Ever wanted to edit like your favorite photographer? It can be frustrating to try and get a similar editing style to those you look up to, especially if you don’t have a system you can follow. Luckily, this process becomes quite easy when you follow a simple framework for breaking down and mimicking edits.
In this post I will show you exactly how to edit like your favorite photographer by using a framework for breaking down images.
READ OR WATCH: This blog post is also available in video form, which includes a bit more detailed information (including a live editing session). If you’d rather watch me explain this content, simply watch the video below. Otherwise you can find the text guide below. Just keep scrolling!
Step 1: Identify Your Inspiration
It can be anyone!
Step one is to clearly identify your inspiration. Find a photographer you really like, and start to browse their photos. Take note of 4 images that you’d like to base your edit off of. It’s important to choose 4 photos that are similar to each other, as it will be difficult to mimic an editing style if the 4 photos are different from one another.
One thing to note is that it’s simply not possible to edit like another photographer if your photos are radically different from theirs. For example, if you want to edit like a photographer who shoots glaciers in Iceland but your photos are of the jungle, you’re going to have a very difficult time doing that.
Instead, identify a photographer who shoots similar subject matter to you. Maybe that subject matter is the beach, or a forest, an indoor portrait, or even food. Having photos with similar subject matter and naturally occurring colors will greatly simplify the editing process.
Another important consideration is the lighting environment. It will be much easier to achieve a similar editing style if your photo was shot in a similar lighting environment (e.g same time of day), as this is largely going to dictate the exposure and amount of contrast in your scene.
Step 2: Download 4 Matching Photos
But not to share!
Once we find 4 matching photos that we want to base our edit off of, it’s time to download those photos. I often download photos from Instagram using downloadgram.com.
To do this, simply copy the photo URL of the Instagram photo, and paste it into downloadgram.com. This will allow you to download the photos.
NOTE: These downloaded photos are NOT to be shared in any way. This is strictly illegal and immoral, and we are only downloading these images to use for educational purposes.
Step 3: Organize Photos Into Grid
It can be anyone!
Once we have 4 photos downloaded, it’s time to create a grid of those photos. This is very simply to do with Photoshop, but there are also apps that allow you to do this quite easily.
Here’s a basic rundown: Open photoshop > Create a New Document > Make the document 8×10 inches – 300 PPI > Drag and drop your photos into a grid like the screenshot below > Hold shift and drag the corner to the size of 4×5 inches. (This doesn’t need to be 100% accurate)
Once you’re done, export this photo from Photoshop by clicking File > Export > Quick Export as png.
Step 4: Import Into Lightroom
Almost ready to edit.
Next, import this photo in Adobe Lightroom and color code it by selecting the photo and pressing 6-9 (each number corresponds to a different color). I chose to code it with purple. After that, find the image you want to edit and also color code that image with purple. When you sort “All Photos” by purple, you will now see these two images next to each other.
Open the develop tab and select the image you would like to edit. Click “RA” below the image as seen in the screenshot below. Drag the grid image into white space next to your image. This will allow you to see a visual representation of your photo next to the inspiration photos which greatly helps in the editing process.
Step 5: Breakdown and Edit!
It can be anyone!
With all that out of the way, it’s finally time to edit! To do this, we need to critically evaluate the photos we have in our grid. We do this by breaking down the three aspects of a digital photograph, all of which we can edit.
Every edit is created by editing three different parts of a photo. The lighting, the color, and the detail.
Lighting refers to the exposure of the image, as well as the contrast/strength of tones. We can edit lighting using the basic adjustments, and the tone curve.
Color refers to the different hues within the image, the strength of those colors (saturation), and the brightness of those colors (luminance). We can edit color using the white balance adjustment in the basic adjustments, the HSL sliders, the split toning section, and the color calibration section. We don’t need to edit all of these to match the same colors we see in our photo. Often just a few small adjustments to the white balance and HSL sliders can get you the desired look.
Detail refers to the texture of the image. This can come in the form of sharpness, film grain, scratches etc. We can edit using the clarity and texture sliders in the basic adjustments, as well as the Detail and Effects sections of Lightroom.
When editing our image, we need to evaluate the inspiration images and make changes to our images based on what we see. We always start at the top with lighting before moving on to color, and finally detail. After that, we can make a few small adjustments using the local adjustments (radial/graduated filters and paint brush) to fine-tune our photo.
One thing to note is that all three aspects greatly affect each other, especially lighting and color. Editing your lighting will impact your color, and editing your color can impact your lighting. Editing some of the details can also affect the other two aspects.
If you’d like to see this process in action, I highly recommend watching the video. The editing section begins at 08:15.
Achieving an edit similar to a photographer you’ve always looked up to can be a great feeling. With the knowledge you learned here today, that process should be simpler than ever. Of course, if the photographer you look up to is a photoshop wizard it might not be this easy. But rest assured that most photographers are only making simple lighting, color, and detail adjustments to their photos to get the look they want.
If you’re struggling with achieving a similar look because you aren’t well versed in Lightroom yet, don’t worry. This exercise is fantastic for learning how to properly use the program, and will greatly help you become a better editor. As you continue to edit and create more photos, eventually you will be able to create grids of your own photos. This will allow you to make sure all of your photos have a very consistent editing style, a very important aspect of a photographers visual signature.
Thanks for reading and see you in the next one!