The Photography Edit

This post is basically how I make my photos go from "Oh, that's pretty" to "UHM, EXCUSE ME??????" in my opinion anyways. Experimentation ahead!

There is literally an indefinite number of ways you can experiment and edit photos in Photoshop, but with that amount of freedom, editing can be a daunting task if you don't know what tasks are available, how to use each task, and if you don't have expectations on how your photos should come out. Of course, I am in no way a Photoshop ~jedi~ and people have different editing styles, but one of the best decisions that I made in highschool (ok I lie, my friend pressured me) was taking a media class where I learned to use Photoshop/Illustrator/other Adobe applications.

(Also, it totally helped that I was friends with some artsy fartsy people)

I feel like the most commonly used basic tools in Photoshop are curves, levels, brightness/contrast, colour balance, exposure, etc., and for the most part, I use a combination of those. Also, most of this editing business is based on your own preferences, requires loads of experimentation time and using your own judgement.

Anyways, this is basically how I lie to you all edit my photos. As usual, I can't stress the right lighting/setup when taking photos, because it will make the editing process sooooo much easier.

I'll be using this photo for most of the process. Before/original photo was taken indoors at 18mm, 1/40 f3.5.

Optional Step One
I usually start off with hitting a combination of 'auto levels', 'auto contrast' and/or 'auto colour', and this tends to work better in well lit photos. However, if the photo already has pretty/decent lighting I like, or if 'auto' ruins the photos (it happens) I just move to the next step.

Here I used 'auto levels' and 'auto contrast' because I didn't like how dull/grey-er 'auto colour' made the photo.

Step Two (or Step One, if I omit 'auto')
What on earth would I do without brightness/contrast? SOBBING OVER THE LAPTOP KEYBOARD, THAT'S WHAT.

I've upped overall photo brightness to +23, which isn't too bright, but it allows for flexibility in the next step. Look at that difference already!

Step Three
One of the first things I learned in Photoshop was to play with curves. Ctrl + M, or Image>Adjustments>Curves.

Pulling down the left side in curves deepens contrasts, and as well, you could also pull it up to reduce contrast. Pulling up the right side results in a brighter picture, as well, you can pull up/down the middle section. Honestly, curves is probably one of most fun steps of me.

Step Four
Oh, how I love finishing touches. Steps 1-3 are great for basic editing, but I like to take it a notch up and crop, bump up vibrancy, change up colour tones, etc.

For this photo, I pulled my sneakiest trick. SO SNEAKY, and now you guys know why I love shooting straight lines so much. I can easily use the Selection Tool, select the area I want to edit, and whatever changes I make will only apply to the selected area.

Here, in order to increase the vibrancy of the magazine/travel guide, I've selected the area and played with curves to deepen the contrast. LOOK AT THOSE COLOURS.

Additional editing was also done, as outlined in this photo sequence. (Click to blow up)

After I'm done, I save the final picture in PNG. JPEG is another option, but I find PNG crisper.

Step by step of the entire editing process as according to the steps (click to blow up)


Changing overall colour in a photo is also easy. Most of the time I use 'auto colour', unless it gives me undesirable results, to which I'll then whip out Image>Adjustments>Colour Balance to manually correct colour.

For black and white, I usually use Image>Adjustments>Black and White.

Here, I wasn't satisfied with the yellowy tones in the original picture, so I did steps 2 + 3 (brightness and curves), pulled out colour balance and slid the bars towards blue and cyan. The final result is a touch bit dreamier, in my opinion.

Gamma correction is also popular among ~bbloggers~ because ~wo w so dreamy~. I sometimes use it to mute the overall colours in a photo.

Vibrancy/colour saturation and desaturation can easily altered by various means, but I usually use the Dodge/Burn/Sponge tool. 

Note the changes on the compact's face.

Of course, you don't necessarily need Photoshop to get your editing done. Back in the olden days when I didn't have Photoshop, I would edit with Microsoft Windows Picture Manager. Not too shabby for a quick fix, eh?

As per usual, I can't stress good lighting and correct use of the camera functions. Photo on the left is obviously unedited, and that's fine, but I like a quick brightening up.

