How many mistakes were made in the edit of this picture? Can you spot them?

I’m a hobby photographer – well, mostly just a picture taker who likes to capture special moments in my life. Like everyone one else, I have a cell phone and I know how to use it . . .  the camera, that is. As a result, like everyone else, I take a lot of pictures that sometimes aren’t very good. And, sometimes I try to fix it (like the photo above) and really mess it up. This image is WAY over-edited. I figured if a little sharp is good, a lot of sharp is better! NOT!!!  So, let me share a few tips with you about editing. 

But, I have a safety net – THE PHOTO EDITOR!

Photo editing puts the power of perfection in the hands of all photographers and especially us hobby picture takers. I can crop, change the lighting, remove the ugly and demonic-looking red-eyes, and even whiten teeth! I can make a cloudy day look sunny and a sunny day look cloudy and  make muddy water a Caribbean blue.

BUT,  how much editing is too much? When do we lose our “story” in pursuit of perfection?  How do we know we have gone too far?

In this post, we talk about 5 common editing mistakes and how to avoid them. We also provide you with a comparison of our favorite FREE options for photo editing.

Destructive vs. Non-destructive Editing

A common mistake seen with new editors is not knowing and understanding the difference between destructive and non-destructive editing. Why is this important? If you have destructive editing and you edit the original and save it, the image is permanently changed and the original is lost forever.

Destructive editing is the term used to describe edits that actually make permanent pixel changes to the image. As a result, you lose the original image (it is destroyed). This may be alright is some cases, but for the most part you will want to keep the original. This is the most common form of editing (used in Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and GIMP).

Non-destructive editing, as you can figure out, is when the editing process doesn’t change the pixels within a photo. The software package creates a new text file for the edited photo and links it to the original file. When done, you export the edited image and now you will have two copies. Non-destructive editing is used in Adobe Lightroom.

Solution: Assume that your editing tool is destructive and save a copy of the original. Edit the copy. When your photo is edited to your liking, you can rename the file and delete the original, if you want. I usually keep it.

1. General Over-Editing

The saying less is more is very applicable when it comes to photo editing. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Have you ever seen a woman who has so much make-up on she doesn’t look real – or good, for that matter? Too many edits will result in a similar situation that looks neither real nor good. If the editing is the first thing people see when they look at your photo, then you’ve probably overdone it. You can enhance the photo, but remember to keep the essence of what you are trying to say.

Having said that, now I will say that you can be  ‘artistic’ and pull out the stops and have loads of fun with effects, but know that it will not be the same image or story.

Solution: Always edit on a copy and keep the original.

Over edited
Over-edited by a long shot. Sharpened, light adjustment and color and brightness adjustment.. Also cropped with the subjects moved to the middle. Not good!

2. Too Much Sharpening

Sometimes you will have a great shot but it isn’t in focus – in fact, most images can benefit from a little sharpening. To improve the image, you can use a sharpening tool to make the image appear more crisp.

Warning: Whereas the degree of sharpening applied to an image is often a matter of personal choice, over-sharpening an image can create a halo effect around the edges which you don’t want.

over sharpened
Over Sharpened - notice the white areas

3.Color Correction, Touchups, and Balance

Color correction is one of those edits that separate pros and amateurs. Remember that photos are telling your stories, so leave the colors as realistic as possible. Am I saying don’t enhance colors? No, but be cautious with color adjustments such as saturation. Stay true to the story you are telling.

Color balance is the adjustment of intensities of the colors. The goal is to edit so that the colors are more accurate. Although when we talk about color balance, we think of the primary colors, right? But, there are also adjustments for gray, neutral and white balance.

The key to contrast is knowing when enough is enough and there is little wiggle room in achieving perfect contrast.  Too much contrast is a frequent problem for newbies. A key to achieving good contrast is knowing the light sources. For example, if the sun is shining on the scene, less contrast is needed.

Let’s talk about “selective coloring.” You have seen photos that are monochromatic except for one pop of color. For everday photos, it is a really nice touch for artistic purposes. I know that some say that selective coloring is not popular anymore – but it is really your preference. I usually like how it looks – especially for framed print.

