Improve Your Photography – The Comprehensive Guide
Let’s unpack it together in this photography tutorial.
Improve your photography – The comprehensive guide
85 photography tips & tutorials to improve your photos and make your photography look more professional.
Whether you’re a beginner photographer or photography is your full time job, we are all looking to improve and take better, more professional photos. Here are 85 practical photography tips you can easily apply to make your photos more professional & instantly improve your photography.
The quickest way to improve your photography is by focusing on the fundamentals of taking great photos: Camera settings, lighting, posing, composition and editing make up some of the most important areas to focus on to get better at photography.
This guide breaks all of these areas down into simple, easy to apply tips & tutorials, giving your simple ways to improve your photography immediately.
Remember: There is no substitute for actually going out and practicing what you learn!
If you’re really serious about improving, I’d recommend you bookmark this page to come back to, and choose a handful of photography tips to work on each week.
Following this method you’ll be able to get better at photography every time you go pick up your camera.
Ready? Let’s dive in.
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Master Your Camera Settings
Improving your photography skills starts with the basics. Just like learning to play an instrument, learning to properly use a camera and mastering all its settings takes time and lots of practice! Only when a musician masters the basics can they sit down and truly let their creativity take over. The same is true for your photography – Once you master your camera settings it is SO freeing! You’ll be able to flow in the moment and release all your creativity.
Recommended list of camera settings you need to understand:
#1 Learn to shoot in manual mode
Setting your camera on auto can do a decent job, but to truly get the most out of your camera, you need to have control of all the settings and set them intentionally for the scene.
#2 Shoot with the lowest possible ISO
This will ensure the cleanest and highest quality photos. For more read our guide to ISO for photographers.
#3 Make sure you set your camera to take photos with the largest file setting.
If possible, shoot in RAW or DNG. These types of files have much more flexibility when editing, and also have more information stored in the file. This is important because it means
a) You can be more creative
b) If you make a mistake (overexpose, underexpose, incorrect white balance etc) you can easily correct it afterwards.
#4 Learn how to use aperture for blurry backgrounds & depth of field
Aperture is a fancy word that describes how much light your lens is letting in to the camera sensor, and affects how blurry your background is, and more blurry background is one of the easiest ways to make your photos look more professional.
Aperture is pretty confusing to understand at first so we actually made a whole video tutorial explaining how aperture and depth of field work here.
#5 Use the correct shutter speed
The way a photo is taken is by letting light onto your camera sensor for a fraction of a second. Shutter speed is how long that light gets let in. This shows up in your camera as a fraction of a second, such as 1/50th, 1/100, 1/1000 etc.
Here are some quick tips for shutter speed:
a) Faster shutter speeds like 1/500 and 1/1000 will be less blurry than slower speeds like 1/25 and 1/50.
b) Generally, aim for a minimum shutter speed of 2X your lens length to be safe. So using a 35mm lens, the lowest you’d ever want to set you shutter speed is 1/70th of a second.
c) You can break this rule to intentionally shooting with a slow shutter speed to add blur to your image. Photographers often do this to add a “speed blur” to photos of moving cars.
#6 Set your exposure strategically
Exposure is essentially a term for how bright or dark your photo is. Getting the right exposure is important because if you get the wrong exposure, you might lose detail in your highlights or shadows.
Here are some general tips for setting your exposure:
a) Set your exposure so that the most important part of your image is the correct level of brightness.
b) For portraits, expose for skin / people, not the background.
c) For landscapes, expose for sky
d) If in doubt, underexpose just a little. Cameras are much better at recovering shadows that are too dark than highlights that are too bright, so in a bright situation you will have better results when editing if your photo is slightly underexposed.
e) Avoid clipping blacks and whites when possible. Clipping is when you lose information in your shadows or highlights. To see if you are clipping blacks or whites, most cameras have a zebra stripes tool that will visually warn you when parts of your image are in danger of clipping.
You can save this handy manual mode photography cheat sheet for when you need a quick refresher:
Make The Right Lens Choice
Lens choice has a MASSIVE effect on how professional your photos look. Knowing what effect different lenses create and choosing the right one for the job will instantly improve your photos.
Some quick lens tips & descriptions:
12mm to 24mm = Ultra Wide Angle.
Ultra wide angle lenses capture a very wide field of view & feel very immersive. They also exaggerate perspective by making the background seem further away. They generally have very little blur in background and not a lot of depth of field
35mm = Medium Wide.
Less distortion but still wide enough to capture landscapes etc. Preferred by many photographers. Slightly more blur in background
50mm = Medium
Very little distortion but harder to capture large scenes. Very flattering for portraits with nice blurred background.
85mm to 200mm plus = Telephoto
Very blurred background. Image compression makes the background appear flatter and everything looks closer together. Mostly used for portraits / situations where you can’t physically get closer to the subject of your photo.
Understand light – And learn different lighting techniques.
There are many important parts that make a good photograph, but lighting is absolutely most important. A cheap camera can create AMAZING photos as long as the lighting is good. Likewise, it doesn’t matter what kind of amazing gear you own if your lighting is bad. To improve your photography, improve your lighting!
We’re going to do a more in depth lighting tutorial in the future, but here are some key pointers when it comes to improving your lighting & finding good light:
Natural light is almost always better.
While its possible to use fancy strobes and giant soft boxes to create decent indoor lighting, the best light in the world is outside – And its free! Whenever possible, use a nice large window or head outside to instantly improve the quality of your photos.
Avoid mixed light
When photographing indoors, avoid mixing indoor light with window light. Different kinds of light have different colors to them, and when you put them together you’ll often get an ugly mess. Mixing light = Inconsistent, strange color. Whenever possible, shut off indoor lights and simply use the window. If this doesn’t work, then consider closing the blinds so that you don’t have mixed light in your photos. You’ll have much better color as a result.
Softer light = better
Photographers describe the quality of light by saying its “soft” or “hard” – You can think of these as “flattering” and “harsh”. Soft light is created when light is diffused. It can help to think of diffused light like water: Gentle waves lapping on your toes are like diffused light. Its been spread out and tamed to be pleasant. Harsh hard light is like a super soaker spraying you straight in the face – Its too directional, and so the result is far less enjoyable!
Soft light can be found:
- In the shade
- Indoors beside a window
- Outside on cloudy days
- Outside when the sun is lower in the sky
Photograph around sunrise or sunset
Not only is the light softer around sunrise and sunset, but the direction of the light also creates deeper, richer colors. This is a simple way to make your photography look far more professional – Don’t take your photos at noon or when the sun is high in the sky, as the lighting is going to be harsh and washed out.
Using flash? Bounce it off the ceiling!
If you absolutely MUST use flash, try pointing it towards the ceiling instead of towards your model. As the light reflects off the ceiling, it will spread out and create a larger, more diffused light source.
Use color & learn different color schemes
Want a guaranteed recipe for great photography?
Great lighting, an amazing background, and beautiful, cohesive colors.
Color is one of the most powerful ways to communicate emotion and art in your photography. One of the easiest ways to tell the difference between a professional photographer and an amateur is their attention to color. Pay attention to all the different colors in your photos – What your model is wearing, the colors in the background, and even the color of the light that is lighting the scene. The more effectively you use color, the more you will improve your photography and develop a professional looking portfolio.
How professional photographers use color:
A monochromatic color scheme is when you keep all the colors in your photo within ONE primary color. Think of it like the ultimate in color minimalism. It provides a beautiful and cohesive, almost surreal look to your imagery. For more info read our in-depth guide to monochromatic color schemes. Here is an example of a monochromatic color scheme + color palette:
A complementary color scheme focuses on using just TWO main colors in your photo. This could be essentially any two colors you prefer, but usually is going to involve one color being the color family of your skin (red, orange, brown) and whatever other color your background is composed of.
Dive deeper in our no nonsense guide to complementary color schemes
Here is an example of a complementary color scheme + color palette:
An analogous palette color scheme is going to use colors that are close to each other in the color wheel. Think classic matching colors.
A few examples of analogous palettes would include:
Red, yellow, orange
Blue, purple, red
Here is an example of an analogous palette color scheme:
HOT TIP: Want to learn color from the pros? Analyze your fav movies & tv shows!
