When folks meet with me about their weddings or portrait sessions, they often ask if I’ll edit their photos, and it’s more complicated to answer than you’d think. Mostly because there are a lot of different processes that can all fall under the heading of “editing,” and I know I’m guilty of using them interchangeably. So to clarify things a bit, I’m going to walk you through my whole editing process.

The literal absolute first thing I do when I get home from a wedding or a portrait session is to back up all of the files to my hard drive, then to an external hard drive, and then to our NAS (which, btw is called Miss Jackson. If you’re NASty.) Then it’s onto step one of editing…

1. Culling

screen shot of culling in adobe lightroom
This is where I’m starting from, in a program called Lightroom. I’m a fairly careful shooter. I started out on film where you have a limited number of exposures, so I don’t do what some industry folks call “spray n’ pray.” But I am still shooting multiple poses, and usually multiple shots of each pose, and as you can see, some of them are very very similar. This, by the way, is why I don’t just deliver ALL of the photos I take. You might be blinking in one, or maybe the focus is a little off, or the framing is just much better in one than all the others. You remember that Beyonce photo from a few Super Bowls ago that was mega unflattering, even though we all know she is a paragon of fierce beauty? Everyone ends up with some bad shots, but I keep those to myself so nobody has to know about them. Culling is where I pick the very best ones. Then, each selected photo moves on to…

2. Developing

example straight out of camera
I pulled two example photos to show my process, and here’s what they looked like straight out of camera, with absolutely no editing. They’re not terrible, but they’re not as good as they could be yet either. The color isn’t quite right, one is a little dark, and I’m thinking I want to convert the other to a black and white shot. This is the phase of editing where the most drastic change occurs, and it’s akin to what you used to do with your film photos – you’d take the negatives to a lab, and a technician there would balance the color, get the exposure exactly right, and adjust the cropping if needed. Now, I’m the lab, so I’m doing all of those steps for every wedding and portrait session that I shoot. The end result looks like this:

example of developing a digital photoMuch better, but there are still some small improvements I could make. Thus we move on to the next round…

4. Editing

example of editing digital photo
You might not be able to spot the differences, because they’re pretty subtle here. When working with babies, sometimes you’ll have a few odd skin things to edit out – tiny baby acne, or redness, etc. This guy didn’t have much. For grown-ups, this is the phase where I’m hitting things like blemishes or lint on your clothes. My general rule of thumb is that I don’t alter anything permanent about a person, like freckles or birthmarks, but I’ll edit out temporary ones, like pimples that no one is gonna remember fondly. This is the last step that I do for basically every shot.

5. Retouching

example of retouching digital photo
I exaggerated this one so that the difference is more obvious. Retouching covers a number of things, from airbrushing skin, to softening crow’s feet, to more extensive work like removing braces. This isn’t an edit that I make to each and every photo, only on photos that I think need it (usually extreme close-up shots, where skin texture is a lot more obvious and can be distracting from an otherwise great moment.) More extensive work often needs to be outsourced, as doing that kind of editing in a convincing and natural way is a skill set unto itself.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of the editing process for photos, and a little more clarity when talking to your photographer about your wedding or portrait session. This way you really know what you’re asking them, what they’re saying, and what you can expect from your photos when they’re finished.

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