In today’s visually-driven world, the art of photo editing has become an essential skill for both amateurs and professionals. Whether you’re looking to enhance your personal photos or create stunning visuals for your business, understanding the basics of photo editing is crucial. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through the fundamentals of photo editing, from choosing the right software to mastering essential techniques.

1. Choosing the Right Photo Editing Software

When it comes to photo editing, the first step is selecting the right software. There are various options available, from free online editors like Pixlr and GIMP to premium choices like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Consider your budget, level of expertise, and specific editing needs before making your choice.

2. Understanding File Formats

Before diving into editing, it’s important to understand file formats. The most common formats are JPEG and PNG. JPEG is suitable for photographs, while PNG is ideal for images with transparency. Ensure you’re working with the right format to preserve image quality.

3. Essential Tools and Features

Every photo editing software comes with a set of essential tools and features. Familiarize yourself with these, including the crop tool, selection tools, and layer options. Understanding these basic tools will lay the foundation for more advanced editing techniques.

4. Cropping and Resizing

The first edits you should make for your image are straightening, cropping, and resizing. Let’s explore each of these in detail.

Cropping allows you to remove unwanted parts of an image and focus on the subject. Resizing is essential for adjusting the dimensions of your image for various purposes, such as social media or print. Learn how to use these functions effectively to improve your composition.

Straighten The Image

Straightening is the process of making your photo’s horizon horizontal (flat). An image with a crooked horizon or angle must be corrected to look more professional and complete.

Crop The Image

Cropping is cutting a part of an image to improve framing, emphasize a subject, or change the aspect ratio. Editing with crops allows you to keep all the features you want while removing those you don’t.

When should you crop an image? Cropping an image helps to remove distracting elements at the edge of the frame or reposition your subject slightly.

Spot Clean The Photo

Photos taken outdoors sometimes have small “spots” in them due to dust on the lens. These spots are more visible on images with plain backgrounds.

It is important to remove these spots for a clean-looking image.

Most photo editing programs have built-in tools to remove spots. The first is called Spot Healing Brush Tool. Using the spot healing brush is simple; paint over the area with the spot. Another more advanced tool is the clone tool, copy over another area to cover the spots.

Work your way methodically around your image until you have a spot-free image.

5. Adjusting Brightness, Exposure, and Contrast

One of the fundamental aspects of photo editing is controlling brightness and contrast. This helps you achieve the right exposure and make your images more visually appealing. Experiment with levels, curves, and exposure adjustments to master this skill.

Adjust the exposure to make the image as bright or dark as needed.

Contrast is the range of the tones displayed in the image. It is important to have a full tonal range, showing the black-and-white pixels (and everything in between). Use the contrast adjustment layer to adjust the number of shades between the lightest and darkest areas of your image.

6. Adjust White Balance (WB)

White Balance (WB) relates to the color temperature of an image.

The ideal white balance is a neutral temperature. However, sometimes your photo will have a yellow or blue tone at opposite ends of the temperature scale. These images can look unnatural, so you need to adjust the white balance.

Most photo editors offer white balance presets like daylight, cloudy, or flash. These are one-click adjustments for simple WB changes. In addition, many image editors have a temperature and tint slider to fine-tune the overall lighting cast on an image.

Note: JPG files capture less digital data than RAW files, offering less white balance adjustment. So, it is best to shoot in RAW (if possible) for the best results.

7. Color Correction and Enhancement

Color correction ensures that your images display accurate and vibrant colors. You can also enhance colors to make your photos pop. Explore tools like hue/saturation adjustments and color balance to achieve the desired effect.

Adjust Color Vibrancy and Saturation

Color vibrancy is when a color appears bright and strong.

Saturation of a color refers to the intensity of color in an image. More saturation makes the colors purer.

Fine-tune vibrancy by adjusting the slider. The vibrancy slider has a strong effect on the muted colors of an image.

The saturation slider increases the color intensity of all colors in the image. A high-saturation image looks brighter and more vivid.

8. Adjust Sharpening

Sharpening your image gives it a crisper, cleaner look.

Photo editing software and apps offer sharpening tools on a slider.

Begin by adjusting the overall sharpness (on a scale from 0 to 100). Start at the middle (50 percent), then adjust the slider up or down to get the sharpness you prefer.

9. Retouching and Removing Imperfections

Retouching involves removing blemishes, wrinkles, and other imperfections. This is especially important for portrait photography. Use tools like the clone stamp and healing brush to retouch your images seamlessly.

10. Adding Filters and Special Effects

Filters and special effects can add a creative touch to your photos. Experiment with different filters and effects to achieve unique styles. Just remember to use them sparingly, as excessive filtering can detract from the quality of your photos.

11. Saving and Exporting Your Edited Photos

Once you’ve perfected your edits, it’s essential to save and export your photos correctly. Choose the appropriate file format and resolution for your intended use. This step ensures your edited photos look their best when shared or printed.

Resize your image if needed. For example, the ideal Instagram image size is 1080px by 1080px at a 1:1 aspect ratio. Likewise, other platforms have their own requirements. So, before exporting the image, you must select the appropriate dimensions.


Mastering the basics of photo editing is a valuable skill that can elevate your photography to new heights. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced photographer, understanding software, file formats, essential tools, and techniques is the first step towards creating captivating and visually stunning images. So, pick up your preferred photo editing software and start experimenting to unleash your creative potential. Happy editing!


Can I edit photos on my smartphone?

Yes, there are many photo editing apps available for smartphones, such as Adobe Lightroom Mobile, Snapseed, and VSCO. These apps offer a wide range of editing tools and are perfect for on-the-go editing.

How can I undo edits if I make a mistake?

Most photo editing software allows you to undo edits using the “Undo” or “Ctrl+Z” command. You can usually undo multiple steps if needed.

Are there any free alternatives to Adobe Photoshop?

Yes, there are free alternatives like GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) and Pixlr that offer powerful editing capabilities similar to Photoshop.

What is the difference between RAW and JPEG editing?

RAW editing provides greater flexibility and control over your images but requires specialized software. JPEG editing is more accessible and suitable for everyday photography.

This page was last edited on 9 October 2023, at 9:00 pm