Photography, Tutorials

Tweaking Your Images – Tutorial

This last week I have had a few people telling me that images shouldn’t need any editing at all.  I find this such a hard thing to understand, since, from what I can understand, images have been edited since the first images were made when photography first started.  I was surprised to find that the first HDR image was done in the 1850’s, so over 150 years ago.  Even Ansell Adams edited his images, he manipulated them to suit what he wanted.  Yet now, with the age of digital, for the first time, the camera is now supposed to be able to take the perfect image.

Then you start reading stuff that digital cameras can’t take images the same way as film did.  I understand this.  When I was using film I would use different films for different types of photography.  You can’t do that with digital cameras.  I have been reading Enmanscamera’s Blog – Kamloops post on 10 tips for to make better prints.  There are a couple of points made about what you need to do to digital images and gives good arguments why.  I suggest you read it.

Two things it speaks about, I thought we would look at today.  The image I am going to use it one that I showed a week or so back, one from the BMX that I had done nothing to.

20121125-0124The image looks pretty good, but I suspect it could look better.  For this tutorial I am going to use the trial version of Photoshop Elements 11 that I have.  I am thinking I might buy this for doing Tutorials.

tweak1The image has been opened in PSE11, this is what it looks like, pretty much.

tweak2So following on from the other blogs tips, I have opened an adjustment layer for Brightness/Contrast.  To open this, go to Layer at the top, click on New Adjustment Layer, then click on Brightness/Contrast.  I haven’t changed the contrast too much.  It is one of those things you have to be careful, too much contrast can really ruin your image.  Have a go and see what it does.


Next is the sharpening.  I had a lot of trouble working out where this was.  So to find it go to Enhance, then go down to Adjust Sharpness…

tweak4This comes up, you can move the image around to where you want, I changed it to a face, that is usually what you want to be the sharpest.

tweak5I have changed the sharpness, but again, you need to be careful, it is very easy to go too far.  Though I think you should try it out and see what it looks like when you do go too far.

I have to admit, I can’t always tell when an image is sharpened, though I suspect you would be able to tell more when it is printed.

tweak6Even though these images are okay, I always thought that they were a little light, so I opened another adjustment layer and clicked on Levels.  I have moved the slider so that the image was darkened a little, not much, just a little.  This has helped make the image pop more and the colours start to stick out more.

tweak7The dirt track was very light, and so I used the Quick Selection Tool and selected the dirt track, then opened another Levels, Adjustment Layer and made it a little darker again.

Side by SideHere are the two versions, the original on the left, and the tweaked image on the right.  I have’t done a lot to it, but it has been improved, and, I think, it looks so much better.  If you saw the image on the right without me saying anything, you would think it looked fine and probably wouldn’t have thought anything had been done.

sced20121125-0124Here it is on its own.  I like this version and am very happy with the tweaking.

I still find it strange that doing this is considered cheating.  I have been down to my photo lab where I get all my prints printed and they tweak images as well.  They print them, then go through the images and make adjustments for each one.

Even working in the darkroom, each image had to have the light adjusted, the amount of magenta used for each one could change.  You couldn’t print image after image without making any adjustments.  I have many proof sheets where all the images were given the same amount of time, some were fine, but most weren’t.

So the next time you think that digital editing is cheating, remember that photographers have been cheating in the darkroom for over 150 years in their attempts to get that perfect, wonderful image.  That is, after all what we are all looking for, that one beautiful image that we are so proud of.  Okay, maybe more than one.


It has come to my attention that I have been nominated for some more awards.

Blog of the Year 2012, I have received 3 more nominations for this.

Marsha Lee Streaming Thoughts

Bear Tales

My Travels & Photography

I have also received the Sunshine Award from


Also the Super Sweet Award from

the REmissionary

That is enough for today.  I would like to thank all of the blogs that have nominated me for awards and ask that you all go and visit their blogs as well.


  1. As someone who used to be a B/W printer for Berenice Abbott who photographed 1920’s NY and Paris, we had many techniques for improving her images in and out of the darkroom including lipstick masking, gold toning, and retouching the final prints with tiny brushes. You are simply and expertly using today’s resources to improve and enhance your images. The initial photo of bikers is very good, the tweaked is better.

  2. Thanks for the tips. It is always good to find how others approach digital editing. I never had any formal training. I experiment and retain little by little. Until I am governed by instinct. I created my first digital art piece in 1985. I think when it comes to creating art, digital art or otherwise, the freedom to explore, and express is so important. No constraints. Follow your instincts. You will know when a piece is at its visual best. Not perfect.

