My best photo editing tips: You can’t make a Filet Mignon with tinned ham

Above: Image by Gina Milicia

I realised that many of the principles used to create amazing meals can also be applied to the way we edit our photos.

I’ve been binge-watching cooking shows during the summer. Nigella, Jamie, Anthony and Man vs Food (don’t judge me) are a few of my faves. Food porn is awesome. I watch in a Homer Simpson style stupor (“Mmmmm doughnuts…”) and the great thing about these shows is I can gorge on them all summer long and still fit into my jeans at the end of it.

So aside from learning how to make custard filled doughnuts using a brioche pastry (the secret to a good brioche is chilling it overnight) I also realised that many of the principles used to create amazing meals can also be applied to the way we edit our photos.

Above: Image by Gina Milicia

The thing that all great chefs agree on is that a meal can only ever be as good as the raw ingredients you start with.

1. You can’t make a Filet Mignon with Spam

I’m yet to hear Nigella, Jamie or Anthony utter the words “just start with the cheapest ingredients, canned, packet, freeze-dried is fine. Forget about the preparation, whack it all together and she’ll be right, we can fix any mistakes after, lovely jubbly!” (That was my Jamie Oliver impersonation in case you were wondering.)

The thing that all great chefs agree on is that a meal can only ever be as good as the raw ingredients you start with.

Post-production is the same. If you start out with a good base – that is an image that is correctly exposed and composed – you can use post-production to enhance the image and take it from good to great or awesome to frickin awesome!

The one phrase I hate hearing photographers say more than “Hey baby, make love to the camera” (EWWW) is “Yeah, don’t worry I’ll fix it in post”.

Good post-production should enhance the quality of a great photo rather than fix all the mistakes of a bad one.

I try and spend a few extra minutes tweaking my lighting and composition. This extra few minutes before I shoot can save me hours of “fixing it in post”. Sadly I learnt this the hard way and shudder to think of all the wasted hours I spent removing light stands from the edge of the frame or stray hairs over the model’s eye or fixing underexposed and overexposed images.

Just imagine how many episodes of Man vs Food I could have watched in that time instead!

So before you shoot always give your image a final once over to check for little details. The major time-sucking post-production culprits are

  • poorly exposed images
  • items growing out of the backs of people’s heads
  • stray hairs, lint, dust
  • stray light stands etc.

2. Hold the twizzle.

Have you ever looked at the ingredients of cheap, fast food and compared it with good quality fresh food?

Let’s compare the ingredients in Strawberry Twizzlers with organic fresh strawberries

TWIZZLERS

Strawberry Lemonade Filled Twists

CORN SYRUP; ENRICHED WHEAT FLOUR
[FLOUR; NIACIN; FERROUS SULFATE;
THIAMIN MONONITRATE; RIBOFLAVIN;
AND FOLIC ACID]; SUGAR; CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF: PALM OIL;
NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR;
GLYCERYL MON OSTEARATE;
CITRIC ACID; PECTIN; SALT;
CORNSTARCH; GLYCERIN;
SODIUM CITRATE;
POTASSIUM SORBATE,
PRESERVATIVE;
ARTIFICIAL COLOR [RED 40; YELLOW 5]

VS Organic Strawberry


Strawberry

When you start with lower quality ingredients you need to add a whole bunch of stuff just to make them taste kind of decent (no offence, Twizzler). Whereas if you start with something great it needs very little to take it to the next level.

Beware of turning your images into Twizzlers. A great image will still be a great image with very little post-production.

Adding thousands of effects to an image (I’m looking at you Instagram) doesn’t necessarily make it better. If you find yourself constantly relying on filters and effects to make your images look great you may want to reconsider your choice of ingredients

Are you guilty of twizzling your images? I know I can get carried away sometimes. The best hack I can suggest to avoid creating a twizzler is to step away from the computer for a few hours before committing to the final changes. If I still love the image the next day I know I have a winner. Now if you’ll excuse me I’ve got another episode of Man vs Food to watch.

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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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