Every job has its secrets, and photography is no different. Pro photographers might make it look easy to capture dazzling shots, but in reality, there are years of experience and technique behind every picture. Great photography is much more than shutter speeds and aperture settings.
So what makes the difference between your regular old vacation photos and the glamorous travel photos snapped by professional photographers? Even better—what can you learn from them? In this blog, we dive into the post-processing secrets of the pros to find out what makes their photos click.
The 8 Secrets of Professional Post-Processing
1. It takes more than good equipment
Just because the pros have shiny DSLR and mirrorless cameras doesn’t mean they spit golden photos with every click. In the hands of a professional, even a cell phone camera can capture incredible images; conversely, all the good equipment in the world can’t save a poorly composed shot. The real secret to success lies in the photographer’s technique and a skillful hand in the post-processing stage. Remember: without you, the camera is just an arrangement of metal, glass, and plastic.
2. It’s not all about the photos
We tend to believe that photos represent reality—after all, how can an image lie? But if you’ve ever spent an hour trying to find the perfect selfie angle, or fixed a mediocre photo with a snazzy filter, you already know that reality sometimes needs a little sprucing up. Even the pros sometimes rely on movie magic to fix an unflattering or uninteresting photo. What you might not realize is just how much can be done to elevate your photos in the post-processing stage—everything from simple fixes like lighting and color balance to changing or removing backdrops and more. Sometimes what makes a great image isn’t the original image itself, it’s the effort poured into making it great in post-processing.
3. Simplify, simplify
Reducing clutter in your shots is essential to sharpening your focus on the elements that matter. Learn to style, stage, and frame your photographs with a “less is more” approach and don’t overcrowd your subjects. It’ll make your photos cleaner and easier to edit later.
But wait, what if it’s too late to declutter—the photos have already been taken? In many cases you can fix it in post! Post-processing can include tidying and even completely removing the elements you don’t want, whether it’s flyaway hairs or random objects you thought were out of frame.
4. Taking the right photos saves a lot of time
Okay, so it’s possible to fix a bad photo. But no one likes to spend hours in post-production, trying to save a mediocre image. You’ll save yourself time and improve your photography skills by taking the time to eliminate distractions, practice your composition, perfect the lighting, and take the best photos you can. Why spend hours removing an element in the post-processing stage when you can do it before hitting the shutter?
Think about taking photos and post-processing as part of the same flow. Investing more time in one area reduces the time you’ll need to take later. Plus, developing an eye for issues that you’ll need to fix in the post will make you a sharper photographer.
5. Establish a workflow for every photo
It’s easy to get carried away in editing one element of your photos, but there are many steps that you should include in the post-processing workflow for each image. Following a checklist will help ensure a balanced and consistent output and prevent you from fixating on any particular issue.
Everyone’s process looks a little different, but these are the 7 core steps any post-processing workflow should include:
- Cropping & straightening
- Checking white balance
- Checking the exposure
- Fixing vibrance & saturation
- Checking for unintended noise
- Adjusting sharpness
- Editing the backdrop
6. Don’t overprocess your photos
It’s easy to go overboard with post-processing. Particularly when you’re learning new techniques, you might think you’re fixing a photo when you’re really ruining colors, destroying textures, or spoiling the exposure. Our advice? Make sure to give yourself time to review each photo. Walk away from the monitor and come back with fresh eyes or ask a trusted colleague for their opinion. You might find that you want to make subtler, softer changes that preserve the character of the original image. Remember, post-processing works best when it allows you to draw out the best of your photos, not cover them up.
7. Don’t bother with watermarks
Everyone loves a time-saver, and this is one post-processing step you can almost certainly skip. Watermarks distract from your images and, in many cases, do not meaningfully protect your work from copyright infringement. These days, it’s possible to remove watermarks with only a few clicks with the right technology. If you’re concerned about the security of your photos, you can get a valid license from the US Copyright Office.
8. You don’t have to do everything yourself
Plugins and editing services can help simplify post-processing by making certain steps in the process easier or even automatic. But if you can do everything yourself in Photoshop, why bother? Simply put, time is money, which is why the pros consider it a smart investment. Why go through the hassle of editing countless images when an editing service could do many of the edits in bulk in minutes? Plugins and integrations can help you get value for time and money by accelerating the editing process. After all, the time you can spend investing in other areas of your business is time well spent.
You might not be a pro photographer, but the great news is that you don’t need to be—you can still benefit from the same post-processing magic that the professionals do, all while brushing up on your photography skills. With a good eye and a willingness to practice, you can be well on your way to capturing eye-catching, highly marketable images with your own two hands.