Written by Ophelie
Published 19th April 20
Will take 9mn to read
How to edit photos using Photoshop? Which first steps to take in photo editing as a beginner, without getting overwhelmed? In 6 steps easy to apply on Photoshop or your prefered photo editing tool, get a clean and very personnal look for your images. With no headache!
- Converting RAW files
- Editing globally
- Editing locally – layers
- Applying global filter
- Unifying and bringing last touch
Photo editing tools' ideas
- Adobe DNG Converter
Photo editing in 6 steps
A sum-up of the following article in 7 slides. To download and to keep with you in a pocket format ! Click below and enter only your email.
1. Before starting photo editing: convert RAW files into DNG or JPEG
Let’s start our photo editing tutorial for beginners with method: how to convert RAW images into files that your photo editing program will accept?
As beginner photographer, you might not know yet the ‘RAW’ issue. It actually becomes a real question when you start asking yourself how to edit photos using photoshop (or most other softwares). First things first: what are RAW files? What are DNG or JPEG images?
Difference between RAW and JPEG
Shooting in RAW is a setting you should turn on in the camera you chose, as soon as you want to go from occasional to more professional travel photography. By definition, RAW files are non-refined images. Meaning, the camera renders all details and light information you captured. On the contrary of RAW, JPEG files are lighter and ‘ready-to-use’ by any device – images refined inside the camera. But the picture might lose information.
So, shoot in RAW… and convert the files on your laptop.
Convert RAW to DNG with Adobe DNG Converter
What is DNG? Digital Negative files are simply ‘formated’ RAWs. It’s a format developped by Adobe, aiming to use RAWs in Adobe suite. If you edit with Photoshop, it’ll go quicker to convert the RAW directly into Adobe DNG Converter to open it then into PS.
1. Download either Adobe DNG. It’s a free open-source tool.
2. In Adobe DNG: select the folder to convert, choose a new file location and new folder name.
3. Click on ‘Extract’. That’s done!
Convert RAW to JPEG with Lightroom
1. Add Lightroom to the Adobe suite, from Adobe Creative cloud. Free only if you have already Photoshop installed.
2. Export the RAW files following this path: File > Export > Preset JPEG
3. Choose new file location and name: Export location / file naming
4. Click ‘Export’. Your JPEG files are now ready to open in Lightroom library!
Congrats! Now, the photo editing tools can open your cool travel photos. And we’ll jump to step 2 of our photo editing tips for beginner.
2. Do a first ‘clean up’ – how to edit the photo at a global level
We’ll enter now into serious things… but it’s nothing scary, I promise.
When you step into the world of editing in photography, you might get lost in all the features that tools offer and photo editing tutorials talk about. So, we’ll proceed with method.
Why, in my humble opinion, to start first with making general changes on the WHOLE image? Which best photo editing program for beginners? What parameters to focus on?
Why to edit the picture at a global level first?
It’s like arriving at work in the morning. You need to set up your desk, your computer, your mind, your calendar… to get a clear line of what will come to you in the next hours. To look at the big picture before entering into details.
By doing general changes affecting the entire photo, you prepare it for a flawless local editing. And, on top of that, it makes you learn new tricks about digital photo editing basics and photography in general. I tell you, it’s a win-win!
It’s also the occasion to get a first close look at your image, before touching to anything. What do you notice that you hadn’t seen on the screen of the camera? What distracting elements do you see?
Which photo editing tool to choose?
One of my photo editing tips for you beginner would be to actually use a separate tool for ‘global’ and then ‘local’ edits. Why? To not get overwhelmed at first by all the features on Photoshop. Plus, the tools I’m going to show you are easy to use on mobile. It allows you to do a pre-work on your smartphone. Why not as quick edit on the fly, just after a shooting in the middle of the pampa?
1. Snapseed: on mobile, free app, super intuitive, selection of similar color areas to correct
2. Camera RAW
The Plus: uncluttered interface, all necessary features, large histogram, open your DNG files
The Cons: linked to Photoshop, rather desktop-based app, interface a bit oldish
The Plus: easy to use, all features to correct global colors, wide histogram, integrated tool (converts RAW into DNG or JPEG, offers first editing, stores images in a performant way), on mobile AND desktop
The Cons: linked to PS, not for free.
How to edit your photo at a global level: easy method!
