Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How to Fix Them

April 9, 2012

in Jean Smith, Lightroom, Photography Creative Team, Photography Tutorials, Photoshop, Photoshop Elements

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them | I Heart Faces

Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them | Part Four – Editing

This week wraps up our four part series on Common Photography Mistakes and How to Fix Them. If you missed Jean Smith’s first three parts of this series, you will definitely want to check out these links as soon as possible to learn more from all her great tips:

“The picture is good or not from the moment it was caught in the camera.”

This quote by Henri Cartier-Bresson reminds us that as photographers, we are artists. Our true art happens at the time we push our shutter button. Whether a photographer chooses to enhance an image in a photo editing program, that is his/her personal choice. The point, my friends, is to ENHANCE our art…not to “fix” or greatly alter it in the editing process.

In approaching an article about photo editing, I know it may be a touchy subject. The post processing of images comes down to personal preference in how a photographer wants his/her final images to look. Some do nothing or very little, while others may spend hours post processing a single image. I am not here to critique or judge photo editing styles, only to give tips on avoiding common editing issues. Throughout this article, I will refer to Photoshop (my photo editing program of choice), but there are many great editing programs that have similar tools and features.

Mistake #1 – Overuse of actions

The Fix – Everywhere we turn, we see actions, actions, actions. For those wondering what in the heck an “action” is, it is a set of recorded steps that allows a photographer to achieve a certain effect or look with the click of a button (in Photoshop). Used correctly, we can achieve effects that enhance and beautify our images. You can avoid an over processed look by lowering the opacity of the action or open the action folder in your layers palette and manually lower opacity or turn off steps within the action.

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Mistake #2 – Why learn my program if I have actions?

The Fix – Alert! Actions are not a magic pill! Understanding the tools and functions of your photo editing program will give you more flexibility and control than any action could ever do. Learn your program by reading a book specific to your program and/or taking a local or online class. If one takes the time to understand what an action is doing to the image, he/she can customize the results of the action and have full control over the outcome of their image.

Mistake #3 – Removing natural facial or body marks

The Fix – A birthmark, freckle, wrinkle, or mole is not necessarily a blemish. Many photographers are quick to remove these in the editing process. The truth is that some people may be offended. Yesterday, mom didn’t think twice about her facial mole. But, today, she sees that her photographer removed it in every image from their family session. If her photographer removed it, it must mean it is ugly, and now she is self conscious about it. Or, perhaps a photographer removes Grandma’s wrinkles to make her “look younger.” Not only does Grandma know that she is aging and has wrinkles, the photographer managed to make Grandma look freakish. The fix? If your subject has a possible distracting mark, mention at the end of your shoot that you do light editing and ask if they would like you to remove or lighten their mark. Sounds blunt, but they will appreciate you for it. In Photoshop, you can remove marks using common tools such as clone stamp, healing brush, or patch tool and REDUCE THE OPACITY so the mark is there, but a lighter version. People want to look like themselves in images, just a slightly better version of themselves.

Mistake #4 – Plastic skin

The Fix – I dare say that this might be one of the bigger problems in portraiture editing. Plastic skin is not natural, nor is is beautiful. Stay away from the gaussian blur, my retouching friends. Our goal is to improve the look of the skin, while still maintaining skin’s natural texture. You can do this by first removing all blemishes and lightening wrinkles or other desired marks (clone stamp, healing brush, patch tool). Then apply a skin smoothing action, and greatly reduce the opacity so that you are oh, so lightly smoothing that skin. There are many action sets out there and many offer some kind of skin smoothing. The ones I use and are familiar with are Totally Rad’s Pro Retouch and MCP’s Magic Skin.

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them


Mistake #5 – Not optimizing for the web

The Fix – Raise your hand if, at some point in your photography journey, you have edited your images, uploaded them to the internet (blog, Facebook, etc), and your images look soft and the colors dull. That, my friends, is a result of not sharpening for the web and saving in the wrong color space. Once your images are edited and resized, you can manually apply web sharpen settings, or, as I prefer, use a web sharpen action (MCP Actions, Kubota, Totally Rad, and most other action sets contain a web sharpen action). Last, make sure you are saving your images in sRGB color space (in Photoshop, go to File, Save for Web & Devices).


Mistake #6 – Over sharpening/processing eyes

The Fix – The over sharpening of eyes occurs either in the editing process itself, or in the web sharpen process. Eyes are usually the main focus of an image and should be bright and sharp, just not overdone and over sharpened. Eyes that are too sharp look unnatural and a bit scary. We often see soft or blurry eyes heavily sharpened in an attempt to appear more sharp. In this situation, I would suggest not using the the image. Soft or blurry eyes can’t be fixed. When sharpening for the web, run your web sharpen action on a duplicate layer and lower the opacity to the desired sharpness. Your image will be nice and sharp without looking too “crispy.”

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Mistake #7 – Eyes and teeth are freakishly white

The Fix – Speaking of eyes, let’s talk about the whites of eyes and teeth being unnaturally white. Again, we want our subjects to look beautiful, but still natural. If you choose to choose the whiten (lower yellows in hue/saturation layer) and brighten (levels, curves, or screen layer), just do so in moderation.

