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When it comes to sharing our favorite vacation photos, we want them to look the best they possibly can. After all, you can’t easily go back and take the same shots again. That’s where great editing comes in. And because most of us don’t necessarily know how to do it ourselves, we’ve asked men’s lifestyle and travel blogger Joe Miragliotta of JoesDaily.com to tell us about the steps he takes to edit the vacation photos he loves most.

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To quote a famous boy band from the late 90s, “I don’t care who you are, where you’re from, what you do,” you’re probably a photographer of some kind. Because we’ve been living solidly in the world of social media for some time now, we’ve all collectively taken—and shared—a lot of photos (as in more than a trillion in a single year). While not every picture needs to be award-worthy (sometimes a series of candids that look like they were taken with a disposable camera are still the best), more often than not, we want our posts to look professionally done, or at least appealing to the eye. While it can be pretty tempting to slap a filter on your snapshot and call it a day, it’s taking less and less of a discerning eye to be able to appreciate the je ne sais quoi of an image that’s been properly edited. If you’ve been wanting to boast an Instagram full of photos that look great but aren’t sure how to go about it, take a look at the list below for a simple guide on how to improve the look of any images.

1. Start with a great canvas

While this isn’t really an editing tip per se, I like to think of it as editing your choices as far as the framing, resolution and lighting of the original image go. Frame the photo for what you think you want to end up with but, before you snap it, add about 15–20% to the perimeter. You’re most likely going to end up with something very close to what you were initially going for, but I’m always surprised  just how much better a photograph can look with a small nudge in one direction or another once I get into editing. For the resolution, assuming you have the opportunity to choose, shoot the picture as large as you can. You don’t need to go as far as RAW, a file format that captures all image data recorded by the sensor, but you are going to want as many pixels in there as you can when you start making changes. Finally, opt for exposure/lighting that gives you as much information as you can get instead of the final effect you’re looking for. The last thing you want is grainy shadows or blown-out highlights with no option of fixing because you were trying to start with your final product.

Favorite App: Adobe Lightroom

A scenic winter drive through McCall, Idaho

A scenic winter drive through McCall, Idaho. Credit: @JoesDaily

2. Set your framing

Picking up from the advice in the above paragraph, though you do want a little more information than just the borders of the photo you want to end with, you should know what you’re shooting for in terms of composition. Once you do, get to work on setting your framing. Should it turn out that you wanted a little more of that tree than you thought you would, or that the image could look better with more of the horizon in there, adjusting will be easy. You’ll still want to tweak towards the end, but this is where you’re doing the majority of the work.

Favorite App: VSCO

3. Modify your balances

Next, I like to get my light and color balances worked out, and in that order. As mentioned above, under perfect circumstances, you’re able to start with an original image that has all of the information you want, i.e. the brightest and darkest parts of your composition aren’t so light or dark, that way no definition is lost. This will help with clarity as you begin to shift things. If you were wanting a final product that’s light and bright or dark and mysterious, now’s the time to start your exposure adjustments. Pro-tip: If you find yourself making a pretty drastic change to the original, figure out where you think you want to be and scale back about 10-20%, then see if you want to bring it back to where you had it in your final revisions—probably not the worst idea for just about everything on this list, actually.

For the color balance, there are two key points I’d like to make: Don’t ignore its helpfulness when correcting an image that skews too far to one color, and go easy, my friend. I say the first because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen this function misused by those trying their hand at editing for the first time. Don’t get me wrong, if you want that end result to be a little bit purple, you live your best life. Just know that it’s more ideal to use it to fix the yellow in a picture taken under incandescent lighting or the green in one taken on an exceptionally verdant and overcast day. As for what to use when, a search for a 5-minute lesson in color theory with a focus on complementary colors will take you pretty far.

Favorite App: Priime

Food photography tips using Priime app

This food shot was a bit too warm, so I used Priime’s powerful balancing tools to fix it. Credit: @JoesDaily

4. Highlights/shadows

If you need another good reason to hold back a bit when altering your exposure, here you go. Sometimes after fixing your lighting your extremes might wind up just a little too dark or too overexposed. Styling your highlights and/or shadows gives you the ability to manipulate these aspects without sacrificing the overall balance of the photograph. Want those streaks of light to stand out a little more without brightening the whole situation? It can handle that. Need those darks a little moodier without it looking like you took the picture at night? It’s got you there, too.

Favorite App: Quickshot

Highlight/Shadow photo editing tips

Through just a slight adjustment, you can see how the highlights/shadows helps bring detail back into the clouds.

5. Selective editing

Of course, sometimes you’re just looking to make modifications to very specific parts of an image. It could be changing the color of the sky, making the writing on a white background more visible, or even eliminating all but one color in favor of black and white. Also, if you’ve been struggling with getting the nuances of your lighting or coloring where you want them—assuming it’s more of a sectional issue—this is a pretty good option.

Favorite App: Adobe Lightroom

Selective editing using Adobe Lightroom App

I was able to brighten up our friend the Roaming Gnome using Adobe Lightroom’s Selective Editing feature.

6. Sharpness/depth/saturation/grain

Oh boy, big pet peeves right here. When Instagram first came out, their filters were not great. They caused more distortion than anything. That said, you can usually tell when someone is just finding their way around editing when they share a photo that looks like it’s had one of these filters applied to it. If boosting that grain all the way up makes you happy, go for it; however, I’ve found that a little typically goes a long way when it comes to these finishing touches—and I HIGHLY recommend making them just that, finishing touches.

Favorite App: VSCO

Photo editing tips - adjusting saturation and exposure

Using the VSCO app I adjusted this photo’s brightness, saturation and contrast to make it more vibrant. Credit: @JoesDaily

7. Final check, final advice

So, that’s pretty much it. Once you’ve finished with all of the above, it’ll be time to go back and make any final tweaks a picture might need. If I had to leave you with one last piece of advice, it would be to listen to the photo itself. You might have an idea of what you want your final product to look like from the moment you decide to hold up the camera but, as it goes, sometimes things have a mind of their own and pictures are no different. Other than that, just be patient, and you’ll surely come away with something to be proud of.

Joe Miragliotta of Joe’s Daily is an official Travelocity Gnational Gnomad. Gnational Gnomads are an exclusive group of high-profile travel and lifestyle experts who offer tips and inspiration on behalf of Travelocity.

Travelocity compensates authors for their writings appearing on this site; such compensation may include travel and other costs.

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