Essential Steps for Streamlined Photo Post-Processing
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 8 min read


  1. Organize your photos
  2. Cull photos to retain
  3. Adjust photo exposure
  4. Correct white balance
  5. Crop and straighten photos
  6. Retouch and remove blemishes
  7. Adjust contrast and saturation
  8. Sharpen your images
  9. Convert photos to black and white
  10. Add a vignette

Mastering the art of photography doesn't end with just snapping the perfect shot. There's a whole exciting world waiting for you after the shutter closes—the post-processing workflow for photographers. This can transform a good picture into a great one. Let's walk you through the essential steps for a streamlined photo post-processing experience.

Organize your photos

First things first, let's get those photos organized. You might have hundreds, or even thousands, of photos from your latest adventure, photoshoot or event. It's easy to get overwhelmed, but an organized workspace can do wonders for your post-processing workflow.

  • Start a naming system: This can be as simple as categorizing by date, event, or location. Whatever works best for you and your unique style of photography.
  • Create folders: Similar to your naming system, creating folders for each shoot or event makes it simple to find the photos you need when you need them.
  • Use a photo management tool: Programs like Adobe Lightroom can be your best friend in the post-processing workflow for photographers. You can import your photos, create collections, and even start your editing process all in one place.

Remember, the key to a streamlined post-processing workflow is staying organized. It's like cooking in a clean kitchen—you know exactly where everything is, there's no clutter to distract you, and you can focus on creating your masterpiece.

Cull photos to retain

Once you have your photos organized, the next step in your post-processing workflow should be culling - selecting the best shots to keep and work on. This is where you separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

  • First pass: On your initial cull, quickly go through your photos and remove any that are obviously unusable. Out of focus, terribly composed, or poorly exposed images should be the first to go.
  • Second pass: Now, go through your photos again. This time, pay more attention to detail. Look for technical excellence and artistic merit. Is the lighting just right? Does the composition tell a story? Keep the ones that make you say "wow".
  • Third pass: This is where you really get analytical. Compare similar shots and keep only the best one. Remember, less is more. It's better to have a handful of truly stunning images than a bunch of mediocre ones.

Culling is a critical part of the post-processing workflow for photographers. It can be tough to let go of some shots, but remember, you're looking for quality, not quantity. This process helps you refine your vision and improve your photography skills. Plus, it makes the next steps in your workflow that much easier.

Adjust photo exposure

Now that you've culled your photos, it's time to fine-tune them. Let's start with adjusting the photo exposure. This is a key part of the post-processing workflow for photographers that can dramatically affect the mood and balance of your photo.

When adjusting exposure, you're working with three main elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Here's a quick rundown:

  • Aperture: This controls the amount of light that enters your camera. A wider aperture (lower f-number) lets in more light, making your photo brighter.
  • Shutter Speed: This determines how long your camera's shutter stays open. The slower the shutter speed, the more light enters, and the brighter your photo becomes.
  • ISO: This affects your camera's sensitivity to light. A higher ISO makes your camera more sensitive to light, hence a brighter photo.

Most photo editing software allows you to adjust these elements post-shooting. Experiment with different combinations to find the perfect balance. Just remember, overexposure can lead to loss of detail in bright areas, while underexposure can obscure details in shadows.

Adjusting exposure can be a bit of a balancing act, but with practice, it becomes second nature. Remember, the goal here is not to create a 'correct' exposure, but an effective one that conveys the story you want to tell.

Correct white balance

Another critical step in the post-processing workflow for photographers is correcting the white balance. Ever noticed how sometimes your photos may have a blue or orange tint? That's often due to incorrect white balance settings at the time of shooting.

White balance is essentially about color correction. It ensures that the colors in your photos are as accurate as possible. It's about making sure that what's white in real life is represented as white in your photos, and not some shade of blue or orange. This can significantly affect the overall tone and mood of your photo.

Photo editing software often provides options to adjust white balance. You might find presets like 'Daylight', 'Cloudy', 'Shade', and 'Tungsten'. These are great starting points, but don't be afraid to manually adjust the temperature and tint sliders. It's all about achieving the most natural-looking colors for your image.

Remember, while it can be tempting to skip this step, taking the time to correct white balance can make a significant difference to your final image. So don't rush through it. Take your time, experiment, and you'll soon get a feel for what looks right.

Crop and straighten photos

After you've got the color just right, the next step in your post-processing workflow for photographers is to crop and straighten your photos. This is where you fine-tune the composition of your photo, making sure everything aligns perfectly and the focus is where you want it.

Let's start with cropping. This is your chance to remove any unnecessary elements from the frame and enhance the focus on your subject. Remember, less is often more when it comes to composition. A clean, uncluttered image can have a stronger impact than one filled with distracting elements. So don't be afraid to be ruthless with your cropping!

Now, onto straightening. This is all about ensuring your photo is level. It might seem like a small detail, but a slightly tilted horizon can be surprisingly distracting. Most photo editing software will have a straighten tool. Use it to adjust the angle of your photo until everything is perfectly aligned.

