When I started learning about photography, I did everything by reading/watching tutorials on the internet, practicing it, and trying things out. This included editing.
And boy, did I make many photo-editing mistakes in the past.
My editing style has evolved over the years. You can see that during my early days, I was a big fan of yellow filters, and I seemed to struggle with enhancing my photos while keeping it look natural. I did everything too much. Too much contrast, too much saturation, too much… editing.
Too much yellow filter (taken in Bruges, 2012).
I never want to see those images I took in my early days now, as they make me cringe and wonder in disbelief, ‘Was I actually blind? How could I not see how unnatural and bad all these photos look?’
So I’m going to share with you a few rookie mistakes that I did (some of these are still common now, from my observation). These are pretty basic, so if you’re more experienced in photography, you probably won’t find this very useful. But if you’re just starting, hop on!
5 photo-editing mistakes to avoid:
1. Overexposing the photos
Many people like bright, clean look for their photos, maybe with the colors washed out a bit. While the style and tone of your editing style are very much up to you, be careful when tuning up the exposure meter in your editing app/software. When you brighten your photo too much, you risk losing the intricate details in the photo.
I overexposed the photo too much in the editing process. The white areas in the photos are too bright, the sky is jarringly white without details, and the lady’s face blends into the truck wall as the overexposure makes the photos lose the details and dimension (photo taken in Penzance, 2013).
The same thing applies when you take photos. It’s always better to take underexposed (i.e. slightly darker) photos rather than overexposed, as it’s always easier to brighten your photos rather than darkening them. And also, this way, you get to keep the details and quality of the photos.
2. Bumping up the saturation too much
I made this mistake at some point during my early years of learning photography. I wanted to make the ocean look bluer, the sunset more yellow, or the fruits more luscious. The more the colors pop out, the better, I thought.
As you can imagine, the results were the opposite. Instead of looking better, they looked unnatural and ridiculous. I took decent pictures (if I may say so myself), but I ruined them in the editing process.
You can see the red and blue colours in the playground look fake, and the leaves are unnaturally green (photo taken in Batu Hijau, 2012).
Unless you’re doing a conceptual photography or doing something whimsical and imaginative, be sensible when playing with the saturation and vibrance. Subjects can look duller in photos, so if you want to make them look better, edit them so they look like how they do in reality.
3. Adding too much contrast, too much sharpening, too much shadows-lightening, etc.
This is similar to the previous point, and I used to be guilty of this as well. When I look at my photos from a few years ago, I’ll cringe and look away. It’s clear I added too much contrast and oversharpened my images to make them look more interesting (they didn’t; they looked amateurish instead).
This one is obvious. It would look more natural (and much better) if I’d toned down the contrast and sharpening (photo taken in Sumbawa, 2012).
Just like with everything else in editing, the key is to not overdo it. You want to make your images look realistically stunning, not like somebody went rampant on the keyboard during the editing process.
4. Not straightening lines
I’ll admit, this is one of my pet peeves. I always want to scream inside when I see a potentially good image with crooked lines just because the photographer didn’t bother to fix it. Think of a wonky horizon, askew buildings, etc. You get the gist. These photos could be SO much better if only the photographer spent 1 minute rotating it a bit to straighten the lines.
The one thing I’ve got right since the beginning is straightening lines (photo taken in Pulau Keramat, 2012).
If you’ve got lines in your photo, make sure they’re straight (unless you intentionally want to make them look wonky). Trust me, this little tip makes a huge difference.
5. Blurring things out unsmoothly
Another mistake I did, back when I didn’t have a lens with wide aperture but was desperate to have some bokeh effect in my photos. Adobe Photoshop had this feature called ‘lens blur’, so I used it like a maniac.
The blur in this photo is a bit more subtle (I was trying to look for photos with worse blur effect but couldn’t find any), but you can see I was trying to keep the sign on focus while blurring everything else (photo taken in Prague, 2012).
Blurring things out is okay. I get that it’s a really nice effect that can bring the focus to the subject. But when you blur your photos in the editing process (rather than getting the effect from the lens), remember that blur added with editing tools can look fake, and it’s easy to spot that. It’s a hard balance to strike between adding the blur and keeping the photo look natural.
Now I tend to shy away from blurring things out with editing tools, so that would be my suggestion. But if you really want to, do it lightly (and be thorough as not to miss those tiny spots). When you can’t be bothered to do that, I’d say it’s best to avoid it altogether (or better yet, invest in a good prime lens, it’s worth it!).
When it comes to editing, just remember that you want to enhance the images, not transform them into something unregonizable. Moderation is the key, so don’t go overboard when playing with all the editing features.
What photo-editing mistakes have you made in the past?