Editing Tips : Before + After Images

Editing Tips : Before + After Images

Heck yes! I'm pretty dang pumped about this post. Ever since the middle of high school, I've been immensely interested in "the process." You know, that middle bit between point A and point B that nobody but the artist ever sees. I've always loved peeking behind the scenes to see where something started and what kind of work and thought went into creating the finished product. I know I'm not the only one because a lot of you have asked to see before/after's of certain shots on my Facebook so I decided to create a new series that not only shows you the before/after's (hover over the image to see the before), but that uses each image to explain a bit more about what I do in post. This is just a tiny peak into what the Editing and Consistency self paced classes that I offer covers. Hope you all enjoy it!


Here it is! Photo numero uno. This shot of Madison and Joe is one of my absolute favorites from the day. We got caught in a snowstorm at Garden of the Gods in Colorado and it brought out the best of everything. The snow brought in motion and mood that I loved, the fog gave me gorgeous soft light, and the cold created a perfect environment for them to wrap up tight. Not too shabby for something that most people would complain about. Honestly, I've been praying for foul weather a lot more often than I used to. Something about it creates that extra little bit of magic that pushes an image from interesting to intriguing.

As soon as you hover over this first image one thing will be pretty clear, my images look FLAT out of camera. My style comes alive in post. Obviously the ingredients have to be there (good light, a great connection, correct exposure, interesting composition, etc) but my editing is what cooks it into my style. If you know my work, you know that I love shooting in soft light (either shade or back lit) which means that my RAW files are pretty soft. In post I bring back the contrast and richness that gives the image the pop that I love. Another thing you probably noticed in the hover over is the little things that were taken out of the image (the phone in his pocket, the tree branch, some snow on the ground, etc). Don't worry, we'll talk about that in the last frame. Pinky swear.



Since I always shoot in shade or with back lighting, my WB right out of camera either lands in the the really cool range (in the shade), or the really warm range (backlit). I shoot on AWB because I'm not a huge fan of fidgeting with dials while I'm shooting and I know that, since I shoot RAW, I can always change the WB as much as I want in post without losing any quality. This frame was shot in the early evening in the shade of the coastal cliffs which left me with pretty cool tones right out of the camera. When you hover over it, you will see how much I brought back the warmth in post. The golden light that I love sometimes just doesn't show up to set as much as I want it to but I have a few tricks to bring it back. Aside from altering the WB in post, I also add warmth into the shadows which warms up the image without making the skin look off-color. If you hover over the frame one more time you'll see that I also added a bit of warmth with a LR brush coming in from the top right corner and over the top of the cliffs to emphasize the golden haze that the sun was giving off. Long story short, if the golden light isn't there, create it.



During my last trip out to Colorado with Katch we camped with and shot these two at Colorado National Monument. Nothing but long drives with open windows and mountain views. Nature rocks.

I'm a complete sucker for minimalism. The less distractions the better. I do a decent amount of cleaning things up in post because my mindset is "if something doesn't add to an image, it takes away." Does this mean that I spent a ton of time taking out tiny black pebbles on the ground? You know it. Good things take time. Chances are none of my clients know that I spent the time to clean up the background as much as I do, but they do know that my entire portfolio looks clean and simple. That's what matters. Without distractions to draw your eyes in different directions, you look deeper into the moment that actually matters. For this before and after, I kept the editing the same but showed you what I change when I retouch. The background becomes a series of clean shapes instead of distractions that try to push their way into the foreground. An easy way to see which distractions should be taken out is to look at your image and squint your eyes until it becomes blurry. You'll be able to see the light and dark shapes that pop out much easier and you'll look like a fool in the process. Win win!


If you felt like you learned something, feel free to pass it along. Education starts when we share ideas. We are all in this together.



Ben Sasso's picture

Aside from taking pictures, I love to be in nature (camping, climbing, running around) and I have an unmanly love for cats. I am a firm believer in fostering a close knit photo community and encouraging individual progression. We are all in this together.

