The most important part of capturing product photos is the work that happens AFTER they’re shot. Post-processing can both make up for effects you couldn’t create during the shoot and enhance the beautiful feature you did capture. It’s essentially the icing on the cake.

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Even the most talented photographers apply edits to their shots. Let’s talk about what is photo editing and how you can use it to perfect your ecommerce images.

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‘Photo editing’ is a broad term that involves making enhancements to change the appearance of an image. Below we dive into the definition of photo editing, what a photo editor is and how to use it in your business.

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What is photo editing?: A definition

The meaning of photo editing is the act of altering an image, simply put. But that’s oversimplifying a subject which is quite complex.

For example, some photo editing techniques are done manually, while others are conducted through automated software. Some photo editing is even done offline, on actual photographs, posters or other printed collateral.

Other terms for photo editing:

  • Image editing
  • Post-processing
  • Image/photo manipulation
  • Photoshopping
  • Image/photo enhancement

What are the different types of photo editing?

There are many different types of photo editing. Some are simple and others are more complex.

You can typically execute simple photo-editing techniques fairly easily and quickly. Complex techniques and digital editing may require a software program and more experience and training.

Simple photo-editing techniques include:

  1. Noise reduction: smoothing the picture out, typically accomplished by reducing the pixel size
  2. White balance: the color of the light in the image
  3. Contrast: higher contrast makes an image more punchy, while lower contrast makes it flatter in color
  4. Exposure: the brightness of the photo
  5. Lens correction: addresses any issues with the camera lens
  6. Color adjustments: change the color of an item or element in the photo
  7. Resizing and cropping: adjust the dimensions of the image
  8. Background removal: delete the background from the image, isolating the subject (this is often used for white background product photography)


    Background removal

The more complex, advanced techniques include:

  • Clipping paths: extract a subject or element from an image
  • Portrait corrections: fix the complexion of people in images
  • Drop and reflection shadow: create or adjust shadows
  • Special effects: this can mean an array of things, from animation to adding weather conditions like fog or snow
  • Adjusting text and visuals: add overlays or manipulate what’s already there
  • Photo stitching: when you seamlessly put two images together to make it look as though they were shot that way
  • Photo masking and Layers: the process of hiding and revealing specified portions of an image

Pixel editing and parametric image editing

Two methods of digital photo editing are pixel editing and parametric image editing. Let’s look at their definitions:

Pixel editing

  • Pixel editing: Pixel editing, or pixel level editing, is when you alter an image at the pixel level. Because you’re altering the pixels themselves, this also permanently changes the image file. That’s why pixel editing is considered a destructive form of photo editing because it’s not as easy to undo the changes and restore the original file. Pixel editing allows you to make extremely detailed edits and accomplish certain functions that parametric image editing can’t (like CMYK color modes, for example).
  • Parametric image editing: Parametric image editing, sometimes called PIE, doesn’t change the pixels of the image. Instead, these edits are recorded as a set of steps to follow to accomplish the final look. Thus, it’s a non-destructive mode of photo editing. However, PIE doesn’t always allow for all types of edits.

Many in the industry recommend starting with PIE, and then using pixel editing to refine the final details.

The history of photo editing

Photo editing wasn’t always done so easily on a computer. Before today’s digital image manipulation tools, photo editing was often done by hand. Creative Live takes a closer look at the history of the wet collodion method, photo editing, pointing to the 1850s discovery of the wet collodion method of putting multiple photos together (using negatives).

Shortly thereafter, photo manipulators used it to put silhouettes of ghosts on photos of deceased soldiers. One famous example is an image of Abraham Lincoln’s spirit behind widow Mary, placed by William H. Mumler.

Fast forward to the 1980s, when Adobe announced the first digital photo-editing software which brought image editing into the modern age its line of products, and digital photo-editing tools which editors can use on their computers. Today, there are tons of photo-editing tools available, both paid and free. However, Adobe’s Creative Cloud remains one of the most popular and well-known.

What is photo-editing software?

Photo-editing software is a tool which you can use to manipulate and enhance images. Because photos have an increasing number of uses — spanning from display ads to social media and print catalogs to posters — more businesses are finding ways to repurpose photos and use them on multiple channels.

To make this easier, editors use photo-editing software programs. There are many kinds of photo-editing software, each with its own costs, features and pros/cons.

Popular photo-editing software and programs include:

Popular photo-editing mobile apps include:

What is a photo editor?

A photo editor can be one of two things: a tool which edits images, or a person who edits images. Let’s start with the more straightforward one, the tool.

There are many tools that can automate different photo-editing tasks. Many photo-editing companies, for example, are actually tools that automate things such as clipping paths. This is great when you want to save time and use an automated tool on your own, but if you’re paying to outsource your image-editing needs, you’ll want to look for a company that does this by hand.

On that note, the person who edits images can either be freelance, employed by an outsourced company or agency, or someone who works in-house. There are many possible job titles for a photo editor, including digital photo editor, graphic designer or art director, among others.

A photo editor’s typical duties will vary depending on the company and industry. Photo editors who work in-house at a major ecommerce brand, for example, may be spending most of their time prepping product photos to list on their site and manipulating lifestyle shots for use throughout the website. If they work at a photo-editing agency, then they may edit a range of photos from a diverse group of customers.

Where can I find a reputable photo editor?

If you want to hire a photo editor to work for you full-time or on a contract basis, you’ll want to do your due diligence. If you don’t find the right company, you could risk losing lots of time and money — and have nothing to show for it.

We’ve written an article that talks about how to choose a company to outsource your photo editing; highlights below:

  • Determine the specific services you need.
  • Find out if the company and its employees have experience specific to your industry.
  • Consider your options: in-house, full-time, contract, agency, intern, etc.
  • Check out customer reviews and their work samples.
  • Make sure they have the capacity for your needs, and find out their minimum/maximum order sizes.
  • Learn about the turnaround time and customer support availability.
  • Important: Ensure that your files are secure and protected.
  • Consider the cost, accepted payment methods and billing cycles.
  • Also important, make sure they’re reputable and ethical; there are many companies in this space which don’t uphold standards in the workplace.

Looking to outsource your photo-editing needs? Request a quote today to see how much it’ll cost you >

Learn how to edit your photos

If you’re ready to learn how to edit your own photos, we’ve put together a handy collection of Photoshop tutorials. Here are a few we recommend you get started with:

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Alexandra Sheehan

In her past agency life, Alex has led digital marketing initiatives for Fortune 500 companies. Now, she’s passionate about helping retailers and retail industry leaders harness the power of the written word and fuse it with strategic content, email and social media marketing campaigns.

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