Next time you sit down to watch your favorite TV show or movie, pay attention to the colors of EVERYTHING. Makeup, costume, lighting, props, background – All of it was intentionally chosen around the color palette for that production. You’ll be surprised just how often everything matches perfectly (without you ever noticing) If you’re looking to take amazing travel portraits and travel photos, look for cohesive color schemes. Wes Anderson is amazing example of this. Master color, and you’re well on your way to mastering selfies.
Improve your compositions
One of the simplest ways to improve your photography is to improve the framing for your photos. Framing is the photography term for how things are laid out and arranged in your photo, including how much of the background is shown, the angle of your camera, and how much of the photo you fill. Pretty much everything to do with the positioning of elements in your photo.
We won’t go too detailed in this, but it’s essential you decide what kind of framing is going to best tell your story.
Here are some quick framing tips & techniques to try out:
Start with the rule of thirds
This is the most essential framing tool out there. The rule of thirds simple divides your photo into 3 sections vertically and horizontally. To create a well balanced image, place elements along the intersection of these lines. Many cameras allow you to add these lines as an overlay so you can easily line things up when taking your photo.
Make use of leading lines
Leading lines are natural lines in an image that you frame in such a way that they point towards your subject. This is helpful because your eyes don’t take in an image all at once. When you look at a new photo, your eyes look for clues to figure out what to look at. Leading lines work like big flashing arrow signs that say “LOOK HERE” to your eyes. Giving your photos a clear purpose and direction will make them feel much more professional.
Create contrast in your framing – big vs small, light vs dark
My friend Daniel Han does an amazing job at this. If you look at his instagram feed, almost every image has something big contrasted by something small. This helps show you the scale of what is being photographed, and also adds extra dimension and interest.
Add depth by including elements in the foreground, middle & background
Generally your subject will be somewhere in the middle ground. Try and position elements and frame your photo so that there are elements in front of and behind your subject to create depth in your photo.
Select a better background
One of the downright easiest ways to improve your photography is just to take pictures in more beautiful & interesting places, and to get rid of anything in your background that is distracting or takes away from the story you are trying to tell.
For instance, this photo here would be far better if it weren’t for the television & water bottle sitting behind our model:
Paying attention to details like this is incredibly important if you’re trying to improve your photography and grow as a photographer. Professional photographers spend as much time on the background of their photos as they do on their subject. A distracting or ugly background will ruin an otherwise great photo. The background of your photo has a HUGE impact on whether your photo looks like a professional shot vs amateur.
For more detailed tips and ideas, check out the in depth guide to framing photos.
Photograph from different angles
The angle of your camera has a HUGE impact on the way your scene and subject look. Simply angling your camera in different directions can totally change the look and feel of your photos.
Here’s some quick tips for different camera angles:
Shooting horizontal at different heights.
Taking photos with your camera level but at waist level will often produce a much more pleasing look than with your camera at eye level. Try it yourself!
Shooting down on your subject
Photographing from above and pointing the camera down makes your eyes appear larger and your chin appear smaller. This will give you a more innocent, childlike look. From a distance, photos taken from above will make you appear shorter.
Shooting up towards your subject
Photographing from slightly below your model and pointing the camera up will emphasize your chin and make your eyes appear smaller. This will give you a more confident, sexy or dominant appearance. From a distance, photos taken from below will make your legs appear longer and make you appear taller.
Birds eye view
Photos taken from unusual angles are instantly more interesting to look at because they provide a fresh perspective. You can take these photos using an overhang, (safely) standing on a sturdy table, or even using a drone!
Bugs eye view
Bugs eye view is the opposite of birds eye. Get as low to the ground as your camera can allow for another completely fresh perspective.
Maximize Image Quality
You want to take the best possible quality photos. Here are some quick tips to improve the quality of your photography:
If on a phone, use your back camera & not your selfie camera
The main camera on your phone is WAY better quality and resolution than the selfie cam. Whenever possible, avoid using the selfie camera.
Taking landscapes? Try a graduated lens filter!
Taking photos of sunsets normally means you have a VERY bright sky and a VERY dark everything else! Graduated filters attach to the end of your lens and darken the sky so that you can properly expose everything in your shot.
Photographing water? Try a polarizing filter
Without getting too science-y, a polarizing filter removes glare from light reflecting off of the water. Adding a polarizing filter onto your lens will get rid of this glare and add more color to the water.
