Technology Tutorials

Digital Photo Editing Workflow

photo editing before and after example

This text summarizes crucial steps to include into your digital photograph modifying workflow (aka “post-processing workflow”). It is not essentially a process that you’re going to need to implement with your whole pictures, however everytime you need to get that “keeper” wanting good, these steps could make all of the distinction.

photo editing before and after example

Earlier than


The “after” picture extra precisely depicts how the scene appeared in individual — a great objective for many photograph modifying. Solely white stability, publicity compensation, shadow restoration and sharpening have been utilized to supply the “after” picture above — all steps described within the workflow under.


Every is listed roughly within the order that they need to be utilized:

  1. White Stability – temperature and tint adjustment sliders
  2. Publicity – publicity compensation, spotlight/shadow restoration
  3. Noise Discount – throughout RAW improvement or utilizing exterior software program
  4. Lens Corrections – distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberrations
  5. Element – seize sharpening and native distinction enhancement
  6. Distinction – black level, ranges and curves instruments
  7. Framing – straighten and crop
  8. Refinements – shade changes and selective enhancments
  9. Resizing – enlarge for a print or downsize for the online or e-mail
  10. Output Sharpening – custom-made in your material and print/display measurement

Observe: Clicking on any of the steps above (or scrolling down this web page) will take you to a fast abstract of an important issues for every. Inside these sections, you can too click on on hyperlinks which can lead you to extra in-depth studying on every matter.

The above steps are nearly common, so most photograph modifying software program ought to work. In the event you’ve captured your photographs utilizing the RAW file format (extremely advisable), then the order of the above steps is not as essential, since they will be intelligently utilized once you develop utilizing your RAW software program. In any other case it is important that you simply comply with the above sequence — particularly with steps involving sharpening, resizing and noise discount. Watch out although, excessive edits can simply trigger picture posterization with JPEG information.


Merely getting the white stability proper can typically make the only largest enchancment in your photograph’s colours. An incorrect white stability will give your picture a colour forged, and may dramatically scale back each distinction and colour saturation:

Example of an incorrect white balance
Example of an incorrect white balance
  • Example of an incorrect white balance

    Controls. First modify the “temperature” slider, then refine utilizing the “tint” slider. The previous controls the relative heat of the picture, whereas the latter controls the magenta-green shift.

  • Drawback Scenes. Paradoxically, cameras sometimes make the most important white stability errors with scenes which might be probably the most dramatically lit (and sometimes might have benefited probably the most). Pay additional consideration to white stability when capturing sunsets, indoor lighting and low-light photographs, and so on.
  • Different Instruments. If there’s an object someplace within the picture which should be impartial grey, you can even use a “white point dropper” (or equally named software) to mechanically set the white stability in order that this object’s colour forged is subtracted from the complete picture.


This step presumes that you’ve got carried out all the things potential to get an correct publicity on the time of seize. Nevertheless, this is not all the time potential (or sensible).

under exposureBeneath-Publicity
(clipped shadows in blue)
correct exposureIdeally suited Publicity
over exposureOver-Publicity
(clipped highlights in pink)

Fortuitously, publicity may be fine-tuned through the use of the “exposure compensation” adjustment software. Some common ideas embrace:

  • Picture Histogram. Use this as an goal information.
    Check with the next tutorial: Picture Histograms: Tones & Distinction
  • Viewing. View the photograph at a small measurement on-screen to make it simpler to guage publicity. Additionally understand that publicity is not one thing that essentially has a “right” reply; it typically additionally is dependent upon your inventive intent and simply “looks right.”
    Discuss with the tutorial on digital publicity methods for extra on this matter.
  • Excessive Tones. Pay cautious consideration as to if there are any blown highlights or misplaced shadow element. In case your software program helps it, you may be capable of get well these through the use of the “fill light,” “recovery” or “black point” instruments.
  • Limitations. Keep away from extreme compensation; in the event you improve publicity an excessive amount of, noise will develop into visibly worse within the shadows, whereas reducing it an excessive amount of will make blown highlights extra obvious. In both case, this in all probability signifies that your unique publicity was approach off, and also you’re doubtless higher off engaged on a special photograph.


In case your picture was taken at a excessive ISO velocity, it’s going to possible profit from noise discount:

high image noiseExcessive Picture Noise Unique
(taken at excessive ISO)
high ISO image with noise reductionPhoto on Left
After Noise Discount
low ISO image with minimal noiseGreatest Case State of affairs
(taken at low ISO)
  • Order. Noise discount is only when utilized earlier than some other picture modifying (excluding steps 1 & 2 above: publicity compensation and white stability).
  • Varieties. Picture noise has many sorts; some are simply eliminated whereas others aren’t. Luckily, noise from a excessive ISO velocity is the sort that’s most simply addressed. Seek advice from the tutorial on picture noise for a background on this matter.
  • Limitations. Goal for noise discount versus full removing, because the latter could make topics seem unnaturally clean. Some noise is OK and even anticipated.
  • Devoted Software program. For problematic pictures, it’s value experimenting with devoted noise discount software program reminiscent of Neat Picture, Noise Ninja, Grain Surgical procedure, or others.
  • Sharpening. Noise discount typically goes hand in hand with sharpening, so this step might must be utilized at the side of step four (relying in your software program). It’s because they will offset eachother: sharpening will increase noise, however noise discount typically decreases sharpness.
  • In particular instances, one other method is Noise Discount by Picture Averaging


