our tips on photo editing 

Even though we’ve done a few tips and tricks posts for editing & photography in the past, I feel like they’ve been geared more toward beginners and less toward those who already get the fundamentals and are now interested in getting advice on how to take their photography to the next level (or even just build a cohesive Instagram page). This post is for those people. Also, we’re doing something a little different this time and are going to include some before & after photos from edits I’ve done, and some screengrabs from editing software we love. I think visuals help tremendously. After all, photography is all visuals, so it just makes sense.


I love doing these sorts of posts, because (let’s face it) talking about what you’re wearing or what you’ve been up to in the middle of February in New England isn’t always super exciting, so if there are any more specific questions or things I don’t cover in this, feel free to comment below, or shoot us a DM over on @recesscity.


When it comes to the balance of power in running this blog, Porter’s role is almost always behind the camera, and the business end of running things. I do a little of those too, of course, but the bulk of my day-to-day work consists of editing whatever we shoot during each weekend, and it’s possibly my favorite part of being a photographer. This is rare. Most people see editing as kind of tedious and are always trying to cut down the process known as “workflow”. Maybe it’s because I’m introverted or just wired this way, but to me a lot of the magic in photography doesn’t take place when you’re out shooting but when you’ve taken an amazing raw photo and watched it transform into something better than you could’ve imagined while editing. Porter knows that I love this “ah ha” moment a ridiculous amount, merely from the amount of time I hold up my Ipad and shout Look! across the room when I’m particularly proud of an edit I’ve just finished (about every three minutes on Sunday nights). I’m in no way an expert, but I’ve learned a lot this past year, and I think more non-professional, i-Phone photographer, insta-savvy people want information on how to get better at their hobby than a lot of us realize (or so our inbox leads us to believe). So, without further adieu, here’s our six step crash course on how to improve your editing & take better raw photos. Some are personal preference, some are universal, all (we hope) are in someway helpful.

1. Selective Edits

Even though Instagram’s in-app editor leads users to believe that changes made to a photo (like saturation & sharpness & shadowing) should be made to the whole photo, this is almost never the case. Using an app like Pixelmator, which allows you to use your finger or a stylus to draw over whatever section of a photo you want to edit down to the pixel, or Lightroom, which lets you draw borders and shapes and edit anything within or outside of them give you so much more editing control. If you haven’t played with selective edits I’d say this is a great first step to upping your editing game.


2. Stick to your Preset 

I get a lot of questions about how to maintain the same “vibe” in each of your Instagram posts, or developing a photographic style, and really this comes down to “presets” which is really just a fancy term for self-developed filters. Apps like VSCO create filters for all kinds of moods & scenarios, but applying those filters with your own “selective edits” (see step #1) can help heighten the individuality of your trademark look. This is the shortcut. If you want to take the time you can also develop edits specific to different lighting or shooting scenarios from scratch yourself in Lightroom and save them to paste onto every new raw image you upload. I’ve put a few examples below of some of our images pre and post our Lightroom presets being pasted on, as well as some VSCO filter examples to show how different a photo can be made to look by just applying a different preset. By building a photographic preset (or using a premade one of VSCO) and sticking to it, that cohesive Instagram feel will appear in no time. If you badly want a self-made, quality tested lightroom preset but don’t feel like learning how to create one a lot of photographers sell their presets on their websites. Here are two examples: India Earl & Our Good Adventure.


A. Pre-Lightroom

A. Post-Lightroom

B. Pre-Lighroom

B. Post-Lightroom

C. Pre-VSCO Presets

C. VSCO J2 “Minimalist Series”Preset

C. VSCO C8 “Chromatic” Preset

C. VSCO E6 “Essence” Preset


3. Backlight 

This is one of the tips that falls under personal preference. Whether I’m in front of or behind the camera, I like everything to be backlit. I really really (really) dislike uneven lighting in photos. I’m not a huge fan of shadows or highlighting and backlight saves me from having to deal with any of those things in post production (most of the time). When you go out to take a photo, look to see where the sun is, and try to make sure it’s behind your subject (or whatever your shooting). If it’s cloudy out and you can’t really tell there are some cool apps like Sun Seeker that will show you exactly where the sun’s located behind the clouds.


4. Depth 

Again, personal preference, but I really dislike flat photos. For a photograph to be engaging to me there has to be a sense of a foreground, a middle ground, and a background. I like photos to always feel unposed and a lot of the time making sure there are levels of depth to what you shoot ensures they always do. What also helps here is a camera with low aperture settings, that allows different depths to be blurry, like the photos below. I love low aperture just because I think a lot of background blur or foreground blur gives photos a great mood. If you’re shooting on an iphone you can add in the exact same effect later with editing software like Pixelmator & Lightroom.


5. Don’t compare yourself to others but use their success to your advantage 

It’s very easy to get overwhelmed by all of the really amazing photographers and instagrammers we now see photos from on a daily basis. It’s also very easy to see something and like it and say I want all my photos to look like that. This is dangerous because 1. if your photos look exactly like another photographer’s photos are they really yours? and 2. you’ll inevitably come up short and feel defeated when you do. Trying to figure out what inspires you without imitating it is extremely difficult it, but in the long run it’s worth it. If you admire a photographer a lot I think the best angle is to figure out bits and pieces of what you like about it, and applying that to your own work rather than trying to force your photography into the confines of someone else’s editing. Also, tons of professional photographers and bloggers now give out many of the tips and tricks they’ve learned along the way or send out monthly emails purely for the purpose of helping other photographers get better. We subscribe to a bunch of these and they really do help you to become a better photographer faster. Here’s one of our favorites: Ben Sasso.


6. Start with a High Quality Photo

And, of course, last but not least (maybe this could’ve gone first) you need a great high-resolution photo to begin with. I’ve heard it said before that you can take a good screenplay and make a bad movie, but you can’t take a bad screenplay and make a good movie. The same logic applies to photography: a good photo can be destroyed by a really awful edit, but a fundamentally bad quality photo can’t be revived into perfection through some serious editing acrobatics. Don’t try to take a bad raw photo and think you can edit your way out of its badness. Trust me. You’ll only get frustrated. Start with a great product.


Hope you enjoyed this post!

Anna Lisa & Porter

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