Learn to Avoid These Photo Editing Mistakes

Edits are definitely a part of digital photography. Meanwhile Zoner Photo Studio offers lots of ways to edit your photos. And in today’s article, we won’t recommend a single one of them. Instead we’ll look at what edits you definitely shouldn’t make to your photos.

If you’re just getting started in photography, then this article is for you. Beginners often don’t see their mistakes, and so we’d like to warn you about beginners’ mistakes. So then—what shouldn’t you do?

Just Say No to Bad Photos

Just discard badly taken shots—pictures with bad composition or botched technicalities, and photos with no point. Never forget that you can’t save a bad photo with digital edits, no matter how good they may be. Click here to learn how to pick out photos with no technical problems.

Nothing but the Delete key will save this photo (except deleting it before it can leave the camera).
Nothing but the Delete key will save this photo (except deleting it before it can leave the camera).

Happy with Every Photo? Time to Get Mad!

Be your own worst critic—right from the start. Don’t let praise from your friends and family fool you. 99% of the time, they’ll be wrong. Either because they don’t do photography, or because they’re just being polite.

The turning point is when those same loved ones turn to you and say: “I don’t know this stuff.” That’s when you’re on the right track.

The people who don’t “get” such a photo are the ones who love colors, cheerful children, bugs, and so on. They overlook the high-quality photos in newspapers and magazines, because they take them as just a part of life. And so when your photography matures, they’ll start looking at your photos the same way.

Photographic growth and friends’ reactions:

Huh. Interesting! That’s fine.
Huh. Interesting! That’s fine.
I don’t know this stuff. I guess you’ll have to tell me.
I don’t know this stuff. I guess you’ll have to tell me.

That’s for the photos. On to the editing… and its beginner’s mistakes.

Careful with That Axe, Eugene

Avoid extremes when editing photos. Extreme is bad. Whatever effect you may decide for, go easy and go light. Modern photography is all about a clean, natural look. Also, if you happen to be shooting for the press, there’s no time for long edits. Often there’s only time for the basics. And it’s best when you don’t even need those.

Using Filters and Effects

Keep it down to one filter at a time. And don’t use a high effect strength, or you’ll just ruin the photo.

At first full-strength HDR may seem great, but believe me, you’ll soon learn it’s not. A photo like that won’t sell, and it won’t even get good reviews.

Overblown effects have no place in photography.
Overblown effects have no place in photography.


You may see some complaints that your photos aren’t sharp enough. Your first reaction may be to open the photo again in the Editor and use Sharpen in the Quick Edits to sharpen it. But that will usually sharpen too much.

Excessive sharpness Excessive radius

These photos are extremely over-sharpened.

A correctly sharpened photograph.
A correctly sharpened photograph.

The basics for avoiding this mistake:

  • Keep the Radius at or below 0.8
  • Turn on Brightness Method
  • Keep the Effect Strength at or below 150 percent
  • Check any thin contrast lines (eyebrows, thin branches, lone hairs)—they should be graceful, not jagged.
  • If you’ll be uploading to Facebook, check out this article.

Beware the Blob

Another frequent error is excessive retouching. Often photographers go overboard with the Clone Stamp or the Iron, and the result is just… bad. Instead of skin it’s just one spot next to another, with no structure and no details.

Just a colored blob instead of skin.
Just a colored blob instead of skin.

To avoid this error, use the Clone Stamp only in the places where it’s really needed (acne, scars, etc.). This gives you much better, cleaner photos.

A photo without overblown skin retouching and ironing.
A photo without overblown skin retouching and ironing.

Selective Desaturation

Selective desaturation is a flashy trick that’s attractive early on. As you learn more about photography, you’ll discover that it’s also evil and has no place in real photography. Professionals don’t use it, so why should you?

Red is a beloved color for this cheap trick. Some typical targets for it are stereotypical details such as eyes, earrings, and accessories. The ideal target is “nowhere.”

A typical mistake for beginners, who will find this look fantastic. It’s not.
A typical mistake for beginners, who will find this look fantastic. It’s not.

Local desaturation only gets used when someone has no better idea for how to make a photo interesting. Just delete such photos instead, or think harder and use something else.

How to Avoid Mistakes Consistently

First, you have to want to be a better photographer. That alone will push you to avoid the most common mistakes.

Study world-class photographs from top photographers every day. Go back to your old photographs and seek out mistakes you made. Think about what you’d avoid if you took the pictures now. And avoid those mistakes in the future.

Editing is a bit of a separate issue. Some artists edit more, some less. But over time everyone finds their own style, on-camera and off, that they develop.  What’s your style?


The illustration photos above are my own work from ten years ago. Mistakes and errors are completely normal and are a healthy part of every photographer’s path. But it’s important to admit them and work on correcting them.

Do you have any bad photos you used to like some time ago?

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AuthorMajo Elias

I’ve been taking pictures since 2004. When I was starting out, I photographed almost everything. Later my style solidified and I began photographing people almost exclusively. At the moment my main genres are fashion and advertising.

Comments (4)

  1. Excellent article, great tips. Thanks!

    1. Thank you, we’re happy you like it! :)

  2. I see the ‘desaturation’ (local colouring?) effect in wedding photography from all over the World – it’s still as prevalent and popular with couples as ever. I think you miss the point with a lot you say – you are correct if people want to ‘share’ or sell their pictures but with photography throughout the years it’s predominantly the work of the ‘individual’ that has endured. I do little post processing only the odd ‘correction’ (tilt, crop etc) myself but I rarely share or sell anything – I take the pictures I WANT TO – I’m not in the least interested in the opinion of anybody else. The number of my pictures published (in books – long ago now) and the reception at my rare slide shows is gratifying but not the object of the exercise at all. At 70 I don’t expect to change that view.

    Bruce Baker-Johnson
    Brubaker Imaging

    1. Thank you Bruce for sharing your experience and view. There is never only one “correct” one and it is the beautiful about photography.

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