Editing, Befores and Afters

A friend of mine was asking what type of editing I do for my photos. Sounds like a good idea for a blog post to me! I primarily use Lightroom (3) to edit photos, but I will occasionally open things up in Photoshop if something needs more tweaking.

Before I do any editing whatsoever, I try to get things right when I take the photo. That means metering slightly to the “plus” side (because I like my photos a little brighter) before I take the photo and checking for blown out highlights after the fact.

Metering — There is a ton of info out there on metering as to the whole math behind it and what each tick mark means and the different metering modes and blah blah blah. I will not attempt to recreate that information here. I simply pick the metering mode I think works best for the scenario and look at my light meter (in the viewfinder, not on the display) while I have my subject in the viewfinder. If I am shooting in manual mode (which is what I do most of the time unless the lighting is changing a lot), I will spin my dial to adjust the shutter speed. As I spin my dial to a faster shutter speed, the tick mark will move to the – side. If I spin my dial the opposite direction for a slower shutter speed, the tick mark will move to the + side. I will typically adjust my shutter speed primarily to get the exposure I want, which is usually 1 tick mark on the + side.

After setting my exposure and taking the photo, I will occasionally glance down at my LCD and check things out. Check your manual, but there are typically a few different modes you can view in after taking a photo. You can view a histogram, you can view your settings overlaid on the photo, you can view the photo with the overexposed parts of the image ‘flashing’ at you, etc. I typically have mine set in the “flashing” mode — also called ‘highlights’. If there is an important part of the photo that is flashing at me, I will adjust my exposure and re-take.

Ok, enough about that, let’s get to the good part. Here is an example photo after I import into Lightroom. Because I shoot in RAW mode, Lightroom makes some automatic adjustments (+50 brightness and +25 contrast). If you shoot in JPEG, these numbers won’t be as high, in fact they will be 0!

Here’s the before:

And here’s the after:

My typical editing process includes rotation (I always seem to find myself taking photos with crooked horizons), cropping, white balance adjustment, fill light adjustment, brightness adjustment, clarity, and sharpness. Here are the modifications I made for this photo.

+145 Temperature (aka white balance)

+39 Recovery (to try and get some of that detail in his left foot where the white is too bright)

+14 Fill Light (for his dark face)

+6 Blacks

+58 Brightness (but really just +8 since I started at +50 when I imported)

+32 Contrast (+7 for non-RAW photo)

+32 Clarity (I love this slider, just don’t go crazy)

+65 Sharpening (same thing, use carefully or your images will get funky, esp. with people)


Not too crazy, right? Here is another one that is a bit more edited to make things really pop and shows how good editing can save your butt. I typically do not do this level of editing, but I like to push the boundaries of my editing every once in a while.



We really just picked a crappy time to go to the top of Rockefeller Center. Bad lighting can ruin just about any photo no matter what. I was determined to try and ‘save’ this one. And here’s what I did:

Rotated and cropped

Adjusted temperature

+40 Recovery

+80 Fill Light

+8 Blacks

+55 Brightness

+42 Contrast

+57 Clarity

+17 Highlights

+5 Lights

+17 Darks

+27 Shadows

+106 Sharpening (this was probably too much in retrospect)

Most of those changes were to bring out the light and detail in the shadowed area. Did I do ok? 🙂 I am by no means an expert, but one of the best things you can do is to try and move every slider every direction and see what changes. Obviously THE best thing to do is get it perfect “in camera” and do no editing whatsoever! Maybe one day…

If there any particular photos you’d like to see before/afters on just let me know if the comments!


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