What Is Photo Editing?: A Definition

The photoshoot is only one part of creating a great image. A skilled photo editor can take a good RAW image and use a myriad of techniques to create a stunning final photo. Post-processing can enhance what you did capture and create effects that aren’t always possible in the photography studio.

This is especially true when it comes to ecommerce product photography that can seem creatively limiting. 

Curious about post-processing and how you can use it to improve your business? Get a refresher on the definition of photo editing and learn about what a photo editor is and how to incorporate photo editing into your business.

What is photo editing?: A definition

Photo editing is the act of image enhancement and manipulation. This process is usually done with a digital photo editing software. Photo editing can involve basic tweaks like when you crop and resize images or adjust saturation. It also includes advanced techniques like swapping faces or photo retouching to get rid of distracting elements or unwanted objects.

Some image editing techniques are done manually, while others are conducted through automated photo editing tools and software. Most edits to digital photography involve some one or a few photo editing programs. Some edits are even done offline on actual photographs, posters, or other printed collateral without any image editing software.

Other terms for photo editing include:

  • Image editing
  • Post-processing
  • Image/photo manipulation
  • Photoshopping
  • Image/photo enhancement

The importance of photo editing

Editing helps you fine tune and get the best image possible, as close to what you imagined when you took the photo (or better perhaps). Niche photographers can hone and emphasize their personal style. And for businesses, editing helps cement branding and optimize for business goals.

Photo editing is particularly important for ecommerce companies. Image quality directly affects people’s opinion of the product and sales numbers. Studies have confirmed that high-quality images outperform stock photos and poorer quality imagery—and increasing the number of high-quality images helps build trust with consumers and increases conversion rates.

What are the different types of photo editing?

There are many ways to edit a photo—some simple and others more complicated.

Many people can figure out simple photo editing techniques on their own—though this does require time and patience. More complex adjustments may require using dedicated programs with specific photo editing features or hiring a trained professional editor.

Simple photo editing techniques include:

  1. Straighten: adjust the horizon of the photo
  2. Crop: image cropping involves trimming out a portion (usually peripheral) of the image to help draw attention to the subject or otherwise improve the composition
  3. Resize: adjust the dimensions of the image
  4. Sharpen: enhance the definition of the edges in an image (won’t make a blurry image in-focus)
  5. Noise reduction: smoothing the picture out, typically accomplished by reducing the pixel size
  6. White balance: the color of the light in the image
  7. Contrast: higher contrast makes an image more punchy, while lower contrast makes it flatter in color
  8. Exposure: the brightness of the photo
  9. Lens correction: lessens the effect(s) of the camera lens
  10. Color adjustments: change the color of an item or element in the photo
  11. Background removal: delete the background from the image, isolating the subject (this is often used for white background product photography)

More complex techniques include:

  • Clipping paths: vector path that differentiates the part of the image that’s visible and the part that’s transparent (extracts a subject or element from an image)
  • Portrait corrections: complexion touch-ups and enhancements
  • Drop and reflection shadow: create and adjust shadows
  • Special effects: this can mean an array of things, from animation to adding weather conditions like fog or snow
  • Adjusting text and visuals: add overlays or manipulate what’s already there
  • Photo stitching: when you seamlessly put two images together to make it look as though they were shot that way
  • Photo masking and Layers: the process of hiding and revealing specified portions of an image

Pixel editing and parametric image editing

Two methods of digital photo editing are pixel editing and parametric image editing. Let’s look at their definitions:

What is pixel editing?

Pixel editing, or pixel-level editing, is when you alter an image at the pixel level. Because you’re altering the pixels themselves, this also permanently changes the image file. That’s why pixel editing is considered a destructive form of photo editing because it’s not as easy to undo the changes and restore the original file.

Pixel editing allows you to make extremely detailed edits and accomplish certain functions that parametric image editing can’t (like CMYK color modes, for example).

What is parametric image editing?

Parametric image editing (PIE) doesn’t change the pixels of the image. Instead, these edits are recorded as a set of steps to follow to accomplish the final look. Thus, it’s a non-destructive mode of photo editing. However, PIE doesn’t always allow for all types of edits.

Many in the industry recommend starting with PIE, and then using pixel editing to refine the final details.

Photo editing history

    Examples of photo editing

    There are so many ways to edit photos, and everyone has a unique approach. You might see examples of photo editing on social media or YouTube.

