Many photographers prefer to only focus on capturing the image and either do not have the time or inclination for post-processing work. This is absolutely fine, but it does rely on getting it right ‘in camera’ and having a strong reliance on the mastery of one’s technique.

Camera knowledge, lighting principals, modeling direction, makeup application, location availability, budget (for travel and accommodation, studio booking, equipment such as specialised lenses and filters, and so on) and a good team: Essentially, everything needs to all be in place and correctly setup at the time of the shoot.

If one or more elements are not ‘quite’ right or simply unavailable, the resulting image is unlikely to match the look and feel that was originally intended. This is where digital image editing can be used to enhance the shot by correcting minor flaws or compensate for the lack of necessary resource.

Dan Hostettler Photography - Glamour Images - RAW & Enhanced Samples

Dan Hostettler Imagery: RAW (SOOC) and enhancements done by Dan.

Is It Really Necessary To Do Digital Editing?

While it is true that one can get lost in the creative process and depending on the complexity of your project, digital editing can take time and require solid understanding of the features used (which is why some photographers choose to outsource this work), it is also true that a vast majority of digital editing can easily be done yourself.

All you need is some guidance on what to do and an understanding of which software tools best suite your needs. This can save you both time and money and usually results in better images as you are able to refine any changes to precisely meet the vision you intended to create.

In general practice, there are only two type of digital image editing that is performed, namely:

  • Global Editing is when general changes are applied across the image (which is often technical adjustments, such as brightness and contrast, or hue and saturation, overall sharpness etc.).
  • Localized Editing is when changes are made to targeted areas of the image. Usually, this is what most people think of as ‘retouching’ because the editing is done using a mouse or tablet to draw and define only the selected area being worked on. Multiple localized edits can be done on the same image, each accomplishing a different effect, until the whole image represents the desired outcome.

Introduction To Image Editing

Global & Local Edits: For the above image, I wanted to darken the background and restore detail to the model while adding a warmer tone to the skin. I also applied light retouch under the shoulder to lessen the bulge caused by the tight outfit and model’s pose.

Enhancements & Removing Imperfections For Beauty, Glam And Even Portraiture

For many portrait, glamour / boudoir photographers, the image direct from the camera (despite attention to posing and lighting and getting it right in-camera) can be greatly enhanced through the application of simple editing techniques. This is because the human canvas is amazingly diverse and we all have unique features which sets us apart from everyone else.

Minor imperfections, scars or bruises from an active lifestyle, stretch marks from childbirth, personal dislikes which we want to hide – all of these are examples of things our clients may request be hidden or removed from their images. It is our job as photographers to match the clients’ need with our artistic ability (assuming of course the photo session is not a documentary showing the realities of life).

Looks Created By A Big Team Or By Digital Make-Up?

A few months back, I attended a photographic expo demonstrating a studio beauty shoot where the photographer extolled the benefit of always having a dedicated makeup and hair stylist on set, whose job it was to ensure the model always looked her best. For the photographer, this saved time and cost when outsourcing the high resolution medium-format images to a professional retoucher for post processing work to be done. In this example, the photographer noticed a stray strand of hair on the model’s face while inspecting a shot on a tethered monitor, the hair was brushed aside and the shoot continued.

What I found interesting was that unless the shoot was based on ‘Time for X’, this approach required the cost of the photographer’s time, plus the model’s time, plus the makeup artist’s time, plus the retoucher’s time anyway (to match and composite the final images to the client’s requirement) so when doing your own retouching it can definitely save on cost and prevent time delays sending images out to be fixed.

The other advantage of keeping some ‘touch ups’ for post is that it has fewer breaks in the flow of the photoshoot and as we know, this can lead to potentially better poses being captured while the photographer and model are ‘in the zone’.

Not everyone would be able to use a tethered setup during a photo session and outdoor shoots are notoriously prone to having wind blow hair and other materials across the image. Some are obvious to spot, while others may not be noticed until after the images are downloaded from the camera. This is where editing the images can really save the shoot.

Introduction To Image Editing

Example of digitally adding makeup / changing the look of the model’s face

Digital Editing: Auto-Pilot or Manual?

When capturing images, there are two basic approaches to follow, namely ‘automatic’ where the camera makes decisions on the settings required to obtain the right exposure for the given scene and ‘manual’ where the photographer specifies which values the camera uses.

In digital editing, the same concept is applied to determine which software is used and how the effects are applied.

As the photographer, you should consider the level of editing required and plan accordingly. Depending on your skill level and post-shoot processing time, the type of editing required will determine the tool to use.
For example, the power and ease-of-use in today’s software (across both desktop and mobile platforms) makes it child’s play to do basic fixes in a few seconds without compromising on image quality.