Of course, this is my no means a comprehensive post on editing, just my preferences and what I normally do. This is my editing at it's most basic, and there are plenty of other resources to look into, such as Photoshop 'actions', 'You Suck At Photoshop' (a hilarious video series that teach the basics), and heck, even Deviantart has a whole slew of photo editing tutorials to look at once you understand the basics of the program.

SO YEAH, THAT'S BASICALLY IT. MY DIRTY EDITING SECRETS REVEALED. But of course, I'm always discovering new functions in Photoshop, so nothing is static.

Do you bother editing your photos? Or do you rely on your lens + lighting to do the work?


  1. I always edit at least a little bit... and I agree that Brightness & Contrast is the workhorse :) What a detailed, thorough post! And it's always interesting to see others' methods. Btw, I have a huge question. I *HATE* how colors in photo get slightly muted when I "Save For Web" (jpeg) in Photoshop. I noticed it doesn't do this with png... but with png, the photo file size can get significantly hefty, which I'm guessing is the main reason why most bloggers suffer the crappy muted jpeg.

    I've stuck with jpeg right now as I think muted colors are the lesser evil when compared with slow loading times...Thoughts? Solutions?


    1. ....osnap I didn't even realise than PNGs take up x times more space than JPEG LOLLLL
      I really can't think of a solution because I ain't no image master, but to be honest, your photos already give me image envy and if you shoot your PNG pics at me I will commit suicide.

    2. you can do the "save for web png" style. it basically lowers the file size so the pic is faster to load online :) its ctrl + shift + alt + S.

      and thanks for the tips vanessa esp the use of lowering opacity to clean up shadows on the white background. i always edit since my room is like the bat cave and has little natural light lol also i love editing, its like coloring book for adults :D

    3. Save for web: PNG?

      Mind = blown. Thanks Shayne! I'll be toying around with this over the weekend. My heart is palpitating with excitement lol.

      Vanessa -- LOL.

  2. Wow! You're so good at using photoshop ahaha, i'm so hopeless at using editing tools, I always rely on good lighting when i'm taking pictures!
    This is actually so interesting to read because i never knew how to use photoshop but i have the app ;P Maybe i'll try someday~ Thank you so much for sharing ♥


    1. Haha, not really. Good lighting is great, but lens will always give some sort of vignetting around the edges, soOoOOo.

  3. I currently use Picmonkey for editing my photos. It's free and works pretty well, but obviously doesn't have the flexibility/options as Photoshop. Great post (as always!)!!

    1. Thanks! I haven't dabbled too much with PicMonkey yet, but always nice to see emerging free photo editing programs!

  4. That's a great post! Thank you! I NEED PHOTOSHOP in my life but it's soooo expensive! I've been having loads of trouble taking decent pictures recently because the sun comes in through the windows in my flat at an awkward angle, which just ruins everything and makes for extremely inconsistent photos! Your photos are always so so amazing!

    1. Nah, THANK YOU ;)
      Yeah, it's hella expensive and it makes me cry. Which is why I don't question where people get it from. -COUGHCOUGHCOUGH-
      Yeah, I know that feel :| (Sometimes I cheapen out and end up shooting in my room and it can be a hit/miss with the quality)

  5. I don't edit as much as you do, but my photos don't look nearly as good. I just don't think I have the eye or patience for composition!

    7% Solution

    1. Haha, I like editing because I'm a bit of a perfectionist! ME NEITHER. Composition is hard work, yo

  6. CURVES!!! I use that too. I never tried gamma correction, though, thanks for the tip! I usually have to edit the lighting of my photos because my room has like 10% natural looking light and 90% really crappy lighting photos D: I've been trying out Lightroom to edit photos, and it's VERY similar to photoshop except everything is in different places...but it's very organized.

    PS-- I love your new layout, so simple!! The logo is so professional looking.

    1. Curves is a staple, yo :p
      I still need to test out Lightroom! Since I always read about it in the SLR forums/discussions/etc. (I'm at that point in my life where I'm SLR + lens obsessed jfc)

      Thanks! IT'S ALL THE FONT'S WORK, BBY.

  7. This was actually so freaking helpful, I've always just kind of cropped things a bit and never actually bothered to properly edit my photos. But recently I decided to make my pictures look better, and I had no idea what a "sponge" was or did, so clueless... I'll definitely take some notes from this!

    Yet Another Makeup Blog.

