To Edit or Not to Edit Your Photos: What Difference Does it Make or Matter?
Recently I saw a post on social media that really bugged me. Maybe it shouldn’t have, but it did. The poster was advising memory-keepers to not worry about editing photos before using them in a photo book. Her main points were that editing can be intimidating, time-consuming, and can halt a book from getting done, and that while some of our photos may not be the best quality (especially older ones), that’s what makes them special so just use them.
I get it and understand her motivation for sharing that. She is trying to help others avoid overwhelm and guilt, and simply get their memories documented with the sentiment that “done is better than perfect." I agree... to some degree. 😉
It's true that most of our photos are fine exactly as they were taken and don’t really have to be edited. And yes, there are times when using original, “less than stellar” photos is the best choice for the overall feeling, context, and story. Heck, sometimes it’s the only choice for a variety of reasons.
But, here’s the yin to that yang… there are also times when a little editing (or a lot) can make a HUGE difference in the overall quality and appearance of a photo especially if you are going to print it in some form. A little exposure tweak, color correction, cropping, and straightening can really transform an image!
And, with today’s editing capabilities, why wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that magic to enhance your memories?
Need a little convincing?!?
Here are a few "before and after" edits of some (not so great) digital images that I took in 2013 with a point-and-shoot camera in .jpeg format. I recently edited* them to use in a sample photo book I created.
A lackluster and rather flat photo now has a moody sky, more clarity, contrast, and color.
Corrected the angle of the bus along with adding color, brightness and smoothing.
This image was a mess! Overexposed, grainy and lacking in any detail. But it's a good example of making the best of what you've got to work with.
One more from that set... another not great (ok pretty bad) photo as it was also very grainy and lacked detail. I was able to recover some of the lost highlights, increase the clarity and contrast, and add some "pop" to the colors.
"Oh, hi friends!" ~ Did you hear Mickey's voice when you read that like I did while typing it? 😊
This photo was taken in 2019 with my 24 megapixel (DSLR) camera in raw** format. I added color and mood to the washed out, gray sky, added light on Mickey and brought out details in the balloon that were hard to see. Big difference between these two images!
Global versus Local Editing
Ever heard the saying "Think globally, act locally"? It also applies to editing. Before you think I've totally lost my mind, let me explain.
In the world of editing, a global edit is any change that affects the entire image, so if the exposure is increased, it is increased for the whole photo; Whereas a local adjustment is one that affects only a certain area of a photo – for example if the exposure is increased on the subject, no changes are made to the background or foreground.
Why is this important to know? Because most basic editing programs only do global edits, and while that isn’t always bad, it can cause unwanted changes to your photo.
Here's an example:
This photo was taken with an iPhone camera in 2022. As you can see in the "before" image, the couple is dark and it's hard to see their faces. But, the rest of the photo is pretty good. If I increase the exposure to try to see them better (a global adjustment), I would also be brightening up the entire photo, which would effect the details and overall appearance of the image.
So for a photo like this, making local adjustments is the way to go. First I changed the exposure and light on the couple only. Then I edited the ground nearest to them to bring out some color and detail, and voila... a beautiful couple, now visible, enjoying their honeymoon in a stunning location!
Let's wrap this up
Is editing absolutely necessary to create a meaningful keepsake? No it's not.
Does editing improve and/or enhance a photo ? Usually yes or it would be a waste of effort. But as mentioned earlier, it does also depend on the state of the original image (e.g. extremely blurry or overexposed photos).
Does editing take extra time? Yes, and the amount can vary greatly based on the photo and the desired result. But as you have seen, it can also make a big difference and can be worth the time and investment.
Does it require some skill? Yes, but that also depends on the individual and the software or app used. Many of the basic programs are now super intuitive, and easy to navigate and use.
Are there people who can edit my photos for me? Most definitely! There are many talented Photo Editors and Image Restoration Pros both "locally" within the U.S. and "globally" across world... see what I did there? 😉 If you need heritage photo repairs/restoration, I can give you names of reputable services to contact. I offer basic editing as part of my photo book design services AND I can also edit individual photos for your projects. Let's chat about what you'd like edited!
Few final thoughts
Photo editing is subjective so a final image can be dramatically different based on the changes made - from small tweaks to highly stylized - depending on the desired results. For most personal collections, the goal is (usually) to make minor adjustments and improvements to enhance the image while maintaining the original intention of the photo.
Choosing whether or not to edit your photos is a personal decision based around your vision for what you want your photos and/or photo books to look and feel like.
There are no absolute rights or wrongs - only what is right and best for you and how you want to enjoy your cherished memories and stories!
* I edit images in Adobe's Lightroom Classic software. Other editing software and app programs are available- some free with limited features, others are downloadable for a one-time fee, and a few are subscription-based like Adobe's offerings.
** Raw file format is the uncompressed and unprocessed image data captured by a digital camera or scanner's sensors. Some times referred to as a digital negative, you can think of a RAW file as the raw “ingredients” of a photo that will need to be processed in order to bring out the picture's full potential. (credit: adobe.com)