Photo Editing Unveiled: What it is and How to Spot It

article by Esme M. author
If you have Instagram, you’re a photographer and photo editor. Think about when you crop a photo or add a filter. Most changes are innocent; enhancing an image by diminishing flaws and highlighting unique elements. But some is extreme manipulation. Every photo editor needs to know the difference.

Editing should be a part of everyone’s post-processing routine, and there are some basic techniques essential to every arsenal. These techniques fix mistakes, enhance coloring, and help photos shine. Here are some basic terms defined, and advice on when to use them.

  • Cropping and Resizing: Cropping and resizing is necessary depending on the photo’s publishing location and focal point. Cropping improves the framing of an image, eliminating the unwanted outside parts. The “Crop” tool is standard in all photo editing software and automatic on Instagram. Resizing an image is as simple as choosing dimensions and typing them in.
  • Color Adjustments: Basic color adjustments enhance the color tones of an image in different ways. In photo editing software there are sliders that adjust different elements of color including brightness, hue/saturation, vibrancy, and more.
  • Exposure: In photography, exposure is the amount of light that reaches the film. It varies depending on the unit area of the image and shutter speed. In photo editing software, exposure is commonly adjusted with a slider and depends on the image bits.
  • Contrast: Contrast refers to the range of color tone in an image. A high contrast image includes a wide range of tones that span the color scale from black to white, and includes bright highlights and dark shadows. Low contrast images feature a more limited range of color tones; it is more difficult to tell the difference between its lights and darks. Think of an image taken in the rain on a foggy day. Low contrast isn’t always bad, depending on the desired mood. Contrast can be adjusted with a simple slider in photo editing software, including Instagram.
  • Lens Correction: Lens correction fixes lens problems that may cause image distortion, unwanted perspective shift, chromic aberration and other issues. It is usually solved with a simple filter in photo editing software.
  • White Balance: White balance is color correcting so that the tones in your image look the most natural; it is an essential step in photography. There are white balance settings on many cameras, but photo editing software has color balancing options too.
  • Noise reduction: Adorama defines noise in digital photography as “visual distortion.” A little bit of noise can look like grain, but at its worst it looks like bigger patches of discoloration that ruin the image. Noise increases when shooting in low light. The size of your camera sensor can also increase noise in a photograph. The solution to this problem depends on the photo editing software used, but each one has a noise reduction tool, some more effective than others.

types of photo editing effects

Recognizing an Over-Altered Photo

 It’s important to be able to tell the difference between photos that are edited to enhance an image and ones that are attempting to trick viewers by distorting reality. Here are a few tricks:

  • Your eyes: It may sound too simple, but it’s not. Even photo-editing masters make mistakes. Plenty of magazine covers have been called into question simply because readers notice an arm bending unnaturally or an extra limb sticking out somewhere, not attached to anyone.
  • Shadows: It’s very difficult to alter natural shadows. Especially when looking at a face/eyes, look to see where light hits a subject, and if the eyes pick up shadows. If the shadowing seems unnatural or if there is none at all, the image may be altered.
  • Rough edges: Rough edges can indicate bad blending, re-drawing, and layering. When trying to detect an over-edited photo, pay attention to edges, no matter the subject. Trust your instincts. If edges look fake or rough, chances are the image is altered.

Now when you got a better idea about the key editorial practices. You should arm yourself with a robust photo editing software. The “edit power” of each software is varying. Learn which is the best photo editing software for your demands.