8 Ways to Improve Your Photo Editing

8 Ways to Improve Your Photo Editing

I thought I’d write a quick post on ways to improve photo editing, as I’ll be spending the next day or two editing myself. Above is a live view of my screen, starting the editing process with a senior photo shoot I captured the other day. Cameras are everywhere, and more and more people are finding themselves tweaking photos on the computer. So this post isn’t just for hardcore photographers. The every day, just for fun photographer can really benefit from this post as well. Some of the tips are simple and some are for the more advanced photographer. This isn’t the de facto “How to Become an Amazing Photo Editor.” They are just some quick tips to help you along your journey. Either way, I think you’ll all pickup a little something.

Use a white balance tool at time of capture

Out of all of the edits I make to my photos in post, finding proper white balance is the one of the most important. Finding proper white balance will ensure optimal separation and vibrant color. To make this way easier on yourself, purchase a white balance card or another like color checker tool. I use the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport. Hold this up in front of your subject for the first frame of every new lighting environment, and all your work is done. In post, you can simply use these test captures to calibrate your white balance with one click.

Rate photos, sort with smart collections

Most, if not all, legit photo editing software provides users with a photo rating system, and typically is a 0-5 rating range. Use this, always. The first thing I do is toss all of the photos from a single shoot into a folder or collection so they can be isolated from the remaining bulk of your photo library. I then run through a photo shoot and rate all the photos I like with “1” or a “1 star.” This eliminates all the bad frames, photos with people blinking, etc. Now categorize the 1 star photos in a collection or smart collection (further isolating just 1 star photos from the pack), so all of the dud photos are not visible. Now go through all of the 1 stars and elevate the ones out of that group with a “2 star” rating. Repeat this process up to 5 times until you have a tight group of solid photos. I find the more photos I shoot the more rating stages of this process I have to go through. A standard shoot usually runs about 200 photos, and I can usually narrow them down to the top picks with two rounds of rating. A wedding event of 2000 photos on the other hand may take me all the way to 4 or 5 stars of rating to narrow it down. Do this BEFORE you even start to make any edits to your photos. Say you shot 200 photos for a family photo session. Are you going to edit and deliver all 200 photos? No, you probably will deliver around 50 max. So narrow your selection to those top 50 THEN edit, and save yourself a bunch of otherwise waisted time. Rating your photos has a few benefits. It not only saves you editing time, but every time you narrow down the photos to a smaller group you get a clearer perspective on what the collection of photos contains (rather than sorting through the whole group, making random edits, and trying to figure out which ones are the top selections). 

Edit/Rate back to front

It goes against a human’s standard desire of wanting to view things linearly, as we like to see things unfold in front of us in-order, however, you’ll find editing your photos in reverse will speed up your rating and editing process. We usually take photos until we get a couple solid ones, right? Then we move on to the next look or location to keep shooting. If you start at the back of your set of photos and start the rating/selection process in reverse, you’ll find yourself “staring” or elevating the rating on less photos, saving you more time and less rounds of rating, because there is a really good chance the best photos from a specific setup will be towards the back.

Batch edits

This is the biggest time saver… by far. Us photographers typically have a standard set of edits we like to apply to our photos. Yes, these settings will fluctuate here or there, but for the most part we have a really good ballpark place where we usually place contrast, saturation, etc dials. Today’s photo editing apps will allow you to take the edits from one photo and allow you to “stamp” or “sync” them to additional photos. Make your edits to one of your 50 photos then batch those settings to your other 50. Now each of the 50 photos will just need a tweak or two on a dial, which will save you so much time it’s dizzying to think about.


Personally, I find that editing with music in the background or with headphones really helps keeps my editing mentality flowing. I’ve also found that different types of music will effect my efficiency. Much like that playlist you’ll play at the gym while you are working out to keep your pumped up, playing an upbeat music set will keep my editing pace quick. If more relaxed music finds it’s way to the speakers, well… my pace usually slows down.

Edit, walk away, come back (rinse and repeat)

Everything I’ve talked about so far has had to do with ease of use and efficiency. Of course the other important aspect to your editing workflow is the quality. After a few years and way too many photos to count, you get fast and consistent with editing. But until you get a few miles under you, editing can be a bit of a challenge. You make wacky edits, you are unsure of where the exposure should be set, and your white balance is throwing you for a loop. My advice to photographers in their first couple years would be to edit a set of photos and then walk away from them for a bit. Either move on to a new set of photos or go take a break. Don’t look at that same set of photos for a couple hours, or ideally, come back to them the next day. There is a very good chance that you’ll change a lot of the previous edits when you come back those same “edited” photos. Go through the set again and walk away again. Do this until you come back to the photos and are still happy with the edits. For example, I used to struggle with finding proper white balance at times. So I’d edit photos, think I was done, but the next day when I sat down to look at those same photos they either looked too orange or too blue. There are many factors which can throw you for a loop while editing, resulting in incorrect edits. The lighting conditions in your editing environment can be problematic. The room could be really dark or bright, or the light in the room itself could be really orange or blue, hence distorting your own mind’s perspective of proper white balance for the photos.

Oh, and one more tip while we are on the topic of finding consistency. Most computer monitors will have an ambient light sensor built into the screen. This light sensor will adjust the brightness of your screen dynamically based off of the current lighting environment the computer is sitting in. This is in attempts to make the screen comfortable for your eyes (so you are not getting blasted with a super bright screen in a dark room or a really dim screen in a bright room). I would recommend either turning this feature off and manually setting your screen’s brightness, or temporarily adjusting it for the period of time while editing. After all, you are editing based off of what you “see,” so it’s important that what you see it consistent as well, and the screen brightness can really effect your editing. I always make sure I have my screen brightness at the same level, and that is usually at the screen’s brightest setting.

Change-up your editing environment

Taking photographs is a blast, editing really amazing photographs can be rewarding, but… sometimes when you are looking at a pile of hundreds or thousands of photos to edit it can be a little overwhelming at times (especially with a busy shooting schedule). High input/high output can make you feel like you are an editing robot. That dream photography job can quickly turn you into what seems like an editing robot, endlessly rating and editing thousands of photos. You can’t escape the fact that all those photos are waiting for you, and many more surely down the road, but you can change a couple things to take some of the tedium out of the equation. If I have a full day or a couple days of solid editing to do, I’ll change-up my environment. I’ll often hit up a large coffee house for a caffeine boost and a change of scenery. It’s not a lot, but just getting out of the house or office/studio can do wonders for the moral at times. Doing this also helps sectionalize your work day. Going, “ok, I’ll head to the coffee house and complete edits on yesterday’s shoot,” will help identify finish your goals more clearly.

We all have our own ways of getting through the day and making things as enjoyable as possible. These are some of the ways I’ve dealt with the photo editing aspect of my job, so I hope it may help a few of you out there.

Calibrate Your Monitor

Of course efficiency nor consistency will ever come in to play if you don’t have a good foundation to start your editing on. Calibrating your monitor is super important, in fact, I wrote a whole post on it, which you can read by clicking here. Calibrating your monitor will ensure that colors and contrasts are set to what we like to think of as “industry standards.” This way you know that the edited photos on your screen are properly representing a much closer match to what will be printed in the end.