Editing software is capable of using specialized algorithms to analyze an image and automatically make adjustments to, as examples, enhance the ‘beauty’ of a face by correcting the image tone, smoothing skin complexion, brightening the eyes and even making lips fuller or modifying the jawline for a slimmer appearance.

Often, the caveat to using dedicated software, is that your photo is reliant on baseline presets of what the software is designed to recognize as ‘beautiful’ for the image. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have some control on the strength of the effects being applied, but it does mean that all images enhanced using this software eventually start to have the same feel to them.

Thanks to advancement in software development, ‘industry standard’ editing software is now capable of allowing the same modifications to be done manually. Using a range of functions (software features) with the ability to create and use ‘action scripts’ and powerful ‘plug-ins’, you can edit your photos and obtain amazing results in no time at all.

For me, this presents the advantage of being able to do as much or little ‘beautifying’ as I want, with options to change anything else in the image using the same tools. The drawback, is that as there are multiple ways in which to create images, there are multiple ways to edit them. Once familiar with the available tools, your creativity has no limit to the changes that can be made to your images.

Introduction To Image Editing

Taking the RAW file, general enhancements were applied to create an image which would fit nicely into an editorial spread

Speciality: Digital Composites

Furthermore, digital editing is capable of creating images that is either extremely difficult, if not impossible, to capture directly in the camera. Utilising the same tools as digital artists, photographers have the ability to create fantastic images by blending multiple exposures, compositing any element the imagination can think of, or simply repurposing existing images through digital alteration.

Introduction To Image EditingIntroduction To Image Editing
Photo und Artwork: Roger Fichmann / Model: Nirmala Fernandez / Roger Studio Thalwil August 2015 / Make-up: Kate Betts / Background Stock images: Deviantart

Introduction To Image Editing

The above image provides an in-depth demonstration of compositing a studio shot with background and different layers. Roger Fichmann’s visions are legendary building surreal and fantastic sceneries. Something that can’t be achieved by just doing everything “In-camera” during a shoot.

Digital Enhancements: You Are Already Doing it!

Most photographers already do image editing on their photographs, perhaps without realizing it. This can be as basic as modifying the white balance or using one of the camera’s preset like ‘creative mode’. This is where the camera manufacturer has already built-in image adjustment settings which are applied automatically to the image upon capture.

When using manual mode on your camera, chances are you already plan to make some post-processing modifications anyway. The choice is to what extent and how to make them. For example, by increasing the contrast and adding sharpness when converting RAW images into JPEG or PNG for upload to the Internet or social media sites.

Whichever method the image is captured, whenever you want to alter how the image is presented, editing comes into play.

Introduction To Image Editing

Basic enhancements were applied to make the above image ‘pop’, along with blemish and artifact removal from the model’s skin and clothing.

How do I know what editing option I’ll need?

Digital artists (on the far side of the image creation spectrum) use many of the same tools and skills when creating works of art from scratch. In fact, both digital artists and photographers utilise the same lighting and compositional techniques when creating images as used by classical masters throughout history.

The advantage of modern software is that we have the ability to blend both worlds in ways that was previously too expensive achieve. To determine which software to use, you have to ask yourself what ‘touch ups’ you require, how much time you can spend on each edit, and which software caters for your need. In other words, plan ahead and make the digital editing a part of your photoshoot process.

The following is a list of editing software options to consider:

Adobe Software: For Capturing, Batching and the “Nitty-Gritty”

Undoubtedly, many of you have heard the term ‘photo shopping’ in relation to digital editing or seen examples of images that have been retouched. This is due to the prevalent use of Adobe Photoshop as a standard tool by marketing and advertising agencies.

  • Photoshop is purportedly the industry leader and for many years was limited to those that could afford the license fees. Today, Adobe offers a Photographer Plan which includes both Photoshop CC and Lightroom for a nominal monthly subscription (all updates and future versions are provided for the duration of the subscription).
  • Lightroom: An alternative package, Lightroom, is a photographic library with essential image adjustment features which Adobe believes is ideally suited to photographers. An added feature of Lightroom is the ability to shoot tethered and directly import your photo session using built-in scripts for automated back-up, applying default ‘developer’ settings, inclusion of watermark and metadata etc. all when adding images to your catalogue and this can save a lot of time.

    Depending on need and preference, global editing can be done in Lightroom and if required, images can also be exported to Photoshop for more complex work (the “nitty-gritty”).

  • Elements Series: Adobe also provides Photoshop Elements which is essentially a ‘lite’ version of Photoshop offering a subset of features from the full version specially targeted for general photographic users and this does come with a price reduction. Newer versions have steadily become more capable and easier to use.

