How to edit a photo as a Pro

Many candid photos can be edited to look very profesional. In fact you might even question who took the photo after the editing proces? Was it a profesional photographer?

The thought process is very important. This time we are aiming towards portrait photography

1. Composition or Crop

First you look at the picture and think of a crop or also known as composition. Is it aestheticaly pleasing, attention grabbing? Or is it more like…”to much information” sort of thing.

You are basically trying to improve the original composition. You kind of need to help the eye to focus. For that we have a perfect guide in the so called Rule of thirds. Your subjects don’t have to match the lines or intersecting points perfectly. They just have to be positioned close to the guide points or lines laid out by the rule. You can get an idea how to place your main subject based on the following image. But not to make it to technical. It kind of naturaly results in it once you practice editing. Your eyes will guide you.

These are useful techniques in the Design compositions in many fields, including Art, Painting, Architecture and other fields

BTW, did you know…

The technique emerged before the dawn of photography. Renaissance painters started using the rule of thirds when they realized that our eyes can easily stray from the center of an image. So, they implemented a way to make accommodations for our drifting eyes by purposely putting the main subject in the photo off-center.

Then, in 1797, John Thomas Smith declared the rule was the best way to compose paintings of rural scenery.  And you probably already know what happened next… We have a Rule of thirds.

Example of rule of thirds composition in photography
Editing – composition sample
Example of rule of thirds composition in photography
Editing – composition sample

Here is the applied rule of thirds on the image. You get the picture.

*don’t forget that every rule can be broken

2. Brightness and Contrast

Second is the look at the brightness and contrast.

We can adjust the Brightness/Contrast

A simple way to define contrast is to describe the difference between the white and black in an image. In an image, the contrast between white and black provides details of the lightest white and darkest blacks.

When you bring out the contrast in an image, you can enhance details that give it more depth. If you have a well lit image, there is a balance in the different tones. If that is not the case, then that is the time to use image editing software to retouch the image’s contrast. 

I usually start with brightness/contrast adjustment sliders. The similar quality of the images I then adjust in Exposure sliders.

3. Exposure adjustment

Many images need slightly higher Exposure slider, slightly negative Off-set and little higher Gamma Correction

4. Curves and Levels

Creating the famous S-shape curve on the graph (but careful – every photo is different)

Levels – bringing in the sliders for each color channel

The histogram gives an idea of whether your image is being underexposed (darker tones) or overexposed (lighter tones). It represents the image in the form of graphs. Poorly underexposed images will appear dull and flat, with shadows dominating highlights. You lose plenty of detail to the darks, while recovering any details from highlights will be difficult to accurately extract. An overblown image is an example of being overexposed, meaning the highlights dominate the shadows. 

Curves provide a better way to adjust tones compared to levels. You have more granular options available from the image’s entire tonal range. You can also choose the color channels to make more specific adjustments as needed. Editing contrast can truly bring out the beautiful details in an image using the adjustment features (i.e. levels and curves) found in editing software.

Then it is time to look at color correctness again.

5. Color adjustment

The time when I can adjust colors, changing tone, vibrance or saturation.

It can be done with Vibrance, Hue/Saturation or Color Balance sliders adjustment layers.

It is always good to adjust in that order and go with your eye, which will get trained with frequent practicing.

6. Time for some retouching Actions

If you are lucky or are already advanced enough to start playing with Actions it is good to purchase or maybe even find for free retouching Portraits Actions. They are basically pre recorded steps in Photoshop which you can just easily apply with using your brush and blending modes and layer masks in order to use what you need to enhance the portrait.

I highly recommend it, if your editing work is mainly in portraits.

Next steps are creative decisions based on your artistic viewpoints and editing goals. Basically it means they are optional.

7. Blurring Background

When I’m editing portraits I like to bring the subject up front to be easily found by any eye and therefore I ‘m usually putting the blur on the background. Even a slight blur can greatly enhance the photo’s main subject and bring it to LIFE!

I like to use Filter – Blur Field, which is very versatile and allows you to choose all different characteristics and amounts of blurring. It’s a great enhancement tool once you learn the usage and understand this specific very versatile tool in Photoshop.

8. Sharpening the image

Now is the time to look at the photo and consider sharpening, if it needs any. If it does, I usually use a High Pass Filter where you can adjust the threshold and then control the amount with an adjustment layer mask.

That is pretty much all. Once you learn the techniques, the steps and practice and practice and…you get the point. The editing process will become natural and you might even learn some other methods or even software. It will make your creativity expand and bring joy to once feared subjects !


Look at few samples bellow, notice how editing candid shots as a Pro can change the perspective of a viewer! Enjoy and have fun editing!

Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing
Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing
Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing
Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing
Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing
Editing photo professionaly
Before and After Professional editing

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