A guide to basic photography editing

Reading time: 4 minutes

When you mention editing photos to someone, their minds usually go to one term – ‘Photoshop’. In the past few years, this term has come under fire a lot, mostly for making skinny models look skinner and for removing any sort of imperfections from already beautiful individuals.

So it’s important to make clear that when we edit photos at Capture the World, we are colour grading, not Photoshopping. The human eye is an extraordinary thing and sees the world in an amazing way. Cameras can do this too, to a certain extent, but they need help to make the final product appear the same as what your eyes saw.

In order for photos to reach their full potential, you have to help. Think of taking a photo like cooking your favorite meal. Your camera and lens are the ingredients. Framing up your shot, making sure the exposure is right – this is the cooking. Editing is all about the plating. Making that delicious meal look as good as it tastes.

Those of you who have high-end point and shoot cameras, mirrorless cameras, or DSLRs have a lot more options when it comes to editing your photos. But the principles of editing are still relevant for anyone out there using a GoPro or Instagram.

I’m going to use this photo I took in Halong Bay to show the subtle difference basic editing can make.




We’ve all heard about the importance of correctly exposing a photo, but sometimes we mess up, or sometimes the camera’s Automatic setting messes up. This means it’s time to change our exposure in post. Increasing or decreasing the exposure does exactly that, universally making the photo either brighter or darker.

Shadows and Highlights

Even when you have a perfectly exposed photo, it can still not look quite right. Even if the shot is perfectly exposed, there will probably still be parts that are darker and some that are lighter. This is when Shadows and Highlights come into play.

By increasing our shadows, we take the part of the photos that are in shadow, and only those portions, and make them lighter. Simple enough.


By decreasing our highlights, we take the very brightest portions of the image, and make them darker. I usually use this when there’s a particularly bright sky in the photo, and my clouds are just one big white mess. It is often hard to bring back the definition in the clouds, but by decreasing our highlights, we can get some back.




Contrast is, in a very simple explanation, the amount of difference between your whites and blacks. So by increasing your contrast, your blacks will become darker, and your whites will become brighter. This is useful to add depth, dynamic, and mood to your images. You can also decrease the contrast, to create a flat looking image, which can be useful for ethereal looking images or portraits.



I like clarity. It increases the contrast to your images mid-tones. Your mid-tones are basically everything not included in your highlights and shadows. Increasing the contrast to this portion of your image creates clarity. Your images will look crisper, which can be great for landscapes and architecture. (It’s not so great on faces though and will actually add years to your face!)

White Balance and Colour Temperature


This is vitally important to making your photos look better in post, but it’s something that a lot of people out there don’t know about.

Every light source emits a certain colour. The colour varies depending on the Colour Temperature of the light source. The colours range from intense yellow to blue. An incandescent globe emits a slight yellow hue, and a fluorescent globe emits a slight blue hue.

You have probably taken a photo at one point that looks really yellow. You were probably inside and you took the photo without a flash. This is because the white balance was way off, but it’s an easy fix.

In most editing software there will be a ‘White Balance’ option. You have two choices with this. Click on the eye drop and hover it over a part of your image that is white or grey, then click and watch your image transform.

Alternatively, you can manually move the sliders (usually 2 sliders), one with Blue and Yellow, the other with Pink and Green.

Vibrancy and Saturation


Vibrancy and Saturation are quite different, but often get put in the same group.

If you increase your vibrancy, you will only increase the intensity of the colours in the image that are not very intense.

If you increase saturation, you will increase the intensity of ALL of the colours in the image, irrespective of their starting point.



Correct cropping can really transform your image. Here are a few crop ratios I like to use in my work.

Aspect ratio describes the relationship between the width and height of your photo. It’s shown by giving a number value to the width and height, like this – Width:Height

3:2 – Standard Full Frame and APS-C Sensor Camera Aspect Ratio. If you own a DSLR or Mirrorless camera, you will probably be shooting with one of these sensors.

4:3 – This is the crop ratio of most smart phones and point and shoot cameras

16:9 – This is the crop ratio that all your favorite TV shows use. It’s a personal favorite of mine, as it is a familiar crop ratio.

1:1  – A square – or more to the point – the Perfect ratio for your Facebook profile pictures and Instagram posts.

855:315 – This one is your Facebook cover photo, so it may be a useful one!

3:1 – This is a ratio commonly used by professional landscape photographers. It gives an epic look to your photos. However, as it is such an intense crop, you have to ensure you are using either a very wide lens on your camera, or taking an epic smart phone panorama.


Eddie Hobson is an Australian photographer and filmmaker who is on an 18-month journey to 'Capture The World'. His series of 60 Short Films (created through timelapse and hyperlapse footage) capture the natural beauty of some of the most famous cities around the world, culminating in a Feature Film at the end of the project.


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