Have you ever clicked a photo on your smartphone camera and wished it looked a bit better? You can do that by following standard steps to edit photos! So, you can make any image look great with a few photo editing basics. In addition, knowing how to retouch photos comes in handy to make your social media profiles pop! 

You can use simple online photo editors to make the basic edits. Furthermore, on-the-go editing from smartphones is easier than ever with photo editing apps. However, the most complex modifications are only achievable with desktop photo editing software

In this photo editing how-to guide, I will show you how to edit your pictures like a professional in just a few steps. In fact, you may only apply a few of these steps to get your photos to look professional. 

Photo Editing: How to Edit Images Like a Professional

Let’s dive into the steps in this photo editing how-to guide so you will become a professional in no time. In short, I will describe the following photo editing basics:

  1. Shoot Your Photos in RAW
  2. Decide on an Editing Style
  3. Pick a Photo Editor
  4. Select and Import Photos
  5. Use Filters and Presets
  6. Crop
  7. Straighten
  8. Remove Chromatic Aberration
  9. Adjust White Balance
  10. Adjust Exposure and Contrast
  11. Adjust Vibrance and Saturation to Make Photos Pop
  12. Sharpen Your Photos to Increase Quality
  13. Remove Clutter
  14. Add Final Touches and Share

Read the Ultimate Photography Guide for 2023

Shoot Your Photos in RAW

You must be thinking, isn’t this photo editing how-to guide about how to edit pictures? Of course! However, shooting in RAW is essential for the most flexibility during editing. Photo editing basics include first having an optimized image. So, you have to tell your photography studio, or photographer, or ensure that you shoot in RAW.

RAW formats are the digital image files stored in your camera or smartphone memory card. Unlike JPG images, RAW photos are not compressed or processed. As a result, RAW photos have the best quality and the most pixel information, which helps while editing your photos. 

How do you shoot in RAW?

A professional camera (and a modern smartphone) supports the RAW format. Just go to the menu and find the RAW setting. For example, DSLRs can save in JPG only, RAW only, or both JPG & RAW. Then, you can start learning how to retouch photos.

Decide on an Editing Style

Deciding on a game plan before you begin is crucial to editing photos well. With millions of amateur and professional photographers, you must stand out with your own photo editing style. Many guides talking about photo editing basics might not suggest this step. But it is important to have a style in mind.

For example, in the world of art, a painting with contoured forms and bright colors is immediately recognizable as a work of Vincent van Gogh. 

You want your photos to be like that! So, how to retouch photos based on your editing style?

Some common photo editing styles include the Orton Effect, Faded, Color Calibration, Airy, and Moody. 

Now, if you are a beginner, you may not know many photo editing styles. So, I have explained a few styles. 

Some common photo editing styles include the Orton Effect, Faded, Airy, and Moody.

  • Airy – Airy photos are very bright with low saturation. The photos look very warm due to a focus on red, orange, and yellow tones. 
  • Faded – Faded photos resemble old, vintage photographs. You can achieve a faded look by making the blacks a lighter shade of grey and the whites a light shade of grey. 
  • Moody – Moody photos are the opposite of Airy. The moody photo focused on the cold tones (green, blue) while having high contrast and low exposure.
  • Orton Effect – The Orton effect adds a soft glow to the photos that helps landscape photos look romantic or mysterious. 

Pick a Photo Editor

Decided on a game plan for how to retouch photos? Good! The next step is to actually select a photo editing program that is capable of making the changes you want! A simple tool like Canva can also help with photo editing basics.

In this photo editing how-to guide, I briefly describe the most popular photo editing programs. First, however, you can read about the best photo editing software, mobile apps, and online editors to get a detailed understanding. 

With scores of available image editing programs, it is challenging to select the best one. However, you must keep in mind that the best image editor for you is the one that offers the tools you need to edit images in your style. Once you have figured out what software you need, you can focus on learning how to retouch photos.

Popular Photo Editing Software:

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Luminar Neo
  • Adobe Lightroom
  • GIMP

Adobe Photoshop (US$20.99/month) 

Photoshop is the gold standard of photo editing software. It is the most popular photo editing tool with a wide variety of tools. However, it can be a bit challenging to master, so if you prefer an easier option, see Lightroom. Learn how to download Photoshop.

Luminar Neo (US$79 One Time)

An easier option for beginners. Luminar AI has innovative features like AI-powered presets, so you can expect many automatic adjustments. For example, you can automatically enhance your photo with a click! 

