When it comes to editing the photos you take on your mobile phone, it should entail a lot more than slapping an Instagram filter on it and calling it good. If you really want to take your mobile photography to the next level, you will need to invest in some third-party apps to expand the capabilities of your phone as a mobile darkroom.
We continue our series of mobile photography lessons with this installment of photo editing tips. From creating your workflow to developing your unique vision for your photos, we’ve got you covered every step of the way!
First, Take a Good Photo
The first step to editing your mobile photos is to take the time and put forth the effort to take a good photo. As we’ve explored in previous lessons in this series, the more your work on your composition, the use of light, and the inclusion of elements like leading lines to add interest to your shots, the better they will be. No amount of editing can overcome a terrible photo, so it all starts with ensuring you get the best images you can from the get-go.
Create a Process
One thing about mobile photography is that there is certainly no lack of editing apps out there. With so much choice, it’s easy to fall into the trap of downloading a bunch of apps and not really getting to know any of them.
But this is a very important step: give a number of apps a test run and see which ones you like the most. Some have amazing controls while others have an easy-to-use interface. Others take a less-is-more approach and give you global options, like pre-set filters, while others give you pinpoint control over every aspect of the photo. It’s probably a good idea to cull the collection of apps, choosing one as your go-to, all-around editor and one or two others with more specialized features like adding textures or other graphic elements.
Once you determine which editing apps best fit your needs, spend some time determining what the best workflow will be to get the best results. For example, you might find that running your photo through one app to make adjustments to exposure, highlights and shadows, saturation, and tint is a good first step. After making those adjustments, perhaps your next step is to apply a preset filter to give your image a different look, like converting a color image to black and white.
Your editing process will take some time to develop, but once you’ve got it all figured out, you will be able to more easily and quickly edit your photos and the results will be much more consistent from image to image.
Take an Individual Approach
Even though it’s important to develop a process by which you edit your photos, it’s equally important to remember that every image you take will be different, and will require individualized attention in the editing process. Sure, you might develop a workflow in which you use VSCO Cam first to add a filter and then put the image through Snapseed for technical adjustments, and that’s great. But the specific settings you use or the filters you choose in your editing apps should be tailored to each specific image. After all, the edits required for a photo taken at the beach at sunset will be much different than those needed for a photo taken at the top of a ski lift in winter.
Each time you open an image to edit it, you should have at least some idea of where it is you want or need to go with it, which is all part of taking an individualized approach. Inspect the photo to determine if you need to crop it or straighten it, looking for elements that need to be excluded as well as for opportunities to bring more attention to your subject through creative cropping. Look at the color of the photo and the exposure as well. Do they need attention? What about artistic effects like adding a vignette? Would that help improve the moodiness of the shot or detract from it? It’s questions like these that are critical to ask yourself as you inspect each individual photo you edit.
Just like Photoshop won’t save a bad photo taken with a regular camera, the apps on your phone won’t save a bad mobile shot either. Too many people think that they can take bad photos and just cover them up later on; that’s just not the case.
The apps you have on your phone are there to enhance the photo you’ve taken. Use them to adjust white balance or saturation, add sharpness or change the tint, layer filters or make the image brighter or darker. More often than not, less is more, so resist the urge to overprocess your photos simply because the tools are there and easily accessible. Whatever editing apps you decide to use, go easy on the adjustment sliders and resist the urge to layer dozens and dozens of edits on top of one another. The result will be much better if you exercise restraint!
Your results will also be better if you tend to the basics first, then work on the artistic elements. Crop the image and straighten it right out of the gate. Then make adjustments to exposure, color, tint, and the like. Add textures, filters, and other artistic elements next. Lastly, apply sharpening if necessary. If you apply sharpening earlier in the process, the effect will be lost under all the other edits you make.
But...Find Your Own Voice
While it’s always good to avoid overprocessing, it’s important for you to find your own voice when it comes to your editing style. If you primarily shoot landscapes, maybe your editing style will be more subdued to preserve the nature of the shot. Conversely, if you like to shoot street scenes, maybe you’ll develop an eye for adding textures or grunge elements to heighten the sense of the grittiness of the street.
The point is that for all the suggestions and rules laid out before you, ultimately, photography is an artform and how you express yourself is completely up to you. Maybe your mind is bursting with ideas and you’ve got a clear vision for your images. Perhaps you take inspiration from other photographers and use their voice to influence your own. Or maybe you use fun photo tools like the LightBox Photography Cards Mobile Edition to connect with other photographers to get inspired regarding the photos you take and the way that you edit them.
Whatever the case, at end of the day, the photos you take should represent who you are as a photographer. Take these suggestions into consideration, see how they work for you, adapt them to your specific tastes, and then roll with it! No photographer has ever created work that pleased absolutely everyone, and you won’t either. So long as you enjoy what you create and have fun creating it, that’s all that matters.