Editing, and why few people actually do it.
Let me start out by saying this is subjective, Take this advice how you will. My advice is based entirely on my own meandering experience.
Looking back over my editing over the years, I realized that I tried a lot of different techniques, programs, filters, and actions. The more I learn, the more I understand why I never could grasp what I was doing from the beginning.
Lets take a step back. Early in my career I would look at photos that I aspired to take. Inspiration is a great thing. But I always assumed that, “their camera/lens must be much better than mine, or their lighting style, or lights themself were superior, the make up artist was amazing, or their editing was awesome. To be fair, all of those things to a point were true. and while each of them I have come to terms with at some point. Editing is one that has always been just a bit father than I could grasp. It will likely, stay that way as well. I never want to be content with it I want to do better than the last time. To the point. Editing, in my mind is a term that has two meaning. First is simple, Edit = adjust exposure, contrast, color temp, color balance, cropping, possibly a bit of spot removal an action/filter hue/saturation. Mostly global (applied to the entire image ) all of which I like to call toning, alternatively (base editing) The second form of editing is much deeper, done after the base edit, including, toning, skin smoothing, fly away hairs, blemishes, frequency separation, liquify, digital makeup, the list goes on. all detailed and meticulous. I used to believe that there was a secret to editing like that. Maybe an expensive program, PS action, tool hidden that I was unaware of. Turns out there was… TIME. thats it, most of the more elaborate/automated tools i never use. It boils down to dodge/burn, stamp, patch, and brush. all simple tools that have been in the program for nearly its entire existence. The big secret is time. I dont know why it never dawned on me early on. A magazine like SI, people, GQ, Life, time, etc does not just open up the image that is destined for the cover and apply a few actions, and call it a day 10 minutes later. while automated programs, actions and such have come a long way, especially recently with facial recognition. Problem is, every face is different, as well as lighting, desired effect, etc. tools like the patch tool/content aware, healing. While I do use often. They all make assumptions based on an algorithm that was made for millions of applications, not your specific image.
The big secret is also the biggest reason that many people don’t do it. It takes a while, most people dont want to spend more time editing, than they spent shooting in the first place. Plain and simple. very few shortcuts and a lot of staring at an image at 100-200-300%. However its not all about getting close and spending time. Its about knowing what those tools can do, what their strengths are, as well as their weaknesses. When and where to use a tool, and how to use it. While the description, or demonstration of each one helps, It takes time to know them. It’s like learning a sport, you can know the rules, and having talent, you need a strategy to pull them all together. Advice. grab some old images that you love, (hopefully a raw file). re-edit it. again and again. watch some tutorials, look up tips and tricks for situations that are relevant to your image. Save each time you try something new. Layered PSD are fantastic to look back on. Nearly every edit I make, before I flatten and save, I save the full layered file as well. Sometimes its to make a correction later, or waiting for an approval. Its never fun having to re-edit an image that took hours, because “PSD is a large file” Space is cheap these days. take advantage of it.
Never stop learning, the moment you think you have everything mastered, and there is nothing more to learn, is the moment everyone else start to surpass you. Honestly is a lot more to it, not to mention dozens of ways to achieve the result you are looking for.