There are photographers that have a ‘strictly no retouching’ policy when it comes to their work. However, every now and then we find that we can enhance our images and make them better with a slight touch of Photoshop and Lightroom.

As you might have already imagined, shooting with a DSLR and editing on your computer works like a charm.

The big problem with filters

Filters are in fact really good, but it’s really easy to get them wrong. They’re most people’s first stop when editing photos, put a filter on a you’re good to go, but that’s not the right case.

The problem with filters is that it’s meant to beautify your photo without taking in account what you’re trying to achieve and what kind the photo is.

The right editing tools

Of course, you’ll need photo editing software. One that involves filters, manual editing and all the good stuff. So I found the three best apps on the market.

  • Adobe Lightroom
  • Adobe Photoshop
Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop

If you already subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Lightroom and Photoshop are a great option. They are powerful editors and you can easily sync photos between your computer and smartphone. If you’re not subscribed to a Creative Cloud plan, a trial is available.

Fixing problems in your photo

When I say “problems” I don’t mean problems like blurriness or overexposure. More subtle problems that are equally important and fixable include:

  • Shadows that are too dark (they pull down the photo)
  • Dull highlights (they flatten the whole photo)
  • A weird color cast (it makes the photo look too blue or too yellow)

Let’s take an example of this photo:

This photo is raw out of camera with no adjustments. Depending on the circumstances, your camera will automatically tend to take pictures that are either a little too dark or a little too bright, so exposure is something you’ll regularly need to adjust. Similarly, you’ll generally need to slightly tweak the contrast between the shadows and highlights.

Balancing exposure

In most editing apps, you can adjust these two settings with the same tool, which is often named “Brightness/Contrast.” Move the sliders as much as you need for the image to look natural. Just be careful not to go overboard—extreme contrast or brightness adjustments in either direction never look good.

Here’s the photo with minimal tweaks and exposure adjustments:

It may not be that much noticeable, but that is because the photo was already decently exposed. Now next up is the colors and the emotion your photo gives.

Enhancing the emotion

Once you’ve fixed any problems with your images and balanced out the brightness, it’s time for the fun part—enhancing the emotion. This is the time to add filters, get creative with different options, throw on a vignette, and make the photo yours.

The trick to successfully enhance the emotion of an image is to do things with a purpose—think about what you want from the final photo, and work towards that. If you want a really sunny, vibrant holiday photo, go right ahead and slap on a big, bold filter. But if you’re going for a moodier street shot, your approach needs to be more low key.

Here’s the photo with color and saturation adjustments:

Share it on social media

Once you’re done editing, step back and consider the whole image again. Have you actually achieved what you wanted to? It’s easy to go the wrong direction with powerful editing tools. Sometimes you’ll miss completely and have to go back and start again. (It still happens to me all the time.)

Don’t be shy and post it on social media (Instagram preferably), let the likes and comments pour in, and see what others think of your photo.