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Mistake #8 – Blown highlights and clipped blacks

The Fix – Going along with our keep-the-subjects-natural-yet-slightly-enhanced discussion, watch carefully that you don’t blow your highlights (skin and white clothing have lost detail and can’t be recovered) or clip your blacks (black areas lose all detail) in the editing process. You can help to avoid this by shooting RAW and getting a proper exposure in camera. Then, while editing, watch your whites and blacks that they aren’t losing detail.

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Mistake #9 – Over and under saturating

The Fix – Highly saturated, neon grass and glowing, fuschia clothing is just not that cool. Neither are humans who have greyish skin as a result of too much color desaturation. Effects are cool, just not extreme effects. If you want to saturate, keep it light. If you want to desaturate, keep it light. There are many ways to saturate and desaturate color in an image. One easy way is to use the sponge tool (set to saturate or desaturate) and “paint” where you want more or less color saturation. Or, do a global change to the entire image by using a Hue/Saturation adjustment layer, choosing which color you want less or more of, and dragging the saturation slider to the left (less color) or right (more color).

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

Mistake #10 – Faux sun flare

The Fix – This one is short and sweet. If your sun flare did not happen straight out of camera, it is usually wise to avoid adding one in post processing. The lighting in an image with faux sun flare most likely doesn’t match the flare and it isn’t believable or make sense.

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How To Fix Them

There are no right or wrong editing styles, and our editing style helps form us as an artist. But, avoiding common editing mistakes allows us to bypass easy problems and we can then focus on our photography and editing style.

Jean Smith Jean Smith is a portrait, wedding, and commercial photographer in New Hudson, Michigan. She has a super rad husband (also a photographer) and four awesome little boys who keep life fun and VERY busy! To see more of her photography, visit her website, blog or follow her on Facebook.

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Karissa July 4, 2015

How can I find someone who can fix a file that was over-saturated and saved over the original image? I’m willing to pay someone to help me!! It’s a four generation photo that can never be recreated. 🙁


Dave November 18, 2015

Did you ever get your picture fixed?


Jack September 27, 2016

Hey, if you still need help with this image – I can do it for free 🙂

Just send me the file and i’ll help you desaturate it.


Ashley November 11, 2014

I love this! I can’t stand overly processed images (although I must admit I *might* have been guilty of a few of these in the past – before I really know what in the world I was doing)


Graeme F. October 27, 2014

Excellent article! I’m certainly guilty of most of these in the past, particularly the uncalibrated monitor! An approach that worked for me was to ‘calibrate’ the couple for their wedding day, with some images from their engagement shoot. I show a few pre/post edit images I think appropriate and ask how they feel about certain ‘features’. An interesting issue for me is always ‘Ink’. Some people are very proud of their tattoos, whereas others don’t want them in the wedding album. I don’t take this for granted anymore and always check with the couple first, particularly the bride. It can help to know what you’re not shooting for!

My first time at this blog and I’lll be back


Kristina November 24, 2015

I had a huge problem with this when I started out too, I’m still convinced that a huge part of my problem was the computer I was using :/ my uncalibrated monitor made things very “interesting”. Everything I did was WAY over-saturated.


Debra Petre October 4, 2014

Excellent article! Great advice!


E November 12, 2013

Great tips to keep people from ending up on “you are not a” !


Linda September 9, 2013

Great tips. I am embarrassed to say that I used to be one of those photographers who took out all blemishes off of my subjects. I shudder whenever I think about one particular wedding in which I removed a bride’s moles. She had a backless wedding dress, which showed a lot of moles and I photoshopped each one out of all of her wedding photos. I cringe right now evening talking about it. Now I leave things like that in and if something is on a person’s face, like a scar or a mole I either don’t touch it or just lighten it a bit, but leave it in so that they still look like themselves.


ishan September 7, 2013

Snapstouch is free online tool to convert photo to sketch, photo to painting, photo to drawing, photo to outline, photo to B&W etc. This tool adds theses effect with maintaining actual size and that is totally free of cost even you don’t need to create account to add the effects.


Christopher August 3, 2013

Greate article. Keep writing such kind of information on your
page. Im really impressed by your blog.
Hi there, You’ve performed a fantastic job. I’ll definitely digg it and personally suggest to my friends.

I am confident they’ll be benefited from this website.


Emilie September 8, 2012

Thank you so much! I was just about to give “finished” pictures to a friend and now realize that I made allot of editing mistakes. I will now be re-doing them. I loved your whole series and it really helped me allot! Thanks again.



Jenny September 3, 2012

Oops I guess that doesn’t really apply since this article is about post-processing. But while I am on the subject, the only thing worse than overuse of ts lenses is *FAKE* tiltshift.


Jenny September 3, 2012

My pet peeve is overuse of tilt shift lenses. In my opinion, selective depth of field is a much less unsettling way to draw the eye to the subject.


Inspire Me Heather July 11, 2012

Great post on what not to do, thanks! More people should read this… oh and I’ve got this linked to my post on photo editing for bloggers as well today too!


