6 Editing Mistakes I Made as a Beginner
I have been taking and editing photos for as long as I can remember. Photography has always been a huge part of my life. However, I didn’t start buckling down and getting serious about it until 2015. As I look back through my own work during that time, I see a LOT of editing mistakes that I wish someone would have told me about.
For now I just want to focus on the post-processing mistakes. Learning how to use a camera, composition, exposure, and posing are a whole other topic.
If you’re reading through this and realize you might be making one of these mistakes, please don’t feel personally attacked. These are things that I have done myself, and wish someone would have told me about when I first started out.
Keep in mind that art is subjective, and it’s okay to break the rules if that is your intentional style.
Editing Mistake #1 – Halos
A halo in an edited photo is when there is an obvious difference in the brightness or contrast around the subject. This happens you use the radial filter or local adjustment brush in Lightroom to make a change to your subject. In Photoshop, it can happen with any kind of adjustment layer mask.
When you want to brighten your subject without changing the background, you’ll probably use one of those tools. The mistake occurs when you don’t properly mask the effect off of your subject. There will be a bright ring or outline around your subject. DON’T BE A LAZY MASKER!
While it may not be obvious when you are zoomed in up close working on the photo, it will be there when you upload it to social media for the world to see.
A good way to check for a halo effect in your finished photo is to zoom all the way out and check your work. If that unnatural outline or ring is surrounding your subject, fix it now before you call it a day.
Editing Mistake #2 – “I’ll Fix it in Post”
When you take a photo, there may inevitably be distracting stuff in the background. Sometimes it is 100% unavoidable, and that’s okay. That’s why we have post-processing software. HOWEVER, if you are just being lazy and telling yourself that you’ll Photoshop something out, you are just creating more work for yourself in the long run.
Put the camera down for a second, and fix your backdrop. Move that thing out of the way. Position your subject in a way that hides the thing. Grab a diaper wipe and clean the bribe chocolate off the kid’s face. WHATEVER YOU HAVE TO DO, DO IT NOW!
Don’t make your life harder in your editing workflow. Get it as good as physically possible in-camera!
Editing Mistake #3 – Oversmoothing the Skin
We have all been here. You’re up close and personal with the computer screen, smoothing away. Your subject’s skin is flawless and you pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
But when you look back at that photo later, you notice how unnatural it looks. Nobody is that smooth in real life. Real people have pores and wrinkles and contours and highlights and shadows. Unless you are going for a solid color cartoon look, scale back on the skin smoothing!
Keep your skin retouching natural. Learn how to light your subject in a way that will flatter them and minimize imperfections before you even get to post-processing.
Editing Mistake #4 – Super Sharp Eyes
One thing that can be very distracting in a photo is the amount of editing done to the eyes. While the eyes are a beautiful and stunning part of your subject, doing too much to them can ruin a good photo. This is one of the editing mistakes that is very obvious, even to non-photographers.
I know that it is tempting to brighten, sharpen, and clarify the eyes. But again, it’s best to keep it as close to natural as possible. Instead of going crazy with eye editing, try to really nail focus in camera so that your subject’s eyes are already sharp.
One way to enhance eyes before you even press the shutter is to look for the catch lights. Make sure there is already a natural light reflection in your subject’s eyes, and reposition them or add light if there isn’t.
Sharp focus and naturally occurring catch lights will add interest and definition to the eyes. Then, when you’re editing, you won’t even have to do very much to make them the focus of your photo.
Editing Mistake #5 – The Clarity Slider
The clarity slider in Lightroom or ACR can be great in certain situations. For example, landscape photos or a moody black and white lifestyle portrait. But for everyday portraits, it’s best to leave this slider alone. The grungy/HDR look doesn’t belong in posed family photos, and won’t stand the test of time.
Another thing the clarity slider gets used for is skin smoothing with the local adjustment brush. While this may help with reducing skin imperfections, it will also destroy any highlight or shadow detail needed to keep your subject looking like a real life person. (See “Oversmoothing the Skin” above.)
Either way you use it, less is more when it comes to clarity!
Editing Mistake #6 – Delivering 100+ Photos
Thanks to modern technology, you can take hundreds of photos in one session, then batch edit them with Lightroom or Bridge. But just because you CAN do something, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.
You can make simple adjustments to a lot of photos and call it done and deliver every slight variation to your client… if that’s what you want to do. But by doing that, you’re giving your client information overload and forcing them to cull their own photos. This can cause decision fatigue, which will result in your photos never being shared or printed.
They may think they want more photos, but anything more than 20-30 images from one session is just too many. Make it easy and stress free for your client. Go through and do the work yourself. Choose the best of the best images, edit and retouch them to make them canvas worthy, then only sell those top quality images.
QUALITY. OVER. QUANTITY.
Now of course there are exceptions to this. Weddings, events, birth photography, and so on. Once in a lifetime moments deserve to be delivered, obviously. But just because a person slightly moved their arm in a different frame, doesn’t mean you need to take the time to edit and retouch both frames.