    Here are some examples of photo edits the team at Path have fulfilled for ecommerce brands all over the world: 

    Background removal

    Photo retouching

    Ghost mannequin

    You can also check out tutorials to see photo editing examples and learn how to do them step-by-step. Here are a few tutorials that walk you through the photo editing process on your own:

    • Photoshop Tutorial: A Beginner's Guide to Using Layers
    • How to Create a Transparent Background in Photoshop
    • How to Change the Background Color of a Picture

    Editing product photos

    Product images will almost always require or benefit from post-processing. One of the main things you want to be mindful of is consistency, especially if you’re working on multiple products for the same company or are providing several types of photos of the same product.

    Visuals help market brands and sell products, but you should also think about where the image will be used. Is it for an advertisement, ecommerce page, social media, or a print catalog? A white background shot will call for much different edits than an image for a Facebook ad. Likely, you’ll be able to get more creative with advertising imagery.

    Here are some of the most common types of edits for product photography:

    Image source

    • Brightness and exposure: If you didn’t nail the lighting, you can make substantial adjustments post-shoot.
    • Background removal: This is a common edit for product photos, especially if you’re listing the item on Amazon, which has a white background requirement. Regardless, white background maintains consistency.
    • Color correction: It’s important that product photos portray the item as accurately as possible so it’s a smart idea to color correct all of your product images. As many as 64% of returns happen because the product didn’t match customer expectations based on product images and descriptions.
    • Color change: For products that come in several colors, it’s important to showcase the variety. Instead of photographing the product in every color, photo editors can make the changes post shoot.

    Learn how to edit your photos

    If you’re ready to learn how to edit your own photos, check out this handy collection of Photoshop tutorials. Here are a few to get started with:

    • Fundamental Photo-Editing Checklist: 11 Steps to Perfect Product Photos
    • A Beginner’s Guide to Photoshop Tools
    • How to Create a Realistic Drop Shadow
    • How to Blur the Background in Photoshop: A Tutorial for Your Product Photos
    • 30+ Best Photo Editing Apps for Product Photographers on the Go

    What is a professional photo editor?

    A person who edits images can either be self-employed, contracted by an outsourced company or agency, or someone who works in-house. There are many possible job titles for a photo editor, including digital photo editor, graphic designer or art director, among others.

    Typically, photo editors specialize in specific industries, much like photographers. For example, real estate, editorial, and product photography all come with their own set of trends and intricacies. Editors that focus on ecommerce images know just how to make products pop.

    Our virtual photo editing studio is made of more than 300 trained professional photo editors who specialize in ecommerce product photography. 

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    Tackling photo editing for product photography

    Learning new photo editing techniques can be an enjoyable way to break up your day and add to your industry knowledge, but editing photos can be time-consuming, especially if photography is your specialty. If you need fast, affordable, high-quality photo-editing services, the professionals at Path are here to help.

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    What is photo editing? FAQs

    Can I edit a photo for free?

    Yes, you can edit a photo for free. You can use free photo editing tools and do it yourself. You can also use free AI photo editing tools, but these edits require careful quality checks. Or, send your first two photos to Path to get them edited for free.

    How can I edit a picture image?

    1. Open your photo editing tool of choice
    2. Upload or open the photo you want to edit
    3. Make your desired edits
    4. Save your work

    What is the best app to use for photo editing?

    • Adobe Photoshop
    • Adobe Lightroom
    • GIMP
    • Pixlr
    • Snapseed
    • VSCO

    How do I edit my photos like a pro?

    Edit photos like a pro by learning basic and advanced Photoshop techniques, outsourcing the tedious edits, and optimizing for the right use and context.

    What is the meaning of photo editing?

    The meaning of photo editing is the process of manipulating and enhancing a photo. Photo editing can involve basic tweaks like cropping, resizing, and applying artistic filters. It also includes advanced manipulations like retouching and removing unwanted elements and distractions.

    What are the 5 basics of photo editing?

    1. Cropping
    2. Resizing
    3. Applying simple clipping paths
    4. Changing colors
    5. Adjusting exposure

    What is the purpose of a photo editor?

    A photo editor can save you time and stress because they have the skills necessary to accomplish tedious, time-consuming, or complicated editing tasks for you.

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