How to Edit a Photo and Improve It With 10 Basic Retouches

In today’s article I am going to tell you how to retouch your photos with some basic touch-ups, in this way you will improve your images without the need for great knowledge in editing, but enough so that your images improve significantly. Do you want to meet them? So sit back and read on.

Everyone who lands in the world of photography knows the frustration of downloading images on the computer and seeing that they are far from what they expected or that they have more failures than successes. This is much more frequent than you can imagine. Especially at the beginning. You shoot a photo and when you see the result you get totally depressed.

Photo editing programs don’t work miracles, but they help a lot. It’s like money, it doesn’t bring happiness… but let’s recognize that helping helps. Well, this is the same. Using an editor isn’t going to get you the perfect image, but if you have a well-grounded photo, it can help you improve it.

Tips to improve photos

1. Make a good composition

Yes, true, this has nothing to do with photo retouching, however, as I told you at the beginning of the article, if there is not a good base, little can be done. It is important to know what type of image we want to capture before shooting, to know what we want to obtain and then correct the errors if there were any. To do this, I recommend that you read this post in which I gave you nine tips and tricks to improve your composition.

Look at this example, you could improve the light, the color, the contrast… but the question is: is it really worth it? Does this image have any interest? The answer is no and no. It is not worth it precisely because the image has no interest. If I had made a better composition before shooting, I could retouch, but since I didn’t, why would I waste my time, right?

If the image lacks interest, there is little we can do for it.

2. Adjust lighting and contrast

Now yes, we are already launched to the task with the first step. I’m not going to tell you what you already know (or should know), How important is lighting in a photograph?. Light can be the protagonist by itself, and it can spoil an image to make it wonderful, but this is another topic that we have already talked about in other articles.

Today I will only tell you that it is one of the most important basic touch-ups to improve your image once you have it on your computer. Modify the exposure level curve and adjust the lighting. You can also play with the brightness and contrast levels, depending on the editor you choose. Look at this example before and after:

Lighting and contrast settings

3. Adjust white balance

Once the lighting and contrast are adjusted, we move on to other basic level adjustments such as the white balance. The best thing is to have shot in RAW, because this way you can adjust it with just one click otherwise you will have to do it manually. In the following image it has been modified with the «color balance» tool of Photoshop Express:

Adjust white balance

4. Focus your image

Another parameter that you can easily modify when retouching your photos and that will help you improve them is the focus or sharpness. It will be more or less convenient depending on the type of image it is. For example, in a portrait you are not too interested in increasing the sharpness because all the imperfections of the skin will become more visible and I do not think that the portrayed person will like it very much (ahem, ahem…). In this example we have increased the sharpness level.

Adjust sharpness to bring out details

I recommend you leave this setting for last.

5. Regulate saturation

Regulating the saturation level of your image will have remarkable results when retouching your photos. You can increase or decrease the saturation. Your image may have very muted colors, in that case increase the saturation a bit to make them look more vivid. The opposite can also happen to you, as in the following example and what you have to do is lower the saturation level.

Adjust the saturation. In this case the image was very saturated and we have lowered the color a bit.

Another setting related to saturation is the intensity. Many times, for example in portraits, it is more recommended to adjust the intensity because it increases or reduces the saturation depending on how saturated or not the colors are, while the saturation does it equally throughout the photograph. Let’s see the difference between setting the Vibrance to +55 or the Saturation to +55:

We’ve talked about adjustments to the entire image, however you can also apply your adjustments by zones if needed, select a zone and adjust the levels of just the selected part. This is done with filters or brushes depending on the editor you use.

6. Eliminate unwanted elements when retouching your photos

On many occasions there are elements that we cannot make disappear before shooting, or it may be that we simply have not noticed, a figure in the background that sneaks in, some papers on the floor, a cable going through a wall… or a graffiti, like in the case of our example. But luckily there is the clone buffer and the fix tool. Either of the two can be used to eliminate those unwanted elements that can spoil our image. (It can also be used to eliminate skin imperfections in a portrait (pimples, wounds…) or even to invent moles (would Marilyn Monroe have been the same without her attractive mole? She left it there…).

Use the clone stamp or fix tool to remove any unwanted elements. In this case we have eliminated the word “black” written on the bridge.

7. Straighten the image

I know that many love crooked horizons, in fact I have a lot of photographs like that. This can look nice in an album where you stick your printed photo in any orientation you like, giving it a fun twist. But if you view the image on a computer, it doesn’t look as good to see the crooked horizons and lines.

The more you enter this world, the more they bother, especially the ones that are careless. A beautiful sunrise at sea can be totally spoiled if the horizon is crooked and we don’t want that, right?

8. Convert to black and white

Your image may not say anything in color, no matter how much you retouch the brightness, contrast, reframing… try turning it into black and white, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Black and white is not a solution, but when we are starting out it can be a good exercise to see how grayscale works. On the other hand, sometimes we see something in a photograph that we do not know how to recognize, it may be that your brain was already in black and white but you were not aware of it 😉

Try converting to black and white.

9. Pass the scissors

Sometimes there is no time to frame it well, or you simply do not like the result as much as you expected, nothing happens, you can crop the image comfortably from your chair to reframe it. A good frame can save a photo.

Crop the image to fit better.

10. Apply a filter

There are hundreds of creative filters in the different editors. A filter can give a special hue to an image by changing it completely with just one click. Take a look at this example:

Apply creative filters

In this image the only thing I have done is apply PicMonkey’s “Calm” filter. In Lightroom, for example, there are countless presets that change a photograph in a single click.

Keep in mind that abusing them is not the most appropriate, but you can also apply them with greater or lesser intensity.

Fixing photos is easy, right?

To make these adjustments you do not need to know much about editing and as you have seen the changes can be very noticeable. You can do all these steps or just a few, it all depends on what your image asks for. Or maybe it turned out so pretty that you don’t need to do any of these things!

This editing is also a matter of practice and in this case you don’t even need to go outside, open your file, look for a photo that doesn’t convince you too much and get to work! Of course, if you give “Like” first you will make me happy, and if you share it, even happier! Thank you and see you soon! 😉