• General Best Practices
Basic Editing that will Make Your Images POP
Mia Johnstone

Our images can often look pretty good taken with the cameras on our smartphones. However, when we compare them to edited images, they often look flat and can appear blue toned.

The good thing is that making basic edits to images is super easy. And taking the few extra steps to help your images pop can make the difference between an average image and a great image. And since your school community has high expectations online and on social media, your images matter greatly. Take these few steps to get that extra notice your images and brand deserve. 

Note: all images shown were taken with my cell phone using natural light. 

How to Edit Photos of People 

The below image is a good representation of a student profile photo. The girl (or student) has a lovely smile and pose which makes this an ideal image for a newsletter article. However, her face is a little bit dark and there are gray tones to the photo. I want the student’s face to stand out from the rest of the photo. 

unedited photo of a girl in school uniform

For photos with people in them, the human eye is more attracted to warmer tones, so I want the photo to be warmer overall. Using a Samsung Galaxy J7 (not the best phone—but proof that you don’t need an expensive phone for great photos), I edited the image with the native image editor in my phone. I did not use any special app. Almost every cell phone comes with a basic image editor. These steps can apply to an iPhone’s image editing tool too.

Goal: I want to draw attention to the student’s face.

Step One: Adjust the Photo's Brightness

I first use my phone to adjust the brightness. For slightly dark images like the one above, I will increase brightness to around 7-17 points. From there I play with the contrast and saturation. 

screenshot of how to edit the brightness of a photo on a phone

Step Two: Adjust the Photo's Contrast and Saturation 

I usually add about 8-15 points for contrast, but for saturation I am more conservative. Don’t increase too much — I try to keep it under 10 when there are faces in the image. (If you have landscape or building shots, you can be more liberal with saturation levels.) 

screenshot showing how to adjust the saturation of a photo on a phone
screenshot showing how to adjust the contrast of a photo on a phone

Step Three: Adjust Brightness Again

Then I revisit my brightness and increase it slightly more since the contrast and saturation to darken a photo slightly. 

screenshot showing how to adjust the brightness of a photo on a phone

Step Four: Crop the Image

The image definitely has a pop after those changes. However, the red floor runner in the background is distracting and I want the student to be the focus in the image. My last step is to crop the image.

cropped version of girl's student portrait

Final Result

Now if you compare the original to the edited version, you can see how some basic edits can make your images pop.

student portrait of a girl unedited version


student portrait of a girl final edited version


Further Reading 

8 School And District Websites With Amazing Photography

5 Steps To Make The Most Of Your School's Photos

3 Tips For Taking High-Quality School Marketing Photos

How to Edit Photos of a School Campus

Even though I am a professional photographer, I don’t have time to edit every one of my images in Photoshop that I post online. I definitely utilize the editing tools in my cell phone along with Instagram’s simple editing tool. It is such a fast and easy way to get images to stand out.

However, if you want to take your editing to the next level with Photoshop, here is a basic tutorial on fixing background light.

This image below was taken with my cell phone. The building is dark because my cell phone was reading the light from the sky.

unedited landscape photo of a building

(Villanova - Straight off the Camera)

Goal: I want to lighten the building without affecting the color of the sky.

Step One: Lighten Entire Image

First I open the file in Photoshop. I lighten the photo by using the curves tool. You can find this under Image-Adjustments-Curves in the top menu bar. This will lighten the entire image.

screenshot of lightening a landscape photo of a building in photoshop

Step Two: Select the Building

Next, I take the quick selection tool (fourth tool down on the left side menu) and select the general sky area. Note that I only select half of the large evergreen tree selected. This is on purpose. If I only select the sky, I will end up with odd looking halos around the tree when I go to make my brightness edits.

screenshot of using the selection tool in photoshop to select the sky of a landscape photo

Then I invert the selection.

screenshot of using the inverse tool to select everything except for the sky in photoshop

Step Three: Adjust the Brightness

Now that my image is selected around the building, I can make adjustments in brightness that will make the image more appealing. I increase the brightness to around 17. I would do more but it will create a noticeable contrast around the tree in front that is not highlighted. In order to be more efficient in my editing, I keep it simple. 

screenshot showing an adjustment of the brightness of a building in a photo using Photoshop


These edits may be minor, but they really make a difference. This is a worthy addition to your school’s homepage, social media posts, or even a postcard!

Final Result


the "before" photo of a building on a school campus

Villanova (Before)

the "after" photo of a building on a school campus

Villanova (After)

Key Takeaway

You already have excellent tools to create beautiful images. These tools are simple and quick, and can take your images to the next level. Beautiful images have an amazing power to be transformative for the viewer. It is surely one of the fastest and simplest ways that we can tell the story of the great things we offer at our schools.


mia johnstone headshot

Mia Johnstone has over 13 years of experience as a marketing strategist for private schools. Her work has included creating branded photoshoots and marketing materials in alignment with each school's values. Mia also published the LA Private School Guide, a magazine that profiled private schools in Los Angeles. Visit www.readysetenroll.com to download a posing guide for your next do-it-yourself photo shoot. 

  • Marketing/Communications
  • Photography
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