    1. I feel ya. You should look at my older posts with barely any editing and in bad lighting. IT HURTS MY SOUL.

  8. *bookmarks* this is definitely THE MOST helpful photoediting post I've ever seen. Finally someone that explains curves and shed. And THANK YOU for telling me the dark corner fix, it's been irking me to no end and I can't deal with it anymore. You sneaky bastard, using the selection tools in ways I didn't know it could be used...definitely going to uh, find a way to photoshop on a poor student budget, Definitely going to steal a couple of tricks or two. Or at least try to.

    Daphne | subgenre of a dream | bloglovin

    1. HAH, thanks. But it won't be the most helpful if you start digging around ;p
      Vignetting, yo. It happens :(
      As usual, I don't judge where people get their PS from. -COUGHCOUGHCOUGH-

  9. frick i need photoshop back in my LIIFFEEE. damn MAC....
    A Beautiful Zen

  10. I LOVE posts like these, they are so helpful for a Photoshop noob like me. I think that you are just being modest and that you are, in fact, a Photoshop Jedi.

    Kirsten |

  11. You're amazing. I took a few lessons on how to use Photoshop too for fine art but usually I just fire up Photoscape [free, and super simple to use] as it's quicker and I can't be bothered to going into levels & curves etc.. great post though - very thorough & definitely a resource I'll come back to!

    Anita @ AllThingsAnita

  12. You are amazing! It must have taken you a while to do this post??? thanks for the lesson, really great! When I finally get around to buying photoshop, I shall come to this here post hehe
    I do 85% of the time try to edit the brightness and contrast and sometimes fiddle with the saturation, nowhere near as perfectionist as you though, making that corner whiterXD that was awesome!
    I also loved the way you could make just the magazine vibrant SO COOL!
    Totally agree with Kirsten though, you for sure a photoshop Jedi ~
    Iqra |The Blushing Giraffe

  13. I tend to be lazy about processing my images so I try to get it right in camera as much as possible so that if anything I just need to do a little brightness adjustment and/or color balancing. I like the curves tool the most as well for adjustments. And yes to the right lighting setup! I also shoot in full manual to get the most control. You're so cool for sharing all your secrets V!

    How could there be blushes you don't know about!!?? ;p
    Totally loved your comment about trying to dress like a rich person >o<

    Rowena @ rolala loves

  14. It must have taken a while to post screenshots... thanks for sharing these. Though I'm already used to using Photoshop, I seldom edit my blog photos like you do. It's just I'm too darn lazy to make it extra pretty. LOL... I play along with brightness/contrast most of the time and use Levels and color balance as well. Sometimes Auto Contrast does the trick for me. hehe

  15. DANG. This is about 100% over my head but way to go! I wish I would spend the time to learn this stuff

  16. Ooh wow now I know your ways *bwehehehh* haha :D Hey but if I had time to, I would play around more with PS. As of now, I've gotten into a solid routine of curves and levels which gets my photos to a happy place :) I'll be trying these new tools though! I also quite like selective colouring and soft light gradients - though I don't use them for beauty blog photos. I don't want to alter the shade of the product and be misleadinggg. I recently learnt how to gif (wowowoowow) and have been experimenting with all sorts of colourings in my tumblr edits :D

    Tasha // shiwashiful.

  17. Great tips! I have wanted to get photoshop for a while but for now I edit my photos using regular old windows picture viewer.

  18. I went to art college and basically had 2 years of learning photoshop and how to use a camera etc...yet my photography skills are what can only be described as "flukey".

    I literally remember nothing that I learned -.-

  19. I super duper love your informative posts like this Vanessa!!~
    I honestly suck at photoshopping the most I know how to do is add txt to the picture lol..
    but! I shall attempt to learn from your tutorials <3
    ahaha I prefer to rely on good lighting, rather than light edits, i just find it eaiser?
    xxox Charmaineee

    Charrmyn [Click!~] || My Sweet Sixteen

  20. I love your writing style!
    I definitely rely on good lighting A LOT for my photos (which is hard because our apartment is terribly dim) but I generally don't shoot with flash. I tend to do all of my editing in Lightroom as I find it's a little easier to navigate & still allows me to make lots of changes. I wish I knew more about photo editing for Photoshop, I use it primarily for graphic design type your photos! :)