A Guide to How I Edit My Travel Photos

A Guide to How I Edit My Travel Photos

Ever since having taken a Photoshop class when I was an 11-year-old, I've been obsessed with editing photos. It felt magical to me to make an image into something else and play with colors and moods. What started as a kid thinking it was fun to play around with photo-manipulation, turned into my high school years where I started taking photographs and wanting my photographs to look as good the ones I was downloading from the internet to use in my designs.

It's been a long journey from my embarrassing DeviantArt portfolio (click to see how popular over-editing was back then and how much I regret dabbling in it), and how much I've progressed since learning techniques and finding my favorite editing program Lightroom and getting much better with how I treat an image when deciding how to manipulate it.

I want to share some of my techniques with you and suggestions for how to go about doing all of this. And the reason this is different is that I'm not trying to sell you a preset pack or get you to download Lightroom. There are tons of editing programs out there that can do the same thing as the professional-grade ones. But here's how I go about it if you want to copy a certain look.


Most people just post what comes out of their camera or phone without applying much thought to it, but why go BLEH when you can go WOAH? But for real, a simple tweaking of the exposure, saturation, contrast, highlights and shadows can make or break a photo. When I need something simple, I try to go for a basic VSCO preset and just try to get a photo looking like it has at least had some balance done to it so it's not overexposed, underexposed or the colors aren't popping. Also, you want to make sure your photo is STRAIGHT! Crooked horizons or tilted is super amatear and it's so quick and easy to just adjust it so your head isn't set to the side when looking at a photo.

So in this image of a temple in Bangkok, the photo came out of the camera too overexposed because it was sunny AF that day. I didn't want the photo to focus on the overly sunny sky, but on the beautiful colors of the temples and banners. A simple VSCO filter that popped the colors and balanced out the sky made all the difference and now the image isn't as bright and more balanced.

For portraits, I try not to go to overboard with editing because then it looks cartoony and you don't want that look if you're trying to keep it real. Most of the time, I'll try to shoot with dope lighting so it doesn't take too much editing to finish it off, but you should still try to make the photo look a bit more balanced.

For this Great Wall of China photoshoot, the lighting was really fun and coming through the autumn leaved trees so I didn't have to do much except lower the shadows so my face popped a little bit more and up the saturation to make leaves in the trees and my scarf more exciting. 

One last simple look that doesn't take too much editing, but can make a photo look a little more interesting than just how it came out of the camera is to play around a bit

Olden Times

When I got home from Egypt and looked through my photographs, I knew I wanted to make them all have a look where they feel like they could've been shot on a film camera. I created my own preset that pulls out the hazy tones of the image and forces some grain and fade into the shot. I also wanted the sky to feel not so traditionally blue and felt that a little cerulean goes a long way.

When I visit certain places, I feel as though I've stepped back in time. And sometimes with the crisp nature of digital photography, you have to manipulate a photo slightly to get it to feel like it is more of that time than the present. In this case, I like to add the hazy feeling so it feels like a restored film photograph rather than straight out of the camera. In Bath, this Palladian Bridge begged for some muted colors and grain boosted in the shadows.

Paris always looks better when it's made to have a more timeless feel. For this image of a snowy day in Paris, I wanted the snow to have a stark contrast to the background, which is hard when the buildings are white. But by making the shadows of the restaurant darker and muting them, while still giving them some saturation, it makes the snow pop a lot more and the neon sign. The dark colors also make the people holding umbrellas stand out a little more.

Golden Hour and Night

For when the sun starts to go down, editing your photos can get difficult if you don't want to blow out the exposure in editing. The best part about evening photos is you can use the mood to your advantage. For golden hour, there's already so much beautiful yellow and orange light that you enhance and saturate. If you darken the shadows and give them a bit of a fade, you can get a lot more contrast between the light and the dark.

Nighttime shots can be difficult to know how to edit. Thankfully with editing programs, you can add in some exposure and colors to boost a mood of an image without ruining it. For this shot in Kyoto, the original photo was too blah, so I wanted to make it feel a bit more like a cool evening on the backstreets of Gion. I added in a blue haze and brought out the colors of the lanterns and lights to show the bokeh off more beautifully.

Vintage Fun

And sometimes you just want to make your photo look like it was taken in the 1970s and give it an old school look without going too far into obvious territory. For my Japan photos, I wanted the majority of them, especially Tokyo and Osaka, I wanted to emulate the style of photos my dad took when he lived in Japan in the late 1960s. Cameras used to grab saturation in a different way then today's more advanced cameras pick up, so I wanted to pull out all the colors as much as possible and also give it a bit of a blue hue with some fading so it looks like a snapshot out of history instead of 2017.

In this case, I used this "Old Gloomy Film" preset, but reset it a bit so it so the exposure was much higher than it automatically applied. The trick to using presets is to not accept the outcome it gives you if you don't like it. You can tweak it to fit your needs and still get something amazing that is your own. In this case, the "Old" and "Film" part of the name of that preset appealed to me, but I wanted to remove the gloomy factor and make it feel more bright and fun.

Hopefully, that gives you a quick idea of how to get the most out of your photos and create some beautiful looks for your photo albums or Instagrams.

And as a gift to you for making it through this post, I want to give you my Egypt Presets for free! Click here to download and use on your own photographs in Lightroom. These two presets work best on photos that have lots of sun and blue skies. They also will make your photos have a vintage feel to them with some grain and fade that looks like a film still out of time.


A Guide to How I Edit My Travel Photos