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You the man, Ben. Still have a bunch of us waiting for Shoot Set! :)

We are all the man. Plenty of big things are in the works!

What's "Shoot Set"?

In the first picture, I absolutely adore the original one. Tones and details are natural and so interesting... why did you remove hair from her face? Adding so much contrast you completely the romantic mood. This is, of course, MY honest opinion...

Thanks Ale. I removed the hair because I (and my clients) prefer a cleaner looking image.

Agreed 100% on this. Edit killed it for me.

This is really a fantastic stuff. As a photographer and photo retoucher I know how vital it is to maintain before and after photo retouching task and this post clearly showing us how to do that without facing any trouble. So thanks a lot once again.

Thanks Emil! I really appreciate that. And you're welcome!

This somewhat reminds me of the old Kodak Gold look -- I really am drawn to warmer tones and soft light. Great set and great article...gives me some ideas of my own.

Thanks! Love the tones in Kodak Gold!

This is super cool, thanks Ben! Love your attitude and the way you love to share your knowledge. Keep it up!

That means a ton, thank you!

I want to know how you make those before/after web sliders! Anyone know of have a resource to point me towards?

There are a few great plugin's for wordpress that google will help you find if you search "wordpress before and after plugin"


first pic, girls hair is kind weird after PS, original is better. Color correction seems ok.
second pic, no info on highlights, male model shirt almost blends with water and it's too warmy
third pic, seems that after you PS what you call "distractions" the pic was taken in chroma key, the only adjustment there is on his white shirt over his black pants.

But still some nice pics.

Thanks Carlos. Just teaching how I like to do things for anyone who is interested. We all have different styles and that's awesome.

Too much details loss for my personal taste. But it's always good watching before/after, thanks for sharing :)

We all have different tastes, thanks Roberto!

Was just curious- the title says, "Editing Tips"- but there's absolutely no information on how these photos were edited, or even what general procedures you could provide to edit photos. Yes, we all know contrast, shadow, exposure, temp, can fix a photo, but the title is incredibly misleading (Misleading in the fact that it got me to click the link and read the article, without getting a single bit of helpful information out of it. Kinda felt click-baited on this one. :( Not so much tips than commentary.

I would agree. This sort of stuff is geared towards the beginner, but there was absolutely nothing to help a beginner in the article. Not to mention it was too long for the actual content. The message could have been said in 1 sentence: "To make your photos better, shoot in low/soft light, increase contrast, add a warm WB and remove distractions." One of the most useless articles I've ever seen on Fstoppers, unfortunately.

It seems like a lot of people enjoyed it and found it to be helpful for them. We are all in different places in our careers and find education in different ways. Sorry that you didn't find yours here but I'm glad that it was helpful to some!

I'm glad people enjoyed the article, but i'm still wondering where the "editing tips" mentioned in your title are? You show a before and after of your photos but avoid discussing how they were edited to get their final look, aside from mentioning warmth with a LR brush- and that's why your article title is misleading. (I notice you avoided answering the same questions i asked in my original post) :/ Take the "editing" part out of the title and you have a nice essay on why you enjoy photography... and you come out clean.

Not really trying to avoid anything, honestly. For each specific tip I'm giving (contrast, warmth, etc), I think it's pretty clear what the actual logistic of doing it in post is. For the contrast, I bring up the contrast slider in LR to give it the punch that it lost in RAW. For the warmth, I said that I bring the WB warmer (also in Lightroom). For the distractions, that is done either in LR with the Spot Removal tool or in PS with the healing brush. I hope that clears it up for you. Maybe these tips weren't as helpful for you because they seemed obvious but for people who are just starting out, tips like these seem to be really appreciated. Thanks for the feedback on the article title.

"Use VSCO film, remove distractions". I appreciate the Before and After, but the title should be changed simply to "Before and After Images".

Anyway, great colors Ben :)

Thanks! I actually don't use VSCO at all.

Great shots, interesting article--thanks, Ben.

