Photoshop editing techniques to make your travel photos pop

Photoshop editing techniques to make your travel photos pop!

A good photo isn’t just the result of a good camera and a professional photographer.

You might be interested to know that the post-processing stage is a huge part of transforming your photos from something good into something amazing! But short of having training in photography, how do you go about making your photos look like all those drool-worthy ones you see on Pinterest?

I’m going to give you a quick overview on the equipment I use and some options for editing programs, then I’ll be sharing my 6 simple steps for touching up photos.

Ashlea's DSLR

photography Equipment

It’s possible to take a good photo, or even a great photo, using a point and shoot digital camera. But it’s much easier to take a great photo with better equipment.

I purchased a Canon DSLR in 2012, and now have a Canon Mirrorless as well. There are plenty of great cameras available these days which will result in amazing photos – see my camera gear guide for some ideas.

There are also a billion online resources that can help you with photography techniques. To start, take a look at my 10 travel photography tips.


I’ve been using Adobe Photoshop since I was a Graphic Design student, but there are plenty of other editing programs you can choose from. Some people highly recommend Adobe Lightroom as it’s much cheaper than Photoshop.

For something super simple, you can also use Instagram to edit your photos! My tips below will also apply to this simple editing program.

how to touch up your photos

These tips are going to be focussed on using Adobe Photoshop, but the theory can be applied to any editing programs. Click on the images for larger versions.

Photoshop steps 1-2

Step 1. Straighten and crop the photo

I’m sure you’ve seen people upload photos which have you wondering whether the person is suffering from a bad case of vertigo. The horizon runs from the upper left to the lower right, and the subjects look as though they’re about to topple sideways out of the photo.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s near impossible to take a perfectly straight photo, but this is one of my major pet peeves as this problem is so easy to fix! Use the Crop Tool (1), and select Straighten (2), then draw a line along the horizon. The image will then straighten itself. Problem solved!

You can also crop out anything that you don’t want in the photo, or change the dimensions (I made this one square). Most editing programs will have a crop, rotate, or adjust tool that you can use for this.

Photoshop steps 3-4

Photoshop step 5

Step 2. Adjust the exposure

Even professional photographers don’t get the exposure right every time, as photos will come out differently depending on the amount of available light. Head to Image, then Adjustments (3) and Exposure (4), then play with the settings (5) to brighten your photo if it’s underexposed, or darken if it’s overexposed.

In other programs, this might be a button labelled lightness, brightness, or highlights and shadows.

Photoshop step 6

Photoshop steps 7-8

Step 3. Add contrast

My favourite way of adding contrast is using soft light blending mode. Duplicate your current layer by right clicking on it, then selecting Duplicate (6). With this new layer selected, change the blending mode to Soft Light (7). You can adjust the exposure of this layer as we did in step 2, and if the image is still too bright or too dark you can adjust the Opacity (8) to tone it down.

Other programs may have an option labelled contrast or intensity.

Photoshop step 9

Photoshop step 10

Step 4. Add saturation

I sometimes like to saturate the image a little as this makes the colours pop, but please don’t over-do it! No one wants to see fluro green grass, or bright orange faces – it will be obvious if you’ve gone too far.

Head to Image and Adjustments as we did in step 2, then select Hue/Saturation (9) to play with the settings (10).

Photoshop steps 11-12

Photoshop step 13

Step 5. Change the focus

This is the key step in my opinion! I don’t mean changing how blurry the photo is – I want to highlight the point that your eye is drawn to. A simple way to do this is to darken the edges and lighten the centre (or subject) of the photo. In the above example I darkened the sky and the bottom right corner, then lightened the people standing in the centre, and the palace in the background.

Select the Burn Tool (11) and adjust the size and intensity of the brush (12), then draw along the edges of the photo to darken them slightly. I usually keep the exposure to around 5% and go over the edges a few times until it looks good.

To lighten the centre or the subject of your photo, select the Dodge Tool (13) and use it the same way as the burn tool, but draw over the subject instead of around the edges.

Photoshop step 14

Photoshop step 15

Step 6. Edit the colours

If your photo seems too blue or too yellow, or maybe you’d just like to increase the intensity of a sunset photo, you can edit the colours slightly.

Head to Image and Adjustments, and Colour Balance (14) and fiddle with the settings (15) until you like the way your colours look. I made my image more yellow to add warmth and more red to bring out the colours in the red roof and lights.

Photoshop steps 16-18

You can also add a colour filter over the top. Select the Fill Tool (16) and choose your foreground colour (17). Create a new layer (18) then click anywhere on your photo to fill it with your colour. Change the blending mode as we did in step 3 to Soft Light and the Opacity to between 5-15%.



And there you have it, a photo transformed from average to amazing in a matter of minutes! Remember to save your image as a separate JPEG, it’s good practice to keep the original just in case you need it later.

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28 Responses to “Photoshop editing techniques to make your travel photos pop”

  1. Samantha Angell

    These are all great tips! I’ve never really used the straighten feature before, but I will definitely have to start doing that. Thanks for sharing!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I’m glad you found the tips useful Rae, though it looks like you do a very good job of your photography already!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s what I do too Vera! It’s great to be able to improve our photos a little before we post them, best of luck with your photo editing!

  2. Amanda

    It’s so nice to have a guide for editing photos! I usually just mess around and end up using the original anyways haha. I never knew you could change the focus like that. It’s such a good idea!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know what you mean Amanda, sometimes I overdo the editing and end up going back to the originals! But if the original photo is good, it usually only needs a slight touch up. I just had a look at your blog and your photography looks great!

  3. Traci J

    Thanks for your tips! I have a lifestyle/beauty blog and my mom has an interior design blog – we just purchased a Canon TI5. I love it already! My ex boyfriend used cameras all the time for work – so I know a little bit about how to take a good photo – the editing is where I lack.

    This is a great post!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s fantastic Traci! I absolutely love my DSLR, it’s my most valued possession after my MacBook 😛 The fact that you know a bit about how to take a good photo is a huge part of having great photography on your blog, let me know how you go with the editing!

  4. Franca

    Great tips even if I have to admit that I still use Photoshop for editing, I must try the alternatives programs out there 🙂

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I don’t think I could use anything else after using Photoshop for so long, though I’m sure some of the other programs are just as good! Thanks Franca!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Aren’t DSLR’s just the best! Do you have a decent lens too? I found that I loved my camera even more after I got a good lens for it 😛

  5. Jordan

    Such great tips! Thanks so much for sharing!!! Definitely saving this post 🙂

  6. Donna Meyer

    There are many great tips here, but if I had come away with only one, it would be enough. How on earth could I have been using PhotoShop all this time and never saw that “straighten” button?? I’ve been using rotate, transform and other techniques to get my pix straight, but that looks so simple. Thank you!

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      It took me ages to find that tool too Donna! I used to just use the crop and rotate tool, then I noticed it appear along the toolbar one time. Best discovery ever!

  7. Paul

    Nicely summarised. Photoshop can be a little daunting and full on at first but a handful of tools can make the world of difference. Straighten, Adjust, sharpen and crop is often all you need.

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Absolutely, if the photo is good then it might only need the slightest adjustment. I’ve been using Photoshop for years and it’s still my favourite photo editing software. Thanks Paul!

  8. Maaike - Travellous World

    Again (I keep repeating myself), great tips! I’m using the basic options of Adobe Photoshop myself (such as brightness, contrast etc), but I see that there are a lot more possibilities when it comes to editing. I’m definitely going to save this page on my desktop for future reference! Maaike –


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