How To Actually Edit Your Pics — According To 8 Photo Pros

Contrary to what your favorite Instagram accounts may have you believe, you don't need studio lighting, zoom lenses, tripods, and reflector discs to take a really good picture. You certainly don't need studio space or a team of assistants. All you need is your phone. Your phone is the ultimate way to share your life, allowing you to take any mundane or unexpected activity and turn it into art — or at the very least, a lasting memory. All you have to do is point, snap, edit, and upload.
In partnership with Adobe Lightroom CC, we tapped eight artists to do just that. Armed with only a camera and the Lightroom app, they divulged how they make art from the most unexpected sources of inspiration: from the seeds on a sandwich bun to the contrasting geometry between buildings and plants. Ahead, each artist takes us behind the scenes of their photography, from beginning to end, and every editing step in between. (Of course, not all of us are experts in this area, so make sure you brush up on the basics before getting started with your own mobile editing.)
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Editing Technique: White Balance
Jin Lee and Dana DeCoursey, an NYC-based photography duo, say timelessness and nostalgia are their greatest sources of inspiration, and it's apparent from just one glance at their portfolio. Their portraiture evokes the '70s and '80s by way of bold makeup, bright colors, and captivating poses. At times, their work feels like it's plucked straight from an old Hollywood film — and it's intentional. "Cinema definitely plays a huge role in our influences," say Lee and DeCoursey. "If either of us is inspired by a particularly cool character or [the] plot of a film, we’ll always try to incorporate that into a shoot." While the duo loosely based the photo above off the dynamics of their own partnership, they were also unexpectedly inspired by a popular 1970s Hollywood photo series. With a little tweaking and white balancing, the result is a portrait that proves retro style is anything but old-fashioned.
To edit a photo like this, Lee and DeCoursey suggest using color manipulation. First, they used Lightroom's curve tool to adjust the brightness and contrast and make the image pop. Then, they used the color tool to adjust the overall tone and control the white balance. Finally, they used color mix to isolate the reds, amp up the hue, and shift the undertones. Nervous to jump into color and light editing? Watch this tutorial first.
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Editing Technique: Lighting
To Kelsey McClellan and Michelle Maguire, a photographer and makeup artist duo that go by Terrence Caviar, humor is a natural part of photography. "Our images are always a product of what inspires us. We usually have a great time making them, and I think that lightheartedness shows in our images together," says McClellan. Here, the combination of humor and style doesn’t go unnoticed. It’s a flawless juxtaposition of a seeded sandwich bun and cherry-blossom seeds. But after the editing process, the photo stimulates the senses even more with bright lighting and contrasting shadows — leaving anybody hungry for a bite.
To get a similar look, McClellan advises using Lightroom's preset auto adjustments. She made slight adjustments using the auto tool for lighting. "[These settings] are very good for an auto option, which I usually avoid in other apps," she says. Then, she boosted the saturation and warmed up the temperature. To finish, she increased the clarity with the effects tool and the sharpness with the details tool. (Get more comfortable with all the effects tools here.)
Artist: Leeor Wild
Editing Technique: Split Tones
Photographing the beauty of the human body is what Leeor Wild does best. "I love how bodies move, and I love exploring bizarre positions, twisting bodies as far as people will let me," the New York- and Toronto-based photographer says. Her work includes intimate portraiture that often contrasts bodies and space. For this photo, Wild found herself in the middle of New Mexico with a thousand stick-on gems and a few of her closest friends (who jumped at the idea of hand modeling). The gems alone speak to the depth and dimension of the human body, but the magic of the photo really comes from the editing process, where Wild split tones and transformed the hands into a sculptural element.
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For a comparable effect, Wild suggests editing your photo's lighting, color mix, and split tones. She first reduced the exposure, contrast, and highlights using Lightroom's lighting tool. Then, she decreased the saturation and luminance of the orange, aqua, and blue hues. As a final — and important — step, Wild used the split tones in the effects tool to add warmth to the highlights.
Editing Technique: Cropping
Whereas some artists look to people for inspiration, visual artist Hayley Eichenbaum looks to the environment surrounding her. "Driving long distances alone through the American Southwest ignites all of my senses," she says. "I feel [like] I see the world more objectively when driving." A lot of Eichenbaum’s work features exterior architecture in a way that’s illustrative and geometric, and that’s exactly what she hoped for with this photograph. Inspired by its unexpected color, texture, and geometry, Eichenbaum wanted the photo to read like an architectural mood board. It's beautiful on its own, but cropped in and adjusted for color, it becomes a layered story of Eichenbaum’s road trips.
To edit your own exterior photography, use a cropping technique similar to Eichenbaum’s. She first cropped the image using the 5x4 ratio in Lightroom. Then, she used the app's auto tool on the entire photo, followed by the selective tool to make minor color edits on the cactus plant. Finally, she adjusted the color mix to amp up the green, fuchsia, and purple hues of the entire photo. She also brought down the hue on the light blue and the luminance on the red and yellow. (Check this out for secrets to a good crop.)
Artist: Iggy Smalls
Editing Technique: Color Vibrancy
Iggy Smalls describes her style as "spontaneous but focused." The Norwegian photographer (who currently calls Spain home) has a way of expertly narrowing in on surprising combinations of texture and color. "Contemporary art is what inspires me to think about how many different ways a project can be approached, consider how images can be used, and creatively open my mind," she says. That’s just how this photo functions: It opens the viewer's mind to the combination of oversaturated hues and unexpected texture. According to Smalls, the photo was inspired by her love for food and cooking and her appreciation for the visual art of food. First captured on film, Smalls brought the photo into the digital realm and added a contemporary flare with the app.
To get this look, focus on making the color pop. Since this was originally a film photo, Smalls first used Lightroom to adjust the framing, straightening and cropping it. Then, she went into the color tool and turned up the vibrancy. To finish, she used the color mix tool to turn down the yellow hues.
Artist: Ana Linares
Editing Technique: Color Mixing
Designer turned photographer Ana Linares is proof that photography can open up a different way of seeing the world. After years of owning her own design business, Linares craved a stronger connection with people. So she shifted her attention to travel photography and never looked back. "I love visiting the local markets from the cities I visit," she says of her travels. "That’s where you really see the true essence of a place: its colors, the locals, and the energy of the locale you're about to discover." Here, the energy of the never-ending steps is undeniable, but Linares’ edits turn up the contrast and color to make the architecture even more notable.
For a similar editing style, Linares suggests warming the tones and adding slight contrast. First, she brought up the temperature and vibrancy using Lightroom's color tool. Then, she used the lighting tool to increase the contrast and deepen the shadows.

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