- Choose a ‘mood’ – I think, it’s the most important of all the photo editing tips for beginner I can give! Because all your editing efforts should go towards ONE unique atmosphere you want for your UNIQUE image. Ask yourself: what story you want to tell? What feeling to give to the spectator? And even if global editing is, as the name explains, general… it will already push the photo towards a specific aesthetic ‘look’.
I wanted this Nature photo of Koh Rong, Cambodia, to be romantic, soft… to make the viewer feel calm and dreamy. So, I decided that my main color would be ORANGE, the temperature WARM, the contrasts LOW.
2. Adjust main parameters according to this ‘mood’. My photo editing tip for beginner: put cursors to an extrem, to get the most complete perception of the parameter’s effect on the pic. Then, decrease or increase to get the most ‘natural’ effect possible (be light. Editing shouldn’t be visible, except if you want it).
1. Correct light
- Temperature & tint: modify the light appearance. Mesured in degrees Kelvin. Low temp. = warm colors (yellow, orange…) / high temp. = cold colors (blue, green…)
- Exposure: modify the amount of light.
- Contrast: adjusts the gap between light and dark pixels. High contrasts = vivid image with dark shadows and bright highlights.
- Shadows & highlights: separated control on both shadows (dark areas) and highlights.
- Ton curves: affects overall brightness / contrats and color intensity. Use it in step 1 only if the dynamic range is really too wide
2. Correct main colors
- Hue & saturation: changes the ton of a color (from red to yellow, for example) and the strength (level of greys within a color).
- HSL: in Lightroom and Camera RAW, very nice tool to adjust each main color. Increase the one(s) contributing to the ‘mood’ you want. (pic above: orange, yellow, red)
3 - Reframe (if necessary) on Photoshop
Why to try reframing?
This section is based on the ‘grid’ and ‘crop’ tool in Photoshop!
Many photographers don’t like this verb at all – reframe… As Cartier Bresson told us: reframing should never happen (happened once for him, apparently, on the famous ‘lader’ pic). The idea behind: reduce photo editing and think about composing already when taking the photo. Which is, of course, good advice.
But this #3 of my photo editing tips for beginner has actually a reason. I noticed that Photoshop provides us with a handy tool called ‘grid’. What does a ‘grid’ do? Basically, it’s the visual of a mathematical structure. This structure organizes the blank paper sheet, a book’s page, a web page layout and even the scene in front of your camera. To give to the eye something harmonious to look at. In photography, the ‘grid’ makes your eye travel from point A to B. It allows you to place elements at strategic places, to lead your viewer to the main subject(s).
Rule of thirds applied to this image.
The caban on the peer is my main subject.
I placed it at an intersection.
As beginner, I find it hard to visualize lines forming a complex ‘grid’ without a real representation of it in my viewfinder. That’s why I love using the different grids in Photoshop. They let me ‘place again’ my subject if I got it wrong at the capture. And it allows to test sophisticated grid systems, like the golden spiral.
How to reframe quickly in Photoshop - digital photo editing basics
Curiosity makes the awesome traveler you are.
Check out other travel and photo blog posts!
4. Edit at a local level with simple photo editing tips – layers in Photoshop
Why to work on layers to edit locally in Photoshop
We did ‘pre-work’ in steps 1 to 3 of this photo editing tutorial for beginners. Now, it’s time to edit specific zones of the pic. Why to do so? How to spot the photo’s zones to work on separately? How to isolate them from each other? What photo editing parameters to look at?
Why to edit locally? The reason will become obvious to you after a few editing dramas. When you damage the original image and can’t go back to previous editing changes… Believe me, you feel very sad. The lesson to take away: work on layers!
Layers in Photoshop are basically ‘transparent sheets’ that you can blend, move, change, reapply… Like a transparent movable sheet of paper on top of the original canva. In other words, it’s NON-DESTRUCTIVE – you don’t lose the previous editing changes. You can undo the current retouch without coming back to point Zero of the whole process. As implication of this ‘pile’ system: layers allow you to keep track of all changes, to name and order them even by ‘groups’. Imagine: you’re working on two color zones of a sky. Select each zone, paste them on two different layers and group them into the folder ‘sky’. It becomes very handy when you divide your photo into many small zones.
How to create layers quickly in Photoshop as beginner
- Create a copy of the background image
- Select area to separate
- By color range
> Upper bar: Select > Color range…
- By quick selection > Left-hand side bar / pencil tool
- With lasso tool > Left-hand side bar / lasso tool
Copy-paste the section onto a new layer: Layer > New > Layer…
- Put layers from similar zones together into a ‘group’: Lower bar, right-hand side panel
What parameters to edit on the layers?
