Your Guide to Basic Photo Editing.

While Instagram is a mobile platform, don’t be fooled — a lot of those beautiful photos are edited. Yes, sometimes the perfect shot happens with the perfect lighting… and then some guy pokes his face in the corner and ruins it (the cool kids call this ‘photobombing,’ as my good friend is demonstrating).

I’m not just an IT guy. I’ve shot events, boudoir, and fashion, and I know a thing or two about editing photos.

Editing can change your images from being ho-hum to exceptional. In this blog I’ll explain the basics so that you can improve the images that appear on your website, social media, email, or any other digital platform. Quality imagery makes your work look more professional, and it helps you better communicate your brand, whether it’s personal or business.

Let’s get to it!

Photo Editing Jargon Explained

Before we start, let’s get the terminology down so you know what I’m talking about. Here are some of the more common terms you’ll see when editing your photos:

Exposure: the amount of light the camera receives. An underexposed photo will be dark.

DSLR: a digital camera with a removable lens

JPEG, PNG, GIF, TIFF: these are all different image file formats.

Pixels: these are the little squares or dots of colour that make up your photo. If someone tells you a photo is pixelated, it means that the pixels are too large, blurring your image. This happens in low-light or from using a poor quality camera. On a screen these are measured in ppi (pixels per inch) and in print they’re measured in dpi (dots per inch)

Resolution: this determines the visual quality of your photo, and it’s based on the number of pixels or dots per square inch. Most digital screens (phone, computer, etc.) require a 72 ppi (pixels-per-inch) resolution or higher. If you’re printing your image you’ll want 240-300 ppi or higher. 

Saturation: the amount and density of colour in a photo. Over-saturated photos are super bright and often hard to make out, while under-saturated photos are closer to grey.

The rest of the jargon will come with time. Always remember: Google is your friend!

Photo Editing Software

If you use a DSLR camera, then I highly recommend Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop. Alternatives include Picmonkey and Google Photos, which are both free.

You can take good photos on your smartphone too. Here are some image editing apps you can download:

  • Adobe Photoshop Express
  • Autodesk Pixlr
  • Camera+
  • Camera360
  • Darkroom

Good photo editing software should give you the ability to crop your image, rotate it, and adjust the contrast, colouring, and exposure.

Photo Editing Best Practices

If you’re editing photographs for your website or social media, it’s best to first determine your style, which will help to keep your brand consistent.

Popular photo editing styles include:

  • The retro/vintage or muted look. You can achieve this by adjusting your colour settings and saturation. These images are soft and often have a lot of light.  
  • The high contrast look. Dark darks and bright whites. You can achieve this look by adjusting your contrast and brightness settings. High contrast is bold and eye-catching. 
  • Black and white. Play with saturation and contrast to get the effect you seek. Good black and white photography features excellent lighting. 
  • Monochromatic. Focus on one colour. You can overlay colour on your image or adjust the colour and saturation settings to focus on one colour.

The ‘Rule Of Thirds’ helps to draw the attention of the viewer to a certain point in the photo, which makes it more pleasing to the eye. Here’s how you do it: divide your photo evenly into three columns and three rows, sort of like a tic-tac-toe grid. Where the lines intersect is where the focus of your image should be. You may have to crop your image to achieve the rule of thirds, so try to keep it in mind when you’re taking photos.

You can’t really fix an incredibly blurry or pixelated image, but if your photo is just slightly out of focus you can apply clarity or sharpness settings to improve the image’s appearance. 

Lastly, if your photo is too bright or dark, you’ll want to adjust it. How bright do you want your whites, and how dark do you want your shadows? You can make minor adjustments with exposure settings, but your contrast and brightness settings will often do the trick.

All photo editing software comes with ‘save’ and ‘back/undo’ features, so don’t worry if you make a mistake. If you like something, save it before making further changes. Don’t be afraid to save multiple versions of the same image – this way you can look at them side by side and choose the best one.

Play around with editing until you find a style you like, and then run with it. And above all, remember to have fun!

West Coast Photographic Co.

If you’re in the market for a photographer, give me a call. I’ve shot everything from weddings to grad parties, and sound stages to our beautiful west coast rain forests. I’d love to help with your next project – no matter how big or small.


Gord (Photographer and IT Geek)