Introduction to Image Editing

When we think of image editing, we probably think of VSCO, Snapseed or the very “accessible” (boring, mainstream) filters from Snapchat or Google. However, image editing does not merely consist of making your pictures black and white or slapping a cute doggy face on a selfie and in this article, I hope to lay out the basic controls and instruments you can use to create better-looking pictures. Editing a picture may be increasingly relevant in society with the increased usage of social media and the fact that with better cameras on our smartphones, we expect better results as well. An expensive camera will never be able to give us the desired results every time and thus I hope to introduce to you some basic functions in common photo editing applications.

  1. Exposure

Exposure is one of the most basic variables that people use when editing images. It is namely used to make photos either brighter or darker. However, it is sometimes too harsh when just trying to adjust exposure in one small part of the image as it often acts on the whole image. (bottom: increased exposure (right))

  1. Contrast

Contrast refers to the difference in colors and luminance that make objects in an image distinguishable. Contrast is primarily adjusted to make objects clearer to the viewer by making sharper differences in brightness. For example you are wearing a white shirt against a white wall, having increased contrast can help to better distinguish between the two white textures.

(bottom: increased contrast (right))

  1. Highlights and Shadow

Highlights typically refer to areas in photos where there is strong lighting while shadows refer to the converse, areas which are less illuminated. Altering the highlights and shadows are very useful as they serve to change only selected parts of the photo which are blown out by the light or just too dark.

(increased highlights (right))



(reduced shadows (right))

  1. Clarity

Clarity is often known as “edge contrast”, clarity is used to accentuate and define the boundaries between different objects by increasing the contrast and giving the impression of increased sharpness. Maxed out clarity often gives a very washed out and rough effect to a landscape as even the smallest details are captured, leading to a forcibly jarring image.

(increased clarity (right))

  1. Vibrance

Vibrance in photography is a tool which helps to ramp up the intensity of colours which are not well-represented in a photo while leaving colours that have appropriate amount of intensity alone. It is helpful in quickly filling in “missing colours” especially for mobile phone users who do not have the time to edit photos on a notebook or desktop.

(increased vibrance (right))

  1. Saturation

Saturation generally refers to the intensity of colours in the picture. Increasing saturation means increasing the concentration of the colours and thus creating a more vivid picture. While the colours look more lively, do not overuse saturation as photos may become overwhelming or distracting that way.

(increased saturation (right))


These basics to image editing are just an overview over the many facets of what may be considered a skill or even an art nowadays. One can either edit for practicality or one can choose to edit to lend images an artistic element that cannot be achieved any other way. I hope that this article is beneficial to the layman and will help to build a foundation to which image editing can be used effectively and frequently.