Many photographers do their own editing. Yet, this process can take many hours of work that they could be spending on other clients. Just think of the +1000 pictures that wedding photographers take for each client. It would take an entire week to edit all those images. And if we talk about fashion photography, a single photo can take up to an hour— yes, just one.
That’s when a professional photo editor comes in.
What does a photo editor do?
A photo editor retouches images to correct imperfections and improve technical aspects to give them a high-quality finish. Besides, this professional maintains aesthetic coherence within a group of photos.
In addition to that, photo editing also refers to the process of selecting and positioning photos for a publication.
In other words, photo editors exploit the full potential of a photo and make it ready for publication, either in print or digital format.
If you are interested in the digital retouching industry, you can become a private photo editor and freelance with several photographers. There are many areas to work in: portraits, fashion, products, food, weddings, etc.
The best part of being a photo editor is that you can offer your services online to everyone anywhere in the world. This way, you not only have the convenience of working from home, but you also increase your chances of getting more income and contacts for your professional growth.
How much do professional photo editors make?
According to PayScale, the average salary of a photo editor is $54,276 a year in the United States. However, depending on your education and experience, you can earn between $50-75,000 per year.
Note that if you become a freelance photo editor, the amount of money you earn will depend on your limits. So, to calculate a salary, you will also have to reflect the number of working hours and the type of editing you offer.
For example, basic editing for lifestyle or wedding photography is much more modest than high-end retouching for portrait and fashion photography. In this second case, you will have to spend more time on each image and master advanced editing techniques— mainly for skin retouching. Of course, all this extra work costs much more money, so that’s something to consider.
What education do you need to be a photo editor?
Contrary to what many might think, you don’t need experience as a photographer to become a photo editor. Yet, having an educational background in photography or graphic design is definitely a plus.
If you don’t have the budget to pay for a college degree, you can start learning on the web. Many photo editors begin their careers watching tutorials on YouTube or taking online courses to learn how to edit photos.
In general, to become a photo editor, you must have these key skills:
- Be familiar with editing programs, such as Photoshop or Lightroom.
- Know how a camera works and how to handle images in RAW format.
- Have technical knowledge of photography and image post-processing.
- Attention to detail.
- Understand technical aspects of digital pictures, such as color space, image formats, export settings, etc.
Bear in mind that you might need to get a bachelor’s degree or certifications to seek better job opportunities. Even so, the most important thing is to stay active. Remember: practice makes perfect!
So far, photo editing sounds like a pretty serious job— and it is. But, which are the first steps to enter this industry? Let’s see:
How can you become a professional photo editor? – 8 steps to make it
1. Do your research and get to know the business
If you have no experience in photo editing, you should investigate what you need to get into it. That includes skills, equipment, and financial resources. For this part, Google is your best friend.
There are many possible career paths for a photo editor. Take some time to research and compare different areas of the market and ways to offer your services.
Besides, take into account that you need a computer that can support editing programs. This, added to the cost of the software, may represent an important investment for you.
Btw, also assess your general photography skills! Take a look at other photographers’ portfolios and evaluate the composition and editing of the pictures. Learning from others is one of the best ways to develop your critical and artistic eye.
2. Get the training you need
Like we said before, you don’t need experience as a photographer to start in this business. But, you do need training and practice. Especially practice.
Check various options for learning, as well as job opportunities and internships. And, if you want to take your career to a higher level, you can get a degree in photography, graphic design, visual arts, or something similar.
Don’t worry if you have no money or no previous training. There are countless free options on the internet to learn and refine your editing skills.
3. Choose the best photo editing software for you
You can’t edit a RAW picture using a mobile app. So, you need to familiarize yourself with professional photo editing software.
There are several options besides Photoshop and Lightroom, and some of them are free. You just have to choose the one that fits your needs and budget.
What to look for in photo editing software?
- Useful editing features.
- User-friendly interface.
- Organization systems and tools to classify your photos.
- Photo sharing capabilities so you can easily publish or send your edited photos on the web.
- Good customer support.
- Access to training material or additional resources.
Regardless of the editing software you use, it is crucial that you feel completely comfortable with it, as you will develop your workflow around it.
That leads us to the next step:
4. Set up your workflow and backup system
To become a good photo editor, you must create an organized system to do your job. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of time improvising and trying to find lost images or folders.
