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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.