A common question I am frequently asked is “how did you learn how to process your photos?” I’ve been lucky enough to receive help from several skilled photographers in the past, I have watched many tutorial videos, but most of all, I have spent countless hours trying stuff out and experimenting with different techniques and adjustments.
Through all of this experimentation, I have learned how to achieve what I want to do, but I have also been able to learn a lot about what not to do. This is the reward of taking the long road while in pursuit of skill.
These are a few mistakes that could be hurting your photography:
#1 You’re adding way too much saturation
This is a common mistake that is super noticeable.
Sure, we have all seen those rare, radioactive skies in real life, but it is a dead giveaway when the rocks, plants, people, mountains, and the rest of the foreground also look like they’re out of Candyland.
Saturated and vibrant colors come from direct sunlight. Shadows or parts of your image that are not being hit by the sunlight should be cool and desaturated. After I have used curves and levels to adjust brightness and contrast in my images, they usually pull out so much color that I rarely need to add any saturation at all.
#2 Your images are lacking tonality
It’s great to have warm light and highlights in an image but we all know you have lost control when the shadows and parts that aren’t getting hit by sunlight are just as warm.
This happens a lot when you try to enhance your sky to make it more red or colorful with a global adjustment (affecting the entire image). This results in your image looking much less interesting and lacking that nice contrast that comes from the separation between warm and cool tones. Warm tones advance, while cool tones recede.
Try creating a color mask or luminosity mask instead. Then you can affect only specific areas of the image rather than everything.
#3 You’re adding contrast the wrong way
Contrast is a great look, and many of us when beginning photography probably ran to that adjustment before anything else when processing a photo.
The problem is, when you add contrast globally, like with a slider in Camera RAW or Lightroom, you end up having super dark and muddy blacks and you lose detail in the shadows, or your highlights blow out fast. The contrast slider only increases the black and white points of the image.
Good contrast comes from working the mid-tones and separating colors. Let’s just say the contrast slider is a great way for your photo to go from cute to cooked in no time.
#4 You are sharpening wrong
You should be adding little to no sharpness at all in Camera RAW or Lightroom. You should not be sharpening the image until after you have processed it and resized it for the web (same goes for printing).
Then, once you have scaled it down, you can sharpen it to your liking. (Your Master PSD file should really look rather soft)
Recommended Reading: The Best Web Sharpeners for Photoshop. Goodbye Soft Images!
#5 You’re not eliminating distractions
The clone stamp tool is your best friend. You should always clone out lens flares, speckles, spots, sticks, and unflattering or unwanted objects that disrupt the flow or will distract the viewer’s eye from your subject. Spending just an extra 10-20 minutes on cleaning up your image can make all the difference.
I recognize these mistakes in other people’s photography because I have been guilty of them myself in the past. These errors can be easily avoided and when done correctly, show the mark of a true pro. If you are interested in learning about several techniques I have come up with to avoid these mistakes, plus many other tricks to make your images stand out, you can check out my processing tutorial video:
Start to Finish: “Fleeing Light”$ 54.99