Use a tripod
Did you know even when you stand perfectly still, your body is still moving? Its impossible to hold your camera perfectly still, which means there is a tiny amount of jiggle happening in your photo that will make photos less sharp (Especially at longer shutter speeds over 1/100)
For maximum sharpness, place your camera on a tripod, and put it on a 2 second delay so that the camera is perfectly still when it takes the photo.
While this isn’t necessary for many situations, it is very helpful for real estate photography, long exposures and HDR / multiple exposures.
Improving your posing skills
If you take photos of people, then improving your posing makes a massive difference how professional your photos look.
Here are some basic posing tricks and tips!
Set the tone + connect before starting your shoot
One of the best posing tips I have ever heard is to spend some time BEFORE the photoshoot just hanging out. If you’ve just met your model / subject, get to know each other a little bit and have some fun. Find out ahead of time what their fav beverage is and bring a 4 pack with you to the shoot. Things like this help your subjects loosen up + builds trust and rapport. This makes a HUGE difference when you start taking photos and experimenting with different poses.
Use candid posing prompts + activities.
Candid posing prompts are little games and activities for people to do that get people laughing, having fun and interacting in an organic way. This is especially effective with subjects who aren’t used to being photographed. Simply getting people to do an activity of some sort (run, spin, dance, walk, give a piggy back etc) helps them to loosen up and creates real emotions & honest expressions.
Make shapes and angles with arms, legs and wrists
Our eyes are naturally drawn to interesting shapes and angles. Something as simple as changing the position of your hands can create dozens of different looks.
HOT TIP: You can even use your hand to cleverly hide a double chin or minimize other features
Get those arms AWAY from the body!
This makes them appear leaner, creates interesting shapes, and shows off your curves.
Moving your subjects arms and legs so they aren’t straight at their sides also shows off their figure in a much more flattering way.
The same posing tip applies to legs!
Lift your legs off of the ground / chair slightly when taking seated photos. This will have the same slimming, muscular effect on legs as with arms.
Angle your subject away from camera
Angling your subjects body towards or away from the camera gives you tons of fresh perspectives to play with.
One of the most posing mistakes photographers make is placing models facing straight towards the camera. A slight turn to 45 degrees away from the camera will show off your models profile in a far more flattering light. Experiment with different angles to find the best for your unique subject.
Focus on facial expressions
When taking photos of people, facial expressions are EVERYTHING. When working with non models the best way to get different expressions is through using prompts and other activities.
Do your photos feel a little stale? One of the simplest ways to add energy and life to a photo is by adding MOVEMENT! Living things are never completely still – So try getting your subject to move in different ways to add energy and realism to your photos.
Play with props
Props include anything a model is wearing, holding, or interacting with. For instance, a loose dress or skirt was practically MADE to spin around in – This will bring out interesting textures and shapes, and add movement to the scene at the same time. Try to use props in a way that blends with the scene of the photo. For instance a cold winter day might be the perfect setting for a hot steaming cup of cocoa and a blanket around your subject’s shoulders.
Interact with the scene
An easy way to improve you photos is by getting your subject to interact with the environment around them. This ties them together and creates a more cohesive image.
Chin forward & down
Pushing the chin slightly forward and down helps better define the jawline and shape of the face. This technique is a MUST for headshots!
Eyes slightly squinted
A very subtle squint will make your subject look more confident. The opposite is also true – Wide eyes will make your subject appear less confident and give a “deer in headlights” impression.
Tilt the head
No one naturally stands with their head perfectly straight all the time! Tilting the head adds another interesting angle to your photos and will also help your subject appear more natural. Try tilting the head in different directions – You’ll be surprised what a big difference this can make!
Soften the lips
When we are nervous or self conscious, the muscles in our face tend to contract slightly. A very small parting of the lips helps relax the face and elongates the chin for a more pleasing effect.
Learn new photography techniques
The most important things you can do to improve your photos and make them look more professional is to master the fundamentals of good photography. That said, sometimes learning a new photography technique can help spark creativity and challenge you to continue your growth as a photographer. Learning more advanced techniques can also help separate your photos as more professional.
