Three Editing Mistakes New Photographers Often Make

Three Editing Mistakes New Photographers Often Make

I find it interesting how often I see new photographers make the exact same editing mistakes I made when I started out. Every photographer who has at least a few years of experience can look back at some of their first sessions and find a number of things that they continually did wrong. I recently took a look at some sessions from my first year of photography, as well as asking a few other photographers to do the same, and continually found the same common issues.

We’ve all been there. We get excited about photography and then we realize that we have to learn to edit as well. At first it seems so overwhelming, and then as we start to learn new things, it becomes fun to know all of the options you have to improve your photos. Every time we learn something new, it seems like we want to implement it on every photo we edit. We then go through a process of learning that less is often more in the editing world and we finally begin to execute the skills we learned in a better way. This is all part of the learning process. But still, I wish I would have known more in that beginning stage that would have kept me from making the same mistakes continually.

Get Your Colors Rights

One of the first things that I notice that can really separate photography quality are the colors, specifically the skin tones in portraits of people. Being able to fix your white balance is such a helpful tool, but at the same time it takes a while to really develop an eye for this. When you are starting, if you are editing people, you should pay special attention to the skin tone of your subject, even at the risk of the rest of the photo not looking how you want. I often see people try to get their background colors to look good first, but when you are changing the white balance of the entire photo you can really sacrifice the skin tones. If skin has a green tint, the person will often be left looking ill, and it almost never looks good in photography. Similarly, an unintentional blue tint will often cause your subject to look dull. Leaning toward a warmer skin tone is better in most situations. If you are trying to get your background to look green or blue then that’s great, but never at the expense of leaving your subject’s skin looking off. Learn to get your subject right first when you are starting out and stay focused on that. As you develop your editing knowledge you will eventually learn to get everything else looking great as well.

The Vignette

I asked a handful of other photographers that I know about the most common mistakes they see in new photographers editing, and almost exclusively they responded with too much vignette being the most consistent mistake. I don’t mind a little vignette. There is definitely a place for it. Like most things in photography though, keeping it minimal is key. The purpose of a vignette is to cause your eyes to go directly to the center of the photo. If the vignette is used so heavily that the vignette itself become a main part of the photo, then it is overdone. The new photographer will very often go well beyond that.

Too Much of Everything

Like vignetting, when you are new to editing, you have a tendency to overdue everything. Giving your photos too much vibrance, saturation, clarity, and contrast are all common mistakes. At the same time, specific edits like teeth whitening, making the eyes stand out, and skin smoothing are all often really overdone as well. There will be a time to make some of these adjustments more extreme, but when you are beginning, do your best to keep everything you are doing to a minimum, knowing that you are prone to overdoing it. Another thing to think about is that your eyes will adjust to what they are seeing. If you stare at an over-edited photo long enough, it will begin to look normal. On some of my first sessions, I would spend a ton of time on a photo and be proud of it, only to look at it the next day and realize it was essentially ruined. I often revert back to the original photo while editing now to make sure that what I am doing is adding to the photo and not taking away from it. In Lightroom you can simply hit the backslash key (\) to quickly see the original. Slight adjustments that look natural are key until you have a solid grasp of why you would need to do more.

Know You Will Improve

Learning to edit is an overwhelming task. When you are just beginning, you already probably feel incompetent with your photography skills, but don't try and compensate for it with an abundance of editing. The best thing you can do is try and have a long-term goal for your photography. Understand that you are not there yet, but being patient with yourself as you learn and improve will keep you from feeling a need to try and make your photography amazing through editing. Being patient as your artistic eye and your style develop is essential as well. Setting a simple goal for yourself to keep things simple while you are still learning your style will save you from a lot of mistakes and bad habits you will most likely need to unlearn later. After I realized that I had been making some of these mistakes, I literally had to make a rule for myself to adjust a photo about half as much as I wanted to do. If you are still in your first few years of photography, look back at your last handful of sessions and see if you are guilty of any of these common mistakes. If so, make a note to yourself, adjust, and always keep improving.

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Alexander Petrenko's picture

Vibrance, saturation, clarity, and contrast are all common features of a style.

Fritz Asuro's picture

But for me, it's better let the learning photographer commit such mistakes. They will learn from it develop their own style. As always, there's no such thing as "best way of retouching" because it always depends on the artist/photographer's liking.

I have seen a couple of photographers I know that shifted to the famous way of retouching just because they want to impress the viewer, but they were never satisfied neither fulfilled because they really want to do it on their own way but always afraid to shove away the admirers.

Robert Leger's picture

Guess everyone has to find their own workflow.....I would imagine a lot of beginners over- edit like myself!
The natural inclination is to try to make each photo as best it can be.....and if your clients are of the type to pay comenserate for quality one can waste an inordinate amount of time for work that is never fully appreciated to begin with....Alas if we only were only working for fellow artists......

Mark James's picture

I find that the default presets for skin, teeth and eyes in LR are all too much. I have created my own presets with the sliders about half way between 0 and what the defaults are set to. Color and contrast are areas I feel like I can do much better at.

Levi Keplar's picture

I agree with the LR default presets being too much and I made my own as well.

Stephen Boodram's picture

These are great tips and I also winced at some old hack edits I did years ago.

For the color tip, I'd add that since most advanced editing programs allow you to brush the white balance to a specific area, you can get very specific. For example, you can set the whole picture to a cool balance and then brush back skin tones to a desired warmer tone. Still requires a delicate balance and perhaps stepping away to come back later with a fresh perspective.

Levi Keplar's picture

Good advice! I always try and step away and come back the next day to look over what I adjusted earlier.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

But even overdone photos that hurt eyes get comments like "nice shot, congrats!" Photography is full of fucking buttlickers.

Julien-Pier Belanger's picture

Well... it always depends on your own personal taste.
I could say that about 90% of the works displayed here are eye-scorching with only a minimal amount being aesthetically pleasing, original and true.
A lot of dad photographers will happily spit on the likes of Andrew T Kearns, Brandon Woelfel, Michael Flugstag and all the "hipster photographers" in the light of their undeserved success while they should only up their game and aspire to be as crowd-moving as them.

I often try to be true when I criticise photos, but people have their "style" so up in their butt that they don't even realize that their "work" is only a conglomerate of shitty pictures.
And even then... I might be wrong since a lot of persons like these "shit" pictures.
Who knows.

I hate babies, I find them utterly ugly and yet, everybody will say that babies a cute, even when they look like a ballsack

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

I guess that's why we don't have any photography platform like YouTube - with the thumbs down button and with anonymous rating. Why would you ever wanna know which asslicker liked your picture? Or disliked. Unless it's a genuine comment I don't give a shit.