There are a few basic processes involved in editing photos, but keep in mind that even the likes of Lightroom, GIMP, Snapseed, and VSCO, the app that launched an entire cultural trend, can only do so much; there are limitations to what you can fix.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re taking ID photos, preserving memories at a wedding, or just catching the vibe on the streets or out in the wild—technique matters, so be careful not to blow out highlights or crush shadows beyond recovery, and make sure you manage to get good focus on your subject. Good shot composition also makes for genuinely compelling images.
The importance of proper lighting cannot be overstated either, if you want to bring out fine details and get good dynamic range in studio shots. In portrait photography, maintaining proper light out of a good power source gives you much more leeway in creativity.
Once you’ve got that perfect shot on your camera or phone though, you’re almost on the way there. It’s always that last few percent that separate the merely good from the great, and this is how you get that.
Crop your photos
Whether you want to straighten your perspective, punch in on a subject, get rid of distractions along the edges of the frame, or just re-compose your shot entirely, cropping helps. This is especially true when using high megapixel sensors for web or small print, as the loss in resolution may not even be perceptible.
Set exposure and white balance, then work on contrast, highlights, and shadows
An underexposed photo loses detail to shadow while an overexposed one loses it to light. You want to strike a balance between the two, but there are times when you may want to deliberately blow highlights out or crush shadows to help guide your viewer and obscure distractions.
Play with color: saturation, vibrance, and temperature
You can do a lot to change the mood of a photo by playing with colors. Skewing warm or cold and playing with tones can alter landscapes in massive ways and even subtly influence how your viewer feels. You don’t always necessarily want to stay true to life when it comes to these, since that limits your range of expression.
Sharpen and smooth, but sparingly
Some people appreciate tasteful grain in photos, and while that does give images something of an old film-camera charm they can be distracting when left unchecked, particularly when dealing with photos that have a lot of angles and nuances that can easily be obscured by noise. The same goes for sharpening; it can help delineate your subject when used in moderation but excess can make things look unnatural and harsh.
Add effects, like filters, grain, vignette
All the above said, you’re not always looking to create a perfect facsimile of reality. Nature, the urban sprawl, and the people around us are all beautiful and rare, but sometimes you want your art to be more interpretative than not, and this is where you get to mess around a bit with reality.
Most social media platforms, and even many of the tools listed above, come with an assortment of preset filters for you to choose from. This is a quick and easy way to help photos “pop” more and stand out on the ’gram.
… Then print it all out?
Most photography has moved to the digital space, and while that’s convenient when it comes to sharing the images you take, nothing comes close to holding a professionally-made print. Unfortunately professional-grade printers can be prohibitively expensive, and just like how your printer can sense fear when you need hard copies of your thesis or reports, these take a bit of skill to operate as well.
At the end of the day, when you’re pressed for time and don’t necessarily have access to equipment that costs several months’ wage, it’s a lot more convenient (and affordable!) to leave it to the professionals and just go to your nearest Tronix Imaging Center if you find yourself in need of a flattering ID photo or something similar. They even offer a free download of the soft copy.