    • I haven’t really had any formal training either, I’ve just done a lot of reading and researching. Thank you so much Walter, I will.

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on tweaking photos, Leanne. I think it’s interesting to hear photographers’ perspectives on adjusting photos. I was thinking the other day when I enhance photos digitally that perhaps I was “cheating,” but then I thought some of the photos I’ve had developed have had different tones than the ones I print myself without touchups. I really like what you said in your conclusion.

    • Thanks Steph, it has been really good the response to this post. I really agree with what you have said as well.

  4. bubblytee says

    You are an excellent instructor and I admire your patience to deliver comprehensive blogs like these. Thank you for sharing your world and knowledge with us. :)

    • You are welcome, as long as people continue to enjoy them, then I will continue to do them. Comments like this keep me going , so thank you too. :)

  5. The tweaking looks great, less is more in some situations, but I also appreciate the full blown editing which changes the pictures completly from the original one, this makes photo’s fun as you never know what you might do next.

  6. You are absolutely right. Tweaking digital images is not cheating and photographers have been doing it for years. Remember dodging and burning in the dark room? For those who don’t know, dodging was taking a small cut out of a shape and moving it around over the photographic paper while making a long exposure. For instance, if you have a subject like a person standing in front of the setting sun, but to get the brightness of the sun at the exposure you wanted, you’d have to make the subject too dark. One would move the shape over the subject while the rest of the print, in this case the sunset was exposed normally. This would make the subject exposed less, and the setting sun at the exposure you wanted. Today’s digital programs make it all so much easier. Just a few memories from the old school. Great post. –Mark–

    • Thank you Mark1, you have explained that really well. I remember doing it, but I really didn’t have the patience for it. I forgot to mention in the post, so thank you for doing it.

  7. Cheating in the darkroom sounds kinky, but we know it occurs ;) Freeman Patterson, who still works only with film, was trained to get composition right the first time. I love reading him on the prep that goes into a great shot. New films are being made to do tricks with saturation. ‘Twas ever thus. We’re all different and there’s room for everybody – and that applies to a whole lot of things besides photography. Love your site.

  8. I absolutely agree that editing is just part of the creative process when it comes to photography. Is painting over something you don’t like considered “cheating” in painting? No, it’s painting. So why on earth is editing “cheating” in photography? It’s not, it’s photography…it’s making use of the tools available to you to create the image you want.

  9. I don’t thinks it’s cheating but for me working on the computer is just boring, so I am endeavouring to get it as ‘right’ as possible in the camera as I did even when I used a dark room. But forced into digitizing through lack of a darkroom now, and the wish to put pix up on the net, sharpening is a necessity. As you say, it’s very easy to go too far with this and many, many what might otherwise have been very good pictures are posted having been ‘ruined’ by over-sharpening. I know this is so but I’m still guilty of it. By the way, I’ve been working on a computer almost daily, for work, since before the days of PCs and Windows so this is probably why I find it boring to incorporate it into my hobby.

    • My husband is similar. I really like working on the computer, so it is a bonus for me, but I can understand what you are saying. It is easy to go to far, and sometimes you have to go too far to understand what too far is. I think we are all guilty of it. Thank you.

  10. All images need some house keeping done to them. Film digital even when you paint your sketch is never final just your starting point. but i think there is cheating in Photoshop and photography in Photoshop. My rule of thumb is that if you can’t do it in the dark room should it be done in Photoshop. By this i don’t mead selective sharpening or lens correction which are part of the house keeping of an image but when the image in no way is the same as the original, when this occurs your image is now digital art not photography.

    • Interesting statement Ben, but who decides when an image is digital art or photography. Who decides when something is art and when it isn’t. questions that no one will ever agree on and will be asked for a long time to come. I remember having these sorts of discussions at art school. Thanks Ben

      • The question of what is art is quite complex I agree and photography is having similar arguments especially with Motography and Instagram. Is this photography? For me my guide lines help me on where the ever changing line in the sand is drawn. We will have to see how this topic evolves.

  11. post processing is a really interesting topic. There was recently a case of the Landscape Photographer of the Year being stripped of his award as he had done too much (substituted a sky I believe) but how much is too much?? I avoided RAW and tweaking for years but in the end I found I can more accurately replicate what I saw by tweaking the shot as our eyes are far more advanced than a sensor will ever be. PLus I love saturated colour – very bad habit I’ve fallen into :(

    • It is interesting, though I believe some competitions can be like that. There is always going to be a divide between digital editing and not. I can understand that documentary shots need to be unedited, but others, not so sure about. How did they know that the sky had been substituted?
      Thank you.

