Lesson 20: Editing for composition - rotate, straighten, crop

In the next three lessons, we are going to explore editing.

On the surface, it may seem that editing is all about how a photo looks. However, I want to remind you to still keep your focus on how it feels, not how it looks.

Think about what edits best strengthen the story of the moment.

And more than that, use editing as a means of luxuriating in your photos - as we talked about yesterday, use editing as part of the process of reflection and gratitude.

When you use editing to go deep into the moment of the photo, you will sear the moment into your memory.

Editing is also a way of focusing on and celebrating what is good in your life - and therefore not only noticing it as it happens but actually creating more of it in your life.

Why edit?

Editing is an incredibly powerful way to improve and in fact transform your photos. While you may hear photographers talk about trying to get spectacular photos “straight out of camera,” the truth is that photographers have been editing their photos after the fact in the darkroom since the birth of photography. There is no shame at all in doing some after-the-fact editing in your “digital darkroom.” 

In fact, professional photographers edit practically every photo that they ever share, if not every photo - it is all part of the process and art of photography.

Editing does not have to be complicated, highly technical or time consuming.

When you know a few simple ways to quickly edit your images, you can transform photos from “blah” to “wow” and  make your good photos even better - thereby totally expanding your ability to capture the moment.

Without editing, this photo is rather flat - the colors are dull and washed out. While it was a bit of an overcast day, this photo does not reflect how I experienced and remember the moment.

Without editing, this photo is rather flat - the colors are dull and washed out. While it was a bit of an overcast day, this photo does not reflect how I experienced and remember the moment.

Through some simple edits, I was able to lovingly transform this photo so it more accurately reflected how this moment felt to me at the time - now shared with friends and family and seared in my memory.

Through some simple edits, I was able to lovingly transform this photo so it more accurately reflected how this moment felt to me at the time - now shared with friends and family and seared in my memory.

So often when I hear from parents that their photos just don’t reflect the beauty of the moment they see, it is because they are not editing their photos, and this is particularly true on your smartphone. 

The good news is that you can edit the photos you took on your smartphone on the phone itself so that you can improve and share your photos right away without ever having to go near a computer - key for busy parents!

You can even go back through your photo archives and edit old photos to improve them. I love “shopping my archives” to find new hidden gems I never got around to editing before, and through that process reliving and reconnecting with the feeling of being in that moment all over again.

This is one of the first photos taken of Liam when he was born in early 2009... on my iPhone. This is exactly how I shared it a few weeks later when I first joined Facebook.

This is one of the first photos taken of Liam when he was born in early 2009... on my iPhone. This is exactly how I shared it a few weeks later when I first joined Facebook.

Here is the same photo that I just now edited on Camera+. Of course, we are used to a much higher quality of image from the latest iPhones today but this is still a big improvement.

Here is the same photo that I just now edited on Camera+. Of course, we are used to a much higher quality of image from the latest iPhones today but this is still a big improvement.

We are going to spend the next three days covering everything you need to know about transforming your photos on your smartphone so that they best reflect the moments you are capturing.

What apps should you use?

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of great photo editing apps. My recommendation is this: don't let yourself get distracted by too many options!

There are many great apps, but most of them offer variations on the same types of features. I don't claim to have tried even a majority of them. I have a few that I use that offer all the features I need and for now, I am going to recommend just one: Camera+

If you have an iPhone or other IOS device, I highly recommend that you get this app. If you don't already have it, it is well worth the small cost. What I like about this app is that it is really simple and easy to get started with, yet it also has some pretty sophisticated features when you are ready to dig deeper.

If you don't have Camera+, the steps we are covering are typically available in many other apps, but you may need to use a few different apps to get all of the capabilities.

Today we are going to start with rotate, straighten and crop.

Last week, in Lesson 16, we talked about some different compositional strategies for telling the story of the moment you are capturing - getting low at your child’s level, or high above them, trying different angles and looking for off-center compositions.

Certainly your angle in relation to your subjects can’t be changed in editing, but the overall composition can be adjusted in the following ways:

Rotate:

Ok, this is pretty simple, but especially when shooting straight down, your camera can't always tell which way is up. Rotate by 90 or 180 degrees to correct this.

In IOS you can actually do this right from within Photos, which is very convenient when you want to rotate photos even just to see if they are worth editing further.

This is the only edit I suggest doing in Photos because, unlike in apps such as Camera+, there is no way to “undo” your edits (also known as “non-destructive editing”) or play around with adjusting different edits. You can only keep all the edits or revert back to the original photo.

If you are on an iPhone, you can hit "Edit" in the top right hand corner right from within Photos.

If you are on an iPhone, you can hit "Edit" in the top right hand corner right from within Photos.

Then hit the rotate icon in the bottom left hand corner and rotate your photo.

Then hit the rotate icon in the bottom left hand corner and rotate your photo.

Straighten:

Less commonly used, this is a very helpful tool if your photo is slightly crooked or off-kilter. 

Alternatively, consider whether your photo might look better at MORE of an angle. You can use the straighten tool to unstraighten a photo and create a more dynamic composition.

While you can straighten from within the Photos app too, as previously noted, I prefer to move to Camera+ before doing so as it is easier to play around within the app with different edits before finalizing them.

Go to "The Lab" and then "Straighten"

Go to "The Lab" and then "Straighten"

You can rotate the photo itself, use the slider, or use the arrows for fine tuning.

You can rotate the photo itself, use the slider, or use the arrows for fine tuning.

Crop:

Don't underestimate the power of cropping! 

While in real life you may not have the time to fine tune your composition, your photos can be completely transformed just through the simple act of cropping.

You can use cropping to:

●    emphasize part of an image to give it more significance - cropping in close to your subject can give your photo a more immediate, intimate feel when sometimes you just can’t get close enough quickly enough in real life
●    create a more interesting composition than you were able to put together when taking the photo - for example, off-center compositions as we discussed in lesson 16
●    eliminate background clutter and other distracting parts of a photo
●    change the orientation of the photo (by making a horizontal photo vertical or vice versa)

Note: I don’t generally waste time zooming in on my iPhone when actually taking photos as there is no advantage in terms of resolution and the same thing can be accomplished after the fact when you have more time to consider the exact crop you want to use.

Here are some iPhone photo examples cropping:

When you are editing a photo, the first thing I would consider is whether the photo could be improved by cropping.

While not every photo needs to cropped, there is a pretty high likelihood that your photo can be improved by doing so. 

That being said, there is no one right way to crop a photo.  Ultimately it's a personal and creative decision but one where a lot of the "magic" can happen as your images start to take their final form.

Here are some DSLR examples of cropping and straightening:

Put this into action now:

●    Select your photo
●    If necessary, rotate so it is in the correct orientation
●    Consider straightening your photo if it is slightly off-kilter, or possibly unstraightening it for a more dynamic composition
●    Play around with cropping in order to emphasize part of the photo by zooming in, creating a more interesting and possibly off-center composition, eliminating background clutter and/or altering the orientation of the photo
●    Remember to keep the focus on how it feels, not how it looks, and to use editing as a means of reflection and gratitude

Today’s photo prompt: What do you want more of?
Next up: Editing for quality - clarity, filters, brightness & contrast

Note: I'll be giving you daily photo prompts to help you in your photo-a-day project, but they are completely optional. Ultimately you should choose the photo for your project that best reflects what you most want to remember about the day.

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