Question: "Good things take time," but how do you convince clients that the wait is worthwhile? I've photographed lots of different people in lots of different scenarios--commercial fashion, family portraits, modeling books, professional headshots, you name it--and the one expectation that *all* of them share, the one expectation they bring to the shoot: that they'll get their collection of ready-to-use images either immediately or, at most, within 24 hours. And I empathize: the world moves fast, and they want to share, post, capitalize on the moment. If I say, "well . . . this might take a couple of days . . . " BUZZKILL, wrong answer, next time they'll hire the other guy. They just don't want to wait, and they don't believe they should have to.

So how do you manage or change that expectation? How do you convince your clients that a cleaner, punchier, more beautiful image is worth waiting for?

Thanks Mark! Great question.

I always make sure that my clients (couples and others) know up front. Managing expectations is a huge part of any business and I make sure that my clients know exactly how long it will be until they see the finished images. If the think that is too long to wait, that's okay with me. They can hire someone else who might fit their needs better. Its really up to what they need and what you are comfortable giving. Some photographers have different priorities and my not mind getting an image out the next day while others might value personal or family time too much to make that habit.

One thing to keep in mind too is that distractions can be recognized and often removed before clicking the shutter. Annoying black pebbles in the shot? Sweep them away. Adjust the camera, slightly move the subject to minimalize what you don't want. Photoshop is awesome, but getting more of it right in the lens makes your life much easier when it's possible. And it's nearly always possible. Being meticulous on the front end save a ton of time in post.

Hey, thanks for pointing this out, Jonathan.

I think meticulous, careful practices at the shoot itself are an important answer to the question I asked, above. And not only because they can accelerate your image delivery, but also because they improve the result that pops up on your tethered screen or the back of your camera, which most clients (in my experience, anyway) want to see.

It leads me to the other question I had reading Ben's article: if the images that appear on your tethered screen or on the back of your camera are flat or pretty far from their final grading, how do you keep the energy / enthusiasm / satisfaction rolling when clients see them? Sure, I know you can explain it--"this will be brightened and warmed in post production"--but I worry it's another buzzkill to overcome while you're trying to build trust, excitement, energy.

It's all quite a minefield to navigate! Thanks again, Jonathan and Ben, for thoughtful replies!

I completely agree! Getting things closer in camera can be a huge time saver in post. Sometimes if I am on a rush with time because of the light, that is when I would leave those black pebbles with the mindset that I'll take them out in post.

As for shooting tethered, I honestly never have. It's just not part of my workflow. If you do, a really great way to do that is to create a quick preset to apply to the RAW image so you can show your client roughly what the finished image will look more like.

First, I swear I see Preston everywhere! He was in the LSU MFA program during my undergrad years.

Second, I also have the same issue with flat photos since I shoot my products under soft natural or strobe light. How do you bring the richness back? I've got contrast down but I'm missing that POP!

How cool! Preston is so rad.

Playing in the Tone Curve may help you out a bit as well. Bringing down your darker midtones and bringing up the brighter ones (so it looks more like an S) will give you a bit more pop.

Hi Ben, great article thx! i have a question for you: you wrote "Aside from altering the WB in post, I also add warmth into the shadows which warms up the image without making the skin look off-color." Can you explain a bit more in depth how do you do it cause i struggle with the skin getting to warm at some point sometimes, and i think warming up these shadows could be a great help. thx a lot.

Thank you! I add them in the shadows in Split Toning (in Lightroom). You can add a specific tint to the highlights and shadows separately.

thx a lot Ben!

and Carlos Ferrari here is not the place to criticize Ben's pics. Criticize the article yep, and do it constructively... There is CC groups for that purpose.

I agree with most the people here that the highlights feel really blown. As said, matter of own taste.
But something that bothers me in the distractions is, especially in the bush, the repetition of the "texture".
It's really obvious.
You can see it in the mountain too (minimal), and on the rock the left and the soil above it, its pretty prominent too.
The "cleaner image" mindset is lost in my honest opinion then.

Overall the tone is set really nice, but these were a few points that bothered me.

Thanks for the compliment and the feedback!