Adobe Photoshop CS6 Box

Quickly Edit A Photo In Photoshop

iPhoneography is fun. My iPhone 4s has 8 megapixel camera built in that produces great photos.

Here’s a condensed version of what I’ve learned editing a few thousand iPhone 4s photos in Photoshop CS6. Aim – being concise and quick – go off and use these techniques straight away.

It’s great to have detailed “baby-steps” how-tos, but most people have a brain and could benefit from the experience of learning themselves. If you can’t read, then try YouTube, there are plenty of great videos there.

I do quite a lot of panoramic or merged photography. I’m working with up 35 individual images to make one super-image. So I will talk a little about techniques for editing them also.

Adobe Photoshop CS6 Box
Adobe Photoshop CS6 Box


Rationale – Make adjustments to lightness, darkness and contrast first – these have the biggest impact, and also affect colour, so if you adjust colour first you’ll be chasing your tail.


Photoshop has three “Auto” tools, Tone, Contrast and Colour, under the “Image” menu. I use these tools first, with one hand on “CTRL-Z” (undo). I look at the picture as a whole and see if I feel it’s improved, especially the colourful parts. If not then I don’t use it. Often for photos with the sky in, this will “cool” the photo for a bluer sky, and a “cooler” look. For a lot of sunsets for instance, sometimes I prefer the warmer colours, so I don’t use the suggested enhancement.

This is the fastest quickest way to improve the photo, some photos don’t need any more than this, anyone could do this in less than a minute.


My number one favourite tool that’s not automatic is this one. It’s default setting is to correct a backlit subject with strong sunlight behind (the Shadows corrected by 50%). If you’ve a backlit problem, this will correct fairly well straight away. More often I use it on almost all photos to turn down the brightness of highlights. To do this pull the shadows back to 0% and use the highlights slider, up to maybe 25%. Use any of these effects subtly in most cases, because overdone the photo will start to look like a painting. The enhancement might be as little as a slide from 0 to 2%, sometimes it’s more, but subtle is often the name of the game.


For night photos, almost always I turn up the contrast and back off the brightness, for me this makes it more photo-realistic. I do also use it with day photos, but again subtly is usually key, minor adjustment. For a well lit daytime shot, upping the contrast and backing of the brightness a little will often enhance it. Don’t overdo it though otherwise you’ll lose that well lit quality.


Levels usually seems to give greatest improvement fastest. I didn’t bother to read the long technical documents about the histograms, not that interested right now, perhaps later. Most success I’ve had using the pipette/eyedroppers. There are three – a white, a mid and a black. It’s as simple as selecting the icon, for instance for the white pippette. Then selecting an area on the photo that is most “white”. Sometimes, bang, wow, that’s much much better. Sometimes you’ll have to experiment with different lightest areas of the photo. Again always I have one hand on “CTRL-Z” for undo to cancel what I don’t like, or cancel button on the tool. If you don’t see an improvement on the white, then try the black on dark areas of the photo. Then last I try the mid, which is usually a grey area on the photo.

Please do understand that white, black and mid (grey) doesn’t have to be exactly that, try lighter, darker and medium areas of the photo. Often get weird results but sometimes I’m like bang, that’s it, perfect.

I had a badly lit night photo of a table with some bouquets of flowers on it. There were two street lights, and intense horrid fake “day-light” LED floodlight on one side, and a very warm “yellowish” street light on the other. The colours on the photo were HORRIBLE. In the past this would have gone in trash, and I’d have been disappointed especially if that was my only shot. Using the Levels with the white pipette, I selected the table’s surface which is white, and bang, I’ve got photo-realistic colours. Often it’s that simple.

Curves I found to be less dramatic improvements, but is often worthwhile too. Don’t guild the lily, if it looks good with the levels, then forget curves.


Vibrance can really bring out the colours. Usually I use between about +20 to +40, will bring out blue skys, greens of leaves and flower colours for instance. Take it too high and you start to lose detail and your photo will start to look like a painting. Subtle is best.

The tool also has Saturation. This can also help to bring out the colours, but be very subtle with it like +1 or +5 in most cases, usually I start with +2.

That’s my basic toolkit for editing normal photos, that don’t need corrections.


I often do Panoramas and merge multiple photos for a wider angle, and greater resolution. I use autofocus and autoexposure on my iPhone, which serves to complicate matters, but saves me time and headache when I’m shooting. Also the photo merging software often makes mistakes, so I use these tools too:

Burn/Dodge tool

Burn makes the selected area darker, dodge tool lighter. Great for darkening or lightening areas, try different sizes of “brush” using “[” and “]” keys to quickly change the size.

Because of the autoexposure, on my merged photos I often get a mismatch between shading in different areas of the merged photo. I often use the Burn and Dodge tools to correct this.