Alternative Software: Capturing, Organising & Enhancing

There are alternative software packages to Lightroom, one of which has received favorable review is Capture One. Stand out feature of this software is that it has reportedly faster image import speed and richer default image display of RAW images direct from the camera compared to Lightroom. Export of images for additional editing to Photoshop (or other packages) is also available should the in-package editing not cater for all your needs.

  • For Mac OS User’s the options include Affinity Photo, Acorn or Pixelmator to name a few. PC users not wanting to go the Adobe route, can try Serif PhotoPlus, Cyberlink PhotoDirector, Microsoft Paint.Net or PaintShop Pro. If you want to edit images on-the-go using your mobile phone or tablet, there’s Pixlr, Handy Photo or Portrait Professional for iOS and Android.
  • ON1 is an alternative player in the industry for a long time but just now they announced ON1 Photo RAW is a program they’re calling, “the first all-new RAW processor and non-destructive photo editor to be released in more than a decade”. So I think it’s worth some thoughts as an alternative to Lightroom and Photoshop.

Free Software: Lots of Functions, Worth a Try!

  • Camera Brand’s Own Software: If budget is an issue, you may want to consider the software that comes with your camera. For example, Canon’s Digital Photo Professional allows you to import your RAW image and make generalized changes in exposure, contrast, vibrancy, sharpness etc. Other camera manufacturers also have their own RAW conversion software available, with the option to visit their website to access software with more advanced features. I recommend you read the documentation that came with your camera to find out more. Starting out, this is likely all the editing you may require. As you advance in need, you can move onto a dedicated editing software package.
  • Open Source: Alternatively, the open source community created GIMP as a freely distributed program for photo retouching, image composition and image authoring. It has many of the same capabilities as the commercial software with compatibility across PC, Mac and Linux at no cost.

Same Features Does Not Mean Same Handling

I need to point out that based on past experience, I’ve learnt that software listing similar/same features across different packages does not mean ‘it does the same thing the same way’. When starting out, cost of software and feature set meant the full power of Photoshop was not an option for me. I’ve used many of the above windows-based software over time while practicing photography and improving my skills. Each software package does have a learning curve and research plus practice will allow you to get better. When evaluating an editing software, look for intuitive feature set and as long as the resultant is satisfactory then the package is worthwhile to have.

There are plenty of product reviews available, so a little research can help you find one that meets your need. As with different make and model of camera, you need to find one you feel comfortable to use. I recommend trying out the ‘trial version’ of the software and seeing which is suitable for you.

The following comparative reviews will provide further guidance on the available software options you can choose to use:

  1. TopTen Reviews Photo Editing Software Reviews |
  2. TechRadar Best Photo Editing Software in 2016 |

Introduction To Image Editing

The above image from Dan Hostettler’s first “Live” event only required minor enhancement of the RAW file to bring out the detail and contrast of the shot.

Before Retouching: Do Some Analysis First, Save Frustration

As mentioned earlier, when it comes to editing it really helps to identify first what changes you need to have made and then deciding on the right ‘tool’ to use. Also consider the input method you want to use: finger or stylus for mobile devices, mouse or digital tablet (for drawing and selections) plus keyboard (shortcuts and naming) for desktop/laptop.

Complex tasks can be broken down into manageable components. The amount of image enhancement and retouching required can result in easy changes or heavily involved processes. Either way, a lot of time and frustration can be saved through a little planning before doing any work.

Understanding of the editing tools available to you and how best to apply them can even help you in (re)planning and refining your next shoot. This is especially true if you plan on making use of multiple composited elements as you’ll know upfront which posing angles or lighting direction to capture in camera so everything blends seamlessly together.

Introduction To Image Editing

For this stunning shot, slight noise removal was applied to the RAW file to obtain a cleaner image, along with adjusting the shadows and highlights and balancing the colour to bring out the warm tones created by the CTO strip-light off camera right. Slight sharpening was applied to compensate for the natural softness of the original format

Final Words & Series Outlook

It doesn’t matter whether you want to change eye colour or convert the scene from day into night, remove tan lines or composite an alien background for your model, photo editing can be powerful if done with some planning and applied correctly.

In future articles, I will provide guidance and advice on applying modifications to images to elevate them from being ‘good’ to being ‘great’. I will cover techniques showing how to use masks and maximize the benefit of layers and different blending effects to create realistic and easy achieve effects for your images.

Future topics will cover:

  • Basic Touch-Up of Face (Skin Retouching & Digital Make-Up)
  • Editing Body Proportions
  • Changing Image Lighting & Tone
  • and more

Introduction To Image Editing

All Software Discussed

Industry Standards

Mac Only

Win Only

Mobile Devices

Skin & Make-Up