Enhance your photos in post processing

Digital photography offers many opportunities to assess your photos directly on location photos via the screen. And to correct them so you come home with the best possible image. Though there are always things you overlooked when you are busy shooting. Or that you should have done different or better.

You don’t have always  in all circumstances the time and rest to quietly work on the most optimal composition. And the camera also doesn’t always give faithfully what you saw on location. For example, the colors can differ as a result of which the atmosphere of the picture is missing. It is good that you update the picture before you show the end result in the print or the internet.

Autumn Day

Actually, photos can always use a little post processing, adjust the mask to adjust white balance, contrast and sharpening. This article contains a comprehensive overview of the minor tweaks you can do to improve your photos noticeably.

Points Of Attention

When you judge your photos you have to pay attention to the composition. The exposure, sharpness of the picture, the colors, contrast and some lens problems that have occurred.

Quite apart from whether the subject is appealing. Now it is not always necessary to edit, the operation should really have a better end result. In most cases I edit a picture to get closer to the image that I saw at the location. But sometimes the goal is also to correct a problem or customizing atmosphere and drama in the picture.

The possibilities are endless, as long your operation has a purpose. But for me it is important that it keeps the credibility. And I try to keep the results realistic and not to introduce a completely different air.

Photo Editing Software

In principle you can apply the adjustment mentioned in this article in any photo editing program. Select the program that you feel the most comfortable with. Not every picture needs all the above operations to become a better photo. It depends on each picture to assess whether and how this can be improved.

I do my editing in Lightroom 4. This means that the operations are applied mainly globally on the picture. Although there is also a possibility for local operations.

Also remember that I shoot in RAW format. This means that the camera applies no operations (contrast, sharpening, color) in the camera. But that I have complete control in post processing. The differences between the before and after pictures seem thereby sometimes what more extreme than in JPG.


Editing photos start with the selection. Select the strongest results from a series, so you get the best result. But also have to invest less time in post processing.

Lightroom 4

It is not intended to adjust each picture, but only those photos that have the best chance of a good end result. While shooting you have tried out different angles and compositions, and when you have loaded your photos on your computer you can choose the best photos. Often there are quite a few photos that stand out noticeably above the rest, those are candidates for further editing.

Selecting the photos is one of the hardest things for a beginning photographer. You know best how much effort you have to do to achieve the result or you do not know well enough what is really the better or worse result. This is largely something you learn by doing and also by looking many pictures of others especially photographers. What do you think is or is not successful, and how can you use in your own photography.


I use Lightroom to make the selection. Viewing each picture separately and the photos that appeal to me, I give a flag. I try to assess the pictures on their own, but I spend not too much time with each photo. A picture must appeal within a few seconds, that is also how the viewer will eventually judge the photograph.

Rainbow woman

As I’ve gone through the list. I do a second round with the selected photos and I seek the best results. Often I have a composition of multiple variants and I choose the most promising pictures from it. Sometimes I start the operation further, to see the potential of the photo and to view it if the operation is so quick so that I immediately finish the picture.

During the may holidays I was in Scotland (virtually all of the examples in this article are from that holiday), there I took 1737 pictures, of which 121 are eventually modified. Of which less than 50 published. As you can see I published only a very select number of photos.

Leveling the horizon

This I see most often go wrong, photos with a crooked horizon. It seems that the water flows out of the image. It is sometimes hard to watch out for that while shooting and also I am occasionally guilty of that I take a picture with a crooked horizon.

But you’ll also not add such a picture unchanged in my portfolio or on websites (except now to make a point), there is no excuse to show a crooked horizon to others.

Crooked Horizon

While shooting you’re concentrating on a specific topic and often forgot to look at the whole picture. This error is also relatively common when the camera is in portrait mode, your head is bent, making it difficult to see if everything is right. In your enthusiasm you forget sometimes to check a number of things.

Fortunately, this is a fairly simple adjustment. As long as you do not have significant objects close to the edges which will be cut off in the picture.

Sometimes it is the intention of the photographer to have a crooked horizon in the picture. If you do this, it is important that it’s really good that the leaning horizon is clearly intended. And I must say that it rarely makes the composition any better.

Change Mask

If you are viewing your photos, it is good to pay attention to elements that distract from the subject. Maybe there is a brightly colored plastic bag crept in your image that you have not noticed or a person in the background of the subject (people feel attracted to a face as they see it).

