How to Grow as a Photographer

The Process

Maybe growing better as a photographer is a misnomer and what I should say is, “How to grow in the field of photography” instead. This article is really dedicated to my wife, because she was the one who would even say, “Your photos look so gritty and grimy, how can you make them look light and fluffy?”

That is a great question, I sincerely thought what I was doing looked good, that it looked edgy and artistic.  Looking back on the photos I took just a few years ago, I realized how wrong I was and how right my wife is.

Looking Back

Well, let’s go back to 2 years ago, the place where I made my decision to take photography from a hobby to a business.  The Grand Canyon. I will say this, that place is a magical place that any photographer, hobbyist or professional, needs to go to and capture.  The Grand Canyon opened a drive inside that took me down the path that I live today, and I will always love it for that.

We were there, with family, visiting the South Rim of the Canyon.  We had about half a day, a full night, and another half day to get as much in as we can before having to head back to my Uncle’s house in New Mexico.  The first day we were there, there had been some rain storms moving through, however, they cleared up and we were able to get up to the edge of the Canyon and be floored by the amazing vista before us.

We Were On A Family Vacation

We did like most families do in these situations, got our phones out and started taking photos. I, however, was fancy and had my first DSLR, my Canon EOS Rebel T5 with my kit lenses. I have had the camera itself for a few years at that point, and thought myself a pretty good shot and loved taking photos of anything and everything I could.  I had a good eye for composition, lines, contrasts, and all the other words you learn in art class.  I seemed to pride myself on my “Style” of editing, and it was a “Signature” of my art.

So I got to taking photos, a lot of photos. Some were ok, some were good, some were off, but I wanted to capture as much as I could while I was there. The unedited photos came in, it was clear I still didn’t know how to adjust the aperture or anything about the actual manual settings on my camera, but I was proud of them.

The Unedited Shots

Overall, these came out ok, a little flat (That is always intentional, I at least knew that so I can do more in post, but I digress) and dark but they were ok photos.

Then I did the unspeakable to them.

I decided to edit them.

Forgive Me For What I Have Done

I’m almost ashamed to post these, but it’s an important lesson to not just look at a photo with your eyes, from your own thoughts on “What looks good to you”.  If you make people look like crap and you think that it looks good, it will still look like crap to everyone else.  This isn’t art, this was me not understanding the tools I was using.  This was me cranking out on Contrast and using “Clarity” and sharpness to make a mess.  Click on them to see them in their full resolution.


I can’t believe what I had done, in my head when I took these I was excited because they looked sharp and high contrast.  They showed definition and some sort of stoicism in all of the portraits.  I posted them to social media and went on with my life.

Fast Forward 2 Years

I’ve learned a lot of new techniques and tricks to make a photo, even if it’s already there, better overall.  I even learned how to quickly do this, instead of taking 5 – 10 minutes per photo like I had back then, I can get 1 or 2 done a minute now when I get my settings dialed in. I generally do a first pass to correct tone and such, before I go in and do any heavy editing.

So, I decided to go back, and apply my new knowledge to these photos. Here are the before and afters:

Lesson in Photography

I learned a valuable lesson, besides “Listen to your wife”.  I learned that there is a million ways to edit a photo, none of them are wrong per se, but a lot of them don’t look right.

When you find your passion and figure out your style, you can adhere to simple rules to keep your portraits looking better without losing your “integrity as an artist”.  In the future, I will be doing videos of how I went about fixing this. For now, enjoy the full resolution re-edits I had done for this article in particular.