5 Ways To Step Up Your Editing Game

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These days, most photographers spend way more time staring at a computer screen than peering through a viewfinder.  Despite this, we sure do spend a lot more talking about lenses and cameras than widescreen monitors. Perhaps that’s because editing tends to be the far more tedious part of the job. With a little investment though, you can make those late nights pouring over the day’s images just a little bit more comfortable.

#1: Get a Decent Monitor

I spent way too many years editing images on the comparatively tiny screen of my 13 inch laptop. When I finally started using an external monitor, the difference was huge. Seeing my photographs fill up a larger screen made me feel like I was seeing the keepers in a whole new way, and helped me to spot the flaws in the duds much quicker.

You’ll want to aim for at least a 27 inch screen if you can, and make sure it features IPS (In-Plane Switching), which eliminates the problem of inconsistent color and brightness when viewing the screen from different angles.  These days, it’s easier than ever to upgrade with high resolution monitors available for a fraction of their former prices: you can get this HP Pavilion 27xi for less than $300. That’s not chump change, but I bet it’ll make a bigger difference in your workflow than that $2000 lens you were looking at.

#2: Color Correct!

So you’ve got your fancy new monitor, now you need to make sure it’s portraying accurate colors. This is especially important if you’re doing your own printing. I know what you’re thinking: “I just spent hundreds of dollars on my new monitor, it better damn well show colors correctly!”

You may have a point there, but keep in mind, color rendition on a monitor can vary depending on the ambient light in the room and the brightness setting of the monitor. Even if your monitor was color-accurate on the factory floor, it’s going to need calibration in your living room to make sure you’re getting the best possible results.

Fortunately, calibration tools have been getting cheaper too. You could bust the bank on a $1500 color management system, but there are also more reasonable alternatives, like the Datacolor Spyder4Express Display Calibration System, which you can find for less than a hundred bucks.

For the dedicated bargain-hunters out there, there’s even free online software like Calibrize that’ll do a serviceable job. Remember though, you get what you pay for.

#3: Sit Smart

Recent studies show that sitting for long periods of time during the day can cause negative health effects, like weight gain, bone density loss, and hypertension, even for those who exercise regularly. It turns out that sitting in a dimly lit room to edit thousands of pictures is bad for more than your back and eyes.

Fortunately Chris Kresser over at the Huffington Post has some advice for those looking who can’t avoid working at a desk. You could invest in a stand-up desk, or add a shelf to the top of your desk to convert it to a stand-up desk.

If that’s not an option, or if you’re like me and can picture your knees giving out after 45 minutes of standing in one place, Kresser suggests sitting “more actively” by using a yoga ball or “active sitting disk” in lieu of a standard chair. I’m not saying you won’t look a little silly trying these health-saving strategies, but you also might give yourself a few more years of active shooting later in life, and isn’t that worth a few snide remarks about your office setup?

#4: Try out a Graphic Pad

Sure a mouse will work fine for your favorite photo editing software, but if you’re looking to upgrade anyway, why not try a graphic pad like the Wacom Bamboo Create Digital Tablet?

IMG_222736It’ll help with tasks requiring smooth sketching strokes or precise selection, like isolating a subject for editing or transposition. On top of that, it opens up a number of editing options that are only available while using a pressure sensitive pen and pad. Not to mention, it’s a sleek addition to your desktop that screams CREATIVE PROFESSIONAL at the top of its lungs.

Much like monitors and calibration tools, the cost of graphic pads has come way down recently, and you can find a simple one for as little as $75.

#5: Headphones Matter

Sometimes a good playlist and a big cup of coffee is the only way to push through a nasty round of editing. If you’re still relying on the earbuds that came with your iPhone, you’re doing yourself and your music a disservice.

Once again, it’s not hard to find big upgrades at reasonable prices. CNET has a great piece on solid pairs of headphones for less than $100.

Don’t have any decent music? That’s fine too. A free membership at Spotify will get you access to a nearly limitless collection of streaming music. If you don’t want to be distracted by occasional adds, you can buy an add-free experience for just $5 a month.


For photographers, long hours of editing are a sometimes-annoying necessity. So why not put that next camera purchase off for a little while to invest in your editing studio? Your photography will benefit from it, and you just might find yourself enjoying the time in front of the screen just a bit more.

Image credits: PC Magazine, Datacolor, Darekm135, B&H Photo and Video

  • Tim

    If you *have* to use headphones to get through an editing session… maybe you’re doing the photography wrong?

    (Listening to stuff because you want to is fine, of course.)

  • guest

    I find that listening to certain types of soft music helps me keep working on a project that I would have been distracted from long ago without – so it probably achieves multiple goals rather than just keeping you from running away screaming from your work.

