Photo Editing – 4 steps to make it easy

Don't let the editing process get the best of you, simplify your steps. Photo: CGuyTech
Don’t let the editing process get the best of you, simplify your steps.                    Photo: CGuyTech

Have you ever returned to your computer with a memory card full of photos and become overwhelmed at the idea of going through all of them?

The thought of sorting and analyzing so many pictures can seem so daunting it’s sometimes hard to even know where to start! Often we find ourselves copying the contents of our cameras to our computers and letting our precious memories collect digital dust, though we promise ourselves we will get around to organizing them – someday. Modern technology has made this task easier, with various software and cloud-based services even promising to find your best photos for you.

The following tips will help you streamline your photography workflow and make the task of sifting through your images not only easier, but a lot more enjoyable too. These general practices will apply to whatever photo editing software you use.

Step 1: Get rid of bad photos

This is the first thing you should do when sorting throuogh pictures, and it can be hard at times when you want to save everything. But this step will make all the difference in managing your growing photo library, especially if you have never done it before.

Let’s say you went on a summer family trip to a national park, and you returned home with thousands of pictures to deal with. It might be tough, but as you look through them, try to think about what images will matter the most to you a year from now. You might have had a wonderful time at the Grand Canyon during your vacation, but will you really want 50 pictures of your child looking down at the great abyss? What about the ones where he is blinking, out of focus, or looking the other way? It is likely that two or three good pictures are all you need. In this first step, it’s up to you to find the ones that best encapsulate your experience as a whole, and ditch the rest.

This approach might seem coldhearted and cruel, but it’s a necessary step in taming the photo-management beast. When you revisit the pictures from your summer trip a couple years from now, you won’t need a thousand of them to help you remember the experience. A tenth of that will probably be perfectly appropriate. If you hang on to every last one you might find that they become a burden that you’ll be afraid to come back to and revisit.

One nice advantage of using a photo management program is that you can remove unwanted photos without actually deleting them from your hard drive. In Lightroom, pressing the “X” key on a photo will mark it as rejected, so it will no longer show up in your photo library but will still exist on your computer. This helps soften the initial blow, and then you can go back later and actually delete the rejected photos if you so desire. Alternatively, you can press the “P” key to flag a photo as one of your favorites, or assign star ratings to the images you like best. Then you can instantly sort out your best shots later down the line, and delete the rest when you are ready.

Step 2: Basic Editing

After culling your pictures to find the ones you like most, the next step is to perform basic edits and save the real heavy lifting for later. After removing the duds from your recent camera import, go through each of the remaining images and apply the simplest of edits such as cropping, straightening and exposure. Not much else is needed at this stage, as you are essentially preparing your photos for any real edits that might need to be done later. These basic adjustments are very quick, and you can churn through your recent batch of vacation, birthday, or hiking photos in a manner of minutes or hours instead of days or weeks.

You can also copy and paste adjustments, so if you have a dozen similar photos you can edit one and then apply those adjustments to the rest with a simple keystroke. This is also a good time to  apply some rudimentary organization to your photos as well, using tools like keywords, flags, categories, or star ratings. Be careful not to get caught up in editing any single photo in depth at this stage. The goal of Step 2 is to dig a little deeper into the photos you like, which will help you decide where to concentrate your efforts if you do need to do more intensive edits afterwards.

Step 3: Advanced Editing

By this point you should now have a curated set of photos that you really like, with some mild corrections applied to help them look a little more pleasing. Now it’s time to perform the types of more detailed edits that will help your images truly shine. Advanced adjustments to a photo’s white balance, color saturation, contrast, and other parameters, while also applying localized improvements like dodging and burning can take a long time, but the results are well worth it.

It’s important to do this step last, or else you can easily wind up spending a great deal of time editing a single picture early in the process only to realize there are plenty of better ones that should have had your attention instead.

Step 4: Walk Away

This might sound silly, but often the most useful activity you can do when editing your photos is nothing at all. Take a break, get a coffee, head out for a walk, or just go to bed and come back to your pictures the next day with a fresh set of eyes.


Following this simple process, and adjusting it to suit your individual needs, can transform photo sorting from a tedious chore into an activity that is enjoyable, relaxing, and fun.


[via Simon Ringsmuth at]

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