Here are a few new photography techniques to learn:
A long exposure is a technique for capturing photos in low light, or emphasizing motion blur effects. This is achieved by using longer shutter speeds from 1 second all the way to 20 minutes! Different possible effects include astro photography, light trails, adding motion blur to the backgrounds of moving subjects, and adding a dreamlike blurred effect to things like crowds moving down the street, waves, creeks and waterfalls. Long exposure photography definitely requires a tripod, and can be extremely fun to learn!
Multiple exposures / Bracketing
When you have a very high contrast scene and a single exposure is not able to capture all of the shadows and the highlights without clipping, you might want to try a multiple exposure. Also called bracketing, this is a technique for taking several photos back to back of the same scene at different exposure settings to capture all the shadows and highlights. Then the photos are combined either in your camera or afterwards in a program like Lightroom or Photoshop to create one HDR photo that shows off everything in its best light. This is an exceptionally important technique for real estate photography, and definitely worth giving a try. Most cameras have this setting available somewhere in the menu, where you can select “bracketing” and then set the desired exposure difference between photos (1/3 stop, 1/2 stop, 1 stop etc) For best results use a tripod so that your camera stays perfectly still between photos.
Double exposures are a little bit like multiple exposures, except instead of combining multiple photos of the same scene, a double exposure combines photos from 2 or more different scenes to create something totally unique. Chances are good your camera has this function somewhere in the menu as well – Definitely worth trying out!
Become a story teller
The best photographers in the world don’t just take good photos. Their photos are so powerful because they don’t just know how to take a picture – They are master storytellers. Their photos communicate something – They tell a story and share an emotion. If you want to separate yourself from all the amateur photographers out there, become a storyteller.
Fundamentals of storytelling through photography:
Shoot with vision + purpose
Before you take a photo, take a second to decide on your vision and purpose. What do you want the viewer to feel when they see your photo? What message or emotions are you trying to communicate? Once you develop this vision, your next step is to figure out how to bring all of the different elements of your photo together towards that purpose.
Be intentional about everything (details matter)
Great photography is all about the details. Improving your photography is the process of mastering all the little details that make up the image, and then learning how to make them work together towards your vision. Framing, lighting, pose, props, clothing and every other element of your photo should all work in harmony with one another. The best professional photographers are masters at getting all the little tiny details right.
Emotion trumps perfection
While the details matter, there is nothing as important in your photo as the emotion behind it. Real, genuine emotions make more of an impact than a technically perfect photo. If you have to choose, prioritize emotion first.
Develop your own unique style
Developing your unique style is important if you want to stand out among all the photographers out there. The key is in mastering the basics first, and as you continue to grow and learn from other photographers, you’ll begin to find what kind of work resonates with you and which techniques and styles are most natural.
Essential tips for developing your own photography style:
Copy your favorite photographers
One of the fastest ways to get better at photography is by copying other photographers.
Find photographers whose work you LOVE and try to recreate their photos as closely as possible. Doing this will require you to test and figure out how they used lighting, color, posing and other techniques to create that image. Once you have recreated their techniques you can then apply them to your own work.
Watch movies with the sound off
A masterful movie is like a masterful photo – It brings all the different elements of sight and sound together to make the viewer feel something. If you want to learn how to master color, framing and other photography techniques from the best of the best, start watching movies and noticing these details. Turn off the sound to eliminate distractions and focus on the imagery. Watch for lighting, watch for color, watch for posing and framing and every little detail that is perfectly planned and intentionally serves the story. Wes Anderson movies are a must watch for his mastery of color and extremely creative framing, lens choice & set design.
Pay attention to the world around you
It’s often said that the best artists, comedians, actors, photographers and creatives are the people who pay the most attention to the world around them. They notice things most people don’t – And then they create artwork that expresses and shares the things that most people miss.
Start to observe light and shadows when you walk into a room or go out somewhere. Pay attention to the way that a coffee shop uses color, shape and sound to create an atmosphere. Observe the way that lines and geometry affect the way a building feels and flows with its surroundings. Become a student of the world around you, and your photography will grow in depth and richness as you become a better observer.
