Quick and Simple Photo Fixes: Two of the Most Important Steps in Editing a Photo

This is what I do to all of my images in post-processing before I ever send them out to a client. Always.

1) Straighten the horizon

Take a look around any museum and you’ll see one thing in common among the great and classic art – straight horizons. The occasional abstract image might call for a slanted horizon, but when it comes to good portraiture and landscape photography, always straighten out your horizons. This is honestly one of the first things I notice when looking at someone else’s work. I think intentionally slanted horizons were a trend of the past and can very quickly date your style.

straighten out horizons post production

And what’s worse, seeing a just-barely crooked horizon makes me think the photographer is lazy and doesn’t bother to edit images once they’re snapped. This ends up looking like a haphazard snapshot instead of a clean finished product.

As a general suggestion, it’s always easier to start with a straight photo if at all possible. You’ll quickly notice in post that if an image’s composition is great but the horizon needs fixed, you may end up unnecessarily cropping parts out of the image you wanted to keep. Most DSLRs have a grid display to help you shoot straight and with the help of a tripod, you may not even need to do any post-production straightening to your image.

So please, don’t let your subjects look like they’re about to tumble down a hill.

2) Crop

When working with a fixed lens, it might be that all of your images are an equal distance away from your subjects, leaving you with a very bland set of photos. Zooming way in or zooming way out adds interest, but we might not always be able to do that in-camera. This is when optional cropping and necessary cropping come into play.

Optional: Let’s take two photos from one session.  We want to capture the couple, sure, but we also want to emphasize the details; her pretty hair, the dress detail, the coziness of the moment. By “zooming” in, it gives us the detail we want and mixes up the series a bit. I call this optional because it’s a style choice and doesn’t affect the integrity of the photo.

field fall posesNecessary: There are two necessary types of cropping I always do if missed in-camera: removing distractions and applying the rule of thirds.

When it comes to removing distractions, this one is pretty straight forward. If you can’t Photoshop something out, cut it off. Cropping to clean up an image is your civic duty. No excuses. I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to see a nice photo ruined by something small and weird on the very edge that the photographer couldn’t be bothered to simply crop out.

I also do my best (if it was missed in camera) to stick to the rule of thirds. Don’t be afraid to shave off a bit of extra sky in an image to place your subject in the most interesting intersection of the shot. We all like white space, but if the subject is placed a little off-center or way out on the edge of an image, that won’t make for a very good photo. And this takes about 2 seconds to accomplish.

The photo below places the subjects in the center of the photo with leading lines to help the viewer into the main focus of the image. If you’re not centering your subject, try to place them along one of the lines or intersections on the grid.

leading lines rule of thirds grid

These two edits have become instinctual for me in post-production because it takes no time at all and it’s the foundation of a great image.

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