I want to start by saying that I am not a professional photographer, nor a professional editor, at all actually… My shots are not perfect, but I can proudly say all the editing I can do now, I learned myself. And sharing is caring, so I decided to type down what I know about editing for beginners or hobbyists. Follow these simple picture-taking and editing tips to step up your (travel) photography game a little bit.
You don’t need a professional camera to take a good shot. I’ve always used my iPhone before purchasing my first camera. These days many smartphones have a great camera (Huawei, iPhone X,…). It is possible to take high quality looking shots and edit them with a phone.
However, I decided to buy a camera two years ago. At the moment I use a Nikon D3400 with its regular standard lens (18-55mm) and recently a prime portrait lens (50mm-f 1.8G).
This Nikon is not a super fancy camera, but it is a great beginners DSRL. The thing about cameras is that the big changes come from the type of lens you use. I am saving for an other lens, but oh damn these can be expensive. So I have to use what I have and do what I can.
Camera exposure basics
The exposure of a picture (the brightness/sharpness) is obtained by using a combination of the camera’s Lens Aperture setting, the Shutter Speed, and the ISO setting. If you shoot in AUTO mode, the camera will find these for you.
However, I find shooting manually waaaay better for the over all quality of the picture. Most DSRL cameras also have semi-automatic options (for fixed shutter speed and fixed aperture). It may take a while until you figure out the right combination, but you will see the difference.
I found this page with a great explanation on this matter, so take a look if you want to understand your camera better!
I will explain in short on how I use them.
Aperture – the smaller the number, the more light you will get (and the blurrier the background will be if you focus correctly, also called the bokeh effect).
Shutter Speed – the smaller the number, how lighter the picture, but more difficult to catch a moving object. if you need to ‘freeze’ something, put your shutter speed on a higher number. Having a ‘blurry” picture is not always a bad thing, you can get really creative with it. On this page you have great info and tips.
ISO – an ISO 100 is good when you have strong natural light. How darker it is, how higher your ISO should be to brighten up. Personally I try to keep my ISO as low as possible, so It doesn’t get over exposed. I rather adjust the other two first.
Shoot in RAW
Shooting in raw, means that it is the highest quality (the size too). This makes it much more easier to edit the shot in full detail (on a computer, more about it if you keep scrolling). So change your camera settings from JPG to RAW files.
If you take shots with your phone, the alternative for this will be the HDR option.
Positioning and sizing
The super tip is: shoot what draws your attention and will draw the attention of others as well. Pick an element to focus on. It could be a person (or yourself), a building, a car, a food plate, a drink, a tree.. whatever you think is will make a cool shot.
You can center this element, but depending on the background you can also add it more to the side for a waw effect.
In urban areas you can try to shoot straight as possible and geometrically appealing. If the sky is visible, add enough of it into the shot.
I always make a shot with some “margin” left on the sides. You can always crop your shot, but you can not add onto it later. For example Instagram sizes are 4×5/8×10. Keeping that in mind saves you from missing out things in a shot (think of feet, building tops,…)
Here below I focused on the church to be the middle in the background, positioning myself to the side of it. Take a look at my post of picture-taking in Paris for more examples!
Making use of the Light
Calculate your day light, so you can have the best quality shots. If the sun is shining, make use of it. You can take shots with the sun peaking in the corners, or where the light rays give it a nice effect. Of course a sunset or a sunrise are great moments too for taking beautiful shots.
Editing a super dark picture is not easy nor fun, nor is an over exposed one. I find it is easier to edit a darker shot than the other way around. Why? Because the picture will hold more details if it is not over exposed. If you read the camera exposure basics, you know what I mean and how you can control this better.
Choosing the right moment
A perfect shot would be of course with as less people as possible or none at all. Many travel bloggers like to get up early to visit places before the mass. Going around closing time is also an option. It depends on the amount of daylight you will have.
You can always wait a little bit till you find that right time, and or use multi shot with passing by people. If you are brave enough: it is OK to ask others politely to wait until you have your shot.
You can also edit people out with Photoshop, but I can’t do that, so I can’t help you with this haha.
