Technology allows us to easily edit and manipulate images with a click of a mouse or a swipe of a finger. However, since smartphone editing apps and online editing programs became more accessible, images have become overly edited, such as isolating one colour in a photograph to using extreme vignettes and blurs.
The term “It looks photoshopped” has now come to mean something negative, and there is a push toward making images look more natural and realistic, especially where retouching portraits is concerned. Your editing style should be an important element of your overall photography style. Understanding how to edit to polish your photos, rather than completely changing them, is a skill that separates professionals from amateurs.
Here are some mistakes to watch out for when you’re editing your photos:
1. Removing too many details
One of the main purposes of editing a photo is for improvement and for portraits, “airbrushing”. This has come to mean a portrait without wrinkles, birthmarks, and less body fat. However, taking these things out changes the story of a person and makes the image less natural.
Using Gaussian blur in Photoshop may be a quick and easy way to smooth out skin in portraits but it also leaves it looking lifeless and artificial. Although it may take more time, using tools like the clone stamp, healing brush and patch tool will improve the texture of the skin while still keeping it natural.
2. Overmanipulating colours
When it comes to colour in photographs, a lot of the work should be done while taking the actual photographs. Make sure you have the basics like calibration, white balance and colour temperature correct so that you have less work to do during editing.
The first thing to think about when deciding on the treatment of an image is about the longevity of your edits. There are a lot of things that can be considered “trendy” like using vintage filters, but it's best to stick to classic edits and always check how the colours in your image register in your on screen histogram, after making changes or when applying a preset or action. Anything beyond 255 in any of the R, G or B channels is considered “blown” and not true to the original colour.
It’s always helpful to take a step back while editing the colours in an image and check how they register when you zoom in and out. If at any point, you feel like the image doesn’t look as good as it should, make some tweaks and repeat the process. Actions are created to be able to be tweaked to suit your personal style.
3. Faux everything
There are tons of tutorials online that teach users how to recreate photography techniques in Photoshop that don’t look nearly as good as when they are achieved while shooting. One example is recreating a faux bokeh. A photograph with a subject against a blurred background is always visually interesting and can be easily created while shooting with a wide aperture. However, some retouchers insist on using the Gaussian Blur tool to try and blur out the background to achieve the same effect. This often fails because the Gaussian Blur doesn’t give off the impression of depth and the blur is often just flat and one dimensional.
Another common trick is adding faux sun flare to the photograph. It’s hard to recreate the light in an image with a flare filter found in editing software, because more often than not the lighting will not match. The reason why faux sun flares stick out like a sore thumb is because faux sun flares don’t give the impression of emitting any light into the subject. Unless you’re a professional retoucher who has been asked to create a specific effect, it’s best to try to achieve these effects while shooting instead of during editing.
4. Overusing the Curves tool
The curve tool in Photoshop can make or break an image. Once you master using the curve tool, you may find you bypass using the brightness and contrast tools altogether. However, this is where most editing mistakes are made. The general rule of thumb is to always try to keep your curve shaped like an S to avoid blowing out highlights or losing details in the shadows.
5. Not looking at the whole photograph
Some people pay so much attention to the subject or a small area of the photograph that they forget how their edits on the subject can affect the background and the overall look of the photograph. Photoshop "fails" have even been made by retouchers and designers who have been employed to work on expensive campaigns, such as the missing fingers on Kate Moss’s daughter's hand in a photo taken for Vogue, below. Despite the number of people working on and approving these types of images, mistakes like these get made when people just don’t look carefully enough.
Image taken by Mario Testino for Vogue
The most common example of this type of editing happens when using the Liquify tool. Since this tool allows you to push and pull pixels in different directions, it’s often used to enhance certain body parts by making them bigger or smaller. However, if the background of the subject isn’t plain or blurred, it’s easy to spot when the Liquify tool is used because it changes the pixels in the background as well, like in the photo below.
If you do use the Liquify tool, make the changes subtle and look at your changes with fresh eyes after taking a break.
Photoh is creating a series of video tutorials for photographers who want to learn the features of Photoshop in a simple way. They will be available later this year so stay tuned for a release date.