How I Edit an Image

So I’ve talked about how I shoot, but I’ve never shared any of my editing process. The biggest reason being...well...its not super complicated. Many photographers have a very in-depth, precise workflow but I try to make mine as simple as possible. I’ve created a video tutorial where you can see me work from start to finish! The text below is just to supplement what I do in the video. 

*This post assumes the reader has basic knowledge of the tools and functions of Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop CC*

1. Import the Photos Into Lightroom

        This should be a pretty easy one, but I start my process by putting the photos into Lightroom. While some can edit their entire shoots in the software, I personally use Lightroom for culling my images and making overall image adjustments. Photoshop is where I do my detail work such as retouching or removing distracting elements, but I’ll go more into this later.

2. Basic Adjustments (WB, exposure, lens corrections, VSCO and tweaks)

        Generally, I keep my images looking pretty natural. I’m always cautious of having “over-edited” images, so I try to get as much right in-Camera to keep my adjustments subtle. I’ll start by checking the White Balance and making sure the skin tones are accurately captured. Next, I’ll bump up the exposure slider just a hair because I tend to underexpose my images to save detail. The final preliminary step is clicking the basic lens correction box and adjusting the vignette as needed. From here, I’ll play with curves, color hue, and presets. I LOVE the VSCO presets for Lightroom. I use Pack 06 the most and will tweak the Portra 160-1 preset to fit my fashion images. It just adds something really perfect to the tones of the image. 

3. Export to photoshop

        Once I’m happy with the image, I’ll go ahead and export it directly from Lightroom into Photoshop. While a lot of photographers will just stop with Lightroom adjustments, I use Photoshop to take my image to the next level.

4. Retouch via FS

        Frequency Separation is essentially a retouching process that separates the skin detail from the colors, making it easy to clean up any blotches in the skin while maintaining a natural look. I’ll use the Patch tool to go in and clean up the skin and remove any noticeable blemishes. I try to keep my retouching to a minimum in order to keep a natural face, but I’ll take out any major things that detract from the overall image.

5. Dodge and Burn

        Dodging and burning is essentially lighting the highlights and darkening the shadows. It’s a technique used to create emphasis and add drama to an image. While some use it for skin retouching, I personally use it for enhancement. There are many ways to dodge and burn, but my preferred method is to create two curves layers (one to lighten and one to darken) and put a layer mask over both so the adjustments are hidden. On a really low flow (around 3-7%), paint each respective region of the image with white to reveal what’s hidden by the layer mask. Go over everything that needs emphasis until everything looks good. To make sure you didn’t accidentally over do it, click both layers on and off and lower the opacity as needed to make the effect natural.

6. Tone as needed

        The last step is probably the most experimental. Color toning can take an image from natural to moody or ethereal in just a matter of clicks. You can play around with selective color, color balance, curves, or any other method of adding tones into the shadows or highlights. In the video, I used a bit of color balance to add some blues to the highlights and warmer colors to the shadows. This is all personal preference, but can better focus your image’s mood and feel.

7. Save for web

        The final step is to save your finished image! Go into the top menu bar and click File -> Save for Web. Change the file type to jpeg and put the quality at 100% to make sure you have the highest quality version of your photo. 

8. Sunflare (EXTRA)

        This is totally just an extra step but it is something I absolutely love doing. As I mentioned in my lighting post, I shoot a lot of backlit images. Backlit in the golden hour often means beautiful sun flares. Like everything in photoshop, you can create flares and hazes in many ways. I personally create a radial gradient layer, set my layer mode to either screen or hard light (depending on the colors of the image) and create a color gradient that resembles the original lighting. Typically, I’ll have white on the left side of the color bar and an orange-yellow on the right. Keep in mind, this effect can often be overdone. Make sure you are using this to enhance and not “create” light. Look at the lighting in your image and ask “does this make sense?”