Just right.

Thanks to the digital world, most of us see hundreds of photos on a weekly basis. Photos of gorgeous canyons, sweeping mountain views with hikers, hip cabins, proposals, dogs, and food. There is no shortage of photography out on the web, but there is a shortage of photos that are edited “just right”.

Many people posting photos of their dogs and kids on Instagram do not really edit their photos, spare adding some brightness or contrast and that is kind of expected for people who are not super passionate about photography. However even more seasoned photographers tend to lean to one of two sides - highly natural candids and over-filtered creations.

When you look through Instagram archives of even professional photographers and bloggers, you will probably start to notice that a lot of Instagram feeds look slick and consistent, but when you look at individual photos, you start to notice that they are excessively filtered, unnatural. In other cases, photographers are too afraid to make edits, and their photos look nice compositionally, but too real, too raw.

The goldilocks zone of editing is small indeed. How do you edit photos to give them a dreamy, magical, clean, and professional feel, without making them look “obviously filtered”? Finding the balance is hard.

Being kind of a perfectionist, I have always struggled to find that balance. Too edited and your photos start to look fake, not enough and you lack polish. Too realistic, and you do not have a consistent portfolio, too edited and you start to feel boring, tasteless.

This is why I am making it my professional mission to always make only enough edits to a photo for it to feel “just right”.

Here are some examples of the same photo - you can see the remarkable difference between the variants. They are all good, but the latter one has the most polish.

Unedited Photo Example

Raw

Photo appears a bit more plain and it feels like something is missing. Some pop? Some balance? Some clarity? Some moodiness?

Overly Filtered Photo Example

Overly Filtered

Pretty and artistic, but instantly visible that it’s a work of art, rather than representation of reality. The attention is drawn to the color of the photo rather than the content.

Just Right Photo Example

Just Right

The photo looks dreamy and creamy, but also realistic.

Here are some tips if you are having the same challenge with your photos.

If you’re editing manually, start small. Do not make a ton of big changes. Instead of bumping brightness by 50%, contrast by 50% and saturation by 25%, make subtle tweaks, 10% brightness, 5% contrast, 5% saturation. Play around with your edits until the photo starts to look dreamy, magical, yet still real.

If you are editing using a filter pack or a preset, be careful not to apply presets that look too filtered. If you like the feel of a certain preset, I encourage you to understand what is changing as part of that preset and fine tune each setting a bit more. It can also be beneficial to apply presets with a certain level of opacity. VSCO cam allows you to apply filters only to a certain extent. I never apply a filter at 100% - usually somewhere in the 25-75% range is good.

When editing your photos, keep this in mind - less is more.