Editing Your Photos without Overdoing It

A question often comes up regarding how much editing a photographer should do to a photo.  Often when a photographer first discovers the power of Lightroom, Photoshop or multiple other editing software products, the result might end up in over-processed photos that look unnatural.  It’s really an art to figure out when you have done enough editing, and when you have done too much.  The instinct comes with practice, but there are some items to consider when you are editing your images.  Of course, don’t take any of these as  strict rules but rather some things to consider.  What looks good in editing is mainly a matter of personal preference.

One indication that you have over-edited is when your adjustments start to distract from the photo you captured.  This can happen with any number of modifications, but there are some that are particularly important to keep in mind. 

DODGING AND BURNING (Lightening and Darkening) 

When lightening and darkening parts of your image, consider that less is more.  When brightening up the subject, if there is a large bright halo surrounding the subject, it might be viewed as a sloppy edit.  Another example can be seen when bringing down the highlights too far, for example in a sunset scene, which might result in a dark ring around the bright sun. Additionally, when removing all the shadows from an image, if it starts to look flat, it might be getting over-edited.  


When used well, the clarity slider can help to bring some edge contrast back to a photo. On the other hand, when used poorly, it could create terrible color, and cause halos around strong lines.  According to Pro landscaper photographer, Mark Denney, “When I first got into photography, even if I had an image that was sharp, I would end up applying too much sharpness or too much clarity to where the image had a kind of gritty, rough, over-texturized quality to it, which just looks awful.”


Saturation describes the intensity of the color in your photo.  Some photos are naturally more saturated than others, but how much you decide to add depends on your subject and your intention. If you are creating a surreal image, you might feel comfortable making large shifts in saturation. Some photographers enjoy over-saturating certain parts of an image to create a specific effect.   Photographers interested in showing a more natural image, might consider using saturation with care.  Sometimes an oversaturated photo looks unrealistic. It might leave skin tones looking orange, trees looking neon and oceans looking an unrealistic shade of blue. Mark Denney has done a great deal of research over the years trying to find a way to determine when a photographer has gone too far with saturation and he says that the only way he has discovered is “When you zoom all the way into a photo and look closely, if you have started to lose the details, you have oversaturated the color.”  Sometimes it might be more effective to use the Vibrance slider rather than the Saturation slider.  The Saturation slider increases all the colors in a photo; whereas the Vibrance slider adjusts the intensity of only the less saturated colors in a photo.  Consider your intent of the photo.  If you want to capture a foggy, misty Adirondack morning, you might find that low saturation adds a dreamy look to the image.  In other cases, for example in a photo of a girl in a red dress, perhaps you want a fiery feel; in that case it might benefit to increase the saturation of the dress. Think about the story you are telling.


Small shifts in your editing can have big effects on your photos.  Learn how to make changes in post-processing to get the look that you want and always keep in mind that you are the artist, and ultimately what your intent is should influence your editing decisions the most. 

There are countless videos and resources out there to help you if you are interested in honing your editing skills.  If you are interested in seeing Mark Denney describe his thoughts on over editing landscape photos, check out the brief video below.  


How do you decide when you’ve done too much editing? Do you look for any signs while you are processing?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

7 responses to “Editing Your Photos without Overdoing It”

  1. This is my very first HDR image, 8.11.08. It’s the lobby of the SUNY Brockport Administration Building. My office, photo studio and darkroom were on the ground floor. I had just received the Photomatix HDR program.
    /Users/catherinedusen/Desktop/HDR College Lobby.jpg

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