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Pro Photo Tips for Students – Editing vs. Post-production


I often hear young photographers refer to adjusting photographs in Photoshop as editing. It is not! That is post-production, and it is essential within the world of professional photography that you use and understand the correct language to use when referring to the processes of photography. Choosing the right image to show someone is the most important part of becoming a photographer, but it is amazing how few photographers know what their best work is. This often results in people not presenting their best work and being judged not on their photography but on their lack of editing ability.

Whatever images you think are your best are okay with me in photography; two plus two rarely equals four, and all decisions are subjective. (Remember this when people are commenting on your work. Stay true to what you believe but listen to those whose experience and knowledge you respect.) However, gaining experience by looking at other people’s images will help you edit your own work, as will this simple step-by-step process:

“Buy good photography books and make time to see good exhibitions.”

— Photographer: Mark Power

Click here for more Pro Tips for Students videos by Grant Scott


1. Make a rough edit of your images on your computer screen using a software program that allows you to rate your images with a star system or something similar. Make sure that you look at all of the images at full screen size, and pay particular attention to all areas of the image not only the central subject. Once you have done this make cheap A4 printouts of your five-star images. The number you print out will depend on how many images you are editing from, but you should consider having at least thirty to forty printouts.

2. Once you have your printouts find a large space (this could be a garden, garage, hallway, etc.) and lay all of your prints on the floor, grouping portraits together, observational images together, environmental images together and ensuring that any other images that cover a similar subject are also grouped together.

3. Review each group, looking for repetition of image and weak and strong images. Remove the weaker images and reduce each group to only the strongest images. At this point you have to be tough: consider only the quality of the image not the emotional or financial implications of editing out a particular image. This stage should leave you with enough images to see how your project is developing, what you need to shoot more of, what you have covered well and where you need to improve. As such, this editing process is one to repeat throughout your project not just at the end!

4. When you have decided upon a final edit of images that indicate that the project has come to an end, you could start to look at putting the images together as pairs or in an order with the idea of perhaps creating a book or exhibition of the work.

“Don’t think about style. It’s all bullshit and surface stuff.”

— Photographer: David LaChapelle

This homage to the iconic David Bowie album cover Alladinsane was created by Tash Parsons and is titled Alladinpain. It was an early experiment for her in creating highly post-produced conceptual images, but it still shows a high level of post-production expertise.


One of the phrases I hear most from student and young photographers when defending their work is this: “I haven’t got a style yet.” No one should feel they need to have a style! Finding your photographic voice goes much deeper than finding a style; your photographic voice is based upon who you are, what you see and what you do.

The idea of a style sounds and seems shallow, and the only photographer’s work that I have seen and could actually describe as having a style is that based on post-production manipulation of an image based on somebody else’s work. There is no doubt that the digital post-production revolution that began with the advent of digital photography has seen new photography aesthetics develop and new areas to explore for those interested in photography.

This has resulted in highly skilled post-production artists who work with photographers, and photographers who enjoy post-production, basing their photographic visual language around image manipulation. This is a new and interesting area of image creation that extends photography’s visual possibilities, and there has been some incredible work produced, but that work demands the highest quality of re-touching skills, huge amounts of patience and often many hours of concentration. It is this dedication to image creation and manipulation that makes these images so successful both creatively and commercially. However, without this skill and dedication to post-production perfection, post-produced images can often lookclumsy and generic, relying on simple-to-learn basic Photoshop techniques. It is this approach to ‘finding a style’ that I see so often, and it is one to be avoided. Your style will not and should not be based upon a technique.

These effects are constantly being improved upon as professionals look for new ways to creatively extend their work, and post-production work is highly competitive. This means that the techniques you are learning are quickly being superseded and becoming outdated. I am not saying that you should not explore post-production and image manipulation as an art form, just don’t look to it as a ‘quick fix’ to find ‘a style.’

“All the technique in the world doesn’t compensate for the inability to notice.”

— Photographer: Elliott Erwitt

Excerpted from The Essential Student Guide to Professional Photography by Grant Scott © 2016 Taylor and Francis LLC, All Rights Reserved.

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MasteringPhoto, powered by bestselling Routledge authors and industry experts, features tips, advice, articles, video tutorials, interviews, and other resources for hobbyist photographers through pro image makers. No matter what your passion is—from people and landscapes to postproduction and business practices—MasteringPhoto offers advice and images that will inform and inspire you. You’ll learn from professionals at the forefront of photography, allowing you to take your skills to the next level.