Before & After {Photo Editing Tutorial}

April 26, 2012

in Before & After, Photoshop

I Heart Faces Photoshop Photo Editing Tutorial

We’re happy to welcome Amy Renea to our Before & After photo editing series today. She is going to take you through her editing workflow in Photoshop in five steps, a quick and easy style which she calls the Essentials Edit.

Hello! My name is Amy Renea and I am a freelance photographer based out of Hershey, PA. Today I want to show you my “Essentials” edit that I run on all of my photos. This photo editing tutorial is going to help you go from an OK picture to a professional looking photo in less than five minutes. The steps are not complex and they will not create an “over-edited” look.

First things first. You know how realtors always tell you to look for “good bones” in a potential home? Well, when culling photos and picking out the best for editing, you are also looking for good bones.

Questions To Ask Yourself:

  • 1) Are the eyes in focus? Unfocused eyes are notoriously hard to fix convincingly. If you are a Photoshop beginner, it is best to start with a photo that has the eyes clear and in focus.
  • 2) Is the exposure ok? Exposure is basically how light or dark the photo is. If it is a little bit dark, you can save it. If it is a little bit light, you can save it. If it is way too light or way too dark, it usually is not worth editing.
  • 3) Do you like the composition or can it be saved by cropping? This is typically the easiest of the three. do you like the way the photo looks? Can the composition be tweaked a little and still look right?

Essentials Editing Process:

Here is my before photo. I like that the subject is centered, his eyes are in focus and the photo is slightly underexposed. Those are all things I can work with…let’s get started!

I am going to fix a few basic things in this image, namely raising the lightness and brightness of the photo, making it a little sharper, adding a vignette around the edges to highlight the subject and adjusting the composition just a tad.

I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial-sooc



The first thing I do when looking at a photo is deciding whether it is level or not. This photo looked slightly off, so I went to the top of my toolbar in photoshop and clicked:

FILTER (circled in white)

I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

This will open a screen that has a grid of your photo.

I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

Click CUSTOM (circled in pink above)

Adjust angle to 1.00. Notice the eyes line up along the grid.
I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

Click OK.

I always do lens corrections first before making any other adjustments. After you have completed lining up the photos so it is straight, then you move on to adjusting the light levels. I always start with curves.


Click the little circle that is half white and half black on the bottom of your layers palette. This will bring up a menu. Select CURVES. Curves is hands down one of the most used tools in my arsenal. LEARN IT!

I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial                 I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

A window will pop up with this grid. To lighten the photo, take your mouse and drag that little black dot in the center up towards the left corner. Play with the adjustment until your photo looks bright, but not too bright. Trust your eye!

I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

After adjusting curves, I will sometimes adjust the levels to fine tune the look I achieved with my curves layer. Click that little circle that is half black and half white again and this time choose Levels instead of Curves.


After you click levels, a little graph will pop up again. This is the histogram. I’m going to give you a very basic primer to get you started. The little black slider moved in towards the center will make your darks darker. The little white slider moved towards the center will make your whites whiter. Adjusting the grey slider in the middle has an overall effect on your photo like a dimmer on a light switch would have in a room. Make small adjustments while watching your photo. Eventually, it will be like riding a horse, driving a car, or playing piano. Your fingers and eyes will instinctively see and know how to move the sliders up and down to get the look you want.
I Heart Faces Photoshop Tutorial


After adjusting the light in the photo, I want to give it just a bump in contrast. Head back to that little half-white and half black button (sensing a theme?) and this time click CONTRAST/BRIGHTNESS.
I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

A little window will pop up with sliders for contrast and brightness. Very simply, move the contrast slider to the right to make more of a contrast and to the left to “soften” the photo. You can also use the brightness slider to lighten your image, but I prefer to make this adjustment in curves and/or levels because you have more control.


Finally, I want to finish off the photo with a little vignette around the edges. Basically, a vignette is making the outer edges of the photo darker. (You can also make the outer edges a bit lighter, but this effect is used less often.)
You can create a vignette early on in the LENS CORRECTION screen, but I use an action. My vignette action is from Florabella, but you can pick up a free one at Pioneer Woman, too. When you press the vignette button, the edges will get darker and look like this:
I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial

Vignettes can be completely overdone and it always screams out at me when I see a photo with too much vignetting. SO. Make sure to adjust the opacity of this layer.

If you hear nothing else, hear this!  OPACITY is the KEY to not over-editing photos.

Look at your layers box. There is layer after layer of the adjustments you have made. In the top right corner there is a box that says ‘opacity’ with a percentage. When you make an adjustment it will be at 100%. To dial back the effect a bit, lower that opacity as far down as you need to. Sometimes I will run an action and dial the opacity all the way down to 4-5%. It takes your photos from looking overdone to lightly brushed. USE IT!
I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial


Here is my photo with the adjusted vignette opacity. See the difference?
I Heart Faces Photoshop Editing Tutorial


Here they are together:
I Heart Faces Photo Editing Tutorial


…and here is the Before and After:

I Heart Faces Photo Editing Tutorial


Light adjustments. That is the key. Start out small and ease your way into larger adjustments. DON’T OVERDO IT! …and always save the original SOOC image. You never know what style of photo editing you might like is 40 years!

Amy Renea for I Heart FacesAmy Renea is a wedding and editorial freelance photographer based out of Hershey, PA. She spends her days chasing around children and chickens in the backyard while shooting photos for national magazines and her editorial blog  ‘A Nest for All Seasons’.  Be sure to check out Amy’s portfolio , visit her on Facebook or follow her on Pinterest.

Now it’s your turn!

Join us in our free Photography Community tomorrow for Fix-it Friday. You will be able to download a high-res version of  Amy’s beautiful photo, edit it in your own style, and share your results with the other members in our forum. Not a member of our I Heart Faces Community? Click here to join!

Would you like to be considered as an upcoming Featured Photographer in our “Before & After” photo editing series? Please contact us and be sure to include samples of your current editing style.  We love to feature members of our community whenever possible!

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Erika Ward August 17, 2012

@allenaim2, your tutorial on @iHeartFaces helped so much when editing some recent photos! Thanks! #photography


Declan Mc Glone April 27, 2012

Before & After {Photo Editing Tutorial} #photography


Inspire Me Heather April 26, 2012

Thank you so much for this! I’m still struggling with the people editing – this all makes so much more sense!


Petra H April 26, 2012

Love the tip for lens correction!


Erin Stevenson April 26, 2012

Thank you for the advice. I don’t consider myself an editing pro and it’s always great to get simple tips from people who do it well!


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