PhotoshopTips May 9, 2012

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How to Fix Them – #togs


Gray Kinney May 2, 2012

Mrs Smith,

Thank you for all these tips. As it turns out, I have broken the rule on removing a mole on a clients face. Found out later that she did not like the shot and I suspect that is why.

I absolutely love your observations of over-saturation and blowing out highlights. This makes me want to jump in the river. I see photographers doing this and I can only thing that they are 1- Thinking this is what makes the photos stand out, or 2 – they are not getting their exposures correct and are hiding it this way.

I Know I’m not the best, but I do look very carefully at my shots and strive for as natural a look as I can. I also feel that this does cause me to loose business because compared to other photographers that use real bright, over saturation, my shots probably look dull.

but thank you again!


Danielle April 26, 2012

thank you so much these tips helped me a lot


Dawn April 20, 2012

10 Photo Editing Mistakes and How to fix them, Photographers this is a Must Read!!!! #photography


Jean Smith April 19, 2012

Thanks so much everyone! Shana…I secretly agree with you about selective coloring, but I know it can be a touchy subject, so I left it out 🙂


Melissa @jonahbonah April 18, 2012

love your wisdom.


Amber April 11, 2012

Awesome tips! Thanks for sharing


Shana M. April 10, 2012

Great list, just missing 1 thing…selective coloring. It really is a fad that needs to stop!


Abi April 10, 2012

This is one of the best articles I have read on common editing mistakes. Well said, thank you!


Irina April 10, 2012

thank you so much for your materials!


Cathy April 10, 2012

As always, great tutorial. Many thanks.


Kara April 10, 2012

Jean, these tutorials have all been AWESOME! Thanks!


Declan Mc Glone April 10, 2012

Common Photo Editing Mistakes and How to Fix Them #photography


George Hausler April 9, 2012

One of the great things about photography today is all the options we have when it comes to processing photos. It can also be one of our biggest problems. When it’s done right, the results can be amazing! When done poorly, ouch! One thing I like to do is come back a day or two later and review what I’ve done with my photos. Sometimes I wonder, “what was I thinking when I did what I did to that photo!” Great Article!


Jen April 9, 2012

Thank you so much for this very thorough article!

I recently made the switch to LR and I’d love to know what others have found as the best way to sharpen and save for web using LR .


Maryanne Gobble Photography April 9, 2012

Oh how I wish someone would have explained #5 to me many years ago. I started shooting Adobe RGB by request for certain projects not really knowing anything about it. I almost cried thinking I did something unfixable in all my edits! I just could not understand color space!

Great article!


Tara April 9, 2012

Hehe- love this! I know I have been guilty of a couple of these before. embarrassing! 🙂


colleen April 9, 2012

ahhhh yes…..just when I lose one problem, I find another ‘over-done’ item that looks really good the first couple of times I do it…and quickly goes downhill thereafter. Thank you for the summary…..I read it and realized I have some work to do…..


Andrea April 9, 2012

I’m reading this from my uncalibrated work computer, and it reminded me that many people are on uncalibrated screens. So, if the overly saturated photo was looking pretty darn good to you…check into calibration. A color calibrator was one of the best purchases I ever made. If your monitor is lying to you, there is nothing you can do to get the color right until you get your monitor as accurate as possible. I see people participate in Fix-it Friday every week, and I can tell immediately which ones are not calibrated. And, I know someday when they finally do calibrate, they are going to cringe when they look back on their editing. 🙂


Trude April 9, 2012

I think we were all guilty of at least one of these somewhere in our photography journey, but thank you for summarizing them all in one place and pointing out why they don’t work in the long run! 🙂


Jenn S. April 9, 2012

This is a great read. Thanks for taking the time. I know one area I currently struggle with is the grey skin syndrome. So frustrating trying to make sure there are no distracting color casts but that I don’t “fix” them by washing out the skin tone. I’d love a tutorial on consistently getting “real” skin tones. I do custom white balance so I generally feel they are pretty good sooc but there is usually something that bugs and the tinkering begins. . .


Larry Darnell April 9, 2012

Jean, your tips are the most helpful, practical tips I have ever read. Thanks so much!


Denaze April 9, 2012

I LOVE THIS!!!! Thank you So much for sharing!!! I have a tendency to do some of these over-look EEK’S!


Naomi Anselmo April 9, 2012

Ah, so helpful! I’m still learning a lot and didn’t even realize there was an option in Photoshop to save for Web & Devices. And it never occurred to me to lower the opacity of an action that’s a bit too strong! Thank you!


Danielle C. April 9, 2012

Really good article. Bad editing can kill a good image fast. And not just with new photographers. I’m notorious for clipping my blacks and I have to watch that when I edit. the trick is recognizing when you go overboard and pulling back.

The only thing I’ll call to point is sharpening for the web… size down for the web using the bicubic sharper option in PS but watch out for oversharpening. The hard lines and black outlines are just as bad as when an image is mangled by photobucket or facebook.


Leave a Comment

{ 5 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: