5 Basic Photo Editing Rules To Give You the Best Pictures

Taking a photo is only a part of the entire process when it comes to the final photo your viewer is going to see.

Editing the photos that you’ve taken is a big part of the process. Although you don’t have to necessarily edit all of your photos, it’s never going to hurt to at least look at editing them.

When it comes to editing your photos, it can be very intimidating. No matter what editing software you are using, they can be scary.

Sometimes you can look at your photo and not really know where to start when it comes to editing it.

If you don’t know where to even begin, the editing process can be pretty daunting. Knowing just a few tips when you’re first starting the editing process will help you make your photos that much better.

Basic Photo Editing Rules

The rules below are going to give you a solid base for editing any photo.

For beginners, it’ll be important to remember these rules at all times.

They are going to allow you to start at a point that’s not zero. If you go into editing without knowing any of these rules, you are going to have a harder time getting started with the editing.

Most rules have exceptions, but these rules will always apply to your photos.

Have a Good Starting Photo

photo editing rules

When it comes to your photos, not all of them are going to be great. Some of them are going to be worse than others.

Although the editing process will be able to get rid of a lot of flaws, not every photo can be salvaged.

Some of your photos may turn out so bad that you won’t be able to save them. You might be able to think you can save a photo, but sometimes you won’t be able to.

If you take a photo that’s at least pretty decent then you have a good chance at making it great when you begin to edit it.

If you take a photo that’s just bad, you’re going to struggle a lot to edit the photo.

It’s much easier to make a great photo better than it is to make a bad photo good.

This shouldn’t be difficult either because you can look at a photo and know if it’s decent. If you’re honest with yourself, you will be able to determine if a photo can really be saved or not in editing.

Looking at the picture above, you can tell it’s not a good starting point. There’s too much blur for anything to really be salvaged.

If you’re worried about the camera you have and as to whether or not you can get good pictures with it, just know that you can get a good photo with any camera. It doesn’t matter what it is. Whether it’s your phone or a Canon EOS-R.

Know Your End Result


With this rule, you’re going to need to try and look into the future. You need to have an idea of what you want your photo to look like in the end.

This will allow your editing process to be smoother because you’ll know exactly what you want to do.

Not only will this save you time in the end, but it also will help you when it comes to taking pictures. You’ll start to learn how you want your photos to look before you even use your camera.

Although you may not get the exact photo you’re looking for, knowing how you want your photo to look makes editing easier.

Combining a photo that’s already close to what you want with editing software will allow the vision you have in your head to be placed on the screen in front of you.

The two photos above show this. The editing is fairly minimal from the first one to the second one, but that’s only because I knew what I wanted it to look like. So, any changes that were made were minor.

Create Emotions

This edit helps create more emotion. The subject matter looks to be longing for something, so bringing down the temperature of the photo helps add to the overall mood of the photo.

A great photo will evoke some sort of emotion with its viewers.

If you feel as though the original picture you took doesn’t give off the feeling you’re wanting, the editing process will be able to help you.

Think about some of your favorite photos that you’ve seen. Most of them will give you some sort of emotions. Whether it be from the colors or the subject matter, some emotions are brought to light when you see your favorite photos.

One of the good things about editing your photos is that you can change it however you want.

A lot of it has to do with the original lighting in the photo.

If you want a dark and gloomy photo, you can add in some darker colors with a blue-ish tint and you’ll be good. You can darken the shadows while at the same time bringing down the highlights.

You could go from having a picture that looks nice and sunny to one that looks gloomy on a cloudy day just like that.

By doing the opposite, you’ll be able to make a gloomy setting seem brighter and more vibrant.

It all depends on what you want out of your picture. This can go hand in hand with the previous rule. Having an idea of how you want your photo to look in the end will go a long way.

Put Focus on Your Subject

Because of the depth of field in this picture, there is no doubt where the emphasis is supposed to be. The subject stands apart from the rest of the photo.

There are few things more annoying than looking at a photo and not understanding where your eyes should go.

If your eyes are jumping all over the image trying to find exactly what it should look at, the photo isn’t really the best.

You want to make sure that your photo has an emphasis on what your subject is supposed to be.

When you’re taking your photo, you should already have some emphasis on your subject. Editing your photo can allow you to put even more focus on your subject.

You can force the viewer’s eyes to lock in on the subject and not jump around at all.

The best way to put more emphasis on your subject is to affect its brightness. Most of the time you’ll brighten your subject a bit.

You need to make sure that it stands apart from the rest of the photo. So if you can make sure the is a clear separation between the subject and the background or foreground then you’ll be in good shape.

Don’t Overdo It

Regular edit. It doesn’t look like much has changed, but it’s the subtle edit that makes this picture better.
This edit is just over the top. Sometimes a simple edit is the best thing to do.

When you’re getting into editing, it can be very easy to do too much.

It’s going to be very tempting to try and edit every little thing in the photo.

Not every part of every photo you have is going to have to be touched up. Sometimes it’s best to keep your editing minimal, especially if you already have a good photo, to begin with.

There are a ton of different options when it comes to editing your photo. Messing around with everything can be very easy.

However, if you’re trying to edit a photo for everyone to see, you’re not going to want to mess around with every single editing option too much.

Doing too much editing is going to cause your photo to look a bit unnatural. Try to keep in mind that you want to have the most natural-looking photo possible.

Edit the Best You Can

Editing your photos can be a very fun process. You’ll have the ability to completely change the way your photos look.

It’s important to remember the above rules. The entire editing process can get overwhelming at times if you don’t know what you’re doing.

However, with the rules above, the editing process becomes much easier.

You’ll also be able to save a bit of time along the way.

If you really want to mess around with the editing process as much as possible, take some practice photos and edit those.

Nobody is going to be an editing expert right away, but you’ll be able to get there with enough practice along the way.