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Simple Editing Can Make a Big Difference

How you can edit your photos without spending a lot of money.

By Eryn MillikenPublished 2 years ago 6 min read
Before & After of a tree in my front yard

I remember finding my mother’s SLR camera when I was a little girl and being completely fascinated by it. That was probably the beginning of my love of photography, even if it did (and sometimes still does) intimidate me. That was back before the days of a D-SLR, so it used actual film, that had to be manually advanced and set. I never did get to use that camera, but I still think of it very fondly, sitting in the corner of the spare bedroom all mysterious and inviting.

Over the years I went through a number of point-and-shoot cameras before a friend of mine decided to sell his Canon DSLR right around the time my tax return came in, and I wanted it desperately. We had some fun, good-natured discussion and I came away as the new owner of my first “real” camera.

That’s when the fun, and the confusion, began.

I’ll be honest. I’ve never taken a photography class, but I do have friends who are in the business and offered help, and I did sign up for a couple of webinars on how to learn to better use my camera, but the rest was all trial and error.

What are my tools?

There’s my camera body, a Canon T4, and the two lenses it comes with. I do have one more lens, but since I haven’t gone out much during the pandemic hit, I haven’t really had the chance to use it.

When I bought my camera it had the plain stock neck strap and a shoulder bag (like a big purse). I hated using the strap as it pulled on my neck uncomfortably while also leaving my camera bouncing off my chest or hanging from my shoulder. I bought a set of bags with carabiners for the lenses, but have not used them much. I did, however, buy a strap that sits cross-body like a messenger bag strap, and I’m completely in love with it, and highly recommend using one!

There is always at least one spare memory card in my equipment in case of emergency, a little brush for cleaning off my lens, and my battery charger. Since my car has an outlet I can charge it if needed.

My processing routine

To be quite frank, I have not signed up for something like Photoshop or Lightroom because I think they’re overly expensive. I do sometimes use a software called Krita, which is similar to Photoshop but is free and open-source, as well as the native photo app on my laptop.

When I’m taking pictures, I like to try and take a couple of shots of something if I’m really loving how it looks, especially since you never know how a photo might change from one to the next. It never ceases to amaze me the difference a couple of seconds can make, especially when taking pictures of subjects such as animals or children! What’s even better is that with the quality of phones these days, getting pictures any time anywhere is easier than ever and you don’t have to have a big camera to do it.

I start with simply going through my shots and looking to see which ones I like the most - the ones that grab you and don’t let go. If it’s blurry in the wrong places, or the focus didn’t end up being where I thought it should be, those get passed on, but sometimes, when everything goes just right, a photo just feels right, right from the beginning, and those are the best to work with.

Some people like to do a lot of editing to their photos, but I prefer to have it look like I remember the situation being. Seeing the photo brings back the memories of the whole time, so I try to meddle with it as little as possible, just bring out the magic from it. However, sometimes a photo doesn’t quite do the day, setting, or feeling justice, and it needs help bringing it back.

Using the photo software, I will crop it if I feel the subject isn’t in the right position, probably the most important factor of a photo. I like to usually use the rule of thirds, but sometimes I also like the look of something being right smack in the center too. Most of my photography is of nature, and there can be a lot to look at, so picking out what should be the focus and making it the star is important. A lot of dead space can throw off the whole thing.

Three different editing options - light & bright, balanced, and dark pop

Secondly, I turn to looking at the light in the picture. I don’t know if it’s my camera or most of them, but I always find my photos to be a little bit darker than reality, so I like to fidget with the values until it looks right. Not too dull, not too bright, and not glaringly unnatural. Sometimes it takes raising the highlights, but more often than not I lower them while increasing the contrast and making the shadows just a touch darker. It makes my subject pop to me just a little bit more.

I also increase the color of the photo overall, while sometimes warming or cooling it a little to make everything balance just right. Honestly, you can feel it when the picture suddenly hits all the right points. I can never suppress the smile as it spreads across my face, no matter how many times it happens.

To summarize:

  1. Take the photos
  2. Decide what to keep and what to discard
  3. Crop as needed to bring the eye to the subject
  4. Edit lighting, contrast, highlights, shadows as needed to achieve your desired effect
  5. Make sure color is saturated (or desaturated) to your liking

What’s most important?

Honestly, whether you’re using a point-and-shoot, your phone, or a DSLR, the most important thing to do is get out there and take photos. You need to learn what you want to shoot, how you want your work to look, and other little nuances only by actually doing it. You can’t sit back and be shy about it. And, these days, it’s easier than ever because you aren’t risking blowing film on bad photos. If you hate one, just delete it and it never happened, so there’s no excuse to not at least try!

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of downloadable filters for use with Lightroom. I’ve gotten some myself even though I don’t have the software. I see nothing wrong with them, but I think the second most important thing after getting out and doing it, is realizing you don’t have to have a lot of expensive extras to create great photos. You can, but it’s certainly not required. What IS required, on both the front and back ends, is your time and a lot of what you’re doing. If you have that, you can edit and manipulate all day long on the days you aren’t actually out taking photos.

Lastly, don’t forget to SHARE your pictures! Put them online, sell them if you want, print cards, frame them and cover the walls of your house, put them on a digital frame on your desk… whatever method works for you. Because it doesn’t matter how much you edit a photo if no one ever sees it.

If this article helped you, and you'd like to see more of my photos, you can find me online at Celtic Moon Design or leave me a heart below. If you're feeling extra generous, a tip would be very greatly appreciated! If you have questions or if there's an article you'd like to see me write, email me!


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