Adobe Lightroom (US$9.99/month)

Photoshop is great for complete creative freedom, while Luminar Neo does most of the work for you. However, if you want a middle-ground photo editor, then Lightroom is for you! It has Photoshop’s basic and advanced features (but not all) that are easy to master. Furthermore, Lightroom is great for organizing your photos. 


You may notice that the other 3 picks are paid options. Don’t want to pay? Get Photoshop-like features for free by using GIMP. Of course, Some of the features are worse than Photoshop, but there is an active community with many plugins. Furthermore, if you are a Linux user, you can use GIMP too (in addition to Mac and Windows). 

Select and Import Photos

Decided on your photo editor of choice? Good! Next, this photo editing how-to guide will finally start with the process of how to retouch photos! 

Transfer your photos from your camera or smartphone memory to your device. Then, open your photo editing program (for example, Photoshop). 

A good tip is to create individual folders with proper labeling to keep your work organized. For example, you should never edit the original photo. Instead, make a copy and work on that. 

Also, you may have taken dozens of photos of the same thing. In this step, you should look through the clicks to decide which one is the best. That way, your work is reduced before you even get started! 

Use Filters and Presets

Want to achieve your edits quickly? Sometimes, you do not have to manually make changes. Instead, just use filters and presets in your photo editing program! 

It may sound unintuitive, but even professionals use presets to get their desired effect quickly. 

Presets are an excellent way to speed up your workflow and try out different edits (and styles!) in a short time.

For example, if you wanted to manually try many different edits on your photo, you would spend a lot of time readjusting for every edit. On the other hand, presets let you just hover over each style and immediately see the result.


That was a lot of steps to edit photos without actually doing any manual edits! So, let’s start with the manual adjustments you can make to your photo. Every photo editing basics guide will start with Crop. 

Cropping removes the unwanted edges of your image, making your image smaller. 

So, why should you crop your image? Beginners can use crop to keep the main subject the focus of the photo by taking a larger part of the frame. You can do it yourself or get image cropping services from experts.

Cropping is really easy using any basic photo editing tool. Just click on the “Crop” option, typically characterized by a sort of rectangle. Then, you can drag from the edges of the image (top, bottom, and both sides). As a result, you can crop portions of your image as needed. 

For example, an easy way for beginners to remove unwanted objects from their images is to use the crop tool to remove that part. Cropping is also important for social media, as many people look at photos on their small smartphone screens. So, you can make your subject fill the screen.


The next step to edit photos is straightening. Straightening lines during post-processing is a simple way to make your photo look balanced. Like cropping, straightening is part of the photo editing basics.

How do you straighten your image? 

If you have many lines in the photo, choose one as a primary and make that straight. For example, the most common straightening is for the horizon. A crooked horizon will make the photo look off. 

So, click on the crop tool and grab a corner. Then, you can drag the image clockwise or anticlockwise until the horizon is straight. Another way to achieve the same effect is to use the rotate tool in your photo editor. Then, rotate until your horizon line is straight.

Remove Chromatic Aberration

Okay, the steps to edit photos seem simple so far right? Now, we move on to the more complex edits. I will try to make these concepts easy to grasp in my photo editing how-to guide. 

What exactly is Chromatic aberration?

Chromatic aberration occurs when there is high contrast between your photo’s light and dark objects.  Ever seen an outline of unwanted color on the edges of your objects? That’s a chromatic aberration! 

For example, a black object on a bright background will typically experience a chromatic aberration. You will typically notice it as a purple or green color fringing on the object’s edges. 

How do I remove chromatic aberration?

Even if the concept of chromatic aberration sounds tricky, removing it is not! Modern photo editors like Lightroom can remove chromatic aberration with just one click! 

However, sometimes the automatic process might not be enough. In that case, adjust a few sliders. Go to the Lens Correction panel and click on the color option. Then, place the eye-dropper tool on the fringing and watch as it is removed!

Adjust White Balance

A common step to edit photos is to play with the white balance. So, when learning how to retouch photos you need to know what white balance is. White balance adjustment is a part of the photo editing basics.

White balance is how warm (red or yellow) or cool (blue) the color temperature is. Oftentimes, the camera captures the color temperature accurately. However, that is not always the case.

Adjust the white balance by using preset settings like daylight, cloudy, or tungsten light (to name a few). These settings will automatically adjust the temperature (in Kelvin) to achieve the right balance. Or, if you prefer doing it manually, just move the Temperature slider in your program. 

Adjust Exposure and Contrast

After - Wedding Photo - Exposure Adjustment
Various Exposure Levels Adjusted

The next step to edit photos is to adjust the exposure of your photo to get the exact brightness (or darkness). 

You can use the exposure (or brightness) slider in your photo editing program to adjust the exposure. Note that increasing the exposure too much can introduce noise. 