This question can be answered only by yourself! Remember what we learnt as the #2 of our photo editing tips for beginner. Modifying color and light settings should follow the ‘mood’ you defined. As guidance, you’ll find here digital photo editing basics to play with. They are nice for beginner photographers because easy to understand and manipulate.
The photo editing tips for beginner to take away: move cursors to an extreme and adjust.
Blend other layers to get an isolate view of the zone.
Then, unblend all layers to see if the edited zone fits in the whole pic.
Test, test and test! You take no risks to break anything as long as you work on layers.
- Levels – adjust the whole tonal range by moving shadows, midtones, highlights on the histogram
- Color balance – adjusts overall amount of the chosen color. For generalized color correction.
- Hue & saturation – changes the ton of a specific color (from red to yellow, for example) & its strength (level of greys within a color). Color to modify can be selected with the pipette (very targeted retouch)
- Ton curves
Contrast & brightness
- Vibrance – increases saturation / intensity of muted colors, while not modifying well-saturated colors
5. How to apply cool filters like on Instagram
What’s so cool about these Instagram filters?
At the beginning, I also thought… why do they all get crazy with filters?! And I finally tried it… now, it’s part of my editing process, like chocolate is part of my days. Filters can give the ‘little something’ to a pic – enhance the romantic or dramatic mood, give a vintage look, unify the whole… And they are awesome for social media publishing.
But we’re not going to do it the non-imaginative way, meaning applying one of the preset filters from Insta! We’re more creative than that, right? So, as step 5: we’ll get some photo editing tips for beginner about customizing your own Instagram filter… in your photo editing tool.
Here again, I’ll explain a method in Photoshop.
- Look up at the article about replicating Insta filters in Photoshop on Mashable.com, pick up a filter matching your pic’s ‘mood’ and use their instructions as guidance
- Open a new fill layer: File > Layer > New fill layer > Choose color
- Choose ‘Mode’, right-side panel
- Try with: multiply, overlay, soft color… depending on the final mood you want
- Adjust the Opacity
6. Last touch to your photo editing process
Take a break
Go away to better come back – I think, a good adage in Life… also to apply when you edit photos! Let me explain to you. After only a few minutes, our eye actually becomes ‘used’ to what it sees. It doesn’t ‘refresh’ the image you’re looking at, in order to ease the load of work for the brain. So, we have to reset our brain by ourselves. Take a break of min. 10-30mn. Come back to your photo. You now have a fresh vision of the editing you just did. It’s the moment to notice possible editing mistakes.
Flatten the image in Photoshop
If you’re totally satisfied with the result of your editing process, unify all the layers into one single and definitive image.
(Upper horizontal bar) Layer > Flatten image
Bring last corrections to get a harmonious and unified photo
Be light on these last corrections! It’s all about putting the discreet accent which will enhance even further the ‘look and feel’ of the pic.
– Contrast & brightness
– Ton curves
Like the Instagram filters, adding a vignette can really make the difference on the global aesthetic.
Add a vignette in Photoshop
– Filter > Lens correction > custom
– Choose ‘dark’ to get a vintage and dramatic feel
– Choose ‘light’ to add vitality and happy, light-hearted highlight
Save the edited photo in a web-friendly format
This step will make two good things for you. First, resizing the image into ‘web-friendly’ dimensions will help speeding up your website, blog or digital portfolio. Second, the photo will be displayed at the right format on specific digital platforms – social media networks or blog header, pick up the dimension adapted at the support.
Choose the right format & dimension (in pixels)
- JPEG: best for photography, complex images. Smaller size.
- PNG: best for logos. Handles transparency. Bigger size.
- Instagram post: 1080 x 1080
- Facebook shared image (link preview): 1200 x 628
- Blog header: min.width 900 or 1200
Check this article about Social media image sizes to get more sizes.
Edit the size in Photoshop
– File > save for web
– Preset > JPEG, PNG or GIF
– Image size > change dimensions in the boxes
I am made of photography,stories from the road and a good dose of passion. I am Ophélie, French-born traveler always on the go. My travel photography blog is about my travel experiences, tips and my addiction for adventure. To help you explore countries on your own… as an independent and curious traveller.