Photo Editing for Beginners

Photo Editing for Beginners
September 22, 2016 PicMonkey

Photo editing tools can feel a lot like power tools—you know that each one fixes something, but if you’re not familiar, you might hesitate to pick it up and try it. Fret not, image embettering novice. We’ve put together a short video that’ll run you through the basics so you can go from “I just don’t know!” to photo editing pro. Check it out below, and start adding your favorite picture perfectors to your editing tool chest. But you’re gonna have to ask the orange-aproned people at the home improvement store about that circular saw.

Here’s a quick look at what we cover in this short video:

Photo editing for beginners

  • Basics like crop, straighten, exposure adjustments, and sharpening.
  • How to touchup photos with teeth whiten, blemish remover, and more.
  • Adding effects, filters, textures, graphics, and words for creative looks.
  • Photo editing on mobile with the PicMonkey app.

And if you’re more of a readerly type, here’s an in-depth textual look at the pillars of photo editing.

The basics

Meet your lineup of basic-yet-powerful photo fixers. These tools frequently top lists of go-to edits, and you’ll find them all in the Basic Edits tab of the Editor.

  • Crop. Cropping and pictures are lifelong BFFs, probably because cropping is the quickest way to remove distracting image elements and improve composition. The Crop tool in the Basic Edits tab makes it easy to crop to specific dimensions, scale your photo, and get it lookin’ right.
  • Straighten. Whether your camera inverted your image or it’s just slightly askew, you can remedy it on the quick with the options in Rotate. Use the Straighten slider for small adjustments or the arrows for a total flip.
  • Exposure. Fix an under- or overexposed photo with this tool. You’ll find an Auto adjust option in Exposure, or you can refine the exposure manually with the sliders. Brightness adjusts your overall exposure, Highlights makes your bright tones brighter or darker, Shadows makes the dark tones brighter or darker, and Contrast adjusts the difference between your light and dark tones.
  • Saturation. Saturation has to do with how intense your colors are. Go vivid and bright or subtle and washed out by adjusting the Saturation slider in Colors.
  • Sharpen. Sharpening has to do with line definition, and makes little details more apparent. There are a couple best practices when it comes to sharpening: zoom in close (at least 100 percent) to get a good idea of what happens to your image when you adjust the Sharpen slider, since over-sharpening can make your image look grainy. For best results, make sharpening the last item in your editing lineup.

Touch-up (for people pictures)

No matter how flawless your photo subject is in person, touch-up tools are often used when editing portraits. The number-one rule about touch-up—no, it isn’t “don’t talk about touch-up”—is to not go overboard, or your subject can end up looking like some sort of alien/doll/clown hybrid. You’ll find a list of photo perfectors in the Touch-Up tab.

PicMonkey’s plethora of tools include:

  • Teeth Whiten
  • Blemish Fix
  • Eye Brighten
  • Airbrush
  • Wrinkle Remover

Remember to adjust the Brush size and Fade sliders to achieve a natural look.

Creative stuff

Edits don’t always need to be incognito. Obviously altered photos can showcase your creativity. Get artistic with photo effects, give your pics a voice by adding text, add a frame, or pop an graphic on top of your image to give it a whole new feel. Here’s a quick look at a few ways to get innovative with your image editing.

  • Add an effect. Make a color-pop with paintable black-and-white effects. Give your pic a glowy look with bokeh in different shapes. Go pop-arty with your family portrait. Photo effects let you take your already-great photo and turn it into a creative masterpiece.
  • Get wordy. Photos and text are like peanut butter and chocolate—delicious by themselves, and downright magical when they’re together. Head to the text tool to scope out our selection of fonts, or access any you have on your computer without the effort of uploading. Wanna jazz up your word/pic combo even more? Add a text effect like drop shadow. To learn more, check out our article on adding text to photos.
  • Graphic-ify your pic. From slightly transparent geometric shapes that make your text pop to beards for your baby, graphics (a.k.a. graphics) can add polish or whimsy to your pics. Play with the options in the Graphics tab, and head to Themes to discover graphics by occasion or vibe. If you already have a favorite, bring it along to the editing party with the Add your own button in the Graphics tab.
  • Texturize. Textures give you the power to make full photo transformations happen in just a few clicks. You’ll find everything from outer space to photo-realistic brick wall and paper textures in the Textures tab, and you can (of course) use your own photos as textures with our tools. Try out the different blend modes in the drop down menu to see the different ways the texture layer and your photo can work together. And if you wanna get really artsy, try making a double exposure.

Mobile editing

Now that you’ve got the rundown of how to improve your pics on your computer, let’s talk about on-the-go editing. The PicMonkey mobile app is kinda like a Swiss Army Knife with a bubble wand attachment: it has everything you need, nothing you don’t, and a little bit of fun mixed in.

Check out Adjustments to alter the brightness, contrast, saturation, and temperature of your pics. You can also put more emphasis on your subject by applying a little bit of Blur, crop in seconds, and apply effects (Orton and Boost are good go-tos) to perfect your photos while you’re on the go.

Hot tip: apply a little bit of Soften to your mobile portraits to beautify them fast. And if you want a little bit of mobile and some desktop tools, let us introduce you to Hub.

Other fantabulous tutorials to get you started


Get a PicMonkey membership and fuel your ascent to photo editing perfection!

Start your free trial!


This article was written by PicMonkey Staff, a multicellular organism of hive-minded sub-parts who just wanna get you the ideas and information you crave, so you can make good pictures and take over the world.