The Most Important Photo Editing Tools

Post-production on images is a deep and varied process with no one way to do any task. So what are the most important tools and in which order should you use them?

When I started photography, I drastically underestimated the importance of post-production. I would look at images and presume huge amounts about how the image was made, with the weightings incorrectly skewed towards the camera and lens. In actuality, a lot of what was being achieved was done in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, which was ironic given I had a background in Photoshop long before I bought my first camera.

Being a beginner in any vast craft like photography is daunting enough, but to know that even if you master your camera, you could improve your work with a completely different skillset can be disheartening. On that note, I would recommend you take the time to watch content creators in your chosen area of interest (landscapes, portraits, etc.) and watch how they edit and what tools they use regularly. In this video,  James Popsys goes through his workflow and highlights which editing tools he considers to be the most important and in what order you ought to use them.

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5 Comments

Ivan Lantsov's picture

edit tool best is trash can

Aatish Shekhar's picture

i used to think post production was cheating but with time i have understood the importance of editing and i think we should learn photoshop and lightroom before blaming and changing gears as almost every foto is edited in some way in post
and if photoshop is a bit too much one should at least consider Liuminar.

David Pavlich's picture

I've been doing this for about 7 years now and all that time, I've done 98% of my processing in LR with some of the plugins. A couple of weeks ago, I finally made an effort to get beyond my rudimentary knowledge of PS. Hopefully, I'll get it figured out at some point, but for the digital age, post processing is necessary if you want to realize the full potential of the images we make.

Karim Hosein's picture

This is the way we would teach in the film days. Originally with B&W for simplicity, but club members developed their own negatives and prints. This taught that processing and post processing was completely integral to making the image.

The transition to colour was slides & Cibachrome, again, for simplicity, and again, slides and prints processed by the members in the darkroom. Dropping a roll off at the photoshop then picking up prints an hour later, robs the artist of a great deal of their creativity.

Karim Hosein's picture

On another note, both in taking the photograph, and in developing, he is correct in essence, —yet failed in part— in that exposure, colour, etc., is not important to the frame, but to the image/subject. From black/white points, to colour balance, to exposure, to grading, to highlights/shadows, etc., one ought look only at the image/subject, and not the entire frame.

His failure in the shoot become obvious when we seemed the unedited frame. The had exposed the entire frame to the left, grabbing detail in the sky, allowing us to see every wisp of cloud… which was cropped from the underexposed image in the end. This would give the remaining image less DR, less detail, and more noise.

He did it again in another image where he showed the highlight detail in the sky, only to deliberately blow it out in the end.

When one attempts ETTL, it ought to be done to the image/subject, and not to the frame. Just because there is a part of sky is the frame, or a white shirt/dress, does not mean that we need to see details in it. We need to ask, “is this germane to my image/subject?” Otherwise we may be introducing noise, and unnecessarily reducing our DR & detail.

There are too many times when I hear the advice, “remember to expose to the left so that you can bring back those highlights in the sky.” Sometimes we need to focus on our subject/image, and ignore the entire frame. Focus on what is actually important.