The three most problematic (however correctable) lens imperfections embrace:

  • Vignetting is most prevalent if you’re utilizing low f-stops, though some lenses are additionally extra vulnerable to this than others. Somewhat vignetting is usually useful, since this could draw consideration to the picture’s middle and make the body’s edges much less abrupt. Additionally remember that correcting for vignetting will increase picture noise close to the corners. Nevertheless, in case your vignetting is definitely as a result of bodily blockage (resembling a lens hood or filter), then this sadly can’t be corrected.
  • Distortion can be most prevalent once you’re utilizing extensive angle or telephoto lenses (or are utilizing a zoom lens at both excessive). Do not attempt to repair this until it is clearly seen, since doing so can barely scale back nook decision and alter your composition. Distortion is usually acceptable with landscapes, however not in architectural pictures.
  • Chromatic Aberration might be most obvious at low f-stops, close to the corners of your picture and in areas with excessive distinction element. When correcting for CA, use a excessive distinction edge close to the picture’s excessive nook as a information.

    Nevertheless, remember that not all forms of CA could be simply eliminated. If the CA does not look like helped utilizing normal instruments, you may also need to attempt different settings. For instance, Lightroom and Adobe Digital camera RAW have a “fringing” software which may scale back the extra persistent forms of CA (however probably liable to decreasing element).

For extra, additionally see the tutorial on Enhancing Picture High quality with Lens Corrections


The purpose of this step is to offset any inherent softening brought on by your digital camera’s sensor and lens (“capture sharpening”). It is also essential that it’s utilized conservatively since you will even be making use of “output sharpening” in a later step. Sharpening ought to be carried out with care as a result of it may possibly exacerbate different picture high quality points (akin to noise, chromatic aberrations, and so on.). Nevertheless, when accomplished proper, it could make an incredible distinction within the perceived high quality of your photograph:


For a background and particular methods, refer to those tutorials:


Photographs taken into the solar or close to a shiny indoor mild supply typically endure from low distinction (since these are main causes of lens flare). Enhancing distinction typically provides the lengthy wanted “pop” or 3D look to your photographs:

before levels tool - low contrast
after levels tool - high contrast
  • An excessive amount of distinction could make your topic look unrealistic if this was truly a trait of your scene (resembling pictures within the fog or haze).
  • Larger distinction also can make colours seem extra saturated.

Additionally confer with the next tutorials:


The overwhelming majority of snapshots might be dramatically enhanced just by cropping them to strengthen their composition. Whereas there isn’t any common guidelines, some good rules are outlined within the tutorial on composition: the rule of thirds.

original uncropped image with horizon along center
cropped image so that horizon is along upper third

You might also need to crop your picture in order that it precisely matches a given print measurement (resembling 8×10 inches). The facet ratio of your crop can typically be specified inside your photograph modifying software program — making this course of a lot simpler.


photo with dust spots on the camera's sensor
photo after dust spots were removed using the cloning or healing brush tool

That is actually a catch-all class, however typical changes may embrace:

  • Colours – saturation, vibrance and different shade changes. Nevertheless, these are sometimes overdone, and incessantly aren’t mandatory if white stability, publicity and distinction have all been correctly set.
  • Selective Enhancements – spot removing of mud/blemishes (as proven above), artistic sharpening (corresponding to on the eyes of somebody in a portrait) and selective noise discount (in in any other case clean areas such because the sky or pores and skin). Necessary instruments embrace: the therapeutic brush, clone software, layer masks and adjustment brushes. Seek the advice of your software program’s assist file or guide to browse what choices can be found.

As soon as these have been utilized, make certain to save lots of a replica of your picture, since all subsequent modifying steps solely depend upon how and whether or not you plan to share this photograph. This manner you do not have to redo the whole lot every time you propose on utilizing your picture for one thing else. Regardless, at this stage the picture ought to now seem completed when seen in your display.


Everytime you alter the show measurement of your picture, you’ll want to resize the file (utilizing a course of referred to as “digital image interpolation”). The resize technique might be fairly totally different, relying on whether or not you need to make it bigger or smaller.

When enlarging your picture for a print:

  • All the time attempt to carry out enlargements your self as an alternative of getting this carried out by the printer
    (in any other case it is easy to by chance create prints which seem digital/pixelated).
  • When you see haloes round sharp edges, then your earlier seize sharpening might have been utilized too aggressively (or with too excessive a radius worth).
  • Additionally check with this tutorial: Optimizing Digital Photo Enlargement

When downsizing your picture for the online or e mail show:

Unique Picture

resized imageDownsized 50%
(unrealistic moiré artifacts)

Both means, what’s typically much more necessary than the way you resize is that you simply make certain to comply with this up with output sharpening (within the subsequent step).


Output sharpening is usually the final picture modifying step utilized to a picture. Its settings are subsequently custom-made for a specific output gadget, which can embrace particular issues based mostly on the dimensions, sort and viewing distance of a print. Output sharpening can even offset any softening brought on by resizing a picture for the online or e-mail.

Check with the information to picture sharpening for extra on this matter.


  • Backups. When you’re accomplished, it is a good suggestion to just remember to’re correctly archiving your digital pictures utilizing backup information. It will be a disgrace to lose all of this difficult work spent in photograph modifying (and within the unique photograph seize).
  • Monitor Calibration. The time spent photograph modifying is just useful if what you see in your display is correct. That is completely important. If you have not accomplished so already, see the tutorial on monitor calibration for digital images for extra on this matter.