Pro­fes­sion­al pho­tog­ra­phers don’t just take a pho­to. They use var­i­ous edit­ing tech­niques to change the image so it looks the way they want it to, not the way it is. Some of these meth­ods involve set­ting up the equip­ment on site, while oth­ers involve post-pro­cess­ing edit­ing.

photographer with camera

And do not think that this is an exclu­sive­ly mod­ern phe­nom­e­non. The art of pho­tog­ra­phy has includ­ed the manip­u­la­tion of images since the 1800s. If you love cre­at­ing pro­fes­sion­al pho­tos and pho­to­books, look for addi­tion­al cre­ative tools. We’ve got some pro­fes­sion­al pho­to edit­ing tips to help you get start­ed.

The best advice for beginners

The best advice for begin­ner pho­tog­ra­phers is this: exper­i­ment and have fun.


Don’t feel like you need to cre­ate pro­fes­sion­al grade images right now. Get to know your hard­ware, learn pho­to edit­ing soft­ware, and learn to stop wor­ry­ing and enjoy edit­ing. There will be great pho­tos, some set­backs, but if you enjoy the process, the effort is not wast­ed.

To start your exper­i­ments, it makes sense to imi­tate the style of one of your favorite pho­tog­ra­phers. Maybe you like a pho­tog­ra­ph­er who edits in bright, sur­re­al col­ors, or maybe some­one who uses lighter touch­es for more real­ism. Either way, recre­at­ing a par­tic­u­lar pho­tog­ra­pher’s style will not only help you get used to your gear, it may even pro­duce some unique results.

Exposure Basics

Expo­sure is the amount of light that hits the film or image sen­sor. Under­stand­ing expo­sure is impor­tant for edit­ing, as prop­er con­trol will give you the image you want to work with. There are three main impact com­po­nents (the so-called impact tri­an­gle):

  • ISO is the cam­er­a’s light sen­si­tiv­i­ty. The low­er the ISO val­ue, the dark­er the image and vice ver­sa.
  • Aper­ture is the hole in the lens that allows light to pass through. Small aper­tures cre­ate a large depth of field and vice ver­sa.
  • Shut­ter speed is the speed at which the shut­ter opens to let in light. The slow­er the speed, the more light is let in.

By chang­ing these com­po­nents, you will get pho­tos of dif­fer­ent focus, clar­i­ty, col­or sat­u­ra­tion, depth of field, etc. This will direct­ly affect the qual­i­ty of the pho­tos you work with in post-process, so you should famil­iar­ize your­self with each of them.

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Photo by Erwin Olaf

tips for photographers

Low Light Tips

Shoot­ing in low light can be dif­fi­cult, but since many fam­i­ly moments take place late in the evening — sports events, din­ner par­ties, sum­mer evening out­ings — learn­ing to shoot in these less-than-ide­al con­di­tions is well worth it.

Three main clues in low light:

  • Use a larg­er aper­ture to let in more light, increase the ISO for a brighter image, slow down your shut­ter speed to lim­it motion blur.
  • The result­ing image may be a bit grainy, but this can be removed in post-pro­cess­ing. For exam­ple, if you’re using Pho­to­shop, you can find the Reduce Noise tool under the Fil­ter sec­tion.
  • How about flash? Bet­ter not to over­do it. We’ve all seen these over­ex­posed images in pale light. If you have an exter­nal flash, you can exper­i­ment with indi­rect light, but if in doubt, don’t use it.

Low resolution tips

What is the best res­o­lu­tion? It all depends on how you plan to use the pho­to. For print projects such as pho­to books, the high­er the res­o­lu­tion, the bet­ter the image will look. Unsure of your choice? Then shoot in high def­i­n­i­tion in any sit­u­a­tion. Sub­se­quent­ly, you can always reduce the res­o­lu­tion.

Online images are the excep­tion. They typ­i­cal­ly have a PPI (pix­els per inch) of 72 because that res­o­lu­tion pre­vents long load­ing times while main­tain­ing a decent look on the mon­i­tor. But online images look blur­ry when print­ed, so it’s best to shoot in high res­o­lu­tion and zoom out in the edi­tor.

Edit­ing pro­grams offer the option to increase the res­o­lu­tion. Pho­to­shop’s Resam­ple Image tool increas­es the PPI of an image. Con­sid­er this a patch solu­tion as the images are not as clear as if they were orig­i­nal­ly cap­tured at the desired res­o­lu­tion.

Photo Resizing Tips

Mod­ern soft­ware makes pho­to resiz­ing eas­i­er than ever. In Pho­to­shop, the Image Size option is locat­ed on the Image tab and lets you adjust image dimen­sions in pix­els, doc­u­ment size, and res­o­lu­tion. Also, you can use pho­to edi­tor with effects “Pho­toMAS­TER”.


