Arts & Culture

Your Photos, My Edits!

Have you ever been in a creative slump with your photography? Ever felt as if your camera just can’t see things the way you do, or like you simply can’t find any new angles or original ideas? There are plenty of strategies to help a photographer climb out from under the “unfortunate umbrella of uncreativity,” as I like to call it. One of these is editing. As promised, this month I’m editing your photos! I’ll give some how-to’s and creative options from my perspective, and hopefully I’ll be able to shed some light on the technicalities of editing with the program Lightroom in the process.

Let’s start with this lovely photo of a hot air balloon, taken by a TPSer in the mountains of Colorado:

It has several things going for it: the balloon is on a power point (i.e., on if you split the photo into vertical and horizontal thirds, the balloon falls on one of the four intersections of the thirds lines), its round shape draws the eye in, and the clouds act as leading lines. With the technical aspects down, let’s spruce it up! First off, because the photo is backlit (i.e., our light source comes from behind the subject), we’re going to want to add some light by upping our exposure about a stop. It also looks like the white balance, which determines the warmth of a photo, is on the warm side, so we’ll change white balance to Lightroom’s preset “Daylight” setting. Also, RAW files like this one are naturally deficient in contrast, so we’ll increase that as well:

Considering the backlighting, our balloon itself is still a little dark, so I’ve added a brush (the makeup brush icon all the way to the right) directly to the balloon, increasing its exposure still further, while decreasing the contrast to make the patterns more visible:

This photo could have some really exciting blue tones because of the sky and the balloon’s color, so we’ll increase the vibrance and saturation, and for a dreamy effect, decrease the clarity. Also, because the white balance is still a little warm for my taste, I’ll decrease it while I deal with the other color settings:


Tip: Don’t do anything too drastic with any of these three sliders. Extreme adjustments with these three, especially clarity and saturation, can quickly turn a beautiful photo into a cringe-worthy, phone-filter version of what could have been.

The lens on a camera can create some excessively dark vignettes if any distortions are present, so I corrected those by placing a tiny bit of white vignetting in the photo instead. Typically, we avoid white vignettes, as they tend to give a photo a cheesy retro feel, but in correctional cases, they can be useful. I also corrected some of the lens’s haze with the slider on the bottom.

Finally, I’d like to see the balloon a little more closely, so I’ve done a slight crop. Here’s the finished product against the original!

All sorts of other edits are possible, but this natural, airy look is my personal favorite. If you’d like to try other versions, you could recreate a high contrast black and white or a low light situation like the following. Sometimes ideas like these can quickly become cheap-looking or just plain strange, but as Zootopia has taught us, “TRY EVERYTHING!” You could even experiment with changing the color of the sky for a more sci-fi feel, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Aaron S. sent in a photo of a beautiful flower. Let’s see what we can do!

Again, we’ll first analyze the photo’s strengths, which are essentially the opposite of those in our last photo. This photo has vibrant colors and bright light, but the subject is in the very center of the photo, and motion blur detracts from the viewing experience. We can’t get rid of motion blur, but we can create an illusion of stability by increasing clarity and sharpness.

As you can see, I’ve made quite a few changes to this image to begin with. I cropped it for a better composition (now the center of the main flower is on a powerpoint). I increased the exposure just a little and upped the contrast, decreased the highlights so that the detail in the bright, translucent flower petals could still be seen, increased the clarity, and turned the vibrance of the color up just a tiny bit. I also did a custom white balance, which you can try by pressing “w” in Lightroom and setting your dropper on a neutral, gray-colored area of the photo.

Here, I’ve increased the exposure a little more and decreased the whites, simply so I could make the light in the photo a little more natural. Then, I increased the sharpness and luminance of the image. Sharpness increases the detail in the pixels, while luminance helps compensate for the graininess caused by increasing sharpness. Here’s the final comparison!

Finally, Aidan B. captured a fun moment atop his roof as smoke poured from his chimney at night! How can we enhance this image?

This photo has interesting composition, subjects, and light, but we can’t see the smoke easily yet. It has a narrow aperture, which creates flares coming off of the moon, making it appear more like a sun. I can correct this to some extent using lighting settings in Lightroom.

I’ve first straightened the image, brightened it, and increased the contrast. In order to give the moon a more rounded look, I brought up the highlights. I also wanted to silhouette the chimney, so I took down the shadows. Although you can’t see this in the screenshot, I’ve also increased the luminance. Photos taken at night with a high ISO tend to be grainy, and this will compensate for that effect.

Finally, I simply added a small black vignette (about -10) and moved the blue slider a little towards the purple side. Here’s the finished result:

Thank you for sending in your lovely photographs! I’ve enjoyed editing them, and I hope this walk through has been helpful for your own photography ventures! Questions on photography or editing? Please email me! I’m also offering senior portraits in the Portland area where I’ll be traveling for Christmas and New Year’s, so if you’re in that lovely corner of the U.S., I’d love to meet up with you!


  1. Nice work! I really like what you’ve done with them =)

  2. Love the article! Thanks for editing my picture ?

  3. I did some editing of my own on that picture, and it’s interesting to see how we both had the same starting point and took it in such different directions. Editing really does add another form of creative expression =)

  4. Wow, I would love to see more of this!!!! These were amazing edits! 😀