For a beginner, editing can be intimidating. There’s a whole lot of software out there and it all seems designed purely to make me want to give up on photos entirely. I make no secret of the fact that I don’t understand what half of the buttons mean and they frighten me a little.
When I first started taking photos and tracking my progress at www.mishapsinlight.com I was trying to avoid editing. It was all just too much, I was still trying to learn the camera settings (I still am, arguably there has been little progress on that front) and get my head around how to take a good photo (something that seems more and more to be one of those ‘life time journey’ deals). The editing stuff just seemed like too much too soon.
What I’ve realized now roughly a month in, is that editing is an incredibly valuable tool for beginners to both improve their images but more importantly learn about photography.
We’re not starting out because we’re experts, we’re starting out because we want to learn and a valuable thing I’ve learnt is that editing can help you improve your actual photo taking ability as much as it can your final images.
So here are my five reasons why I think every beginner should be editing their photos:
1.) You’re not cheating
I put this one first because it was kind of the feeling I got when I first thought about using software to edit the early photos I was taking. It felt kind of like I would be cheating, changing the crappy pictures I was taking and making them good when I didn’t have the skill to capture them in the first place. In these initial stages I could sure as heck use all the help I could get but I was stupidly defiant. I didn’t want to think of myself as someone that air-brushes away the flaws in their work.
I was also aware that a lot of photographers edit, pretty much all of them at some stage or another. The thought that it was ok because everyone else did it still didn’t sit right with me. I was starting this journey to learn from my mistakes and improve, not use software to make it look like I never made any in the first place.
I was also a little concerned that if I let the computer control my images then what next? Pretty soon all of humanity would become a slave to the computers. And all because I edited that first photo…
What I realized as I was looking through and dabbling in editing was that I wasn’t putting things into my photos that weren’t there or taking out blemishes that were.
I was highlighting things I liked and eliminating the noise around them.
Take the images below:
All the extra detail and the clarity of the edited shot exists in the unedited shot, it just needed the software to bring it out.
When I was shooting I managed to capture it, but the displayed image doesn’t bring out the information that my eyes did.
When I looked at all these images after I’d shot them I was surprised.
To my eyes the water had seemed far bluer than the grainy green in the unedited shots. The camera had also picked up a lot more of the sediment in the water than my eyes had. By editing the photo I didn’t add anything or air brush anything out, I just eliminated the details that the camera could see that my eyes couldn’t.
I was able to correct the images so that they were truer to what the scene looked like and I wasn’t cheating in the process.
2.) You can track your progress
When you start editing your shots you’ll be depressed. You’ll buy a big ole’ tub of Ben and Jerry’s and wash the saltiness of the tears down with the sweet dairy goodness as you look at all the mistakes you made when you were shooting.
One photo will be brighter than Zeus’s mighty lightning bolt and you’ll need to smash that exposure slider like it’s going out of fashion…
Another photo will show your subject and half of the rest of the known universe in the frame and you’ll need to crop it to within an inch of it’s life to even see what you were trying to get a photo of in the first place…
You’ll adjust that slider, tweak this setting and at the end of it all you’ll go and run yourself a cold shower and sit in it while you cry, contemplating the madness that led you to buy the camera in the first place…
But the beauty of this process is that you’ll learn from it all and you’ll start to see how you make changes to improve.
You’ll notice as you get better at your exposure control that you can leave the poor slider alone a little more and eventually you’ll hardly need to crop your shots because your composition has improved by a mile. You’ll notice these changes during editing and this will show you how, as a beginner, you’re improving.
These three photos are how I recognized I was starting to get better and better at shooting the Milky Way.
My framing got better, my exposure got better and as I improved I noticed in in the editing process. I could track my progress by taking note of the less and less reliant I was becoming on the software and the more and more I could rely on my skills.
We beginners need all the feedback we can get to constantly improve and the feedback you get from your own editing is invaluable.
3) You can make shots look more like what your eyes could see
Every one of us has been there. You take a photo of something amazing, beautiful or unique and when you look at it on a screen three hours later it just looks… different. As far as you can see all the settings were ok, you got the exposure right and the shutter speed was just quick enough to freeze what you wanted to but the result is… driving you crazy.
