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How to Edit Photos

When it comes to taking photos, there are many options available these days. Whether you own a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, a small point-and-shoot or a mobile phone, we all enjoy the fun of taking pictures. But sometimes the digital photo doesn’t quite meet your expectations. Maybe the colors seem dull. Or the composition is a little off-balance. Perhaps the horizon isn’t straight. Or the photo looks too light or too dark.

There’s good news. Making a beautiful photo isn’t very difficult. In fact, it’s easier than you think. You even have the ability to save photos you thought were ruined. There are many tools available to edit your photos which provide excellent results and professional-looking images. You may have to invest a little time in learning an editing program, but using these tools is easier than ever and they’ll take your photography to the next level.

Photo Editing Software

There are many software editing packages available for Mac users. We’ll cover three we particularly like: Apple Photos, Adobe Lightroom CC and Luminar by Macphun. We’ll go into these in more detail later, but we want to cover some of the basics of editing to help you get started.

Composition

There’s no right or wrong way to frame a photo, but there are rules that will help improve your pictures. It’s always best to compose the image in your camera, but even the pros find they can improve the composition of an image by cropping it using a photo editor. We’ll cover basic photo composition, give you some helpful tips for taking pictures, and show you some of the things you can do with photo editing software.

1. Keep it Simple

Isolate your subject and make it the center of attention in the frame. If other objects are in the shot, try cropping them out.

2. Get Close

One common mistake people make when taking photos is standing too far away from the subject. Fill the frame with your subject and don’t leave a lot of empty space.

3. Horizontal or Vertical

Determine if your photo would look best as a horizontal or vertical shot. Don’t be afraid to experiment. You can change the orientation of the image by cropping it later.

4. Avoid Centering

Many beginning photographers tend to place the subject in the center of the frame. Try using the Rule of Thirds. Most cameras and phones allow you to view the image in a grid, where the frame is split into thirds horizontally and vertically. Try and place the subject on one of those lines.

5. Leading Lines

A well-composed photograph uses converging lines to give a sense of depth. This leads your eye into the frame and toward the subject. The best way to understand this is to think of a road going into the distance. The leading lines of the road converge to create a sense of depth and draw your eye toward the horizon. Crop your photo to make the best use of leading lines.

If you didn’t get it quite right in your camera, don’t worry. That’s where photo editing software can help. You can use the crop tool to simplify the image, bring the subject closer, change a horizontal photo into a vertical photo, reframe the subject or change the placement of leading lines.

  • In Apple Photos: Select the Edit Photo button to go into edit view. The Crop tool appears on the right of the window. Click the Crop icon. Drag the corner handles to crop the photo. The default is to keep the frame in the original aspect ratio, but the Aspect button allows you to change the ratio to vertical, square, freeform or a number of other choices. Click Done in the upper right hand corner when you’re finished.

  • In Adobe Lightroom CC: In the Develop tab, select the Crop Overlay tool. Click one of the corners of the photo and drag it to crop the image. The default is freeform, which doesn’t limit you to any fixed ratio. Use the Aspect dropdown menu to enter whichever aspect ratio you prefer. Click Done at the bottom of the workspace when you’re finished.

  • In Luminar: Select the Crop tool on the right side of the window. Drag the dots at the corners or on the edges of the image to crop the photo. The default is freeform, but the Ratio pulldown menu allows you to choose from a number of options. Click the green checkmark icon when you’re done to apply the changes.

Straightening Photos

A common problem that plagues even experienced photographers is when a photo isn’t straight. This is most noticeable when taking pictures of landscapes, where it’s easy to see a horizon line is crooked. This is an easy problem to fix.

  • In Apple Photos: Apple Photos can automatically straighten your photos. In the Crop tool, select the Auto button at the bottom of the window. If you’d rather straighten the image manually, just move the dial on the right until you achieve the desired result. Click Done.

  • In Adobe Lightroom CC: Select the Crop Overlay tool. There are three ways to straighten your image.

    1. Move the pointer to just outside the corner crop handle. It will switch to the rotate icon. Drag to rotate the image. 
    2. Move the Angle Slider to rotate the photo. 
    3. Select the Angle tool. Click and drag along a horizontal or vertical line or edge to straighten it.
  • In Luminar: Move the pointer to just outside the corner crop handle. It will switch to the rotate icon. Drag to rotate the image.

Adjusting Exposure, Contrast, and Color

Many people believe a photo that’s too dark or too light is ruined. With exposure and contrast controls, you can improve the overall darkness or lightness. Sometimes the colors in a photo seem a little dull, or maybe the image looks too green, too blue or has another color cast.

  • In Apple Photos: Select the Edit button to go into edit view. Choose the Adjust tab to adjust the exposure manually. Move the Light slider to make changes or hover the mouse over the slider to reveal an Auto adjust button, or click the arrow for tools for exposure, contrast and other controls. Color controls, including saturation and cast, are just below the Light controls.

  • In Adobe Lightroom CC: In the Develop tab, you’ll find a number of sliders for exposure, contrast, and other tone controls. Color controls include clarity, vibrance and saturation.

  • In Luminar: In Hand Mode, you’ll have access to exposure and contrast sliders, along with a number of other controls. Luminar also has a number of presets that makes it easy to fix your photos. The Presets Panel lets you explore presets such as Fix Dark Photos, Fix Dark Landscape, Vivid and a range of other presets you can utilize to modify your images with just one click.

Once you’ve finished editing your images, it’s a good idea to save your work with the Save As command instead of overwriting the original file. This way you’ll always have access to the original image in case you want to go back and edit it again or add new effects.

We’ve touched on some of the basic photo editing controls available in these editing programs. One of the reasons we recommend Luminar from Macphun is that it adapts to the user’s skill level and includes all the tools needed to create great photos. Beginners will save time because it’s so easy to learn, while advanced photographers will appreciate Luminar’s native RAW processor.

You’ll be able to start using Luminar right away to create stunning images to show your friends or post on social media sites. In fact, Luminar lets you share your photos directly to Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug and 500px.

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