Clone tool

Sometimes it’ll be a bit of trash in a beach photo, sometimes it’ll be an error in the join of merged photos. The Clone tool needs you to select an area – click on the area whilst holding the “ALT” key. That’s the source area. Then move to the area you want to clone over, then “paint” that area.

I’ve removed myself from a mirror like this, corrected a metal railing (which often cause a problem for merged photos/panorama) and removed plenty of trash which can really detract from a beauty spot.

Clone tool – learn and use it, it it’s one of the Photoshoppers favourite friends.

Blur/Sharpen Tool

Main thing I use this for is where I have a seam between two merged photos often the seam is blurred. Sharpen tool along the seam will help make it disappear.

Also because I use autofocus for my individual photos, occasionally I will get portions of the merged image that are sharp and then portions that are blurred. I use these tools to correct that.

Or perhaps you want to blur out the background to make a foreground object stand out more. Blur the background, sharpen the foreground object a little.


Save versions

Never overwrite your “original” photo with a save, always save as different file name. Also don’t use Windows Photo Viewer to rotate, as it will overwrite your original file.

When I’m editing I often save versions at important critical points that I may wish to revert to. So for IMG_1234.jpg, I might have IMG_1234_edited.jpg, just after after I’ve done auto-levels and contrast, then IMG_1234_edited_cloned.jpg, just after I’ve clone-tooled out some trash, then IMG_1234_edited_cloned_cropped.jpg, just after I’ve done a crop.

The key isn’t in the save for “after”, the key is in the last save of the previous steps. So save before, then save after. Think about were you want to get back to.

Adjustment Layers

Use adjustment layers, make it easier to undo and you can adjust each enhancement individually, and to remove an enhancement you can just delete the adjustment layer. Downside, you have to save the edited photo in .PSD format, plus a .JPG for viewing/distributing which takes up more space on your disc.


Save for Web

Use save for web to reduce the pixel size of your image, and reduce the “quality”. For instance a 4000w x 3000h JPG image is quite a large pixel size, larger than a lot of monitors can see, so I might reduce this to 800w x 300h or even 400w x 150h, depends on what you’re using it for. You can find out what’s the “right” size by downloading existing images that are the same destination size and check their size. Or sometimes it’s published what size it needs to be, the banner on my blog for instance I think is 960w x 180h.

Also stuff gets copied on the web. Personally I don’t want to give away a full size panorama that might have taken 5 hours to do or a cartoon that’s taken two days. So helps prevent copyright theft.

And finally reducing the pixel size and quality means faster loading of a web page if your using it on a web page.


My iPhone produces generally very good photos in the day time at 8 megapixels. The improvements I make are generally reasonable subtle, it takes experience to gauge the subtleness, which means putting the practice in. The basic toolkit I’ve described handles most situations quickly and simply. The additional tools to edit areas of the photo will take a bit more time, but can make a photo a quite a lot better through minimal effort.

Consider integrating all these methods into your own basic Photoshop tool-kit.

Bottom line, there is no substitute for practice, keep on practising and experimenting, and one day you’ll find you are awesome at editing photos.

Enjoy 🙂

Resources & Source

Image Source (Thank you)


41 thoughts on “Quickly Edit A Photo In Photoshop

  1. Thanks for sharing your tips. I’m a big fan of saving multiple versions of a project as I’m developing it so that I have a place to roll back to in case a particular approach did not work out.

    As a former software developer, I have been experimenting with a version control tool called Git (open source, free), to manage multiple versions of a file. One thing I like about using it – I still keep multiple versions of a project without cluttering my working directory with multiple files.

    Congratulations, BTW, on being a member of the elite Not Featured on Freshly Pressed group! I wish I had a cool badge like that 🙂

    1. I’ve got some pro friends that use GIMP, however they do say that in a job often Photoshop skills are required because that’s what their employer uses … It’s a good rough guide to getting started, probably for most non-professionals it’s enough to get smashing photos quickly without too much time or effort. warm regards DC

  2. Bonne et heureuse année 2014!
    Bise de Roumanie,

    ♥ *´¨)
    ¸. •´¸.♥ •´¨) ♥¸. •*¨)(¸.♥ •´* •.¸
    (¸.♥ •´ (¸.♥ •´ (¸.♥ •*´¯`(¸.♥ •*´¯`.¸.•´♥ Liz

  3. I do well to save and find photos as it is. Come to think of it, I do well to find my blog dashboard. And now I get some radio program or something and lots of pop ups I never got before. Come to Kentucky Don. I need you.

  4. As always great tips. Been looking thorough others of your posts about this, what I call, technical stuff. Learning slowly but learning. I´m not a caveman anymore, I just got out of the cave and found I can make fire. Now I have to wait what I can cook and which ingredients to mix.

    That was a strange analogy.

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