Create an inspiration board
Pinterest is an amazing resource for gathering collections of images that inspire you and to draw fresh ideas and perspective from. I have pinterest boards for every type of photography I do – Weddings, engagements, family photos, portraits, lifestyle shoots – you name it. I also have boards with inspiring color, graphic design and interior decor. Before a photoshoot I can simply pull up the board to grab inspiration and ideas. I’ll even snap a few photos of my favorite images to be able to reference during the shoot. Then if my mind ever goes blank or I need some quick ideas, I can look at the inspiration photos on my camera and come up with something new and fresh.
Take WAY more photos
No seriously – Take way, way, WAY more photos!
The fastest way to improve your photography is to go out and apply the things you learn.
The more you practice, the more you’ll learn and grow. And the more photos and variations you take during a shoot, the better ideas you’ll come up with.
Don’t ever expect to do your best work in one shot. Professionals often take 100+ variations for one keeper. So play with different options. Tweak the pose. Tweak the light. Change up the camera angles. Play with different compositions. Hone your image and embrace the creative process.
Professional photographers need to be able to produce consistent results every time they have a shoot. This is part of developing a strong brand. The most obvious difference between a beginner and a pro is the consistency of their work. Do your photos and your edits look wildly different from photo to photo, or from one photoshoot to the next? In the beginning this is good – You need to experiment, try new things and push yourself in order to improve as a photographer. As you master the fundamentals you will naturally grow in your consistency as a photographer.
Do the unexpected
When you have a firm grasp on the foundations of good photography, you’ll be able to decide when and where you need to follow certain rules. Sometimes intentionally breaking a rule when it comes to framing or color etc can help tell your story and add an extra dimension or intrigue to your photo. The key is in doing this ON PURPOSE. Master the fundamentals, and then when necessary, you can break the rules once in a while!
Try the exact opposite of what most people do
Whether you’re headed to a famous landmark or just doing a standard photoshoot, sometimes the best way to spark creativity and improve your photos is simply by looking at photos from other photographers, and then doing the exact opposite. This forces your mind to get creative and capture your photo from a new and maybe never before seen perspective.
Upgrade your equipment
We’ve intentionally waited until near the end of this article before mentioning upgrading your gear! Too many photographers make the mistake of assuming that buying a new camera or lens will instantly solve all of their problems. In reality, a good photographer can take equally great photos with an iPhone vs $7000 DSLR.
Most of the time, the fastest (and cheapest) way to improve your photography is to work on the fundamentals, not go out and buy new gear!
That said, sometimes better gear will allow you to do things you simply couldn’t before, and take full advantage of the new techniques you’ve been learning.
The most meaningful equipment upgrades:
Invest in a lens with faster aperture
More expensive lenses tend to have a faster aperture, which means they let more light into the camera. This helps A) Give you better quality photos in low light and B) Gives you a shallower depth of field (blurrier background). If you’re using a lens with an aperture of 2.8, 3.5 or 4.0, you will see a massive difference from upgrading to a lens of f1.4 or 1.8.
Buy a sharper lens
Not all lenses are created equal. The better the quality of the components and glass in a lens, the better it will focus, less distortion and vignette around the corners of the photo and sharper the image will be as a whole. Lenses even effect things like color. You can check the sharpness of a lens by reading reviews online before you buy. Typically more expensive lenses have faster apertures, focus more quickly and are sharper than their less expensive counterparts.
Consider upgrading to full frame
The size of the sensor in your camera affects how well it handles low light, how much detail is captured in the image, the depth of field and a few other things. If you’re using a more beginner focused camera, its reasonably likely your sensor is a crop sensor – Which basically just means its not as large as a full frame.
Don’t worry about the technical details too much – The truth is you can still take AMAZING photos on a crop sensor, but if you’re looking to upgrade anyways, a professional camera with a full frame sensor will give you better low light, shallower depth of field (blurrier backgrounds) and better detail, dynamic range & color in your image.
Some of the most popular full frame cameras for photographers right now are the Sony A7iv, Canon EOS R, Nikon Z7 and Panasonic S1. I’ve personally used full frame cameras by Sony, Canon & Panasonic, and have found that the S1 is the best fit in quality and features for me. That said, ALL of these cameras are great and you really can’t go wrong with any of them.
