How to Tell When You’ve Done Too Much Editing Avoid these big editing mistakes with your photos!

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Please note: This is too much editing.

Oh do I have a love/hate relationship with editing. On the one hand, it can bring the best out of your images, and help you get that “WOW!” reaction.

But on the other hand, do too much editing, and that reaction can quickly turn to “Um, gross”. Or maybe that’s just my reaction. But too much editing, or poor editing, can do more harm to your photos than if you just left them alone.

It’s really an art to figure out when you have done enough editing, and when you’ve done too much. That instinct comes with much practice, but today I want to share a few insights we’ve had over the years that help us determine when our editing efforts have gone too far.

And a caveat: What looks good in editing is largely a matter of personal preference! Don’t take any of this as a “rule”, but rather things to keep an eye out for.

It’s Distracting

The absolute biggest indication that you’ve gone too far with editing is when the adjustments you’ve made are starting to distract from the image itself. If people are looking at your photo, and the first thing they notice is the post-processing, well, that’s kind of a fail.

This can happen with all sorts of adjustments, but here are a few to be especially careful of.

Dodging and Burning:

Good dodging and burning (selective lightening and darkening) should be like a ninja – you don’t even realize it’s there. If you’ve got a big bright spot over your subject, all people will see is the sloppy job. Less is more here, and take pains to make it blend.

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Sloppy dodging (lightening) around the subject is bad news.

Color:

If the colors lean towards unnatural, it’s going to distract your viewer. They’ll be wondering why things look weird, instead of paying attention to what’s going on in your photo. Use a gentle hand when doing color shifts (and be especially careful using the Saturation and Vibrance sliders).

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The unnatural colors totally distract from the content. By the way, this is a default Lightroom preset. Might want to avoid those.

Vignettes:

A well-used vignette is a subtle way to keep your viewers looking towards the centre of your frame, and keeping the attention on your subject. But too much vignette and it’s just a big ugly black mess on the edges. Make it soft.

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This vignette totally overpowers the shot.

Clarity:

Some days I wish the clarity slider didn’t even exist. No, that’s not true. When used well, it can really help to bring some edge contrast back to a photo. Used poorly, it creates terrible color, adds contrast in a yucky way and cause halos around strong lines. It’s one of the biggest offenders that scream “LOOK I EDITED THIS PHOTO!”. It’s particularly popular right now, so it stands out even more. Be super careful here, mmkay?

Here’s a nice photo:

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And here’s what happens when you add all the clarity. It absolutely pains me to edit the photo like this, but I’m doing to for you. You’re welcome.

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Details Are Lost

So you’ve paid all this money for your fancy camera, you’re shooting in raw to get the most detail out of it (You are shooting in raw right? Here’s why you should!), and then you hop into Lightroom and crank those sliders and, well, all that image detail you’ve put so much work into gets lost.

Yep, too much editing can REMOVE detail from your photos. That sounds pretty bad, right??

This primarily happens when you’re adjusting the exposure – brighten it up too much and you loose your highlights. Add too much black in, and the shadow nuance is gone. Crank the contrast and the subtleties disappear. Let’s look at an example.

Before editing:

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To boost the contrast I added a lot of black:

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And here’s where the detail was lost:

shadow-detail

A big tip here is to keep your eye on your histogram while editing, and make sure you’re not clipping your shadows or highlights with your work! If you’re using Lightroom, hit the shortcut “J” to reveal the clipped shadows in blue, and the clipped highlights in red, as you see above. Super useful!

Decrease In Image Quality

Loosing detail isn’t the only way to mess up those files you so carefully created. You can reduce the quality of your image in other ways when you’re editing.

For starters, you could add a lot of noise into the file if you’re increasing your exposure by a dramatic amount. Yuck. Sure you could then go in and try to reduce that noise, but now you’ve reduced the quality two times over. Your best bet? Try harder to get the right exposure in camera! (Make sure you’re comfortable shooting in manual mode so you can get more control over your exposure).

noise

Another problem that can creep in while editing is banding. This often happens when you’re trying to bring back detail in the sky, and you end up with wonky bands of color instead of a nice smooth gradient. You need to be conscious of banding, watch out for it in your skies and don’t go so far with your editing that you add it into your photo! Banding is especially noticeable when images are viewed large, or in print.

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Notice that the sky doesn’t have a nice, smooth gradient? Doesn’t look great. That’s because of way too much editing!

How To Avoid These Mistakes!

Here are a few simple tips to keep your editing on point!

Before/After

While editing we often check the before and after states (that is, the original image, and our edited version). This helps us keep an eye out for too much going on, moving too far away from the natural look, or any important detail being lost.

Go Too Far

Another approach is to add too much of any adjustment, and then back off. This can help you find that sweet spot between eye-catching editing, and distracting editing.

Shoot Raw

And, of course, make sure you’re shooting in raw! If you shoot in JPEG, you have a whole lot less room to work before reducing the image quality. Folks, shoot raw. Seriously.

 

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Want to learn more about all of these adjustments, and really see how to make the most of editing, without going too far? Check out our full Lightroom tutorial that will make you an editing ninja in just one day! By tomorrow you could have super editing skills that will take your photos to a whole new level!

Your Turn

How do you decide when you’ve done too much editing? Any signs that you keep an eye out for? Let us know what you think in the comments?

 

Lauren Lim

Hey friend, I’m Lauren! I’m a photographer and head ninja here at Photography Concentrate. I’m downright obsessed with photography, and love sharing it with super cool folks like yourself. When I’m not shooting, or writing, you can find me cooking (and eating!), traveling, and hanging out with wonderful people.

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Comments

8 Comments // Leave a comment

  1. So true. I think we all been there, overdoing the post. A good advice is to save your work and go back after a few days, a real eye-opener :)

  2. This post really hit home. I always felt like I had to play with all the sliders from all the menus in Photoshop before I was satisfied with a picture. It was a pain and it always seemed incomplete.

    Now, a couple of essential touch-ups and I’m done!

    Great post :)

  3. Some really good advice here. Knowing when to stop and the image is “done” is always tough for me.

  4. You’re right about that clarity slider – please use it sparingly people!!

  5. This is all really great advice! A few years ago I was guilty of some of this by going through a phase of over-editing with clarity and the unsharp mask effect in photoshop. Fortunately it didn’t last long and I developed a taste for the more natural lifestyle look (which I’m still trying to perfect). Do you guys have any tutorial/blog posts regarding skin tones? To this day, that is the one aspect of editing that I frequently second guess myself on. Thanks!

  6. As always I enjoy your articles full of helpful advice ! A little disappointed not to see a download for editing in PSE :-(

  7. Anything we do in live we should do it with a controlled amount. I understand you are trying to make a point and made those comparison image more dramatic than it would have been. But dodging and burning, vignettes, clarity, etc, by adding just a touch to these will make the photo pop without creating a unnatural image. In the last few months I have gone the opposite side with Clarity. I have been going negative with clarity. And using the dodge/burn tool adding back clarity to the subject face. This have worked very well for me.

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