Your workflow will depend on your editing software and personal preferences, though. All photo editors have different work methods, and there is no one better than the other. The important thing here is that you have a filing and classification system that works for you— plus, a reliable backup system! After all, the goal of all photo editors is to develop a fast and effective working process.
5. Define your niche
Many entry-level photo editors often think that if they take whatever gig comes their way, they will get good long-term clients. But, in reality, it’s the opposite.
If you want to establish a successful business, you have to define your ideal client.
Ask yourself what type of photo editing you want to do. Then, search for a target client that might want your services. This way, you present yourself as a more committed and focused professional. Moreover, you can build better business relationships with other photographers and clients online.
6. Build your online portfolio
Whether you are a beginner or expert photo editor, having a compelling portfolio is essential. That is the best way to show a client that you can do more than using a black and white filter.
You can show your work online on Behance or create a site with Wix or PortfolioBox. However, if you want to look more professional, design a unique website from scratch.
Keep in mind that your portfolio must be brief and relevant for the type of client you’re targeting. In that sense, you should only include images related to your niche. But, if you want to highlight several editing techniques or target other markets, create multiple portfolios adjusted to different objectives and clients.
Don’t forget to include links to your social media and contact information too!
7. Delimit your services and set your rates
This is undoubtedly the most challenging part of the job. But, here are a few tips to save you some trouble:
- Determine the kind of service you want to offer, according to your interests and professional expectations. Think of packages to sell your services attractively.
- Search for the average rates of other photo editors— you can use Fiverr for that. That is a good starting point to calculate your rates and ideal salary.
- Design a pamphlet describing in detail all your services and packages. Include your cost per edited image (or gallery), as well as other relevant info for clients.
- To set your rates, consider the type of editing, the amount of time you need for each picture, and your editing skills.
8. Offer your services and get clients!
Once you have determined what you want to pursue as a photo editor, it’s time to get your first clients.
The best way to get started is to sign up on sites like Fiverr or Upwork.
Similarly, you can create an Instagram account to promote your photo editing services. That is also a good way to reach more photographers that might want to hire you. And, as you gain experience, you can build an online presence to boost your business.
Additionally, when you use social media for networking, always have your pamphlet ready to send to agencies and potential clients. You never know when a new opportunity may arise!
3 helpful tips for a successful career
Think of yourself as an enterprise
If you want to become a freelance photo editor, you must learn to manage your finances wisely. Only then will you be able to maintain the stability of your online business.
Set short and long-term goals to grow and keep focus throughout your career.
Also, calculate your monthly budget and set your desired salary based on it. Make sure to pay yourself that salary as if you were your own boss. And, if you surpass that number in a good month of work, save the rest of the money for low-income seasons or investments in better equipment.
Depending on how far you want to scale your business, you can hire another photo editor to release some workload. Especially if you are in the middle of a major project.
Keep learning and practicing
Every day, new tools emerge as digital life evolves. That is why you should always stay updated and improving your skills.
No matter how many years of experience you have, try to take a new course from time to time. There is always something new to learn.
Best photo editing software
If you are not sure what photo editing software is best for you, here are 3 of the most recommended options:
Adobe Lightroom Classic
There is a reason why this program is the first one on this list, and that is because it’s the most popular and complete software to organize and edit photos, along with Adobe Photoshop.
Adobe Lightroom offers an intuitive interface, amazing editing features, and many useful tools for image management. It is, without any doubt, the best photography workflow software.
But, on the downside, it requires a subscription, which costs $9.99 per month. Fortunately, there are great Lightroom alternatives nowadays— and some of them are free!
Skylum Luminar AI
Like Lightroom, Luminar 4 works for both editing and organizing photos.
In short, Luminar 4 is a one-time buy that offers innovative editing features, a clean interface, and many valuable tools for beginner photo editors.
If you want to know more about this photo editing software, read our full Luminar AI review here.
DxO PhotoLab 4
This is another excellent program with exceptional editing features and organization tools to set up your workflow. It is also a one-time purchase alternative, and it is available in two versions for different types of photographers: Essential and Elite.
One of the most exciting features of DxO PhotoLab 4 is U Point technology, which allows you to make quick and easy local adjustments.
Today, with the rise of social media and the internet, there is a growing demand for photo editors. We hope this article helps you to take your first steps to become a successful photo editor.
If you want to know more about photo editing programs and tips to improve your workflow, check out our Photo Editing section.
Thank you for reading!