But it could also be that the composition is a zoom in a little more, or to change the mask from horizontal to vertical. That’s one of the benefits of a greater number of mega pixels on a camera, you have the ability to change the mask without directly at the expense of quality.

Mega Yacht

Compositions become stronger when made simpler. An obvious way to do this is in post processing to zoom into something more to edit elements out of the picture. For example, you don’t need someone’s head completely in view, but you can also cut off a piece of the top and side to add more attention to the eyes and the face itself.

Of course I tried on location to find the right crop already as good as possible. I do this by walking around the topic, to try out different positions and thus get the best composition for that subject and that location. But it does not always work or you will get other insights:

Removing Dust

Regardless of whether you observe all precautions and have an anti-dust function on your camera, sometimes  there will appear small dust spots on the sensor.

The closer the aperture, the more you see this. So you have a relatively greater chance that you will see motes with landscape photography (aperture, high f-number) than with portrait photography (a little wider aperture, low f-number).

Once you see fabrics on the photo you can see the more difficult to not see them afterwards, so pay extra attention to this before you publish or print the picture.

Dust On Lens

Fortunately, is almost any photo editing program geared to remove these fabrics. Usually they are very visible in the light parts of the photo or parts of the picture where there is a solid color (often the skies). By zooming in on those elements you can soon see the fabrics.

The advantage is that you often encounter the fabrics in the same place during a session. Although the exact location and strength often still change depending on the selected aperture setting and zoom of the lens.

Adjust White Balance

The idea behind white balance is to correct the colors in the picture and that you are taking into account the light which the photo was taken.

Not all types of light provide the same types of color distribution in the light spectrum. We cannot always see that, because our brains automatically compensate the different colors (we know that a sheet of paper is white, so we see it also as white), but a camera is here much more sensitive to. As a result, it may happen that despite white fluorescent light that we see, that the camera is putting a blue haze in the picture.

Light bulbs mainly produce light in the red and yellow part of the spectrum and therefore you get yellow/orange photos if you are shooting without Flash. With the white balance we set in which parts of the picture are really white and so what the neutral color is. Or we can warm up or cool down further the picture to get a different atmosphere in the photo.

White Balance

It is not always a single adjustment that causes everything in the picture to come together. In the above picture I have a comprehensive list of history in Lightroom, with adjusted values for the dark and light parts to a right balance. This was also not a single session, but after I have reviewed the image a few hours I’m back to work on it.


A good tool for assessing the exposure of the photo is the histogram. You have this on your camera, but is also available in many photo editing programs. By using the chart, we can assess whether a picture is under-or overexposed or neutral (balanced).

Camera histogram

When the graph tends more to the left, then the picture is dark, if there are more pixels in darker than in the light path.

The chart right tends to the right, then we have a bright picture, more pixels of the image are in the bright part. If the chart runs out of the image, then parts of the picture become completely white or black and there are no more details visible.

There is no good or bad histogram, the graph displays only what is registered and it is up to the photographer to decide whether this is good or that there is ‘ action ‘ to be taken.

In the picture we are looking for a balance in the exposure. There must be enough contrast to the eye along light and dark elements, the important details must be clearly visible and preferably there should be no overexposed parts of the picture are leaving no more visible details.

If you are shooting in RAW format you have some room to play with the exposure, in JPG format you run quickly against the restrictions of the compression that is applied to a smaller file, and you run the risk of (additional) noise if you for example trying to lighten the shadows.

Noise Reduction

If you shoot with higher ISO values, then you run the risk that digital noise becomes visible on the picture. These are minor flaws in the image where the camera has had to guess what the color of that pixel should be.

Noise results in the picture there look less sharp and less colors are displayed. The larger the picture, then the noise is more cumbersome.

Fortunately, you can easily reduce noise in post processing. In most cases, you can choose how strong the noise with a scroll bar is reduced. Limit this to the highest necessary, because noise reduction also has meant that the photo is less sharp. I often use noise reduction and sharpening together.


Color is a very important component element in your photos. Color can elicit an emotional response from the viewer and adds a Visual impact to the picture. Colors are deeply rooted in the Visual culture.

With color you grab the attention of the Viewer, bright colors are always good. It’s not for nothing that pictures of brightly colored flowers and sunsets always do good. The color of the subject has actually more value than the objects that you are capturing.