  • Joey

    I agree. I feel that its easier to listen to softer and possibly less melodic music while editing over long periods of time.

    I imagine our brains entrain to the music frequencies we listen to and certain frequencies are more conducive to prolonged effort and attention than others.

  • Shawn

    Man… here I thought I was going to get some good and useful information on Lightroom tricks and processes. Headphones? What?

  • junyo

    Noise cancelling headphones my friend. When my neighbor with dubious musical tastes decides he really just NEEDS to party at midnight on a weekday, NC headphones are a livesaver to keep focus on the task at hand.

  • Andrey Grinkevich

    1080p monitor for photo editing? Really?

  • Rabi Abonour

    Or, more broadly, advice on proper toning (hint: don’t just pile on the midtone contrast). But no, posture is the real key to good editing.

  • lidocaineus

    Most noise canceling headphones aren’t that great – they don’t cover enough of the actual audio spectrum to do anything but reduce noise a bit. To do proper noise canceling, you need some VERY expensive cans that have really sensitive mics and the ability to process the incoming sound very quickly.

    Better are noise isolating headphones. Once you get used to them, they beat noise canceling cans by a huge margin, especially when you take into account cost.

  • Chris Pickrell

    I have a 1440 :D

  • Chris Pickrell

    Actually, it kind of is. The posture is the only one I really felt was helpful. Even though it was already known. The rest are just “This is how I do my editing, and I like it so you should too” basically.

  • Clayton Finley

    Get a korean 27″ 1440 monitor, IPS, under $350 shipped, ( samsung panel ) you can get 3 for less than a single Cinema Display or a Dell 2711/3011

  • Clayton Finley

    also note they are glossy screen, so no thick anti-glare that distort colors like the dell and most others have.

  • Justin Haugen


  • Psycho

    i thought the same ! yay new nice tricks for editing ! but no…
    instead we got advertisements and a someone telling you ” go buy more gear you’ll become better! “

  • Zachary Larsen

    How to improve your photo editing: Buy more crap!

  • junyo

    I have a pair of Sony NC headphones that are pretty good, but some googling about noise isolating intrigues me. Thanks for the heads up.

  • Courtney Navey

    I can’t believe this was actually posted…hello common sense good-bye waste of space at petapixel! Any newb with half a brain could figure out these tips. Headphones? Really? There aren’t many photogs who don’t work from home…computers come with speakers. Ugh…such a bad article.

  • John Goldsmith

    Agreed with some of the comments below about editing. If there is one issue to making processing more enjoyable, it’s that Lightroom’s slowness induces lethargy. Fatigue.

    Don’t get me wrong: it’s fantastic software! But it’s SLOW. And, if there is anything to complain about, it’s that. How about some tips (in addition to the ones I already suggested from Adobe), to speed up the program. I don’t need music. What I need, even with a relatively fast iMac, is more speed.

    Oh, and….

    #6. Wine!

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    Maybe that’s why the author is still on Lightroom 3? Not as good a render engine or as many features as Lr4 or Lr5, but seemed faster for many.

  • kassim

    On the contrary, I found it too quiet… like I become deaf or something.

  • Jason Philbrook

    My big “secret”; take fewer photos per outing (like if you were buying film) and your work gets done quicker and is just as good.

  • John Kantor

    Posture and ergonomics are critical if you don’t want permanent pain. And it’s nice to see a pic of Lightroom 3 – 4 and 5 are dogs.

  • jrconner

    “Ad” when referring to advertisements. Not “add.”

  • lidocaineus

    I’ll give you that. Some people find it disconcerting. I did the first few times I used them but gradually learned that it helps to really lower the noise floor, thereby bringing out tons of nuance in the music.

  • Zizo

    Since we are buying new stuff. I could add that a primary SSD and a secondary HDD with 7200 rpms made a world of difference to Lightroom speed.

  • John Goldsmith

    “Maybe that’s why the author is still on Lightroom 3?”

    The wine? ;-)

    LR3 was still clunky. I’ve been told LR5 is faster. But I’ve not tested it yet.

  • Jason

    This article reads as a collection of advertisements rather than actual workflow improvement tips, ideas, etc.

  • eric

    I’ve been told that a little bit of cannabis sativa helps a photo edit session.

  • waldomarek

    and here i was, thinking that petapixel had some editing tips for me, software wise.

  • Grethe Rosseaux

    Yes because having a Wacom tablet IMMEDIATELY makes people see you as a “pro”, not the actual work you do with it.

  • John_Skinner

    I look at this list of ‘step up my game’ features and wonder how most people could work without 3 of them… No headlines here.

  • Leif Sikorski

    6) Keep your “average” monitor as well because that’s what most people will see and judge your work on. At least for people who publish their work on the web it’s important that it looks also great on consumer devices if they are a part of their audience.