One last piece of advice: while these tools can be powerful, they should be used with care. Overdoing it with cropping or straightening can distort your image and make it look unnatural. As with everything in photography, balance is key. Happy cropping!

Retouch and remove blemishes

Now that your photo is beautifully cropped and straightened, the next step in your post-processing workflow for photographers is to retouch and remove any blemishes. This process is an essential part of making sure your photos look their best.

Retouching is about enhancing the details in your photo. This could involve anything from brightening eyes in a portrait to bringing out the texture in a landscape shot. The key is to enhance without making your photo look unnatural. Remember, the goal is to highlight the beauty that's already there, not to create something that doesn't exist.

Next comes blemish removal. This is your chance to clean up any unwanted marks or distractions in your photo. Most photo editing software has a tool that allows you to easily remove things like dust spots or stray hairs. Just be sure to zoom in close so you don't miss any!

Retouching and blemish removal can be time-consuming, but it's worth it. After all, you've put a lot of effort into capturing your photos—why not make them look their best? And remember, practice makes perfect. The more you use these tools, the better you'll get at using them to enhance your photos. So go ahead, give it a try and watch your photos come to life!

Adjust contrast and saturation

As we move further in our post-processing workflow for photographers, it's time to take a look at contrast and saturation. Wondering why? Well, adjusting contrast and saturation can truly make your photos pop!

Contrast is the difference between the lightest and darkest parts of your image. By increasing contrast, you can make the darks darker and lights lighter, giving your photo a more dramatic feel. On the other hand, decreasing contrast softens the image, creating a more subtle and soft mood. It's like adding a pinch of salt to your food—you're enhancing the flavors that are already present.

Now, let's talk about saturation. Think of it as the intensity of the colors in your photo. Boosting saturation can make your colors more vibrant, while reducing it leads to more muted, subdued hues. But remember, moderation is key. Over-saturating can lead to unnatural looking images, while under-saturating can make your photo look dull and lifeless.

In the end, the amount of contrast and saturation you decide to add is entirely up to you. It's your photo, after all. So feel free to experiment, tweak, and most importantly, have fun with it!

Sharpen your images

As we march forward in our post-processing workflow for photographers, the next stop is sharpening your images. Now, why is this important? Well, sharpening your images can make a world of difference to the final output by enhancing the details and textures.

Sharpening works by increasing the contrast along the edges within your photo. It's kind of like drawing a line with a sharp pencil versus a dull one. The sharper pencil will give you a cleaner, more precise line, just like sharpening your images will give you cleaner, more precise details.

However, just like a good spice mix, too much sharpening can spoil the broth. Over-sharpening can lead to noisy images, while under-sharpening can leave your images looking a bit fuzzy. It's all about finding the right balance.

Lastly, keep in mind that sharpening is usually the last step in the post-processing workflow for photographers. Doing it earlier can result in amplifying any noise or errors that could be removed in later steps. Remember, post-processing is like baking a cake—there's a specific order to the ingredients for the recipe to work!

Convert photos to black and white

Next up on our post-processing workflow for photographers, let's chat about converting photos to black and white. It may sound simple, but the conversion process can be a powerful tool in your arsenal, transforming an ordinary photo into an extraordinary work of art.

Why would you want to convert a photo to black and white? For starters, it can help to highlight textures, shapes, and tones that might be overshadowed by color. It can also bring an entirely different mood or feeling to an image, adding a timeless, classic touch.

Most photo editing software has built-in tools to convert photos to black and white. But remember, not every photo will look good in black and white. Why is that? Well, some photos rely heavily on their colors for impact. So, before you convert, take a minute to consider whether your photo will still tell its story without the colors.

At the end of the day, converting photos to black and white is more than just clicking a button—it's a creative decision. So go ahead, experiment, and see what works best for you in your post-processing workflow for photographers.

Add a vignette

And finally, we arrive at the last step in our post-processing workflow for photographers: adding a vignette. What is a vignette, you ask? It's a subtle shadow or light that frames the outer edges of your photo, leading the viewer's eye towards the center or focal point of the image.

Now, you might be thinking, "Isn't that a bit old-fashioned?" Yes, vignetting was a common feature in early photography due to the construction of old lenses. But that doesn't mean it's outdated. In fact, a well-placed vignette can add depth and focus to your photo, giving it a professional finish.

Adding a vignette is pretty straightforward in most photo editing software. Typically, you'll find it under the "effects" or "adjustments" menu. But here's a pro-tip: be subtle. A heavy-handed vignette can make your photo look like it's peering through a peephole. Remember, the goal is to enhance your photo, not distract from it.

And there you have it, folks! By following these steps, you'll have a solid post-processing workflow for photographers. But remember, these are just guidelines. Feel free to mix, match, and modify these steps to fit your unique style. After all, photography is all about capturing your perspective of the world. Happy editing!

If you're looking to streamline your photo post-processing even further, don't miss the workshop, 'A Professional Photographer's Workflow' by West Smith. This hands-on workshop will take you through the essential steps of a professional photographer's editing process, helping you save time and improve the quality of your work.