9 photo editing mistakes in landscape photos (and how to avoid them)

It’s easy to fall into the trap and make some of the most common photo editing mistakes when you’re new to editing. In fact, some more experienced photographers make mistakes from time to time. You have probably seen these heavily oversaturated photos posted on the Internet.

When you ask the photographer she or he claim they tried to create a photo that looked as they saw the scene when they took the image. Too much saturation is one of the most common photo editing mistakes. This one is obvious and easy the identify. Let’s look at some other typical photo editing mistakes in landscape photography.

Photo editing mistakes

 #1 - Failing to level the horizon

Failing to level a tilted horizon is a common photo editing mistake in landscape photography. Nothing speaks more "amateurish" than a horizon tilting to the left or right. Our brain instinctively reacts when something that is expected to be horizontal or vertical is out position.

It's easy to fix the horizon in any post-processing software, but still many beginners post photos without leveling the horizon.

#2 – Cropping too tight

When you're new to photography one of the most common errors is to include too much in the frame. Another typical issue is disturbing elements along the edges in a photo. Both these photo editing mistakes can be hard to see when you're in the field shooting. But on the computer when you edit, you'll be aware of these problems.

You can use the crop tool to remove unwanted areas of the photo if you have shot too wide. Similarly, you can crop the frame to remove objects like tree branches sticking into the frame from any of the edges.

When you decide to use the crop tool, it's crucial not to crop too much. Pay attention to the main subject and make sure it has some room to breathe on both sides. While tree branches sticking in from the edges are disturbing, a tree too close the edge with no room to breathe can be as distracting.

#3 – Too much color saturation

We all know strong colors draw attention. No photos on the Internet get more click and likes than sunsets and sunrises. The bright orange colors have a magnetic effect on us. All warm colors (red, orange, yellow) have the same effect.

The first two sliders most beginners use when they start with post-processing are the exposure and saturation sliders. These two sliders have a significant impact on photos and it is easy to go too far with the adjustments. If you want to be taken seriously as a photographer, your photos need other qualities than just nuclear-looking colors.

The problem with the Saturation slider is it increases the saturation of all the colors in the photo. A better option is to use other color adjustment tools, like Vibrance and the HSL (Hue/Saturation/Luminosity) panel. With these tools, you can be more specific to which colors you add saturation.

photo editing mistakes oversaturation

Obviously this image will get more likes and shares compared to the more natural versions below. This oversaturated version is how I wish the sunset was. Unfortunately is was not in reality that night. Should I fake it or not?

#4 – Brightening the shadows too much

Modern camera sensors can capture an incredible amount of data. It's possible to bring back a lot of details from the darkest shadows in photos when you post-process. This is great but recovering the shadows too much make them look gray.

When you think about it, our eyes don't see shadows as gray. The possibilities to bring back every detail in shadow areas doesn't mean you should always do so. An image with no black in it will look flat and washed out. It lacks contrast.

photo editing mistakes shadows

The foreground rocks in this image is very dark out of the camera. I exposed for the sky to keep the details in the sky and clouds. Using the Shadows slider in Lightroom is was able to bring back a lot of details in the rocks. The result is not convincing as the rocks look flat with little contrast.

In this version I did not open up the shadows as much as I did in the image above. It's a matter of taste but I like this version better with the darker rocks. The shadows create depth to the photo and it looks more three dimensional.

#5 - Darkening clipped highlights

One of the most challenging parts in landscape photography is to avoid burning out the highlights. Typically, it's easy to over-expose the sky if you're not careful. You have some room to darken bright areas in the sky, but if the highlights are clipped, it will not work.

When you attempt to darken clipped highlights too much, the clipped areas will turn into a light gray weird looking color. If you miss the exposure and clip the highlights, your photo is basically ruined.

Rather than thinking of replacing the sky, you should consider accepting this as a learning experience and go shoot again.

photo editing mistakes

This image is over exposed and the highlights are clipped. Attempting to reduce the highlights and whites resulted in the weird looking clouds to the left. In fact the whole sky has a strange grayis look. No matter what I tried to do in Lightroom, I could not recover the lost highlights.

photo editing mistakes with fix

This is another exposure of the same scene taken a few seconds later. This time I exposed for the highlights in the clouds. The foreground grass and the trees are darker, but the result is much better.

#6 - Brightening reflections too much

When you dodge and burn areas in a photo, it is important to understand the light, the light source and the direction of the light. If you work with water and reflections, a typical photo editing mistake is to brighten the reflection too much.

Physical laws dictate that a reflection can never be brighter than the source it's reflected from. As an example, it's tempting to make the sun or glare from the sun in water as bright or brighter than the sun on the sky. Don't do this. Always make sure the reflection is darker than its source.

#7 – Too much sharpening

Another common photo editing mistake is to believe you can use the sharpening tool to sharpen an out of focus or blurred image. If your photo is unsharp due to missed focus or camera movement, well you photo is not going to be a star shot whatever you do.

The sharpening tool is intended to sharpen the photo because of limitations in the digital sensor. Also, in some cameras, there is an anti-aliasing filter in front of the sensor. This filter causes some level of blur to the unprocessed photo. The sharpening tool is intended to fix these issues. If you get carried away and overdo sharpening the image will look sketchy and unnatural.

#8 – Too much noise reduction

Camera sensors have improved significantly over the last few years and problems with sensor noise has become less. In some situations, you will have to increase the ISO to get a proper exposure.

When increasing the ISO you will also increase the risk of introducing sensor noise in the photo. So, if you add too much noise reduction, you will soften the image, and you will lose details. Pay attention to which areas you add noise reduction. It's less critical to decrease noise in areas with a lot of details and texture. Instead, you should try to reduce noise in areas where it's more visible.

#9 - Rushing through the editing process

Editing is a process and as you progress it's a good idea to back off for a moment and let the photo alone. When you get back to the same image after a day or two, you will see the adjustments you already made with fresh eyes. You realize some of these adjustments are too strong, so you must back them off a little. In other areas, you will see the potential for new modifications that will benefit the image.

Now it's your turn.

Can you suggest a #10 to complete the list?

Post your suggestion in the comments below.

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  • Joel Lantz says:

    Excessive haze correction

    If your editing app provides a haze-reduction function, use it carefully and not excessively.

    • I personally dislike haze in landscape photos and tend to substantially filter it away, but a little may contribute to a more natural look in some scenes.

    • Respect the limitations of your haze-reduction apps/features; not all are equal, as I learned the hard way. For example, when I applied useful degrees of haze reduction in Topaz Studio it tended to cause substantial coloration artifacts. By contrast, the haze-reduction feature in On1 Photo RAW 2018 seems much better, even with relatively strong settings. Can’t comment on this feature in other editors, e.g. Adobe products.

    • The Dehaze function is available in most editing software. Like you mention it’s an adjustment to use with care. Too much Dehaze darkens the photo and introduce blue color cast.

      If you take a photo in conditions with haze, the haze is a part of the scene. Trying to completely remove it will rarely lead to a natural looking result. In my opinion post-processing is not intended to make miracles to images, unless artistic photo manipulation is the goal.

      I’ve used Dehaze with both ON1 and Lightroom and none of them can do miracles.

      I find Dehaze useful in some photos simply to increase the contrast. The effect is somehow comparable to Clarity. But both of these adjustments must be used carefully.

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