Don’t be afraid to exper­i­ment with crop­ping when resiz­ing. For exam­ple, if you’re down­siz­ing an image, you might want to move some frames and re-cen­ter the object. Alter­na­tive­ly, when you zoom in on an image, you can move the object around to cre­ate dynam­ic neg­a­tive space.

See also
2012 National Geographic Photo Contest Winners and Competitors

Focus Tips

Don’t be afraid to dis­able aut­o­fo­cus and give man­u­al focus a try. Mod­ern cam­eras have incred­i­bly advanced aut­o­fo­cus, but some­times you will find that the cam­era is “hunt­ing” for the sub­ject you want to focus on. Using man­u­al focus gives you much more free­dom to get the shot you want. Instead, use one aut­o­fo­cus. This tells your cam­era that you will be focus­ing on one sub­ject and there is no need to make every­thing in the pic­ture super clear.

The excep­tion is when you are try­ing to lock onto an active tar­get. In this case, use con­tin­u­ous aut­o­fo­cus in com­bi­na­tion with burst mode. And let’s not for­get edit­ing soft­ware. Pho­to­shop has a Focus Area option to help you high­light your sub­ject, and a Lens Blur option to defo­cus the back­ground even more.

Tips for reducing motion blur

The best way to reduce motion blur is to fix the cam­era. Grab a tri­pod and let the engi­neers do the work for you — it’s a “work smarter, not hard­er” sit­u­a­tion. Of course, some­times a tri­pod won’t be prac­ti­cal, so you need to get cre­ative. Use fences or pub­lic bench­es, lean against a wall, or keep your hands on a table.

Since a faster shut­ter notices less move­ment, increase the shut­ter speed. If you are using a 100mm lens, the shut­ter should take a pic­ture at 1/100 of a sec­ond. If it’s a 200mm lens, the shut­ter should shoot at 1/200th of a sec­ond. And so on.


You can fur­ther reduce blur­ring in post-pro­cess­ing. Pho­to­shop has a “Shake Reduc­tion” option under the Fil­ter tab. If you are going to use the motion blur effect, select “Motion Blur” in the same tab.

Landscape Photography Tips

This is a great area for prac­tic­ing pro­fes­sion­al edit­ing tech­niques. Land­scapes pro­vide a ton of dif­fer­ent ways to exper­i­ment. When shoot­ing, try a polar­iz­ing lens. This will reduce reflec­tions, sup­press glare, and dark­en the sky. You will also want to focus on the fore­ground and back­ground to main­tain a sense of depth while giv­ing the view­er a sense of pres­ence. Just con­nect a small aper­ture to a slow shut­ter speed and hold your cam­era steady.

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Children risk their lives to get to school

Then refine the details while edit­ing. Enhance clar­i­ty and use any option you need to remove noise (grain). There is no wrong or right answer here. Just keep exper­i­ment­ing until the pho­to seems attrac­tive enough.

Item framing

Too many begin­ner pho­tog­ra­phers cen­ter their sub­ject in the viewfind­er. Of course it looks bor­ing. Fram­ing allows you to express your­self through the world, so get out of the box and try some­thing dif­fer­ent. One of the ways to dec­o­rate the com­po­si­tion is the Gold­en Ratio. Imag­ine a Fibonac­ci spi­ral above the frame and align the frame so that the points of inter­est nat­u­ral­ly face the view­er from out­side the spi­ral towards its cen­ter.

You can also look for ways to frame a frame with­in a frame. Think of a land­scape shot through an open win­dow, a child sur­round­ed by a play­ground, or a part­ner framed by trees. When edit­ing, remem­ber that you can manip­u­late the crop by crop­ping it, rotat­ing it, or drag­ging it with the mouse.

Color Tips

Col­ored slid­ers can intim­i­date the unini­ti­at­ed. There are so many num­bers, the changes can seem too dra­mat­ic and the desired palette can be real­ly hard to achieve. Our first tip is to con­sid­er the desired effect. Do you want to ele­vate col­ors to sur­re­al lev­els? Then turn up the sat­u­ra­tion. Do you want to high­light a spe­cif­ic col­or? Then don’t for­get to play with its con­trast. Are you try­ing to evoke cer­tain emo­tions? Then hit­ting the heat slid­er can add an antique effect.

Pay atten­tion to all the col­ors present in the pic­ture. Your wood­land land­scape may be focused on bright oranges, yel­lows and reds of leafy forests in autumn, but blue skies also begs to be framed? If so, don’t ignore this blue col­or.

With land­scape pho­tog­ra­phy, col­or is ulti­mate­ly an artis­tic choice, so don’t assume there is a wrong or right answer. The cor­rect answer is the one you find aes­thet­i­cal­ly pleas­ing.