Basic Editing – Why is it Necessary?

Some photographers offer basic editing on some or all of the shots that they give to their clients? In the age of advanced digital cameras, shouldn’t the pictures look great right out of the camera if taken by a competent photographer?

Why basic editing is necessary

While it is true, that digital cameras today are better than they ever were, they differ from their film counterparts in many important ways. In the days of film the photographers choice of film had a huge effect on the resulting picture and different films were chosen specifically for different situations. Today, many of these film effects have analogous digital counterparts but the implementation is often clumsy. More importantly the development of the digital negative in the computer inside the camera, can be done much more precisely and effectively by a more powerful computer outside the camera. In fact it is almost always better to use the most neutral settings “in camera”. This results in a shot that might lack sharpness, contrast and pop, but it preserves the most digital information, allowing the photographer to apply these corrections in a much more effective way in post production. Applying these corrections on the computer also allows the photographer to view the images at full resolution, again allowing finer control over the finished product.

Color correction

The most important element to achieving natural color reproduction is shooting with a custom white balance. The lighting environment (sunlight, shade, fluorescent, halogen etc) that you are shooting in will greatly affect the colors in the photos. A custom white balance taken from a neutral source(usually a grey card) calibrates the levels of red, green, and blue to achieve a perfectly neutral grey. This will get color representation as close as possible ‘in camera” but can often be further honed after the fact. Further corrections that are often done are increasing overall saturation(the amount required great depends on the situation) and adjusting skin tones. Good looking skin tones are vitally important in portrait photography. Some skin tones photograph better than others and can often be greatly enhanced after the shoot.

Contrast and Sharpness

These two elements (along with color saturation) are what will really make photographs ‘pop’. While some degree of contract and sharpness can be done ‘in camera’ the best and most striking effects can only be done while editing the photos on a computer. Because of inherent design compromises in digital sensors, photographs come out slightly ‘soft’ by default. This softness can is counteracted by applying sharpening to the photo, either in camera or on the computer. Furthermore, sometimes a targeted sharpness is required for the desired effect. For example, it is possible to selectively sharpen certain features such as the eyes without bringing out small blemishes on the skin.

How is basic editing different than retouching?

Basic editing almost always applies to global corrections. These changes do not target any specific area of the image but affect the entire photo. Often these corrections can be applied to a whole series of photos that were taken in the same lighting conditions. Retouching involves removing and modifying certain elements within an individual photo. An example of retouching would be something like, removing stray hairs or blemish removal.


In closing basic editing can really add a lot to the final product. It can be the difference between a well taken photo, and something that is truly stunning.