With all kinds of digital photo editing tools and software now available, it’s never been easier to flex your creative muscles and learn how to adjust and adapt your pictures to look a certain way. In fact, people now make whole careers out of doing just that.

In this post, we’ll show you what the job of a digital photo editor looks like, the types of work you can find in the field, and how to embark on the path toward the creative career of your dreams.

What Is Digital Editing?

bowling alley
Digital editing is all about creating a consistent look with your content.

Let’s start with a quick definition of what exactly digital photography editing is. The main goal and purpose of any digital editing is to take the content in its original form and elevate it—or even transform it into something new. Whether this means applying a filter, adjusting the tone of an image, or ensuring that a photo has the same style as work you’ve published before, digital editing is all about tweaking for a certain look and feel.

Digital editing as a whole doesn’t only apply to photos and can be used in a whole range of fields that need their content in a digital format—think written materials, videos, or audio clips. 

In industries like advertising or filmmaking, digital editing is one of the most important parts of the project. For example, when a film moves into the post-production phase after shooting, editors will adjust lighting and tone, as well as decide which clips will be used in the final cut of the film. All of those decisions ultimately shape how a narrative is weaved together and will significantly impact the way the audience feels while watching. It’s definitely not a role to be taken lightly, particularly when big budgets are on the line.

What Is a Digital Photo Editor?

waves on rock
Digital photo editors are responsible for taking an original, untouched image and enhancing it to tell a story.

You’re most likely to find digital photo editors working at magazines, newspapers, or other online content hubs. They’ll spend their time working with photographers, editing photos, and ensuring that the final work is fulfilling the brief or project requirements. 

While senior creatives on the team may have more of a leadership and project manager role, editors will often be found editing digital photos themselves to present to the art or creative director ahead of publication.

What Do Digital Editors Do?

The number one responsibility of the photo editor is editing original photos to polish them and make them fit a particular look and feel. This could be anything from airbrushing imperfections like a stray frizzy hair on the model’s head or a chipped piece of nail polish in Photoshop, all the way up to completely altering the saturation and color balance of a photo to give it a light and bright look or a sultry, dark mood.

But there’s more to this job than simply knowing how to edit digital photos. When you’re working on a team, there are project guidelines to meet, budgets to consider, and even schedules to manage between photographers, models, or other members of the creative department. Even if you have prior experience as a photographer yourself (which is always helpful), you’ll be spending more time coordinating those behind and in front of the lens than actually shooting anything.

Digital photo editors are often the people who select and edit photos for the final publication, but they’ll also be the ones who work with creative directors to arrange who is needed for a photoshoot, the locations and time of day for the shoot, along with explaining the general vision of the piece to everyone involved. This job is all about choosing the best images—and the best version of the images—to tell the story that you’re trying to tell.

Start Building Your Editing Skills With the Basics!

Fundamentals of Photo Editing

Digital Editing Jobs

Knowing how to use photo editing tools will help you to transform images from good to spectacular with a few clicks and adjustments.

For some digital photo editing jobs, a bachelor’s degree is a minimum requirement. Degrees in photojournalism, visual arts, photography, or advertising are all excellent choices for a career in digital editing. 

Of course, experience with editing software like Lightroom or Photoshop is also essential for you to fulfill the job duties of a digital photo editor. Whether you take classes in a creative degree program or build these skills on your own, you’ll need plenty of practical knowledge and a visual portfolio of your skills in editing digital photos to show prospective employers.

Besides formal qualifications, having a photography background is incredibly useful but not completely necessary. If you have an eye for color, lighting, and balance without having stepped foot behind the camera, you can still be a very successful digital editor. Work closely with photographers to gather enough experience for your own portfolio, and soon enough, you’ll be able to interview for photo editing positions at magazines, newspapers, and more.

Digital Editing Jobs at Magazines

man with camera
man with camera
Even simple edits can completely alter the overall look and feel of a photo.

Think back to the last magazine that you read. You probably saw at least one photo on every single page. All of those will have been run through the hands of a skilled digital photo editor before making their way onto those pages. Or, in the case of digital magazines, the screen.

Almost every magazine in the world will most likely have a digital photo editor on their team, either as a permanent member of staff or a trusted freelancer that works with them on a regular basis. 

Consumer publications like magazines and newspapers usually break their images down into two categories—feature photos and advertising. All graphics and imagery that accompany a story will be worked on by the creative team, but when it comes to advertising, that could be handled either by the magazine creative team or by the marketing team for the brand themselves. 

But remember, the role of the editor is in selecting and editing digital photos rather than taking them. If you’d rather it be your name in the credits and have the chance to shoot some of the world’s most famous faces, a career in photography may be a better fit.

Digital Editing Jobs in Retail Advertising

girl in car
Digital photo editing is all about capturing a mood or feeling and bringing this to the audience.

Brands need images to sell their products, so it’s essential that someone on the marketing team is a pro at editing photos. After all, a picture’s worth a thousand words, and with customer attention spans getting shorter by the day, brands need to find ways to make their products and services stand out on digital ads and social media. Having a savvy marketing team that knows how to capture consumers’ attention with eye-catching imagery is essential for success.

Photo editors who specialize in advertising will often work closely with magazine editors that they plan to advertise with, ensuring that their brand is accurately represented in the publication. As so many of the skills are transferable from one industry to the other, it’s very possible to move from an in-house advertising position into the magazine industry or vice versa, which makes photo editing an incredibly flexible career option for many people.

How Much Do Digital Editors Make?

For most digital photo editors, the average salary is around $50,000 to $60,000 per year. How much you make will depend greatly on where you’re located, the type of work that you do, and the level of experience you have. A world-famous glossy magazine like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar will likely pay their digital photo editors significantly more than a small town newspaper.

Sharpen Your Editing Skills Today

If you think that a career in digital photo editing is for you, there are plenty of opportunities to tighten up the skills you’ll need to build a successful career. 

Like most creative pursuits, it’s all about practice, practice, practice. So, start refining your skills and you’ll master the art of the impressive before and after—both in photos and in your career. 

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Written by:

Holly Landis