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Why You Absolutely Need To Be Editing Your Travel Photos

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After Editing

After Editing

You are on vacation. You vist some exotic destination, have a great time and take a ton of photos.

When you get back home you plug your camera into your computer, download your images and declare victory. Maybe you print a few to hang on the wall and the rest you share with your friends on Facebook.

Nothing to it right?

Well, you can leave it at that, but if you take just a little bit of time, you can make those vacation photos really stand out.

I wish I could tell you how often I see bland photos which people take on their trips which could be made much better with just a few tweaks. I’ve seen this happen on Facebook as well as on popular travel blogs. Ugly photos which could be made respectable with less than 60 seconds worth of attention.

The one single thing which any amateur photographer can do to improve their photography is to take the time to edit their photos. It isn’t complicated and many of the tools are available for free online.

The Truth About Your Camera

Before

Before

There is no camera which is as good as a human eye. You have probably noticed this if you have ever taken a photo with a high dynamic range (dark shadows and bright lights). If you are indoors on a sunny day, you can look out a window and clearly see what is outside as well was what is inside. If you tried to take a photo of the same scene, it will either the window will be blown out and white, or the inside will be too dark. It can’t do both.

Most people think that when they take a photo, they are capturing reality, or “the truth”. You are not. There are any number of settings on a camera, and what settings you choose will determine what the photo will look like. The sensor, the lens and any other things all factor in to the final image. Even on a point-and-shoot camera where you can’t change the settings there are still decisions being made, they just aren’t being made by you.

When you realize that the image you are capturing is dependent on a whole host of factors which could be changed, you can realize that you aren’t capturing “the truth”, but rather a version of “the truth.” Change the settings, hardware or lighting and you’ll get a totally different outcome.

Isn’t Editing Photos Cheating?

Many casual photographers I talk to about photo editing think is it cheating, or even doing something unethical. Most of this comes from news reports of fashion magazines who edit photos to make models look thinner. Joseph Stalin was famous for editing people out of photos to make them disappear from history.

Those things very well might be unethical, but that isn’t the sort of editing I’m talking about.

Most of the edits which travel photos require are issues of sharpening, cropping, color correction and exposure. They are the EXACT same things which were done in the darkroom by photographers in the days of film. The only difference is that instead of darkrooms, today we have computers.

Travel photos, by their very nature, are shot outside of a studio where you have no control over lighting. Odds are you will not have ideal conditions wherever you happen to be when you take your photo.

The purpose of editing should be to make the photo look more like what you originally saw with your eyes, not less. Underexposed, overexposed and flat images are not what we see with the naked eye.

The act of capturing a scene with your camera should be seen as the first step in creating an image, not the last.

Click to see a larger verion

Click to see a larger verion

What Should I Edit?

Photo editing is undoubtedly more complicated than actually taking a photo. There are entire courses offered on post production (another term for editing) and it can take years to just master a tool such as Photoshop.

That being said, basic editing can be very simple. Here are some things that can be easily corrected in many photos:

Overexposure/Underexposure You might have seen photos you’ve taken which were either too dark or too bright. Simply adjusting the exposure on an image can usually correct for these sort of problems.

Cropping If your camera can’t zoom properly, you might have too much photo surrounding what is supposed to be the photo’s subject. A simple crop can often find the great image which is inside of a good image.

Contrast Ever take a photo that just looked washed out? It was probably an issue with the contrast in the image. Adjusting the contrast can often bring to life a photo which is very dull and flat.

What Software Should I Use?

For basic photo editing, there are a number of tools you can use and they will all be able to do the basics.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 This is what I and many other professional photographers use. It will do any of the basic editing functions which I mentioned above and a whole lot more. I am able to use Lightroom for 98% of the editing I need to do. Available on both Mac and Windows.

Apple Aperture 3 Aperture and Lightroom are sort of like the Coke and Pepsi of the photo world. I haven’t used it personally, but many people do and it is very similar in features to Lightroom. Available only on Mac.

Apple iPhoto If you own a Mac you probably have this installed. It is designed for amateur photographers. Simpler to use than Aperture and Lightroom but doesn’t have as many features.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 You can pretty much do anything with Photoshop, but it is expensive and there is a steep learning curve. It also isn’t designed to process many images, whereas Lightroom is. You will also probably never use 95% of the features in Photoshop if you are just doing basic editing.

PicMonkey There are several sites that will allow you to do basic online photo editing for free. I mention PicMonkey just because it is what Smugmug uses for its online photo editing. Online photo editing means you can’t use installing software or cost as an excuse for not editing your photos.