Think about going mirrorless
Traditional DSLR’s have a viewfinder you look through to compose your image, but don’t show you what the finished photo will look like until AFTER you’ve taken the photo and see it on the preview window. Mirrorless cameras are different. Without getting too complicated, they basically let you know exactly what your photo will look like BEFORE you take the photo. This means you’re less likely to underexpose, overexpose, or miss the shot.
All the full frame cameras I mentioned above are mirrorless. There are lots of other great options out there though!
Improve your photo editing
Once you’ve worked on improving your photo skills out in the field, its time to start improving your editing to match. The finished look of a photo is often 50% in camera, 50% in the editing, sometimes more. The editing of a photo is what draws out the best from your image. There is a LOT to learn when it comes to editing, but luckily for you there are tons of tutorials and resources available.
Fundamental Tips & Tutorials To Improve Your Editing:
Use proper editing software
Professional photo software will give you more control over your editing and more tools to adjust the details in your images. There are photographers out there who edit exclusively on mobile using apps like VSCO and Lightroom Mobile, but if possible I’d recommend editing on a computer as you have a larger monitor and can more easily edit fine details.
Probably the most popular photo editing software for computers out there is Adobe Lightroom. I recommend Lightroom Classic over Lightroom CC. Capture One is also a great alternative.
Cull your photos first – Only keep the best
Culling is a photography term for separating the keeper photos from the trash. When you start taking LOTS of photos (Which you should!) it becomes impossible and also unnecessary to edit all of them. For instance, when I photograph a wedding I might take about 3000 photos during the day. Editing all of these would take FOREVER, and would be a waste of time. After all, there are a TON of duplicates and less than perfect photos. So I remove all the duplicates, less flattering expressions, photos with eyes closed, shots with bad lighting or exposure or framing etc. My goal is to WOW my client by giving them the best images of their day. From these 3000 photos, I’ll narrow it down to about 400-600 finished keepers.
Here is a quick demo of culling an entire photoshoot in about 10 minutes
TLDR: Quality is better than quantity – Only publish your best work and deliver the best photos to your clients.
Master white balance – The most important editing setting
Want to know why white balance is at the very top in almost all photo editing software?
Because its the most important setting there is!
The way you set your white balance affects the color tone of your image, the saturation inside the colors and even the way the shadows and the highlights interact with each other. This is the single most important editing setting, so make sure to get your white balance right
Go easy on the effects
When you first start out editing it can be very tempting to boost the saturation to 100 and clarity as high as possible. When I was a beginner I wanted my photos to pop and the colors to be vibrant, and I went WAAAAAY overboard. The key to great editing is subtlety. This doesn’t mean you can’t still make amazing changes to your images – It just means you want to edit in such a way that the photo still looks natural. Almost like that’s how it actually looked in real life. As a basic rule, take the effect up where you think looks good, then dial it back just a little bit – This will make sure you don’t push things too far.
Preserve skin tones
If you’re taking photos of people, skin tones are the most important color to get right during editing. Every other color in your photo can be manipulated and changed pretty easily, but if skin tones look unnatural, your whole edit will feel off.
Skin tones are primarily found in the reds & oranges of your image. As you’re editing, download a few reference photos to go back and forth between to make sure you’re keeping the skin tones looking good. Sometimes I’ll even hold my hand up beside the computer monitor to make sure the skin tones match. It looks a little strange, but it helps!
Test out & learn from presets
Presets aren’t something you should rely on to do your editing for you, but they can be incredible tools. You can learn a lot by applying a preset to an image and then going through the settings to see HOW the preset creates a certain look.
For example, if you use Lightroom or Adobe Camera Raw, download our free Clean & Classic preset.
Notice how the HSL panel adjustments desaturate the skin tones and add brightness to selective colors. Look at the different tone curve adjustments. Notice how the camera calibration has been changed to alter the way the colors look.
Grab your fav presets and then try and build the same look from scratch – You’ll learn a lot in the process!
Master the HSL panel
The HSL panel is probably the most powerful editing tool when it comes to changing the look of your photos. HSL stands for Hue, Saturation & Luminance, and allows you to change the shade, saturation and brightness of different colors in your photos.