  12. Well, I for one like your tweaks, and these definitely improve what is already a strong image. I’m interested in the idea that it might be cheating though – what or whom is it cheating? Personally I think that if you like the end product more by giving it a bit of a tweak then what is the issue?

    • I am with you Liz, but from time to time I get comments telling me that I shouldn’t edit photos, that I should use images straight from the camera, which astounds me, only since the advent of digital has it become a problem to digitally enhance your images. I won’t stop doing it, I love it, and it is one part of the process. Thanks

  13. I like it when you go off on a bit of a rant, Leanne. It’s a very strange idea that Photography Is Truth, any more than painting or other representational arts. Assuming absolutely nothing is done to the image, the photographer is already editing the photo by choosing a subject and framing it in a particular way.

    • That’s good to hear Poet, I try not to do it too often, but sometimes I get a little fed up. That is so true what you have said, you can change an image dramatically through composition. Well said,thanks.

  14. There’s nothing wrong with tweaking. There’s also nothing wrong with outright manipulation. As you say, both have been done for years. The problems arise when people aren’t honest about what they’ve done – if there’s nothing wrong with it, why lie about it?! JUst about every photo can be improved with a tweak – and if you shoot RAW you have to as you’re only doing what the manufacturers would have done in camera.
    By the way, the tweaking you’ve done has improved an already good photo :)

    • Thanks Noeline, I hope everyone knows that I do it a lot, nearly every photo on this blog has had some adjustments made, some small, some more than others, and some a lot. Love what you have said, and thanks again.

  15. Ansel Adams used to spend up to 6 weeks getting the perfect print of an image, surrounded by a circle of assistants who noted every move of the dodging paddle. Of course photos should be manipulated, though I have very strong feelings about the boundaries of fidelity and taste. To argue otherwise is both ignorant and silly.

    • I love hearing what he used to do, it is really interesting. I think you are right about that second part, totally. Thank you.

  16. hutchphotography2020 says

    Great tutorial. Ansel Adams said, You don’t take a photograph, you make a photograph.

  17. You know I couldn’t agree with you more…I see nothing wrong and do not consider it cheating when a good photo is made great!!! It is all a matter of taste and how the photographer envisions the end result, nothing more. Your tweaking has made a good photo great…as it should be. Photos and the finished product is a very personal thing…the old saying goes something like this…”we can please everyone so we might as well please ourselves”.

    You should be very proud…

    • Thank you Heather, I love your quote, that is brilliant, and I totally agree with you. I do really like where my work is going, thanks again.

  18. The reworked image is certainly cleaner, crispy clear. Tweak to your heart’s delight Leanne! Great job as always.

  19. Hi Leanne, Your tweaking did make a difference – for the better. You made a very good point, that I imagine that professional photographers understand. Images are tweaked, and have been for years. Thanks for the referral on your site. :)

    • Thank you Marsha, it is hard to get people to understand this, and thought a demonstration was worth it. You’re welcome. I know I haven’t really played by the rules properly, but it is hard.

      • I think we make our own rules sometimes!!! You are the expert as far as processing goes. I have learned a lot watching you – if nothing else, I experiment more. Last night I spent hours on the pictures I sent in to be published in our local magazine. I still couldn’t decide which was better. I found the groves of local fruit trees pictures I was looking for, so I sent in 4 of them as well. I think they turned out ok. I hope so!

  20. Another great tutorial Leanne. Seriously…. LOL… one day I’m going to MAKE time to try out some of your great ideas! Thanks for stopping by my blog… as you can see, I haven’t started with trying to manipulate or improve them any… :(

  21. Every camera has algorithms used to “process” the image it captures, even when shooting RAW.

    I purposefully minimize all the automatic adjustments in my camera so that I can then go in and essentially “develop” the image to my liking.

    If one shoots JPGs, a lot of that process is taken away from them. And if they say images should not be “edited”, they should take the same photo with multiple cameras. Each have their own process for getting at the “final” image.

    That was also true for film, and developers.

    Today, one cannot look at images from professional photographers (magazines, billboards, books, and on-line) without seeing the result of extensive manipulation of not only color, hues, highlights, and shadows, but also altering of shapes, geometry, and perspective, all with one aim . . . to make the photograph visually appealing and attention-getting.

