4 essential smartphone photo editing tips for beginners

Photography is a demanding skill. And if you’re just getting started, you might be overwhelmed with all the accessories and apps that more experienced photographers use. Even when you’ve managed to take the perfect shot, you’ll face the next hurdle: editing it.

Like any skill, photo editing takes time and effort to achieve consistent results. However, if you only have your phone and nothing else, there are plenty of accessible ways to start editing. In addition to tips for editing your photos, we also show you how to prepare images for editing.

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Do as little editing as possible

Photo editing should be done to to improve images, not fix them. Although you can fix minor mistakes and imperfections, a poorly taken photo will likely stay that way regardless of the edits. This is especially important for beginners who don’t have the knowledge to correct anything other than minor errors.

The solution is simple. Take better photos. However, it is not as easy as it seems. A simple step to improving your photos is to familiarize yourself with your phone’s camera. Our guides to the Google Pixel 6 and Samsung S22 cameras will help you get started.


Take pictures in RAW

Once you understand the ins and outs of your camera app, you’ll want to enable RAW photos. RAW is an image file like JPEG or PNG that contains more information than the last two types. If you are wondering why RAW images are not taken by default, there are two main reasons. First, RAW photos take up more space, and second, your phone doesn’t apply post-processing to them. The lack of post-processing means RAW images can look weird.

Left: BELIEVED preview the file in Google Photos. Right: Unmodified RAW file in Snapseed.

The lack of post-processing is a good thing, as the editor has more control over the result of the photo. As a beginner, you might struggle to create better-looking images than the post-processing done by your phone, but it’s a great way to improve your editing skills. Our guide to taking RAW photos walks you through the process.

Choose the best photo editing app

Once you have your photo, it’s time to edit it. Our guide to taking RAW images walks you through editing RAW files, but you’ll probably end up using a separate photo-editing app, regardless of the format of your photo.

For beginners, the default app installed on your phone may be sufficient. Google Photos is available on all Android devices and contains many features to improve and organize your photos. It’s worth taking a moment to browse our roundup of the best photo editing apps. Each has an array of unique features, so be sure to pick the one with the tools you need.

So you opened your photo in an editing application. Now what? The selection of menus, buttons, and sliders can seem overwhelming, but don’t worry. We introduce you to some common editing tools to help you understand the basics of most photo editing.


For this section, we’re using Google Photos to demonstrate each effect. But no matter which photo editing app you choose, all of these options should be available.

Crop tool

Composition is essential for a good photo, but your unmodified image probably isn’t quite right. Cropping your photo can help the viewer focus on the essential part of the photo. It’s a powerful tool in your editing arsenal. Keep an eye on your app’s gridlines while cropping to make sure the object in the photo isn’t moved by the crop.

Cropping is a great way to remove unwanted objects (in this case, a friend’s butt) from an image.

Although cropping is necessary to remove unwanted objects, it also helps to focus the image. In the example above, the crop tool is used to bring the objects in the photo (the cats) into focus, bringing them back to the center rather than to the side.

Saturation

Adjusting the Saturation slider increases or decreases the color of the photo. This is handy if your image looks washed out, but don’t overdo it. Oversaturated photos can look vulgar. Conversely, decreasing saturation can tone down harsh colors. Adjust it in small amounts to start, then take a moment to compare the photo with the original.

Left: Saturation set to -25. Environment: Original photograph. Right: Saturation set to +25.

In the example above, the slider wasn’t adjusted much, but it had a significant impact on the final photo.

Heat

Adjusting the saturation of an image increases or decreases all colors, but changing the warmth only affects the yellow, orange, and red tones. This is handy if you are taking a photo near a blue or red light source. Adjusting the heat in these scenarios can return some of the original colors to an image.

Left: Original photo. Right: Heat set to -25.

The photo above was taken just as the sun was setting, which gave the image an orange tint. The heat setting helped remove that tint as if the photo had been taken an hour before. The Saturation and Hue tools are great options to use after adjusting the warmth of a photo.

Brightness and Contrast

Adjusting the brightness and contrast comes in handy when you’ve taken a photo where the original light level is too high or too low. These tools are often used simultaneously. Brightness increases or decreases the overall light level, while contrast adjusts the difference between dark and light portions of an image. Careful adjustment of both can create a photo with better definition.

Left: Original picture. Environment: Brightness set to maximum. Right: Contrast set to -50 after brightness adjustment.

The photo above is a perfect example of why the initial image is the most crucial part of editing. By adjusting the brightness and contrast levels most of the shadows can be removed, but it would look better if adequate light had been present before taking the photo.

Don’t be intimidated by editing

Photo editing can seem like a lot of work for little results, but you can dramatically improve your everyday snaps with practice. It’s easier than ever to take decent photos with your smartphone because the best Android phones come with cameras with features to enhance your photography.

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