Important Color Difference

When editing, color (also in white balance for that matter), it is important that you work on a calibrated monitor so you can be sure that the colors you see also end up as on a print or can be seen on a monitor.

If like me, you are shooting in RAW format the camera will not add any operation on the color. Most cameras, however, are set so that the colors are enhanced when there is a JPG file created. Different camera brands are given different strengths and determine to a large extent the feeling of a camera brand.

I like brighter colors and use often an operation of this in the camera. I do not view the individual colors, but use the camera profile option of Lightroom. The purpose of this option is that the colors of a RAW picture are more in line with the operation that the camera itself applies as a starting point to further edit the photo.
The software that gets from your camera manufacturer at your camera can often apply these profiles on your RAW photos so you have the same starting point when operating with a JPG picture.

Color Saturation

The color saturation indicates how much color there is present and how bright they are shown. A color with 0 saturation is black, white or gray without color. A high color saturation has no mixing of pure black, pure white or gray. Between these two extremes are the shades or tones of one color. For example, if you add white to pure red you get pink, a shade of red.

Color Saturation

Skin tones

Skin tones are difficult to apply for many cameras. The human eye is very sensitive, in particular, on the basis of the skin color of the face we can well (unknowingly) judge how someone feels. A critical point to get it right in portraits.

Black And White

In not all cases, you can get beautiful the colors or are the colors of decisive importance in a photo. Sometimes forms take the upper hand and you would you like to express that. In that case, you can change the picture in black and white.

Converting it to black and white often does not produce the best results, by increasing the contrast and to change the color red, blue or green the darkest color in the black and white picture you get a better result.


Increase Contrast

Contrast ensures that the distinction between the lines in the picture become clearer, the colors become stronger and elements in the picture become clearer. By adding contrast, there often arises a sharper result and also the elements get a more three-dimensional look. By the increasing the contrast the picture becomes clearer and forms the interplay between light and dark, making a photo more interesting. Photos that are somewhat being over-exposed or have a faded view often look less pleasant. So it is sometimes difficult to distinguish the elements and seems the photo is less sharp.

High Contrast

Photo editing programs offer many options to edit the contrast. In Lightroom I see the options Contrast, Highlights/shadows/shades of White/Black tintent, brightness, saturation and curves all of which have an impact on the contrast.

Also the sharpening options lead to the contrast increases, although in very specific places making the lines seem sharper.


The tools in photo editing programs increase the impression of sharpness of a photo by the contrast at the edges. These tools do not increase the resolution or the amount of fine details that are visible.

It is usually on the edges where you want to have the sharpest. By increasing the contrast on the edge between one and another element of the picture you create a greater distinction between the elements and the sharpness seems to be increasing.

Without using features for sharpening, you can also affect the sharpness by increasing the contrast of the photo or in the case of Camera Raw to adjust the brightness.

The amount of sharpening depends on how the picture is shown. For a print on a printer you sharpen the photo stronger than for display on a website. In addition, many websites use their own sharpening when uploading the photo. If your picture than already has optimum sharpness the image will become too sharp.

Where you use sharpening you should look out that you do not get light edges around the sharp lines (‘ halos ‘). You can see this sometimes if someone played too much with the ‘ unsharp mask ‘ of Photoshop or set the strength of the sharpening too high.

In Lightroom I use often limited sharpening, and with the “mask” only sharpen the lines and not the rest of the photo (hold the alt/option key when you drag the scroll bar).

Remember also that the picture looks sharper optical as it is resized to a smaller size.


I hope you’ve gotten a good idea of the selection of operations that I apply on my photos before I publish them (as said not every photo gets the same adjustments).

I searched for examples to show the differences. In most cases, the edits very subtle, the largest operation is often the cropping and the modification of white balance and color profile (in Lightroom).

Retouching your photos in a subtle way is often better than radical. A small change in the picture contrast can noticeably improve, but still credible. Over the years I notice that my edits have become more subtle and regularly return to an old photo to return it to run back in strength or to address again.

Don’t think professional photographers don’t do this and always with a single press of the button get brilliant results straight out of the camera. Post processing of photos is now almost as important as taking the picture itself, as much a part of the skill of the photographer as controlling the camera techniques, topic selection, selection of the photos and to get the most of the model. Good luck (and fun!)

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