Sometimes our cameras just don’t behave the way we want them to, whether it’s white balance or auto exposure mode or sometimes they just don’t seem to capture the color of the shot as vibrantly as you saw it with your eyes, sometimes our cameras just miss the mark.
As beginners this is almost always user error and it’s a good chance to learn from your mistakes because damn son there will be a lot of them. When you edit, quite often you’ll find that the camera had the information stored all along, it just needs you to bring it out in the frame.
Take the two below pictures for example:
When I took this photo, the sky was SO blue and the leaves were SO green and the stamen tips in the flowers were SO yellow. The shot is under exposed but even when I upped the exposure a little it still didn’t capture the color that I was going for.
I took my time and got a lot of shots of this plant purely because I loved how the white petals contrasted the other colors going on and I was deflated when I saw that the camera didn’t quite get it how I could see it in the moment.
When I edited the photo though, BAM! The colors pop just the way they did when I was snapping them. I felt a little less like I was going crazy and seeing stuff that wasn’t there (which I’m known to do). You can use software like Adobe Lightroom and all sorts of different Lightroom presets for it to quickly and easily correct the colors in a shot to match exactly how your eyes could see them.
4) You can bring out information that you didn’t even know was there.
If you’ve already started taking photos then you’ve probably already realized that your eyes are ninjas that if left to their own devices could quite possibly overthrow us. Your eyes are SO good at what they do and most of the time your camera can’t keep up.
Before you get a big head from all the eye compliments, you should also know that your camera, in certain situations, can leave your eyes for dead. Sometimes your camera will store so much information in an image that you can’t even see it without using a little editing software to bring it out.
You want me to prove it? Yeah? Alrighty then:
You can obviously tell which is the edited photo…
What I learnt most from editing this photo was how much the camera captures that the screen doesn’t display unless you tweak the settings while editing.
For example I had no idea how much cloud was in the photo until I brought up the highlights and there they were. They also add heaps of interest to the photo and make the horizon much more of a subject than in the original photo. I didn’t air-brush the clouds into the image, they were hiding there all along. It was the editing process that drew that information out of the file and slapped it right into the image.
This is why, as a beginner, you should be at least tweaking what you shoot. You’ll be surprised to see how much your camera captures that you weren’t even aware of.
5) You can correct aberrations from your lenses
There’s a whole section in Adobe Lightroom (I’m a bit of fanboy of this software) called “lens correction” and it’s the absolute bomb-dot-com. If you’re anything like me then up until you picked up a camera and started snapping you probably had no idea that your lenses had all their own little personalities.
Unfortunately most of these personality traits come in the form of issues such as vignetting and lens aberration.
What the editing process lets you do is correct these issues quickly and efficiently. Here is the result of 20 seconds of editing:
Look closely at the edges and in particular corners of the frames. See how much darker the original image is right at those boundaries?
Also notice the purplish colour on the stars in the original? That’s chromatic aberration as a result of my failure to focus correctly on the stars. Lens correction eliminates that too.
The last big difference is harder to spot without swtiching back and forth between the images constantly but the original image bulges in the middle whereas the edited version is flatter and truer to what the eyes see when the shots are being taken.
All these corrections are not the result of my own personal brilliance in the art of photography (believe me there is none) but the product of some very simple, easy to use editing features in Adobe Lightroom.
Lightroom even has a set of lens corrections built into it, you just select the lens you took the photo with and the software automatically corrects the known faults that the lens produces.
Editing can be super intimidating for us beginners.
I get it, I really do.
We don’t want people to think we’re faking it but we also want our images to be the best that they can.
Personally I would never want to trade off skill with the camera for skill with the editing software but what I’ve learnt is that the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can learn and grow as a beginner photographer from both processes and quite often you’ll learn a great deal about shooting from your time spent editing and vice versa.
I think all beginners should be editing their photos, if for nothing more than to learn more about photography along the way.
But I’m just one dashingly handsome (lie), charming (obvious lie), and witty (less of a lie but a lie nonetheless) guy with a camera. What do you think? Hit up the comments and let me know.