Learn to use tone curves
Tone curves are an incredibly powerful editing tool for making your photos pop off the screen. Unfortunately the tone curve panel can look and feel pretty intimidating!
Color correct first, THEN apply creative edits
The first stage of editing is about getting your photo looking right. This means correcting any errors in the exposure, unnatural white balance, too little or too much contrast etc. Do this first before applying creative edits to your photos and you’ll get better results.
Use reference photos
When you spend 20+ minutes tweaking a photo, your eyes start to naturally adjust to the changes and not necessarily notice when things start looking a little strange. The easiest way to prevent this is to always use a reference photo to compare during your editing process! Grab a photo with an edit you love and keep it open / next to the photo you’re working on. Just make sure that the photo you reference was taken with similar lighting / situation, otherwise you might not be able to match things no matter how hard you try.
A super simple and easy tip for improving your editing 🙂
Touch up your portraits
If you’re taking close up photos of people, make sure to apply some essential portrait touchups.
- Smooth out the skin
- Add contrast & make the eyes pop
- Remove acne etc
- Shape the light using dodge and burn
Add a sun flare or light rays
Didn’t have the perfect lighting when you took your photo? You can actually add sun flare and light rays when editing to add some extra WOW to your images.
Give your photos a film look
There is something magic and wonderful about photos taken with film. The colors are more vibrant, there is better dynamic range, and there is a certain softness that is hard to replicate with digital photos.
Fortunately, there are a few great techniques to make your photos look more like film:
- Add a little grain to your image. Grain gives your photos a more organic vibe.
- Add a film fade using the tone curves
- Bring down the clarity + don’t over sharpen. Old vintage cameras and lenses are far less sharp than todays digital cameras.
Apply sharpening properly
In a photo editing program like Lightroom, there are LOTS of options for sharpening your photos. Learn to understand the sharpening panel and how to dial things in for crisp images that don’t look over-edited.
Remove distracting elements
You can easily remove distracting objects in Lightroom or most photo editing applications. Your goal should be to remove or minimize anything that doesn’t contribute to the image.
Subdue clashing colors
If you weren’t able to control the colors in your photo in person, sometimes you might need to change the color of something in Lightroom (or whatever program you’re using.) The key here is that you want to remove any colors that are clashing with your color scheme. This can be done by changing its hue, saturation or luminance to better blend with the rest of the scene, or if necessary, painting over the color to change it entirely!
Consider adding an overlay
Adding overlays can sometimes add an interesting effect to your image. Just be careful not to overdo it as overlays can become dated quickly.
Don’t over edit!
Ironically one of the most important parts about editing is NOT to over edit your photo. Some professional photographers edit their photos more than others, but what you’ll find they all have in common is that they manage to keep their edits looking natural and lifelike. Nothing looks forced, skin tones are still natural, and the editing is so transparent that most of the time you’d think the original photo looked like that in real life. THAT is the mark of a great edit.
Learn to use editing shortcuts
Getting better at using shortcuts will speed up your editing workflow and let you get through more images faster. It will also allow you to spend more time on the creative parts of the edit, and less time on basic tasks and trying to figure out how things work.
Here are few great Lightroom shortcut tutorials:
- 10 Absolutely Essential Editing Shortcuts
- 16 Foundational Lightroom Shortcuts
- 16 Hidden Lightroom Features
Recover blown out skies
Easily recover too bright skies using auto mask & range mask
Use the texture tool to add depth
Lightroom recently introduced an amazing new tool called the texture slider. Its not just for adding texture though – You can use it to touch up portraits, recover out of focus images, and add depth of field to your photos in a few quick steps.
Shape the light using dodging & burning
Editing is ALL about bringing out what is already in the photo. Dodging and burning is the process of using exposure selectively on your image to shape the light and bring out details in your imagery.
We’ve now covered 50+ practical and effective ways to get better as a photographer and improve your photography. But no matter how many tutorials you read, remember that the only way you’ll see results is by going out and applying what you learn.
Don’t try and master all of these things at the same time – Pick 1 or 2 at a time and bookmark this page so you can work your way through the entire list. I promise you if you put in the work + take lots of photos, you’ll see amazing results!
What technique do you need to focus on most? Let me know if the comments below!
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Thanks so much – Now go out and create something awesome!
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