Editing Images

Posted on February 3, 2013


What is the goal of editing images? Is there too much or too little? If you are asking these questions, you are in the right mind set for editing images.

As a photographer who presents a true representation of the world, I see all sorts of things that people call editing with people. I also see other photographers bragging about their editing and how they will have over 600 images from a 2 hour shoot earlier that day to whomever by midnight. I don’t call that editing – especially when you look at what they turn back to that person. As a photographer, there is a certain expectation of each edit you do. With film, it was easy to edit… you simply got the image right in camera. But, with digital, we now have a lot more flexibility. We can now fix things like skin, wrinkles, etc. What are some of the things to look out for when you edit images? Have you ever made a large print like a 16×20 of one of your images that you have edited? Take a very close at one sometime when you do. At that size, prints are very unforgiving. On the other hand, if you only present your work online, editing is less of a concern and there is a lot less to worry about.

Probably the biggest thing is that all your images should be consistent in color and tone in a series. If you have six images from a set, and each one has different colors for each image, then your editing needs some serious improvement. I see this most when people shoot outside and expose incorrectly for what they are photographing. When the photographer forgets about the color and tone, the images will vary dramatically – but – the images will be consistently lit. Often, for the images that are adjusted beyond recognition, you will have either the HDR look to the image with all the colors subdued, or grain that is horrible. Part of the editing process is making everything consistent when you change lighting, location, and outfits.

Another editing area is cleaning up a person’s complexion. With all the actions and plug-ins, it is easy to make someone’s skin smother than a Barbie doll. You don’t want a person’s skin to be smooth. Skin has texture and pores and hairs. Try to keep them in your images when you edit. What about editing out frekles, moles, and scars? That all depends on the person. In general, if it will be there in six months, I leave it there unless the person in the image requests a removal. And yes, this means you don’t use automated tools to clean up a person’s complexion and it will take a little bit of time. It also doesn’t mean you blur everything so that it is less recognizable. At larger print sizes, that technique looks horrible and you really aren’t sure if something was out of focus when the image was taken.

Something a little more controversial are wrinkles. When do you remove them? I don’t for certain ones. I soften them and make them less obvious – specifically around the eyes and Muppet lines. I do remove the wrinkles on a person’s forehead and neck, and sometimes around the under arms. Another controversial item is the person’s under eye area. There should be a round eye socket there. Don’t remove it in your haste to remove that dark area. I also see this frequently a problem on fashion magazines covers. Speaking of eyes, many people change the color of a person’s eyes. Don’t do that. It is OK to increase the contrast or brighten them, but that is it.

Something that trips up a lot of photographers is a person’s hair, especially when the person is cut out and pasted on a different background. If you see someone cutting and pasting people, look carefully at the edges of the hair and you will more than likely see the rough edges or perfect hair lines. With hair in general, you want to remove the strays, but not make the hair perfectly edged. It needs to have texture and volume and rough edges. Hair isn’t perfect. As I noted earlier, stray hairs need to be removed. This means removing single strands from peoples faces. Strays aren’t just removing them from the outside areas of the hair that go wild on the background.

Never make someone “perfect” because we all know that no one is perfect. If you make someone perfect, something inside will sit there an nag at us that something is wrong, but we won’t be able to put our fingers on exactly what it is. Don’t ever make someone perfect.

This post should give you some thoughts on what to look out for when you edit images.