Adjust the contrast to get a good balance between the range of dark and light tones. 

Just like adjusting the exposure, there is a slider for contrast in a photo editor like Lightroom. 

Too much contrast results in an image where all the tones are very dark or very light. On the other hand, low contrast results in a flat image where no element stands out. So, you want to move the contrast slider to achieve a good balance between the two extremes.

Exposure and contrast adjustments help enhance your photo’s highlights and shadows. 

Adjust Vibrance and Saturation to Make Photos Pop

The next steps to edit photos are vibrance and saturation adjustments.

Vibrance increases the intensity of the softer colors in your image. Saturation helps make all of the colors look more vivid. 

Adjusting vibrance and saturation aims to find a good balance and make your photos pop. Low vibrance can result in a dull photo while over-saturation can make the image look unrealistic. 

A good tip is to decrease saturation and increase vibrance to create a harmonious image.

Vibrance and Saturation are easily adjusted using Lightroom. In addition, there are sliders for both Vibrance and Saturation that you can adjust to get the perfect look. 

Most photo editing how-to guides typically relegate vibrance and saturation adjustments under “technical adjustments”. However, I think that it is important to understand these finer details to master the photo editing basics fully.

Sharpen Your Photos to Increase Quality

Sharpening is used to give photos a cleaner and crisp look. With sharpening tools, you can remove blurriness, lens distortion, and poor contrast.

Many photo editing tools offer a sharpening option. However, you should note that sharpening tools don’t actually increase your image’s quality. Instead, it adds contrast to the edges to give the illusion of detail and sharpness.

For example, you can use Lightroom’s sharpening tools. Lightroom offers four options to adjust:

  • Amount – the amount of contrast in your image.
  • Radius – the thickness of the edge of the area where contrast is applied.
  • Detail – the amount of sharpening applied to the photo.
  • Masking – control where the sharpening effect is added. 

No matter if you want to learn how to retouch photos, sharpening is a crucial step before retouching. 

Remove Clutter

A very common problem in photography is having unwanted objects in the shot. Have you ever clicked an excellent photo with some clutter on the side? You can remove that in post-processing to avoid clicking the image again. So, in this guide on how to edit photos, I give you ways to remove clutter from your photos easily.

Photo editing programs like Photoshop and Lightroom include spot removal tools like healing brushes, patch tools, and content-aware move tools. You can use these to expertly remove unwanted clutter and make it look natural. 

Other photo editors like Fotor and PicsArt offer Object Removal tools that are one-click events. However, the accuracy may be low for complex images. 

Add Final Touches and Share

The last step to edit photos are to add some final touches and share.

After you’ve completed the edits:

  • Set your photos aside and take a break.
  • Come back after a rest and see if you’re happy with the edit.
  • If not, make additional edits where needed.

Some final touches you can add include

  • Add a Vignette
  • Get the Correct Aspect Ratio
  • Convert RAW Photos to JPG

Add a Vigenette to slightly darken or lighten the edges of your frame, which brings the viewer’s focus to the center of the image. 

Get the required aspect ratio for your images. For example, if you want to share your edited image on Instagram, the perfect size is 1080x1080px. Other social media have different aspect ratios. So, use the crop tool to get the correct aspect ratio. 

Convert your RAW photos to a JPG if you want to share the image. Why? RAW files are suitable for editing, but the big file size makes it difficult to share in large numbers. Instead, you can easily output the image in your desired format like JPG. 

Some Tips on How to Edit Photos

The photo editing basics have been covered. However, I wish to add some extra tips to complete this photo editing how-to guide. They include:

  • Try HDR Photography
  • Use Local Adjustments
  • Get Creative

Try HDR Photography

HDR photography combines photographs with three or more exposures of the same scene to get an excellent dynamic range. I know, this isn’t exactly covering how to retouch photos, but you should plan HDR during the photoshoot. 

For example, you can click photos of the same scene with exposure at -2, 0, and +2. Then, you can use Lightroom or Photoshop to achieve real-life results by combining the 3 (or more) photographs. 

HDR photography and editing are useful in high-contrast situations, like shooting toward a light source like the sun. 

Use Local Adjustments

All the edits talked about in this photo editing how-to guide refer to global adjustments. However, global edits apply to the entire image. To improve your skills, try learning how to make local adjustments. Local edits help you make more personalized adjustments and give you better control over the process.

Get Creative

The final tip on how to retouch photos is to get creative. Photo editing is truly a creative process. You can achieve amazing results if you can imagine them first. 