One last color adjustment we need to talk about – those on the face — primarily eyes and face. Remember – the goal is to keep the colors true. And, bright, blinding white teeth are really overdoing it! You can adjust the color of teeth but keep it real. The other risk area is eyes. I have seen eyes that were given extra shine (reflection) or are a vivid blue or green. Scary. However, make sure you correct the red-eye  effect, which occurs when the camera reflexes off the retina. 

Original Photo
photo too much face touchup
Serious and Poorly Done Facial Touch Up
Realistic Touch Up

Yes, I know it is tempting to erase years from your age and make the photos look amazing – but it doesn’t really tell the story, does it? I naturally have very blue eyes, but they aren’t a vivid blue (I wish). And I have well-earned wrinkles – which I can erase, but that’s not being true. The third photo has a few touch ups but keeps the essence. For example, a few wrinkles around my mouth are smoothed, but not totally faded and I brightened the teeth. 

4. Chop and Crop

Cropping is simply the action to remove the outside edges of a photo and is a great tool when used effectively. Good cropping draws the eye to the most important element in the image. A good crop can make or break your photo. But, chop and crop carefully.

      Cropping Tips

  1. Don’t crop out parts (elements) of the picture that actually help tell your story.


  2. Conversely, do crop out elements that add busyness or no value to the photo. Consider offsetting the main element of the photo (unless a portrait). Familiarize yourself with the Rule of Thirds for photos.

    The rule of thirds simply states that if you take a blank screen (think viewfinder on phone) and divide it into 3×3 sections (9 total), the resulting grid provides a guideline that helps you choose where to place your primary elements. The concept works with cropping AND framing the photos you take.

  3. Cropping faces will look better if you do not crop so the face fills the screen to avoid a cramped look (and an obvious crop).


    But, what if you really want an impact like just eyes, etc – then do it. You can crop for a dramatic, artistic impact. 

  4. Body shots – try to not cut off limbs in a strange way. It just looks weird. Also – try not to cut part of the head off. Does that mean you can’t crop a subject’s body? No. Just make sure it looks intentional and not accidental.


  5. Make sure you keep the original in case you crop poorly – or, you may someday want the whole original image.


  6. If you don’t know about The Rule of Thirds, take a look at this post. It will help with cropping.
B-V Minn
Original Photo Showing the Beautiful Waterfall

The cropped photo is a nice picture; however, with the beautiful waterfall in the background, it is easy to see whey we were smiling so brightly.  The full photo shows the whole story.

5. Converting to Black and White

We’ve all seen stunning images in black and white – think Ansel Adams. 

In general, there are a couple of  considerations when you are determining whether or not an image is a candidate for conversion to black and white.

  1. What do you want to accomplish with the image? How will it be used?
  2. Next, consider the value range in the photo meaning look at the lights and darks.  Photos with broad ranges (values) will be the best if converted. One way you can judge value is to stand back and look at the image through squinted eyes. When you do this, you are looking for shapes and borders. If it looks fuzzy and you can’t see the lights and darks clearly, the photo may not be a great candidate.

Speaking of black and white – have you seen this technique? I love it.  The majority of the photo is B&W or grayscale, but you choose a pop of color to leave visible. This is called Selective Color.

In this photo, the building was a pretty pink, but the brightness of the building overshadowed the beauty of the hanging flowers on the balconies along the Grand Canal in Venice.  

Here is the story I wanted to tell – I was in Venice on the Grand Canal (I left a little of the water);  the buildings were fantastic (I included this stunning building with the beautifully shaped windows), but the flowers hanging from balconies along the canal were breathtaking. (I used a color box technique to show the flowers).

This looks hard, but it is quite easy to do with free editing tools such as LunaPic using the color box option.   


Editing and playing around with photos can be great fun! You can totally exercise your creativity. 

Here are a couple of parting thoughts:

Know your photo editing program forwards and backwards. Taking time to learn now will save you headaches later.

Only do edits to copies of the original. That way, if you totally mess up and can’t undo it, you have the original to fall back on. I always use “save as” for my edited photos and name E_Name so that I know it has been edited. 

Have fun, but remember to tell the story. Most of our stories are wonderful just the way they happened!

 CONFESSION TIME: I love to play with phone apps that take off about 30 years and 30 pounds! Oh, the good old days!