How to Edit Your Photos

As photographer-artists, we all strive to make beautiful photos. But how do we do it?

Why Edit?

We edit our photos, to elevate[editus] them.


In the past, a photo-editor (for TIME) magazine was an individual who SELECTED your photos, and decided how to sequence/show your photos.

Now– when we say “edit” our photos, we mean to say “post-process” our photos (adjust contrast, black and white, cropping, etc).

But what does it really mean to edit a photo?


  1. The art of selecting your best photos (deciding which photos to keep or which photos to ditch)
  2. Post-editing (image-manipulation afterwards)

Why edit?

The purpose of editing is to elevate your photos — to make them stronger.

1. Choosing your best work

Note how I worked the scene, to get the man to have the dramatic light on his face.

First of all, when you’re out shooting photos, you determine which scenes or people you want to photograph.

Then what you do is ‘work the scene‘ — shoot lots of photos of the same scene.

When you get home, you look at your ‘contact sheets‘, and determine the best version of the photo.

2. Determining the best composition

How do you know which photo is your best?

My suggestion:

Deconstruct and analyze the photograph, in order to figure out *why* you like the picture.

For example, look how I analyze the composition of my photo below:

3. Figure to ground test

The next thing I like to do is to test the ‘figure to ground’ — to see whether there is clear separation between the subject and background.

A simple way to do this:

Increase the contrast and brightness to the max — to better see the separation.

You can also add ‘gaussian blur’ in photoshop– to better see the edges of your photo:

Then you can paint in the details — using Photoshop and the Polygonal lasso tool, and filling the colors:

Voila– you’ve made your own abstract Picasso.

4. Experiment with different color overlays

Try out using different color overlays; to re-vision your photos in new ways.

For example, a red color mask overlay (in Photoshop with the ‘darken’ overlay function in Layers):

Or just keep fucking around with the filters, until you get strange things like this:

5. The tyranny of photographers

Ultimately, the tyranny of photographers from the past is this:

They told us what we couldn’t do (what was ‘forbidden’ in the art of photography), and what we *should* do (according to their tyrannical philosophy).

For example, I love Henri Cartier-Bresson to death, but he was the ultimate tyrant. He made all the rules of photography (no crop, no color film, no wide-angle lenses or telephoto lens, no flash, etc). Yet at the end of his life, he renounced photography. and said something like:

Photography isn’t as legitimate as painting. Painting is the ultimate visual-art-form.

Thus for the rest of his life, Henri Cartier-Bresson just sketched, painted — work which paled to comparison to his magnificent photos.

Why did Henri Cartier-Bresson renounce photography? My theory: He was such a self-tyrant on himself, he didn’t allow himself to evolve and change (like his contemporary, Josef Koudelka).


There are no rules to editing. Do whatever you want.

Be fiercely aggressive in your experimenting. Know there are still so many new photos, compositions, and visual images which don’t yet exist!


Photography 101 >

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Learn From the Masters of Photography


“He without a past has no future.”

Start here:

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The Masters of Photography

Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos
Prague, 1968. Josef Koudelka / Magnum Photos

Classics never die: