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Photography Basics: Editing

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There are two parts to photography. The first is taking the photos and the second is post processing or editing. In the days of film cameras this happened in a dark room with chemicals. For digital cameras this is done with programs like Lightroom, Capture One, or Luminar AI. Topics included in this post are:

  • Post Processing vs Image Manipulation

  • RAW Format

  • Editing Programs

  • Culling

  • Cropping and Straightening

  • Filters and Presets

  • White Balance

  • Exposure and Contrast

  • Saturation and Luminance

  • Sharpening and Noise Reduction

I will go into more advanced topics on a future post, but this should be enough to get you started.

Post Processing vs Image Manipulation

Post processing is not image manipulation. I’m not talking about “Photo shopping” an image to make a woman’s waist smaller or butt look bigger. I’m talking about adjusting the light and color in a photo to make the best image possible. Some of the programs I mention will allow you to cover up acne spots and other small things but they won’t be able to do any heavy image manipulation.

My personal philosophy is that I will take out anything temporary, such as a pimple or a bruise. I will not take out stretch marks or moles because you are changing unique aspects of the subject.

Shoot RAW

If you are going to be editing your photos, you need to be shooting in RAW format. I previously covered this in the post Photography Basics: Camera Settings which you may want to check out if you haven’t already. As a reminder, RAW format allows you to retain as much information as your camera can capture and to use that information in post processing to achieve the look you are after in your photo.

Some cellphones are made so that you can shoot in RAW format too, however you may need to download a third party camera app to do it. A little research to see if your phone can do this would definitely be worth your time.

Editing Programs

There are dozens of editing programs on the market some being easier to use than others. When I started out I used the basic software that came with my Nikon D3300 before I upgraded to using Lightroom. One program I think has a lot of potential for beginners is Luminar AI and I’ve even looked into getting it myself just to see if it can perform as advertised. You can also use the open source (i.e. free) version of Lightroom called Darktable.

If you are using your phone, most of them have built in editing features you can use. You probably won’t have access to all of the features I mention but you should have access to the most basic ones. Although I have never used it and can’t give my thoughts on it, Lightroom has a phone specific version available if you are interested in going that route. It does require you to commit to a monthly subscription though.

You will be able to find tutorials for all of the programs I mentioned on YouTube quite easily. The man I recommend is Anthony Morganti. Below is one of the videos I used to learn Lightroom and introduced me to Anthony.


The first step to editing will be to cull your photos. Culling is the act of deleting photos that don’t meet your standards. If the model (or you if shooting self-shot boudoir) blinked or the shot isn’t in focus, delete it. Don’t like the facial expression, delete it. Go through all of your photos twice culling the ones that don’t meet your standards and edit the ones that are left.

Lens Correction

After I am done culling my photos I apply lens corrections to them. Due to the nature of certain lens designs there might be either distortion or vignetting (black spots in the corners) of your photos. Turning on lens corrections fixes these problems. Some editing programs allow you to apply lens corrections as you import your photos.

Cropping, Straightening, and Spot Removal

Changing your crop helps to clean up your photo and get your composition just right. If you can do this well in camera you can avoid this step in post. Here are some simple tips to help you with cropping:

  • Crop between the joints not at them.

  • Crop just above the eyes or above the hairline, not at the hairline.

  • Leave out unnecessary stuff from the back ground.

  • The tighter the crop, the more dramatic the photo.

  • Experiment from time to time.

If you have the horizon in your photo it needs to be level and door jams or windows need to be straight up and down. Our eyes are used to seeing these elements in a particular way and unless you are being intentional with tilting your camera keep them straight. Straightening is the same as cropping, if you get it right in camera you can avoid needing to do this later.

Now is the time to remove any spots that might be there. Pimples and bruises are my prime targets here. I will also take out any specks or lint on the clothing.

Filters and Presets

Filters and presets are pretty much the same thing. One is used for cellphones and the other in editing programs like Lightroom. They both allow you to quickly change the look of your photo without using the various tools and sliders you would otherwise need in order to get the same affect. Once you have the filter or preset that gives you a look similar to what you are after you can then tweak it further to have a finished photo that is exactly what you want.

White Balance

If you notice your photo has an odd color tint to it now is your chance to change the white balance and fix that. Depending on the program you are using you may have several options to do this. My favorite way to adjust my white balance in Lightroom is to use the Eye Dropper to get close and do any fine tuning using the sliders.

It’s at this point I will compare the image in black and white vs color to see which version works better.

Exposure and Contrast

If your image came out too dark or too bright here is your chance to change it. Tweaking your exposure can bring it back to where you want it.

Contrast is the range of dark to light tones in your photo. A low contrast image will be flat with the blacks and whites having a similar tone. A high contrast image will have more variety with darker blacks and brighter whites.

Saturation and Luminance

Saturation is the representation of how deep your color is. If you want your colors to pop, then you will need to increase the saturation. Likewise if you want your colors to be muted you will need to do the opposite. A saturation of zero leaves you with a black and white photo.

Luminance is the measure of how much white or black is in the color you are editing. If you take the luminance all the way up it becomes pure white. If you take the luminance all the way down it will be pure black.

Sharpening and Noise Reduction

Finally we have sharpening and noise reduction. If your photo came out a little on the soft side you can sharpen it a little to help bring out more detail. If you had to raise your ISO while you were shooting you might have created some noise in your images. Some people are OK with this but if that isn’t you then adding some noise reduction will help you out.

Final Thoughts

Keep. It. Simple. This goes for not only your editing but also your posing, lighting, and compositions too. It’s easy to go overboard with boudoir, but if you are just starting out keeping it simple will help you learn and progress with your boudoir photography.

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