How to Process Photos with a Clean Edit

One of the things I wish someone had told me, or shown me, when I first started processing my photos, was how to do a clean edit.

How to do a clean edit

Why a clean edit?

  1. It’s so quick and easy to do. You’ll fly through your processing. If I had known, I wouldn’t have spent so much time on processing my photos.
  2. It’s a guaranteed good look (as long as you have good white balance). I put way too many actions and presets on my photos at first. I wish I hadn’t because what they really needed was a clean edit to make them look their best as I was learning how to shoot.
  3. Learning a clean edit first creates a great base to learning how to process photos in your style.

How to Clean Edit a Photo

I’ve made a quick 10 minute video for you with two examples of a clean edit. So if you only have time for 5 minutes, then you can stop it after the first one. If you don’t like videos I’ve written a step by step tutorial below with photos.



Step by Step Clean Edit

1. Fix your white balance, straighten and crop how you want. I’ve already done that here. For the first edit, the exposure was pretty good on her face. But I can tell there are blown highlights in the background (not too worried about those) and the shadows are pretty dark but not yet clipped. So I’ll skip the exposure and contrast setting for now.

8-1 Beginning


3. Go down to the highlight slider. There are a couple different ways to do a clean edit and this is a straight forward one, that I’ve heard called the Alt/Click method. First hold down the alt key for pc or opt key for macs. Then click on the slider for highlights and drag it either right or left depending on what your photo needs. Don’t worry! Your screen will go mostly black! If you see colors then your highlights are blown and it needs to move to the left. If you see only black, try moving your slider to the right just until colors start to appear. You don’t want them there, but you want the slider right before they appear. Mine needed the highlights brought back, so I dragged the slider to the left until I no longer saw any colors (only black covering my screen). In the video, my second edit needed the highlights brought back up.

2-2 Highlight decrease


4. Go to the shadows slider and do the same – while holding down the alt/opt key and clicking on the slider and dragging it to the right or left. If you see colors you need to move your slider to the right until they are no longer there. If you don’t then move it to the left just until you see color.

2-3 Shadows


5. Go to the whites slider and do the same thing. Here, it’ll be the same as the highlights slider – if you see color, move it to the left.

8-4 Whites

6. Go to the blacks slider and do the same thing you did for the shadow slider.

8-5 Blacks


That’s it! Done. Clean edit. Of course you can adjust the sliders for your own preferences at this point, or work within any of the panels, but this is a really good place to start with an edit.

Here’s the before and after:

Clean Edit-3 - Before

Clean Edit-4-After

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