However, beginners may be confused about where to start and how to develop their own style. So, the easiest way to grow your creativity and find your style is to get inspiration from other, already-established photographers. If you follow the same process as the pros, you will then find a way to introduce a twist that will be uniquely yours. 

How to Edit Photos Without Quality-Loss?

You can take several steps to avoid losing photo quality, including the following:

  • Avoid Compressed File Formats
  • Use Non-Destructive Photo Editing Software
  • Try Avoiding Edits That Add Noise

Avoid Compressed File Formats

Common images found on the web are usually JPG and PNG, which look fine. However, when you start photo editing, you quickly start noticing posterization and emerging patterns. So, you should avoid compressed image formats for editing. 

Use Non-Destructive Photo Editing Software

Non-destructive photo editing software makes changes to the photo without changing the original photo. Fortunately, most modern photo editing software uses non-destructive methods. However, you must always ensure that the tool of your choice is non-destructive.

Try Avoiding Edits That Add Noise

Noise is the primary reason for low-quality images right after blur. If you are unsure what noise is, it’s what makes your photos look grainy.

Noise can be physically introduced during the photography process. However, it can also be introduced by the photo editor during post-production. 

Some of the ways noise is introduced during photo editing are:

  • Too Much Sharpening – Sharpening adds unnecessary noise to your photos.
  • Overexposure – Overexposing the dark tones introduces noise to images.


In conclusion, knowing how to retouch photos is the first step in transforming your images. I hope you learned something new from my photo editing how-to steps. 

Keep in mind that you won’t become a master photo editor overnight. But you should keep practicing and follow the photo editing basics described in this photo editing how-to guide. Also, learn to enjoy the process, so you can have fun while learning!

Did you learn anything new in this photo editing how-to guide? Please, let me know below! Cheers, and happy editing!

FAQs on How to Edit Photos

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on How to Retouch Images Like a Professional. 

What do professional photographers use to edit photographs?

Professional photographers prefer Adobe Lightroom due to two main reasons. First, Lightroom offers great photo management and organization. So, managing thousands of photos is a breeze in Lightroom. The next reason for Lightroom’s popularity is the live tethering feature (photos are imported to Lightroom as they are shot). 
Other popular photo editors used by professional photographers include ON1 and of course, Photoshop. If you are a beginner photographer, Luminar Neo is also a good choice to get started.

How can I edit my photos like a professional for free?

If you want to edit images like a professional you require professional photo editing software. However, many of these pro software are paid tools, including Lightroom and Photoshop. However, you can download Photoshop for free for seven days.
On the other hand, you can use free photo editors, like GIMP and Inpaint. The next step to edit photos is to follow the guidelines in this article.

How do you edit a photo perfectly?

Try to follow standard photo editing how-to guides to achieve perfect results. Always remember not to overdo the edits and take breaks so you don’t rush it. If you take time, you will ensure the perfect image without any pressure.

How to edit blurry photos?

Before editing blurry photos, you must identify whether the image is too blurry to be salvaged. Also, the blur is often intentional, like the bokeh effect or a long-exposure photograph. After deciding that you need to remove the blur, use the Lightroom sharpen slider until you start seeing a little halo around the edges. Then, press Alt + Masking slider and drag it until you only see the main edges.

How to edit photos on the iPhone?

If you want to edit your images using the default iPhone photo editor (Apple Photos), follow these steps:
1. Open the “Photos” app.
2. Tap on an image you want to edit and click “Edit”.
3. Switch between the editing tools by swiping left and right.
4. After choosing the tool, drag the slider to adjust.

How to edit photos on Android?

Follow these steps to edit photos on Android:
1. Open the “Gallery” app and tap on the photo that needs to be edited.
2. Then, Tap “Edit” to bring up the editing tools. 
3. Swipe the bottom bar to change editing tools.
4. Tap the tool to adjust it by moving the sliders.
5. Press the save icon to save the changes.

How to edit photos for Instagram?

You can edit photos for Instagram right in the app itself! In general, Instagram photos are very colorful, so I recommend tuning up the vibrance and saturation to increase the vividness that catches the eye when scrolling.

How to edit photos with a vintage/old look?

Vintage photos have characteristic tints of blue, green, and yellow. Furthermore, vintage images have washed-out colors, a lot of noise, low contrast, and a strong vignette. So, make your photo look vintage by decreasing color saturation and contrast, increasing the exposure, adding some noise, and fading the blacks and whites.

How to edit photos to look like the golden hour?

Increase the contrast, shift the white balance, and add orange tones to the highlights and blue tones to the shadows to make it look like the image was taken during the golden hour.

This page was last edited on 1 March 2023, at 2:41 pm