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3 Photo Editing Mistakes to Avoid

If you are a photographer who shoots in RAW, then you know that editing is a must!

3 Photo Editing Mistakes to Avoid

Editing is a lot of fun. Personally, I enjoy seeing a blah photo turn into a good one by manipulating the details in the image. It’s almost like magic. However, editing doesn’t come without caveats.

In this article, we’ll look at three basic editing mistakes to avoid. They are easy to do, especially when you are new to editing and are overly enthusiastic about transforming your photo into something magical!

When I was a novice, my photos were over-edited (cringe). I looked at other photographers’ work with awe, and I wanted my photos to look like theirs. I got lured into using actions and using them too heavily for that color-pop, scroll-stopping, jaw-dropping impact a photo can have.

It was awful; as I later discovered. It was when I learned how to distinguish between a good photo edited correctly and a photo decimated by actions or over-editing that my images dramatically improved and my confidence as a photographer grew.

Let’s dive in and look at the three basic editing mistakes to avoid. The photos I used in this article are ordinary snaps, taken without the use of any lighting and on a normal bright morning. You don’t have to set up amazing sessions and shots for an excuse to edit your photos. Even the most ordinary of photos could do with a bit of magic.


1. Not shooting in RAW

The first mistake in editing is not shooting in RAW format. Editing and RAW are best friends. Editing a RAW file is the best combination you can use because RAW is a lossless format. That means it retains all the information in the image for you to play around with during the editing process.

RAW is untouched, unprocessed, and unedited. The raw information in pixels is all collated without any interference from the camera. On the other hand, JPEGS (whether that be fine or basic), is a format which allows the camera to process the raw information and compress it by discarding pixels. It does away with some of this raw information before saving the image to your memory card. As a result, you get a smaller image that has already been edited by your camera.

This means the colors and contrasts are already different from the original information. When you edit a JPEG image, you are further fiddling with the remaining information and processing an already processed image. This is not an ideal starting place, as it’s often difficult not to overedit from this point.

For more detailed articles on RAW vs JPEG, read here.


2. Incorrect white balance

This may sound basic to some of you, but many of you might not have heard of the term white balance. When I first had a DSLR, I shot on portrait mode. I didn’t know how to shoot in Manual and didn’t feel I needed to learn it. I relied on the camera modes until I realized I could not achieve the style and type of images I wanted. Until then, I did not know – let alone understand – what White Balance meant.

To put it simply, white balance is making sure white objects appear white. Many lighting factors can affect the whites in your image. These are called color cast. Color casts happen when whites look like different colors depending on the ambient light. A very common color cast occurrence is from incandescent light which, if the white balance is left unadjusted, will render white objects a yellow color, for example.

There is a thing called color temperature measured in Kelvins which offers a range of numerical values to which you adjust your white balance to get your white balance correct. When shooting outdoors in natural sunlight, for example, the color temperature is usually in the 5500K range. You want your camera’s white balance to match that so your white looks white. Conversely, indoors usually has a warmer color temperature. When there are tungsten lights involved, the Kelvins are around 3500K. You need to match this too to ensure your white looks white.

Sure the camera can do this by itself using Auto White Balance, and it does it really well too. The trouble I find is that it still varies quite a lot even though the variations might be minimal. For me, this proves a problem when editing thousands of images, especially when batch editing. My preference to counteract this is to shoot in Kelvin which gives me a pretty constant white balance, though not an absolute science, that I can tweak when editing.

Read more about demystifying white balance here.


3. Over editing

There are a hundred and one ways you can over-edit your images. I will touch on a few favorites, especially because they are the ones that affect the image the most.

a. Heavy vignette

I love vignettes. I apply vignetting to most of my images and love the way it draws the attention to the middle of the image by way of overall contrast: darker around the edges and lighter in the middle. However, it is so easy to be heavy-handed with it so that your image looks like “a moth to a flame” effect: black spherical shape on the outside and a very bright central area. The key word is subtle.

A good trick of knowing how much vignette to add is to slide the bar across both extremes and then you can see the effect of each stage and decide what looks right.


b. Over and under-saturation

Have you heard of the term “pop” in photography?

Photographers love using it! Add a color pop to make the image pop etc. Often, saturation is not the way to achieve this “pop”! I would advise against fiddling with the saturation slider. Only use it if the photo is so undersaturated that a saturation boost is necessary to make the colors get closer to a natural look.

The danger of using the saturation slider is making the colors look ‘neonesque’! A classic ubiquitous example of this is green grass. NO grass looks neon green yet often we see them in photos. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the saturation slider is the culprit when I come across those images.

It is better to use the vibrance slider if you want to add some life to your color. Here is an article that explains the difference between vibrance and saturation.

Undersaturation is just as bad. This is when you strip the image of color so everything looks deathly pale or rather steely and cold. I have made this mistake before when I was starting out. Avoid it! Better yet, do not even attempt to do it.


c. Extreme contrasts

Contrast is simply the difference between the whites and blacks in the image or, if you like, the light areas and dark areas. Three sliders affect contrast: whites, shadows, and blacks. Move those sliders to see what effect they do to the image.

The best advice I can give is to choose a natural contrast where the blacks are just right, and the whites are not blown or overexposed. Keeping an eye on the histogram helps to ensure you are not clipping blacks and whites and are staying within the proper range of values when it comes to contrast.

So there we are – three easily made editing mistakes. I hope you have learned something from this little article.

Any more valuable tips? Do share in the comments below.


3 photo editing mistakes to avoid

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Lily Sawyer
Lily Sawyer

is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on “mummy” dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

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