    I suppose one can argue that should not happen . . . but then, one could argue we should not comb our hair, shave, or even dress, as all those are designed to alter our appearance and how we present ourselves to the world.

    • Wow, what a great come back disperser, I love it, I think you are spot on with many of your points, and I love that last one. Thank you.

  22. The photography associated with social documentary and photo journalism is expected to be truthful, though that can depend on your viewpoint both literally and metaphorically, because the truth is often about the whole context and photography can rarely show that in a single frame. Even this type of photography is frequently edited both before the event by the photographer (see Walker Evans) who can move things and people around (simply being there can effect how situations evolve) and after the event by post processing.

    But you are totally correct in saying that photographers have always edited their images. See the fine monograph by Mark Haworth-Booth, Camille Silvy, ‘River Scene, France’, about how Silvy put together his widely admired 1858 photograph.

    Indeed, in the 1850s photographers were doing combination prints using numerous plates….how skilled is that ….. see the work of Oscar Rejlander (he used 32 negatives to create ‘The Two Ways of Life’ in 1857), so it’s clear beyond doubt that the manipulation of images has been a facet of photography from the earliest days.

    As you hint at Leanne, in your interesting post, all the basic editing tools that we utilise in Photoshop come down to us as a result of the techniques that were established in the dark room many years ago. More importantly, you stress that, like painters, we strive to present our pictures as well as we can, and edit them to achieve this. To do this effectively requires good judgement, skill and a discerning eye.

    Hopefully we are getting to a turning point about editing and manipulation where people are sophisticated enough to see the value of self expression and creativity in photography and are able to discern where the photographer is being creative with the truth, whatever that is.

    Finally, to pick up what others have said. The camera does not see as we do and so we employ techniques like HDR to overcome that.

    Keep up the good work Leanne.

    • Thank you John, I love what you have said, I can’t wait to check out those photographers and their work. Sounds incredible. I love your last statement, so true.

  23. I try to stay out of too much editing and keeping the images quite clean, but I think Post-processing (as this is) is a natural part for the most professional photographers. On the other hand, a great image is almost always a great image, either way. :)

    • That is so true, and the image is the important thing, if it looks good then it doesn’t matter how it got that way. Thank you :)

  24. First I’ll say that I am flattered you included a link to Enmanscamera. I appreciate that.
    Film was a rather unforgiving medium and we struggled with its, many times, inconsistent results. Making two prints the same was a chore and I surely don’t add warm memories to those long hours spent in dimly lit rooms to produce only a few prints. No one ever used the word “cheating” when they looked at a photograph altered and optimized in the lab in those days.
    In my opinion cameras don’t really produce pictures in the sense they once did, now cameras produce data files that depending on how well they are first captured on the sensor and then post produced with some software might make pleasing final images.
    I liked your tutorial and will be staying tuned for more….well done.

    • It was a pleasure, I hope people enjoyed the post as much as I did.
      I’m with you about the darkroom, I found it frustrating and boring, it took so long to get a print, and then you would do all that work, stick in the chemicals to find that it didn’t work and you would have to do it again. I think you are right about cameras today, they are good, but you are always going to have to work on them.
      Thank you enmanscamera

  25. Tweaking is all in the name of art. To think that when the impressionists began painting, their work was seen as inferior. Surely it all comes down to what we, the viewers, feel when we look at a creative piece – whether it is a painting, a photograph, or a piece of writing.

    • That is true Colline, they had a hard time getting their work accepted. I agree with you, if it is a good image, does it matter how you got it? Thank you.

  26. Teresa Cleveland Wendel says

    I’m an amateur when it comes to photography. My photos would all look horrible without my pathetic attempts to tweak them.

  27. Adams worked on Moonrise Over Hernandez for years. There are at least three different prints of that image all with the same title since they were the same photograph and they all look very different depending on the work he did in the darkroom. All were offered for sale so they were not test prints. This is all to say that without manipulation, photography as we know it would not exist.
    It would lose most of its richness.
    Heck, the great painters reworked their images many times and no one said they were cheating…

  28. Art in its many guises is the ability to portray a thought, emotion, story, moment of time, colour, shape or whatever. Photography is an art form. Digital photography is an infinitely adjustable art form. The true beauty of art is that everybody sees it differently. There is no right or wrong way to react, therefore there surely is no right or wrong way to create. Digital retouching is no more cheating than using a brush, or palette knife instead of throwing paint at a canvas and seeing what it does for itself.
    Long live the ability to create and therefore re-create! Nothing I produce is ever the same as before. Even every copy of my art I produce for a client, is naturally, subtly different to someone else’s copy. Not necessarily because I manipulate it, but because of the variables in the production process. And I’m glad of that because I create it for them and that difference makes it uniquely theirs.

