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Design & Style

Adventure Photographer Jimmy Chin's 5 Tips for Editing Photos

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 5 min read

Jimmy Chin is a photographer whose photos have appeared on the cover of National Geographic. While much of his work involves trekking out to places like Antarctica to capture gorgeous images, a critical part of his photography process is actually sitting down and editing the photos he comes back with.

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Jimmy Chin Teaches Adventure PhotographyJimmy Chin Teaches Adventure Photography

National Geographic photographer teaches his techniques for planning, capturing, and editing breathtaking photos.

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Jimmy Chin's 5 Tips for Editing Photos

Editing is a labor-intensive process, but it’s absolutely essential to creating striking images. In Jimmy’s words, “You are trying to get to the very best images that you’ve shot. It comes down to very fine details.” These are Jimmy Chin’s photo editing tips for taking your images to the next level:

1. Develop a System for Organizing Your Photos

Most professional photographers take upwards of a thousand photos per shoot—and if you don’t have a good system for organizing and selecting photos, it’s easy to get bogged down and lose track of what you’ve done. Developing a system will save you a lot of time from trying to sort through thousands of original images and will help you make it to the editing process. Jimmy’s tips for staying organized are:

  • Use consistent file names. Naming all of your photos consistently will help you find them much easier on your hard drive. Jimmy uses the following naming convention: the year, month, day, shoot name, and number of the photo. For instance, he could name an image from his Grand Teton shoot “20190815Teton0001.”
  • Choose photos in rounds. Once you’ve named your photos, it’s time to choose which ones are good enough to bring into your photo editing software. Jimmy uses Lightroom’s ability to rank photos from one to five stars as an organizational method. First he assigns one star to photos that don’t have obvious problems and eliminates the rest. Next he assigns two stars to photos that are good, and groups them into series. He assigns three stars to only the top five photos in each series, then assigns four stars to the top couple in each of those groups of five. Finally, he assigns five stars to the single best photo in each series, scrutinizing every detail of the contenders to find the very best one.
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2. Create a Good Backup Strategy for Your Photos

With so many raw files (the original files are saved as camera RAW files on a DSLR), it’s important to save them in more than one place so that if anything happens to your computer or your hard drive, you won’t lose all your photos. Jimmy recommends backing up your photos on several drives.

You need to make sure that two things are regularly backed up: your Lightroom Catalog, a database that tracks the edits you make on your photos, and your actual photo files themselves. Don’t skip this step; you’re putting all your hard work at risk if you do. It’s not a matter of “if” a drive will fail, but “when.”

3. Make Broad Adjustments, Then Focus on Details

Once you've organized and backed up your images, you're ready to sit down and actually edit photos. Open your photo editing program and start making broad adjustments. For this step, you’ll use basic editing tools for image manipulation like exposure, contrast, shadows, color correction, and saturation. Jimmy emphasizes that when you’re using these broad adjustment tools, it’s important to use a light touch—overdoing it on any of these will make your photos look over-processed and unrealistic.

When you get to the smaller adjustments, that’s where you can make more tweaks to really fine-tune and touch up your photos. These editing techniques include retouching blemishes, sharpening details, and brightening or darkening specific parts of the image.

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4. Choose a Style That Serves Your End Goal

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National Geographic photographer teaches his techniques for planning, capturing, and editing breathtaking photos.

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Every photographer brings a different artistic eye to their photos. While many photographers focus on their style during the shoot, a lot of style can also come through during the editing process. When you’re working as a photo editor, you’ll need to have an end goal in mind. Ask yourself: How will this photo be used? Who am I taking this photo for? What do they want out of the photo? Is this a product photo?

For instance, Jimmy takes photos for both National Geographic and for commercial clients for advertising. When he edits photos for National Geographic, he tries to use a lighter touch to keep the photos as natural and as true to what he saw as possible. However, when he edits photos for commercial clients, he knows that they want photos with a little more drama, and he edits the photos to be slightly more stylized with higher contrast and brighter colors. As you hone your own personal style, you might want to experiment with black and white or make adjustments to the white balance, color balance, and vibrancy to achieve great photos.

5. Pick the Right Photo Editing Software

Editors Pick

There are plenty of image editors available that provide a variety of photo editing tools. Here are a few of the most common image editing options:

  • Adobe Lightroom: Lightroom is the standard photo editing software in the photography industry, and it’s what Jimmy uses most often. As one of the best photo editing softwares out there, it is a robust program with many features and tools. It can be difficult to learn the ropes and does come with a price tag, so it’s definitely recommended for more advanced photographers.
  • Adobe Photoshop: Photoshop is a popular photo editing software. It is used by both amateur and professional photographers and allows for both minor and major adjustments.
  • Picasa: Picasa is a free photo editing app that’s easy to use and doesn’t take a lot of time to get the hang of. While it has fewer tools than Lightroom, it’s a great place for a beginner to start.
  • Snapseed: Snapseed is a great free editing app for any mobile editing needs.

Want to Learn More About Photography?

Whether you’re just starting out or have dreams of going professional, photography requires plenty of practice and a healthy dose of patience. No one knows this better than celebrated National Geographic photographer Jimmy Chin. In his adventure photography MasterClass, Jimmy unpacks different creative approaches for commercial shoots, editorial spreads, and passion projects and provides photography tips for bringing your photography to new heights.

Want to become a better photographer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons from master photographers, including Jimmy Chin, Annie Leibovitz, and more.

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