The Top 8 Instagram Editing Mistakes That Can Take Your Photo From Rad to Bad

  • Photo via Marianna Hewitt on Instagram

    Photo via Marianna Hewitt on Instagram

    Last week, Marianna Hewitt of Life With Me shared with the world the magical way she edits Instagram photos to make her look even more gorgeous than she already is. The video is amazing to watch as her fingertips deftly smooth and brighten her skin and fill out her hair. The before and after is, like, whoah—in a good way, because the changes look real.

    It's tempting to copy those techniques on your own feed, no? And there's no reason why you can't—but proceed with caution. The results don't always look so realistic. While trying to take your selfie from an 8 to a 10, you could unintentionally create a big zero if you're not careful.

    As an avid IGer and sometimes overzealous photo editor myself, I found Howard Pinsky's advice to StyleCaster useful: take a 15-minute break before you post your edited photo. “As an edit is underway, our brain is actively becoming accepting of each edit, even if it’s full of mistakes,” he says. Better to delay posting a weirdo photo than deleting it in shame later.

    But let's face it: none of us will likely stop editing our photos altogether, so here are some pitfalls to help you avoid the embarrassment of an obviously-edited photo.

    1. Wildly-Whitened Teeth

    When I discovered the ability to whiten teeth in an iPhone photo, I thought I'd saved myself thousands on dental techniques. But really, I had unleashed a tooth-whitening monster that had to be tamed. With a delicate and moderate touch, there's nothing wrong with correcting an errant shadow on a smile. But be very careful of making yourself or your subjects look like they have a set of psychotically white, horsey chompers. In the photo above, a shadow on my husband's smile made him look like he was missing a tooth, but my awkward whitening attempt never made it onto my IG feed (thankfully).

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    2. Alien Eye Sparkle

    If you watched Hewitt's video, you probably noticed that she added some sparkle to her eye, but immediately realized it was too much and scaled it back. Take her lead and use this enhancement with much restraint, lest you give yourself an alien effect.

    3. De-focus Dysfunction

    We all want our photos to look like we took them with a fancy DSLR that we know how to use. But using an app like BigLenst to artificially blur your background can go very wrong. See my misguided attempt below, committed shortly after I downloaded the app (forgive me, I knew not what the heck I was doing!) Like me, you might blur edges that should stay sharp, or overdo it to the point that your background becomes distracting and you look like you're floating in some kind of toxic fog. Unless you're a master with this technique, you're better off keeping the background crisp.

    Matching Thanksgiving prints! #cousins #happythanksgiving

    A photo posted by Kristen Philipkoski (@stylenik) on

    4. Morphing Mania

    Remember when Hewitt magically poufed her hair with that morphing tool? Amazing, right? You can do that, too. Or you can make your legs longer, your arm thinner, or your butt bigger with an app like Facetune. But do pay attention what happens to the background when you do it, because your body part is not the only thing morphing. Walls can become warped, or, as Kim Kardashian discovered, doorways can become wavy.

    Getting right for the new year

    A photo posted by Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) on

    5. Super-Saturating

    As with all other edits, saturate in moderation. Colors that pop can be pretty, and over-saturation is a hallmark of the “lomo” filter. But neon grass and artificially electric blue eyes can make human skin appear red or gray—never a good look.

    Photo via Shutterstock

    Photo via Shutterstock

    6. Plastic Not-So Fantastic

    The smoothing function available on many mobile photo editing apps is a godsend for exaggerated wrinkles and untimely breakouts. But, again, easy does it or your edits may obscure your flaws only to highlight that you've got something you want to hide. This photo of me for example—I did a little too much softening in the facial area and no I did not save an unedited copy. ALWAYS SAVE AN UNEDITED COPY!

    7. Too Sharp

    Notice in Hewitt's video above that when she sharpens her photo, she does it by just one degree. When you add much more sharpening than that your picture can create weird halos and look a bit angry and alarming. Plus, your hair starts to look like straw. Also, the experts say to add sharpening last, after all other edits.

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    8. Adding a Watermark

    “They are distracting, they are ugly, and they are useless.” I can't say it any better than Emil Parkarklis of iPhonphotograhpyschool. He goes on to point out that famous photographers with 100,000+ followers don’t use watermarks, and neither should you. They prevent editors from highlighting your photos, and anyway they can be cropped out.

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    About The Author

    In addition to being editor at IFB, Kristen writes for Forbes, Eat, Sleep, Denim, and her own blog, Stylenik. Previously, she served as the San Francisco editor for Racked, covering the intersection of retail, fashion, and technology. She has written about everything from human cloning to luxury shopping for publications including Wired, Gizmodo, Refinery 29, and the San Francisco Chronicle. She lives in a '70s house in '70s clothes on the Northern California coast. 

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    15 Responses

    1. Anastasia Nicole

      Awesome tips. I have for sure been guilty of over saturating and going a little too sharp in some photos.

      Reply
    2. Roxanne

      Great tips. I’ve always tried to fade images which managed to get over saturated as well as balance temperature if the tones are too orange/blue.
      Also one great tip that everyone forgets that the secret to a great instagram image is to edit it and not filter it.

      xox
      head2heels.co

      Reply
    3. Toni Baldwin

      I loved all of them except #8. Sometimes when your photo get shared a ton, the watermark can help identify you and can prevent catfishes. Any celebrity using WhoSay always does this as well. I always watermark any photo I put onto the web and highly recommend you do it across social media and your blog.
      XO, Toni

      Reply
    4. Lauren Jade Martin

      I agree with the watermark thing. I hear a lot of people obsess about them and stress about people stealing their pics…at the end of the day if people want to steal your photos….they’re going to. It’s unfortunate but it’s reality. These are some great tips…but I think you left out one important one.. –> Sometimes the best photo is the unedited one that is just natural and real. Find great light and get the shot! 😉

      Lauren Jade
      Lauren Jade Lately
      ‘Simplify Life, Maximize Happiness’

      Reply
    5. DShaunte

      Great article, I can definitely be overboard on some editing or sometimes a picture looks weird and I can’t figure out why.

      Reply
    6. heathernoire89

      I love this advice on editing photos. I always see people making there photos appear almost oddly when they most likely look better originally. Sometimes less is more 🙂 Great techniques and advice thanks for sharing . http://bauchlefashion.com

      Reply
    7. Marta P

      I don’t get why would you even want to modify yourself! It’s important to love you the way you are. 🙂 And even no filter selfie from time to time is important.

      Reply