My Editing Philosophy

Just like every photographer has a different aesthetic perspective, every photographer has a different editing philosophy.

When I edit in Photoshop, I try to only make minimal adjustments. I use levels to make the darker shades darker and lighter ones brighter to manually add contrast. If there’s an extremely distracting spot, I’ll use the spot healing brush to make it disappear.

editing 2

The photo on the left is okay, but adding just a bit of contrast through levels is all it needs to make it pop.

My favorite tool is the underwater photo filter. For photos with a yellow cast (usually indoor tungsten lighting does this), the underwater filter adds a teal tint that downplays the warm tones while maintaining their integrity, unlike a basic cooling filter which adds a dark blue tint to the whole photo and often overpowers warm colors entirely.

The underwater filter balances out the heavier yellows well but doesn't just turn them blue. Also, I found the foot in the middle of the picture to be distracting and take away from the lines and shapes I like, so I got rid of it, but I don't remove features from photos very often.

The underwater filter balances out the reddish cast without turning it purple. I did also remove the foot from the middle of the photo (it took away from the other lines and shapes), a technique I only use sparingly. 

After getting my beloved DSLR, I took a photography class at Portland State University. It was a 200-level class and included some instruction about how to balance aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to get a certain look for a photo. It was also very Photoshop-heavy, though, and made me dependent on editing to produce a good picture.

The next summer I took another photography class, this time at Portland Community College. My professor for that class had a completely different editing philosophy than my professor at PSU. She discouraged editing entirely; too many people use it as a crutch, she said, and never actually understand how to create the best photo using existing light sources and their camera’s settings. At first it was hard for me to avoid my standard editing practices, but I learned so much more about how to create a great photo when I let go of the “oh, I’ll just edit that out later” mindset.


No edits on the above photo–the interesting textures and shadows speak for themselves.

Photoshop is vital to some photographers’ conceptual work; adding drastic effects or layering two photos on top of each other is part of their process and it creates an interesting, dreamlike aesthetic that I love.

But I’ll never be that photographer. My aesthetic is much more about real life, which is why I love street photography.  Even for a styled shoot I aim to capture the in-between times when my subjects forget that the camera is on them. Smiling at the camera only satisfies me for so long. I’d rather get up close and capture a moment that becomes more poignant through the lens.

editing philosophy

I like the unedited version well enough, but a tiny bit of added contrast goes a long way.

Photographers and lovers of photography: tell me about your aesthetic, either one you aim to create or what you most like to look at. 

13 thoughts on “My Editing Philosophy

  1. I have Photoshop as well but mainly use it to fix horizons and just do some minimal tweaks here and there. I have played around with it though and completely changed the look of a photo; but never one I’ve posted. You can do some amazing things with it. And I agre with the first comment, some photos just look too manipulated. Kind of like a lot of music today only sounds good with all the assistance of the machines in the studio.


    • That’s a great analogy! Just like how musical artists perform live (although live doesn’t always mean unassisted), I’d love for visual artists to show how they edit and manipulate their work. Half of art is careful editing choices, either physical or mental, so I don’t think it takes away from someone’s perceived talent to see the original version of a work.

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  2. I’m with your second professor — in fact I’d discourage the use of lenses and filters, too, since people tend to use them as a crutch…

    Seriously, yes, it’s a shame to slip (and one does!) into an habitual “I’ll fix it later” attitude. It’s better to know what you’re doing in the first place. But photographers have always manipulated, post-production, basic aspects of their photographs like contrast and color, since long before digital photography existed. That’s not just something photographic printing is capable of, it’s what photographic printing is. And mindful editing can teach you an awful lot about shooting — what worked, what didn’t, how to tell the difference, what you could have done differently, what you should have noticed at the time but didn’t.

    And another thing, Photoshop (actually I use GIMP) is awesome fun! I guess that’s sort of like a philosophy. I tend to value composition and juxtaposition — color and contrast maybe not so much — and I will shamelessly manipulate an image if I think I can make it more interesting to look at or force the pictures to imply a story. (But always… mostly always… confess what I’ve done.)


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  5. It is a strange experience for me, this photographic journey. I alway took photos of my family, celebrations, places I visited just so I could have a memory. Just recently I started to explore it more, to get better quality images. I am a self-taught, meaning I try and fail and then try again, read a lot, write down everything I find interesting. In the last year I started to participate in few challenges here on Word Press, where we edit our photos in various ways. I was against it at the beginning, because I considered it a form of cheating. But what I learned was that by post-processing my images that are of lower quality, I actually figured out what I was doing wrong. So, these days I see a vast improvement in my images. I guess it’s all about balance, you can enjoy both sides without going overboard.


    • Definitely! I absolutely value the ability to edit my photos and the knowledge I have about post-processing because it truly does lead to better images both in the camera and as finished products. It’s also helped me be more aware of my shooting practices, but I don’t want to rely entirely on editing to get a good quality photo. It’s a balance for sure.

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