Often when I’m reviewing student’s images and demonstrating photo editing techniques I get questions like this, “How can I become a master at photo editing like you?”. Well, it takes time and practice but there are a few things you can do to get on the right track.
So in this article, I’ll give you a list of some of the steps you need to take to reach the nirvana of photo processing, to become familiar with these techniques and master the craft of photo editing. Let’s look at the quick list and then we’ll get into each one a little deeper.
7 steps to becoming a photo editing master
- Shoot raw file format.
- Set up a good filing system and workflow.
- Set a good reliable backup system.
- Choose the right photo editing software for you.
- Learn the basics of photo editing (what to do, when to stop).
- Learn and master your software of choice.
- Conquer the technical stuff.
#1 Shoot in the RAW file format
The first thing you need to do on your journey to photo editing mastery is to start with the best data and the best raw material as possible. Notice, it’s no accident that they are called RAW files.
Raw camera files hold a lot more information and data than do JPGs. A raw file is usually 16-bit and a JPG is 8-bit. At first glance, that looks like double but it’s a lot more than that.
- 8-bit means 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 or 2 to the power of 8 which equals 256. So each 8-bit JPG has 256 color tones in each of the 3 channels (Red, Green, and Blue – RGB).
- 16-bit means 2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2x2 or 2 to the power of 16 which equals 65,536. So each 8-bit JPG has 65,536 color tones in each of the 3 channels (RGB).
In terms of color, an 8-bit image can hold 16,000,000 colors, whereas a 16-bit image can hold 28,000,000,000. Starting to get the idea?
Read more here:Why shoot in RAW format
The bottom line is that you’ll get much cleaner images, richer colors, better control over sharpness, and all the other aspects of image processing when you have a RAW file to work with at the start.
If you aren’t shooting RAW yet, consider starting to shoot both RAW and JPG and slowly make the transition over when you’re ready. That way you have RAW files to work with when the time comes.
#2 Set up a good filing system and workflow
This part is not glamorous or exciting but it is a necessary piece of the photo editing puzzle. Being able to quickly find your images and know where they all will give you not only peace of mind, but lets you work more efficiently.
Don’t waste your time finding lost images, or slogging through duplicates, or worrying about overwriting files or accidentally deleting them. Instead think it through before you even start, before you get into trouble or create a big mess.
Then spend more time shooting and actually working on your images instead of stressing out looking for any missing files.
How you do this will be an individual choice for you. Some people like to sort images by date and have folders for each year, month and day. I use categories because I personally can’t remember when I shot what so dates become a nightmare for me later looking for images.
My setup has one main parent folder one called Photos, then I use subfolders for different categories that make sense to me. Inside those are further subfolders within those categories that relate to each individual shoot.
It looks like this:
I do a lot of travel and photography when I’m traveling and I have returned to some places more than once. So putting them all over the place based on dates makes it harder for me to see all of them at once or find certain images from NYC for example.
So I like to keep all my images from that one place inside one folder with that name, it’s much easier to find. Then each time I go back to that place I add a new subfolder with the date and put the new images inside there.
This is a system and structure that makes sense to me if it works for you great – copy it. If not, figure out what does work for you, and do that. There is no one right way to do it. Just make sure you have a system thought out and you aren’t just saving images randomly all over your hard drive.
Do NOT save images on your DESKTOP
Another thing to note is that you do NOT want to save images or multiple folders full of images on your desktop. They may be easy to find there but doing so will slow your computer down.
The way your computer works is that it has to redraw the desktop constantly and having big files located there will make your computer work a lot harder than it has to. Instead, put them into your Pictures or Documents folder.
#3 Set up a good backup system
This is another thing you need to make sure you set up before you have a disaster.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many photographers go through computer crashes and lose most or all of their images before they make a backup plan.
Don’t wait until you’ve learned the lesson the hard way. Learn from those of us that were too silly to do it properly (yes I’m guilty as well) and avoid disaster and heartbreak.
I’ve written a comprehensive article on it called, Tips for Creating Your Best Photo Storage and Backup Plan so I’m not going to cover it in detail again here. Just go read that and do it!
#4 Choose your photo editing software
This is another topic I have covered in great detail previously, but in short, my advice is to choose your main photo editing program first. Pick the one that makes the most sense and is intuitive for you.
Of course, Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry standards and are the programs that most pros use. But there are many other options as well if you’re just starting out and don’t want to pay the monthly subscription fees to Adobe.
Have a look at the 10 different Raw photo editors that I reviewed and see which one is best for you. Most of them offer a trial period so you can test it out and see if you like it before you buy it.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Luminar here. It is the program that I recommend for total beginners, and for anyone that finds Lightroom and Photoshop completely baffling. Luminar Neo, and it’s a great alternative to Lightroom’s pricing model.
So shop around, try a few out, and pick the one that’s best for you.
#5 Learn the basics of photo editing
I will be doing something more in-depth on this topic in the near future but for now, let me summarize.
#6 Master your chosen software
Okay, now that you’re at this stage you need to dig in and figure out the best way to learn and master your chosen photo editing software.
If that’s Luminar, I have a few tutorials on using it now and more will be coming soon. So I hope to help you with that more and more in the coming months.
But if you are like me and you have committed to Lightroom as your main photo editing program, I have something that can really help you with this step!
Luminar Neo Course: Get up to speed in days instead of weeks with my Luminar Neo course.
Lightroom Made Easy – online course by Phil Steele
I would love to tell you that I have built a course all about Lightroom, but I simply haven’t had the time.
So I want to give you the next best option and introduce you to an instructor that I think you will like and connect with well (almost as much as you like me I hope!). I did a full review of Phil’s course a while back, you can read more here: Lightroom Made Easy Course Review.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Phil when I was the Managing Editor of dPS. What I like about his teaching style is that he goes slowly and explains everything one thing one step at a time. In other words, he’s easier to follow along with than other instructors that talk a mile a minute and you end up being lost.
Phil has given me permission to give you a sneak peek inside the course, what it looks like when you’re logged in, and a chance to see some clips from a couple of the lessons. Have a look inside.
30% off discount code for Lightroom Made Easy online course
I’ve known Phil a long time, and he has graciously allowed for a 30% discount code for his Lightroom Made Easy online course to readers of Digital Photo Mentor.
The regular price is $99, but you can click the button to get
The discount code applied automatically.
I get a small commission when you use my link to buy the course, at no additional cost to you (you actually save money). I just wanted to be completely honest and upfront with you about that. If you have any questions about it, now or later, please let me know. I’m happy to help!
#7 Conquer the technical stuff
I know that the technical stuff can seem overwhelming but this is really the last hurdle you need to jump on this journey.
Being able to understand things like color space, monitor calibration, and sizing for both printing and online usage are keys to making sure your images print and display correctly, as you intend them to look.
Those are all complex topics, too lengthy to get into in this article. But here are some others that you can read on these subjects to get up to speed.
- Six Important Aspects of Monitor Calibration You Need to Know
- Why is Monitor Calibration Important and How to do it
- Practical Color Management – How to Set Up Your Printer to Match Your Monitor
- Adobe RGB Versus sRGB Color Space – Which Should You Choose?
- How to Prepare Your Images for Print and Display
- How to Understand Pixels, Resolution, and Resize Your Images in Photoshop Correctly
- Color Management – Color Spaces
- Color management and printing tutorials
I put a couple of books on this topic in a list on Amazon here. If you find any others that are good let me know in the comments below so I can add them to the list and let others find them too.
So I hope that gets you on the right path to photo editing mastery.
Tell me by adding a comment below, which step are you on now? What is holding you back from total mastery?