Photo editing software like Photoshop and Lightroom are incredible and powerful tools for altering, adjusting and putting the finishing touches on your digital photography. But in the words of Uncle Ben (Yes, from Spider-man. I know. Nerd.), “With great power, comes great responsibility.”
It might be weird to think of using a piece of graphics software “irresponsibly.” After all, aren’t we talking about something subjective here? The programmers put all of those features in there for a reason, didn’t they?
Well, yes, photo editing aesthetics are subjective to a certain extent – but there are certain norms of general taste that most of the time it is going to be best to conform to. While there probably is some situation that calls for each and every feature built into Photoshop, most of the time, less is more.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common photo editing mistakes that people make, especially when they are getting used to their photo editing software and all of it’s capabilities.
1. Not Backing Up
This is more of a general computer-use practice than it is specifically a photo-editing mistake, but perhaps especially applicable when working with images you’ve just taken off your camera.
No matter what type of editing software you are using, you should always create a backup of your original images files. This is the easiest way to ensure that no matter what you do during the editing process, you can always hit the reset button to go back to the pure, original work, just as it was when you finished shooting.
In other words, if you are backing up your originals properly, then you are free to make all the rest of these mistakes as much as you want without doing any real damage.
2. Magic Eyes and Plastic Skin
Some of the most basic and common tools in any piece of photo editing software are those related to smoothing skin and adjusting the color of eyes. Don’t get me wrong, these are great features, and can be absolutely crucial. But it is so easy to go too far, with the result being that your subject no longer look human. Skin that has been smoothed too much starts to look like a doll. Eyes that have too saturated a color, too bright a white, or too much “twinkle” start to look like alien beings from another dimension.
3. Aggressive Cropping
The good news is that cropping is one of the most basic editing tools there is, and you can crop effectively at almost any point. The bad news – if you crop too early in the process, it can end up biting you later on, leaving you with sections of your photo which you might want to bring back, but haven’t received the same edits and adjustments as the rest of your image.
Better practice is to keep cropping to a minimum through the editing process, and crop later if or when it is truly necessary. That way, you preserve the most flexibility.
The “sharpen” tool does what it says it does, in that it sharpens an image. However, that doesn’t always mean what you think it means. Sharpening is best used for adding a certain ‘crispness’ to digital images that are already properly focused. Sharpen does NOT fix the blurriness of an out-of-focus image. In fact, if your image is out of focus, the sharpen tool is likely to do more harm than good and create noise and artifacts in the image. In other words, make sure you focus properly from the onset when you are actually taking the picture, because there are some things you really won’t be able to “fix in post.”
5. Brightness, Contrast, and Saturation
Brightness, contrast, and saturation are three standard adjustments you can make to almost any digital image. Brightness adjusts the overall light level in the image, contrast refers to the intensity of the difference between the blacks and whites in the image, and saturation is the intensity of the colors. All of these adjustments can be made using blanket sliders or what is known as “curves.” The sliders are going to adjust the image more universally, which means they are very easy to push too far with the result being a loss of detail or an unrealistic color palette. Curves, on the other hand, allow for more minor and targeted adjustments. They can take a while to get the hang of, but once you feel comfortable with them you’ll be able to make much better adjustments and avoid going too far.
6. Blurry Background
There’s a certain magic that happens with a camera when you are able to catch the light in just the right way and create a shallow depth of field, capturing your subject in perfect focus in the foreground while the background is completely blurry. That “blurry background” effect is called “bokeh.” And in many photo editing programs you can fake it. But you shouldn’t.
Real bokeh has an enchanting depth and beauty to it. But fake bokeh just looks like a blurry background, and almost never looks good. Even the untrained eye can tell the difference, so just don’t bother.
Just because you have the ability to make all kinds of complex and extreme adjustments to your photos, doesn’t mean that you should. It’s easy to be wooed by all of the capabilities and cool features in a program like Photoshop, but you are better off showing restraint and using a light touch – trust me, your photos will be better for it.
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