I get a lot of comments and DMs asking me how I edit my Instagram photos. I always try and answer those as thoroughly as I can because, knowing from my own experience when I was first starting out and spending countless hours attempting to figure out how my favourite IG accounts edited their photos, nothing is more frustrating than reading a comment that says “I use VSCO”. But even a lengthy comment or DM isn’t enough to truly convey someone’s editing style, so I figured it was high time I put together a post for anyone who is interested in knowing my process.
Now, let me just start off by saying that I’m by no means an expert when it comes to editing and I’m constantly playing around with and tweaking my editing process to make it better. And whilst a part of having a beautiful feed absolutely has to do with how you take photos (I’ll do a post about composition and photography tips soon), how you edit your photos makes such a huge difference.
I do the bulk of my editing in Snapseed. It used to cost $4.99 back when I got it but it’s now free so there’s absolutely no reason not to download this amazing app! It has all the editing basics as well as some super cool advanced features like selective edit and transform. Plus it doesn’t have that annoying stepwise editing that VSCO has (the 1-10 scale) which I find super frustrating for fine tuning an image. VSCO is also missing a very crucial component in my opinion, which is being able to brighten highlights and darken shadows (not just the other way around).
[ Step 1 ] The very first thing I do is tune the image in Snapseed. I brighten the overall image, add some contrast, up the saturation and ambiance (this makes skin tones less washed out from the brightening because it tackles the midtones nicely), up the highlights + lower the shadows a bit, and cool down the image just a touch. (If it’s an image taken without a lot of natural light, I’ll cool down the image significantly to get rid of that super yellow tinge.)
[ Step 2a ] To really brighten my whites, I use the absolutely amazing selective edit option. You can click on a point in your image and then play with the brightness, contrast, and saturation. To make my whites nice and crisp, I select a white point on my image (which, after step 1, is still pretty yellow) and up the brightness, lower the contrast (to make the whites more uniform across my entire image), and desaturate almost to 100%. Use your fingers to “spread” the effects across your image (the red highlights which part of my image is affected by my selective edit). Since, in my example photo, the yellow of the walls is pretty similar to our skintones, I’ve had to use several points to brighten smaller sections, but sometimes a single point spread across your entire image will do the trick.
[ Step 2b ] I also use selective edit to darken and desaturate my blacks. I find this works better than just lowering shadows significantly in the first step, because I can leave midtones alone and really only work on the true blacks in the image.
Note: if I have a lot of greys in my image (which I don’t here), I will desaturate those with selective edit as well. This way I get true greys rather than yellow- or blue-tinted greys.
Look at the difference the selective edit makes on my background. It goes from a very yellow off-white to a true, crisp white-white without affecting the rest of my image.
[ Step 3 ] If I’m not completely satisfied with how my highlights are looking (or any larger area within my photo), I’ll use the brush feature. Here I used the dodge & burn brush to paint the walls a bit brighter. (The exposure brush works as well, it’s just more dramatic.) With the brush is how I, for example, will make a bright blue sky white if it’s a beach photo where I don’t want to make the blue water white as well. I’ll use a combination of selective edit and the exposure brush to brighten the sky. Or if I want to tone down the green in an image a bit (like trees and grass), I’ll paint it a bit with the desaturate brush set to -5.
[ Step 4 ] To help bring out the details a bit more, I’ll sharpen the photo and up the structure just a bit.
Note: there’s an additional tool in Snapseed that I often use but didn’t here, which is the transform tool. To change the image perspective (e.g. to straighten lines in an image that was taken slightly off centre), you can rectify that by transforming your image horizontally and/or vertically. And this image is totally not taken straight on but it’s a little too extreme to fix so I’m just going with it as is. If you want to learn more about this feature (as well as all of the advanced features in Snapseed, here is a good tutorial.)
[ Step 5 ] Snapseed’s filters are not all that great so, as a last step, I’ll import my newly edited photo into VSCO and add a filter there. My favourites are S2 and A6 (and in general the entire A line of filters is pretty great). I usually set it to strength 2-4 and, on occasion, I’ll layer the two filters (like I did here). Just save your photo with the first filter, then reimport it to add a second filter.
These last changes are much more subtle compared with the first 2 steps. But check out the subtle difference in sharpness between step 3 and 4 (like for facial features). And how the VSCO filters make our skin glow (that’s the A6 working its magic) and just getting the overall image a bit cleaner and brighter (thanks to S2).
And here it is again: the before and after. What you do think? What are your favourite ways to edit your photos and what filters do you use?
One last side note: I also get a lot of questions about what camera I use. Most of my Instagram photos are either iPhone (like this one) or taken with my SLR – a Nikon D610 with either a 35mm prime lens (95% of my SLR photos) or a 18-200mm zoom lens for when I need a really wide angle for house shots. Recently I added a Sony A6300 to my lineup so that I have a smaller, lighter camera to take with me when I go out or travel because the SLR is just too cumbersome for that. On that I only have the 16-50mm kit lens which is not that great but I haven’t gotten around to ordering a prime lens. That’s the camera I’ve been using for Nicolas sleeping photos because it’s completely silent (woo!!) but can handle low light better than my iPhone.