Over the year I do a lot of photo coaching/mentoring and I get to review a ton of photos. One of the common things I’ll mention to people is that some photos look over-processed (sometimes I like to use the term radioactive) 🙂 Whether you’re using Photoshop, Lightroom, or both keep these tips in mind.

Trust me, I totally get it and I’ve been guilty of it many times myself – especially when I was first learning. In fact, I have a funny and true story. A buddy of mine (who shall remain nameless), was just getting into HDR. One day, he showed me one of his photos and I was like “Dude, you HDR’d the crap out of that”. He was like “No way, I barely did anything to it!”. Seriously though, on a radioactive scale from 1 to 10, this was a solid 8. But he’d been doing these effects so strongly that he was desensitized to it.

It makes sense. When we edit a photo, we rarely move one slider and make this huge adjustment and say “Done!”. It’s a gradual process. We tweak one thing. We tweak another. We tend to move back and forth between settings and adjustments, and even apps. And with HDR, the merged photo is so different than the few photos that made it up, that it’s hard to even think about what your starting point really was. Which means it’s easy to get out of hand.

Our eyes get accustomed to what we’re looking at. Especially if we’re the ones making the changes, our brains have really become wired to accept it and maybe not even think we went that far in editing.

3 Tips To Help You Judge and Avoid Over-Processing Photos

So I figured I’d put together a few tips I use to help avoid over-processed photos. Here goes:

1) I use this one all the time, so read all the way through. It’s the easiest, and one that you’ve probably heard the most… Step Away. But I’m going to take it a bit further and give you an exercise that I use a lot. See, when I’m editing a photo and I think I’m about done, I always do like to step away from it and come back with fresh eyes. But an ever better way to do this is to set the photo up on your monitor in full screen – almost like a wallpaper.

In Photoshop, if you’re editing a photo press the letter F two times to get to Full Screen mode where nothing else in on the screen. Then press Cmd/Ctrl – + to zoom in and fill the screen with the photo.

In Lightroom, just press the letter F to get in to Full Screen mode.

Then leave it be. The longer the better. If you only have a few minutes so be it. I do a lot of my editing at night, so many times I’ll leave it go overnight, and look again in the morning. My computer is usually asleep, and when I jiggle my mouse it wakes up and I see the photo in all of it’s (hopefully) well-processed glory.

Avoid Over-processing with Lightroom and Photoshop


2) Look at the photo as a small thumbnail. This sounds weird, but it can really help. Seeing the photo small compresses everything together and can reveal some weird areas that you may not have noticed when it was bigger. This especially happens with portrait retouching – mostly over-whitened eyes or teeth. Not to mention, it’s a great exercise to do because your photo may be seen online as a smaller thumbnail depending on where you share it.

In Photoshop, just press Cmd/Ctrl – (minus) to zoom out. It even helps to go in to Full Screen mode like #1 above.

In Lightroom, just press the letter G to go to Grid view and you’ll see smaller versions of the photos. There’s a slider at the bottom to adjust how large the thumbnails are, so you can play with that too.

And if you don’t believe me on this one, take a look at this image. It’s copied from a YouTube video I did. See the dudes eyes and teeth? Creepy huh? But when editing the photo in that video, everything looked fine. After seeing that thumbnail, I realized that I may have went a bit too far and pulled back some of the settings.


3) Whenever you add a setting, filter (or anything where you can control the Amount or Opacity), I try to start at zero. If you start high, you’ll develop a lessened sensitivity to it pretty quickly. You’ll see the change on screen, and then everything you do after will make you more and more accustomed to the setting that you have right at the start.

Instead, let’s say you’re whitening eyes on a layer in Photoshop. Rather than keep the layer at 100% and decrees it, bring it down to 0% right away. Then gradually raise it until things look good and normal. By starting low, you’ll get a more realistic change as you increase it, than you would if you just kept it at 100% and lowered the settings from there.

As I mentioned earlier, I totally get it. It’s happened to me many times before and I see it happen to people all the time. Try these tips next time you’re editing and I think you’ll find they help you review your photos with fresh eyes, in the hopes of keeping you away from the radioactive photography 🙂

Oh and if you have any tricks you use, I’d love to hear them in the comments below. Thanks and have a good one!

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