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Photo editing basics


During this two-day lesson, students will learn about basic photo editing skills, including cropping, color adjustment, resolution & file modes, dodging, burning, and cutouts.  They will also examine different ways to save photos depending on the medium in which a photo will be used.  Then, they will have the opportunity to practice using those skills in a photo editing software.


  • Students will learn about basic photo editing skills, including cropping, color adjustment, resolution and file modes, dodging, burning, and cutouts.
  • Students will practice photo editing skills using a photo editing software.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.9-10.6 Acquire and use accurately general academic and domain-specific words and phrases, sufficient for reading, writing, speaking, and listening at the college and career readiness level; demonstrate independence in gathering vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.


Two 45-minute classes

This lesson can be shortened to one class period for both the two-week and four-week modules.  The first day’s instruction can stand on its own without the student work time on Day 2.


Slideshow: Editing basics

Computers with photo editing software OR access to online photo editing programs

Sample photos: printed versions AND digital copies saved in an easily-accessible location for students

Many of these lessons require or depend upon specific photo editing software and were designed with Adobe Photoshop in mind. If you don’t have Photoshop in your classrooms, there are plenty of free alternatives available that are either downloadable or web-based. I haven’t tried them all, but according to Gizmodo, here’s a pretty comprehensive list of ones that might be helpful:

  • GIMP
  • (Windows only)
  • Pixlr (web-based)
  • Splashup (web-based)
  • Inkscape
  • Seashore (Mac-only)
  • Pixia (Windows-only)
  • Photo Pos Pro (Windows-only)
  • Picasa
  • Photoplus (Windows-only)

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1

1. Discuss — 5 minutes

What ways of editing or manipulating photos are you already aware of?  When you take a photo, what are some ways that you change the photo prior to printing it or posting it to Facebook? (Students will probably say Cropping, adjusting Brightness/Contrast, etc)

2. Slideshow — 25 minutes

Go through slideshow on the different skills and tools that students can use to adjust photos.  Note: This slideshow is primarily focused on Photoshop, but most of these tools can also be found on free software online listed above.

It may be a good idea to make this presentation available to students digitally, that way they can access it for reminders while they practice.  That may be an easier way than expecting them to write everything down.

3. Group activity — 10 minutes

Group students into five or six groups.  Give each group a printed copy of one of the sample photos and ask them to critique: what skills or tools do they think should be used on this photo?  How should this photo be adjusted from what it is right now?

Once students have time to think about that, ask for a representative from each group to share with the class.

4. Follow up — 5 minutes

Write a paragraph exit slip in which you evaluate which of the skills you learned about today you would most want to practice tomorrow and why.  Include the benefits of using that tool in a journalistic medium, not just that you think it’s a “cool” thing to know.

Day 2

1. Review — 5 minutes

Discuss the exit slip from yesterday.  Which tool or skill did students choose to write about? Why do they think that tool or skill is important for a journalist to know how to do well?

2. Group work — 35 minutes

Working in pairs or alone (depending on skill level of the students, availability of computers, and how much you trust them to actually work), give students access to the six practice photos located in this folder.  Emphasize with them that they should work on a COPY, not the original!  Then, give them time to practice the skills they learned about yesterday.

Optional: give students specific things to do to increase productivity.  For instance, ask them to crop one photo to emphasize an individual subject, to use dodging on a particularly dark area of a photo, or to cut out an individual.

3. Follow up — 5 minutes

What was the hardest skill that you practiced today?  What was the easiest skill? Are there any of these skills that you think should be used on MOST or ALL of the photos that you prepare for publication or posting? (Cropping, levels/curves, mode adjustment, resolution) What about skills that should be used rarely? (dodging, burning, cutouts)


Depending on students’ skill levels with photo editing software, some of the activities in this lesson could be rather challenging.  Students who struggle will benefit most from sticking to more basic skills, such as cropping, levels, mode adjustment, and resolution.  Students who pick up on these techniques quickly may benefit from spending additional time on curves, dodging, burning and cutouts, because these skills require more practice.