If you know me, you know I listen to a metric ton of podcasts. On one of the latest episodes of Connected, photographer and YouTuber, Tyler Stalman gave a mini-tutorial on mobile photo editing.

Ever since, I've been obsessed with learning how to edit great photos. I used to carry a Pixel 2 XL as my personal phone and I loved the photos that came out of that thing without edits. I still carry a Pixel 2, but it's my work phone so it's not always on me, and I don't think to pull it out to take a photo.

These days I'm carrying an iPhone XS, and while the camera is spectacular, the photos don't "pop" like the Pixel's. Sure. The iPhone's photos are in a state where they are more likely to be editable into something I will love, but I could post my Pixel photos straight out of the camera and not think about it. These two photos here are from my Pixel 2.

But I switched to the iPhone for a variety of reasons that weren't about the camera, and I won't be moving back. So what I needed to do was get good at editing photos.

This meant getting good at editing JPEGs that come out of the default camera after Smart HDR has had its way with them and sucked out all the contrast. But it also meant developing a whole other skill of editing RAW photos from my manual camera app of choice, Halide.

I'll tell you now: my YouTube recommended videos are full of camera editing tutorials, mobile camera lens reviews, and Maggie Rogers music videos. (Her new singles are perfection.)

When I'm learning something new, I really want tutorials from people that are just barely more experienced than I am. The experts know too much, and I don't know what I need to know first. So, I'll tell you a few things that I've learned.

Tips on mobile photo editing from someone who barely knows what he's doing

1. Start with white balance, and if there's a person in the photo, always white balance for their skin tone. If you've got folks with varied skin tones, go for the skin tone in the middle.

2. Cropping and straightening turns out to be my single-most effective tool to creating a great looking photo.

This photo has a ton of other problems, but the original was wider and much uglier. A good vertical crop made it not a total disaster.

3. HSL tools are life-changing!!! They can TOTALLY re-interpret a photo.

4. Before reaching for exposure, I go for highlights and shadows (and then whites and blacks, if my editor has that ability). I'm not afraid to use the exposure if it needs it, but exposure changes the brightness of the midtones, and that's rarely what I'm looking to brighten up right at the beginning.

This photo was much darker than I wanted it to be, but messing with exposure just blew it out really quick. Bringing up the shadows saved it.

5. Vibrance slider before saturation slider. Vibrance leaves already saturated colors well alone. Don't oversaturate.

6. Turns out I like to use Darkroom (or Lightroom if I'm feeling it) for my straightening, cropping, and light and color corrections. Then I will go to VSCO to do my more artsy edits.

This is right out of Darkroom. It's only moody because I pulled the exposure down pretty low to get the look on the windows and then cropped it.
After a VSCO filter, this one belongs in a JJ Abrams film.

Anyway, if you're lost like me, here's what I've learned in the last few days. I do all this on my iPhone and iPad, and I am starting to get photos that I like even when I shoot RAW. In fact, here's a shot of that same hallway I posted on Instagram, except it's from an overcast, snowy day, and I took it with my iPhone XS.

You've actually seen this up above in those moody, Star Wars-y edits.


But I am no expert! Go watch some of Tyler Stalman's and Moment's YouTube videos. Here's a couple of great ones that taught me a bunch.