing I see a lot in post-processing is the overuse of the structure slider and Dynamic Contrast. Don’t get me wrong I love adding in some micro contrast to make my photo pop but overusing them can cause subject haloing, distracting detail, and make your photo seem unnatural. I know a lot of people that won’t even start with the tone of their photo, they will begin with adjusting the structure to add detail. Which is completely fine but if your photo is lacking in tone and composition, no amount of detail can help your photo become more interesting. If you take one piece of advice for modifying detail in your photo, please let it be this: start small. What I like to do when using the structure slider especially is to do the same as I did with saturation and drop it down to 0 and then bring it back to the amount I want. If you prefer a different way, at least take a moment to inspect your photos detail to see if it needs any amount of micro-contrast added onto it. When adding Dynamic Contrast, I like to start with the Natural style first and then move onto Soft if Natural seems too heavy with detail. You could also reset all the sliders back to 0 and save that as a Reset style so you can start fresh with the sliders the next time you add Dynamic Contrast as a filter. Micro-contrast is a great tool to add detail to your photo, but a little goes a long way.









Don’t Overexpose or Underexpose

The fourth thing that is an editing no-no is to under or overexpose your photo in post-processing. The exposure slider might be the most basic adjustment control in the software world, and besides the saturation and structure slider, it may also be the most overused. The exposure slider is used to increase or decrease the exposure of your images, which in turn will brighten or darken your image. It’s a great tool to use, and it does a great job bringing up the exposure of your photo, but when done incorrectly you can have blown out photos or dark subjects that your viewer can’t even see. A lot of times people think to increase the exposure when dealing with shadowy areas in the foreground or background and end up with blown out areas because the exposure is going to be increased across the entire photo and not just the shadowy areas. If you find yourself in this position, say you have a foreground subject that is dark and have some clouds in the background that are a little blown out, turning up the exposure to reveal the dark subject is just going to blow your clouds out more. The best thing to do when you have two different tonalities for your subject and background is to adjust your exposure to tone down the blown out areas. Then use the incredibly powerful shadow slider to bring back some shadow detail and reveal your dark subject. Vice versa if you have a blown out subject, however, it’s tough to recover detail from a blown out subject because that usually means your background is blown out as well.






Don’t Think Replacing Backgrounds is Easy (or Good)

The last thing I see a lot of photo editing is landscape composites that don’t work. For example, a sky replacement done so poorly it seems out of place and unnatural. Replacing skies in photos can be a great way to add an impressive background if the sky is a little flat, dull or blown out. However, replacing the sky in photo editing is most often NOT necessary. If you do choose to take on this seemingly easy editing task, know this, realistic ones will take some time to do correctly. This also goes for any method that involves removing or replacing objects in your photos such as removing the ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend from the family picnic photo. It will require some time.

Consider the steps it’s going to take to successfully replace a sky in your photo editing. First, you must have a basic understanding of masking. From there you must know how to blend the mask into the original photo so that your result photo looks realistic. It’s easy to spot terrible landscape composites, so if you want to be good at it know how to use these tools to their fullest. Also, consider a much more natural looking and less time-consuming route. There are plenty of other ways you can enhance a dull sky in photo editing. For example, you could use the Textures filter in Effects to subtly blend in some cloud textures or import your own to make your sky pop without having to use separate layers. Try dodging and burning using the Local Adjustment brushes as well. In just a few clicks you will be adding drama to an otherwise dull sky. Now if you do decide to go for the more editing intensive new sky swap, start in small steps. Use a lower opacity on your masking brush at first to see how little or how much of the new sky you need to be blending in.  My recommendation is to start by brushing in your replacement sky at lower opacities until you reach a natural look. Subtlety is key with most landscape composites, if they are overdone it will be very apparent.






Thanks for reading! Let me know what you would add to this list in the comments.