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6 mistakes to avoid when editing your photos

21st February 2018

By Adrian Beasley

Image editing is a very personal thing. I, for one, love black. I always have. Black and white images from my darkroom days always had a good deal of dark, oppressive, blocked-up black. Much like The Fast Show’s character 'Johnny Nice Painter', I find myself heading to the dark side if I’m editing for too long. It’s not that I don’t know how to produce images with a full range of tones and detailed shadows. I just prefer the works of Bill Brandt et al.

That said, there are plenty of common editing problems that are worth pointing out to those who are new to image-editing or who perhaps have got in a bad habit of making these common errors.  There are no set rules. You should always go with your heart and your instincts, but learning about some of the common issues will help you make your own way and get the best our of your photographs. 


1: Don’t over edit

Some people find photo editing a bore and get it over as quickly as possible with the least changes they can get away with. Some actually enjoy the process and find it at least as rewarding and creative as the act of capturing the images in the first place. If you lean towards the second group, there is a danger of overdoing things while you are having so much fun. 

My best advice is to sleep on an edit before you print or post it. With social media enticing us to post pictures immediately, it’s sometimes hard to resist. But I promise that with some incubation your image will look quite different the next time you look at it and you might well decide to pull back on the saturation levels or clarity adjustment that you finished up tweaking right at the end. 

Saturation/Vibrance and Clarity are the most common areas that inexperienced editors tend to overdo. I will say that black and white images are by nature un-natural and we seem to be much happier to accept more extreme editing of black & white. Just don’t make them all black. 

2: Don’t do nothing

The RAW digital images that come from your camera are not what you saw. “How can this be?”, I hear you gasp. “I paid a lot of money for that camera!". The answer is that our eyes receive the photons but it’s our brain that actually interprets the scene or “sees”. Like many things our brain gets involved with, it’s never straightforward, often embellishing or removing things.

For this reason, to create an image with the emotional impact you felt while staring at the scene often takes some effort. We can, of course, do our best during image capture, getting it right in the camera by exposing well and using filters to control dynamic range. However, the RAW file still needs attention, especially in the areas of global and local contrast, sharpening and colour. Don’t be afraid to experiment in these areas. If you don’t like something, it’s so much easier to undo it than it used to be in the darkroom.


3: Don’t leave in dust spots

There is nothing worse than printing a big image only to find a spot you missed. If you are a Lightroom user, then zoom in 1:1 in the top left corner, then page-down. Check and fix your spots as you go. As you keep paging-down, Lightroom will automatically scroll all through your image without missing anything. Always do this check last as certain adjustments make spots appear that might have been hidden before.

4: Don’t blow out your highlights and shadows

The histogram gives you a clear indication of areas that have hit total black or total white. These areas will show no detail. You may be happy with this, and flat black or white is what you want in your final image. If not, make sure you don’t have any warnings at either end of your histogram (Triangle illuminated) and switch on the warnings to reveal where these areas are (Click the warning triangles to show issues on the image).

5: Don’t over sharpen (or over noise reduce)

Sharpening can make images pop but too much sharpening (and clarity) can lead to noise and halos around your high contrast edges. To a seasoned viewer, these artefacts are very obvious. You can avoid exaggerating noise when sharpening by making sure you set the Masking/Threshold setting correctly (in Lightroom, hold ALT while adjusting masking and only the white areas are sharpened).

Noise is part of all images, even film images.  If you use too much noise reduction, you will lose detail in the image and it will look fake. It’s much better to have some noise than go too far and lose detail. Film noise is part of pretty much every iconic image I know, so don’t feel compelled to kill it.

The example image here has too much sharpening (Halo) and too much noise reduction.

6: Don’t use an un-calibrate monitor

Everything you adjust is shown to you by your monitor. If your monitor is not calibrated, you may make adjustments that are plain wrong. Imagine your screen had a blue tint. You would probably adjust your images to look neutral using white balance. However, because your monitor is too blue, you would warm your image too much.  When you print or post your images, they will appear too warm to everyone else. While you can’t calibrate everyone else’s system, if yours is correct, your images will be correct too.


If you enjoyed these tips, why not join Adrian Beasley on a Lightroom or Photoshop photo editing workshop. See for details. 

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