Picking a Theme
A lot of travel bloggers these days chose for a more idealistic, almost fairytale like images, colors and themes with pretty dresses and hats, excessive laid out food tables, etc…
I am more of an in-between-person. I like when my shots have a bit of a dreamy look, but I still love to keep it as realistic (and colourful) as possible! It is all about your personal taste and vision for your photos really.
My “theme” is mostly focused on the blues, greens and with each picture a pop of colour ! I can still vary this depending on the location I am at, or the vibe I want to bring.
Editing on the computer: Lightroom
I have to admit I always give up on programs if it looks difficult to use, therefore I never used or probably will not use Photoshop. And as I said before, I like to keep things realistic, so I don’t like big unrealistic changes (such as background manipulation, adding fake elements like stars or the moon, etc… )
But an other Adobe program is definitely worth buying: Lightroom. That is the only picture editing program I use on my Macbook. I will list below how I use it on my pictures.
If you want to brighten up the shot, increase the exposure. If you think the shot is too bright, decrease it.
When you want a more soft looking picture, decrease the contrast. You can still add a bit of shadow or clarity to give the elements a bit of depth.
Play around with your shadow, whites and blacks to give the depth you want for your shot.
So like I said, the contrast can be used if you want that “faded” look and saturation will brighten up your colours. The thing I love about Lightroom is that you can adjust every colour individually! For example the blue: you can change it to a more aqua blue, increase/decrease the luminance and saturation.
Tip: If you want to look a bit more tan, play around with the oranges. Pulling back the luminance can do wonders.
I also like to use the Temperature (blue to yellow) and the Tint (green to pink) to get the right feeling of the shot. Play around with these too.
Below you see a difference when playing with the temperature and tint. The picture is shot with my portrait lens with the aperture of 1.8, so the bokeh effect is pretty neat!
If your shot feels a bit dull, or the sky is looking sad… there is a cool trick I can teach you. In Lightroom you have a graduated filter. You can pull it open and change in gradation through the shot.
Below you see an example of making the picture more blue, making the grey sky not so boring anymore.
You can use this filter to add a fake sunlight, pulling the temperature more to the yellow and the exposure up.
Using the brush
The brush option is a great tool to select parts of your shot that you want to change. For example a building in the back, or your face/body if you want to make that stand out more.
Getting rid of small annoyances
Use the tool Spot removal if you want to get rid of something small. For example people in the background, dirt, … any spots really. The tool is not magic, it copies an exact other spot. So this can only succeed if there is something similar in the shot that can replace it.
Can you spot what I removed? I also added a graduated filter on the left corner and popped up the colours using the seperate colour settings and a brush on my body
Making your own presets
I found out about Lightroom after some Instagram influencers started selling their own presets (and that trend is still going on). Presets are filters you can make yourself by changing any possible thing on your shot. I bought some sets myself, but none of them gave me the looks that I wanted, or I still felt like it was “too much”. So I started making my own presets.
After you edit a photo, and you are satisfied on how it looks, you can literally use copy to save all changes you made on it. You can choose which elements you want to copy. I usually leave all selected.
Then when you press the “+” at the presets column on the left you can add the copied choice of changes. Give it a name you will remember and a folder you want to save it on and voila: your own preset. Now you can apply it to other pictures and change a bit the exposure if necessary.
Examples of my presets,… yes I gave it cat names
Editing on the phone:
As I said before I started off with editing on my phone and I still do the last tweaks with it. There were several apps I used in the past, but the one I loved from the beginning is Google Snapseed.
I found it very user-friendly and super easy to use, and all the basics you need are there to edit. They have their own filters and other cool tools you can use. For example selective option, pencil, egalize, glamour glow,…
CC Lightroom Light
Lightroom also have a free app you can use on your phone, I would suggest to get it and try messing around with it for a quick edit.
You have all the basic colour and light control options as explained before. However more advanced options are not for free, but it is enough to just change the basics (and every colour!). You can also save your edits in a preset and use on other pictures! It is cool way of quick editing your shots, without buying the adobe one.
Here ends the short course of Jessphotography. It is not so difficult at all, but the best way is to start doing it and discovering for yourself what is the best for YOU. I hope I could help a bit in this journey, if you have any questions regarding this, let me know, or contact me. Always willing to help with what I know.