    • Here here, I think you are so right, it is an art and why shouldn’t it be considered that. I love what you have said, so many have said some really inspirational things, it has been wonderful, thank you so much.

  29. the final image is way better with a load more ‘punch’ – I don’t know how much is the levels and curves adjustment and how much is sharpening, but either way – it shows how much more you can do with an image with just a little attention in post.

    • I think it is all of them Charlie, they all contribute to the final image. That is true, you just need to do a little sometimes. Thank you.

  30. When I read that person’s remark, it made me extremely angry, Leanne…they are of a mind to be greatly satisfied with ‘mediocrity’, thinking it’s the best they can achieve! Hogwash!!! They are merely afraid to challenge themselves by getting up off their dead bums and doing something exceptional for once in their lives…and I’ve known many people exactly like them.

    No matter which camera one uses, it will NOT ‘take’ the perfect shot…adjustments have always been made. I could not do what I do now when I was back in the darkroom developing and printing B/Ws, burning and dodging, touch-up ‘spotting’ forever. My photography (ART!) was good back then…it is supremely better now (if not GREAT at times)!!!

    Too bad that person is satisfied and smugly living in their own little very BEIGE world…but good on us, for seeking more and more knowledge of our craft!!!

    That’s my rant…and anyone who does not care for it can just click off!

    • It made me angry too, and I thought about doing nothing, but I couldn’t keep my mouth shut. I thought a post would be the way to say what I thought. It has been interesting that no one has disagreed with me, not what I expected.
      I totally agree, how can a camera see the same as your eyes do. I love what you have said about the darkroom.
      I love your rant, thank you, it is so nice to see that I am not the only one to rant from time to time.

  31. I feel so too! Sometimes I have a photo that I think is quite fine but then I do a bit of subtle editing I’m always glad I did!

  32. Definitely not cheating! Adding elements? Probably. Taking elements away? Maybe. (But I don’t think so, if you’re going for a nice aesthetic and there’s something distracting in the photo–even something like a speck of dust.) Adjusting levels and contrast? Absolutely not.

    I really think the “purists” are the ones without a basic understanding of what a darkroom is and the history of analog photo editing throughout history. As you mentioned, Ansel Adams did a lot of darkroom work to achieve those masterful landscapes of his. I doubt anyone would accuse him of “cheating.” I was reading about this debate in another forum a short while ago, and it confounds me to think that there’s supposedly no place for post-processing in the minds of many.

    HDR is somewhere in the middle, since it combines more than one image, but as long as it’s just being used to capture closer to what the eye actually sees, I don’t even consider that “cheating.” We’re just striving to hone our craft and make pleasing images. And as you and I both know, this is a labor of love that requires far more from us than just composing a nice image in camera!

    BTW, I agree with the adjustments you made. My first thought was to adjust the levels for the foreground to make it not quite as bright, and that’s exactly what you did! I hope that’s a sign of “great minds think alike”!

    • Thanks for a fascinating post. Absolutely agree that digital editing is fair game – in fact essential (to my work at least). There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ image – editing software is part of the photographer’s toolbox!

    • It astounds me as well SilverStarling, I think you are right, many people who have never been in a darkroom have absolutely no idea how much manipulation went on in there. It is something that seems to be a new idea, that shouldn’t manipulate photos, almost like how people were when digital started, it wasn’t really photography. I think editing is an important part of taking photos, I won’t stop, and those Luddites will have to go somewhere else.
      Thank you so much for your support. Glad you liked my tweaking.

  33. oh wow!! thanks for sharing these tips! There is quite a fair bit of difference between the before and after.

    I’ve always been so lazy to edit my images. i’m gonna save these tips and give editing a go when I post my next set of travel pics!

    • Once you get the hang of it, it is pretty easy, I can do a lot of quick edits like this in an hour. It is good to do. Thanks

  34. I’m only just learning the art of the tweak – I use Lightroom, primarily. I don’t think it is cheating at all. If it is, then what is the point of shooting in RAW format, if you can’t play around with settings and enhance your images.
    The only photos I leave alone are those I take with Hipstamatic, it’s all part of the fun seeing how they turn out!

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