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Beware the Over-edit

When I first discovered the world of editing and post-processing, I felt like I had gone to school for 13 years and become a plastic surgeon overnight. The power I had at my fingertips to make my photos whatever I wanted! Cross process! Sepia! Vignettes! Cropping! Black and white! And 7,000 different kinds!

I had a few dozen different kinds of fun wading through the editing waters. But along with that came many mistakes that are common to beginning photographers. I over-edited. My people had Chiclet teeth, porcelain doll skin with bright, shiny, non-human eyes, and were over-saturated, just to name a few of the more common ones.

I also used so many filters and edits on top of edits that the altering of the photo was often the most noticeable part of the photo and not the subject or quality of the photo.

I understand editing is a difficult topic to narrow down because it’s very subjective; photographers have huge, varying tastes and preferences when it comes to editing photos and any of these preferences are great and fit within many different photography styles. But I think it’s safe to say there are some mistakes that could be universally agreed upon should be avoided.

The Chiclet Teeth

I’m all for white teeth. I wish mine were whiter, quite frankly, and I’m not opposed to a little post-processing help. Saves my wallet and boosts my self-esteem and that’s a win/win in my opinion. However, I think teeth can be unnaturally whitened and rather than be a small tool that boosts the overall quality of the image it becomes the central focus. But not in a good way.

Whiten teeth, yes, but avoid The Chiclet.

Porcelain Doll Skin and Shiny, Non-human Eyes

I want my photographed face to be a realistic version of my in-person face. And as disheartening as it may be, I simply don’t have porcelain doll skin or eyes. The doll effect happens when you move that clarity slider too far to the left or soften skin to the point of losing natural lines and, yes, even the wrinkles that make your clients uniquely them.

Softening harsh reds in skin tones or removing blemishes is a great tool we have available in post-processing to make our clients look their possible best, but let’s make sure we don’t overdo it and lose that realistic quality.


I love bright colors in photos. But over-saturated photos tend to make the subject look more Jersey Shore and less Beautiful Subject. We want to make colors pop but within a reasonable frame of color scale. I’d prefer my client’s first reaction to be, “Wow, I look really great!” not, “Wow, I look really….not like me. And not human at all really.” (Ok, maybe that last part is an exaggeration.) To give a few examples and highlight these common over-editing mistakes, I asked my mom to snap a few impromptu shots of me to show the difference between an over-edited image and a slightly-edited image.

This is SOOC and could definitely use some cleaning up and improvement.

Obviously, this is an exaggerated edit but it’s honestly not too far of what I’ve both done myself and seen recently.

This is a cleaned up version of the original. I still look like myself, just a slightly improved version.

I think it’s reasonable to say that clients aren’t opposed to a touched-up version, just not a made-up version. Clients understand that a photographer’s job is not to do plastic surgery on their face, but rather to capture them at their possible best with edits that enhance, not detract.

What are some editing skills you’ve learned along the way?

Sara McNutt lives, writes, and photographs in Missoula, MT. You can find her on Facebook at Sara McNutt Photography.

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