Conclusion

Processing photos in the digital darkroom is just as much a part of digital photography as the darkroom was with film. If you aren’t taking the time to do some minor editing, your photos may only be half done.

Taking the time to edit your photos might be the single easiest thing you can do to improve your photography.

  • 21 Comments... What's your take?

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Comments

  1. Ruby Benz says:

    this is a great information and thanks for sharing this..aaaahh, i miss your blog for a long time..happy to be here again.

  2. AT says:

    You’re confusing “editing” with “processing.” They are two different things. Editing refers to going through your images and rating them—selecting the best, ditching the worst, etc. Processing refers to adjusting levels, tones, cropping, etc.

  3. Davide says:

    I don’t think editing pictures is cheating, I use Photoshop to edit and tweak my pictures when some colour correction, sharpening or cropping is needed.

  4. Maria says:

    So far I’ve been posting with no editing at all, but as you said in your last point – editing is important to show the readers what you see better!

  5. cmckane says:

    I love picmonkey! I mainly use it for collages, FB covers, or making blog post pictures more textual (is that a word?).

    I got LR3 a little over a year ago and really like it though I still have tons to learn about it. Is it worth it to upgrade to LR4?

  6. Gary, thanks so much for inspiring and encouraging me to start using Lightroom to edit my travel blog photos. I’m loving the results and getting good reader feedback on the upgrade!

  7. I use Photoshop for the photos that really matter or are bordering on awesomeness but have some issue that requires some fancy photo-editing moves.

    I use Windows Live Photo Gallery for the majority of pics, it does the job well enough for most photos, especially those that will never be printed.

  8. I use picmonkey for post processing… its easy and fun for a newbie.. Im not a photographer or something but I just love editing pics specially if the pics dont bring justice to what I saw with my very own eyes… :) just a little tweaking brings photos to life… :)

  9. Ele says:

    I use Windows Live Gallery. I ask for automatic fix and it does get my colours better. I also like cropping images there because they are not blurred. But sometimes blur happens and cannot be fixed.

  10. mizdi says:

    Never thought of editing photographs as cheating, i think it is a way to improve your craft just like any other field. Also, it is a way to compensate for not having those high-end cameras or adjustable lenses.

  11. Jamie says:

    I have always used Photoshop. Lightroom has been recommended, but do I really want to spend time learning how to use it? I tend to just tweak sharpness, color and contrast, with occasional use of vignetting, or maybe make some photos black and white, which can bring out a subject if the background is colourful and distracting. It’s certainly not cheating.

  12. Very very true. I travel with my 7D attached to my hip, and even with the full power of an SLR all of my images still need a little color correction to bring them up to their full potential. You can’t accurately recreate what you saw “in the moment’ for other people with your camera alone.

  13. UnwireMe says:

    I’ve found Picasa to be great for pretty much anything I need to do. Super easy for a newbie to learn and make a bunch of corrections.

    -Rich Polanco

  14. chinamatt says:

    I use an older version of Photoshop that I got from the art department at work years ago. I’m sure the newer versions would improve my pictures a bit more.

    • Gary says:

      The most impressive thing in the newer versions of Photoshop is a feature that is called “contenet aware fill”. You can remove a wire or a pole that is in the way and Photoshop will fill it in with what it would look like without it there!

  15. Lauren Seidl says:

    Great advice! My pictures always look so bland compared to the real life scene I’m trying to capture. I usually come home disappointed with my photos. Maybe I can redeem them with some editing!

  16. Brian says:

    I don’t even consider more significant edits to necessarily be “cheating” any more than it’s cheating to use a bunch of lens filters and artificial light. I don’t carry a bunch of camera equipment, but I do carry a computer. A lot of the editing I do is stuff that could be accomplished with the right gear, if only I felt like lugging a huge bag everywhere I go.

  17. Derek says:

    You could also try out the free Google App, Picasa. It’s simple enough to use and has some quick and neat features. Plus it can upload to your web Picasa Album, G+, and even Facebook. I personally use either Adobe Lightroom or Picasa depending on the subject and nature of my photo album. Picasa is more for the quick and casual editing.

  18. Surprised you did not mention PIcassa – free and simple

    • Gary says:

      My only issue with Picassa is that it is tied in to photo hosting.

      • Ross Becker says:

        You are not tied to photo hosting with Picasa. I’m a pro photographer & use Picasa for most of my post-processing. I choose to use Picasaweb to put most of my photos on the Internet. I could use a host of other Internet based hosting sites.

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About Gary Arndt

My name is Gary Arndt. In March 2007 I set out to travel around the world...
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