Quite often, clients are excited about their photo session and want to see their images the very next day! This is totally understandable, but when you read this article you will understand why it doesn't happen like that. I pride myself on delivering quality images, and edit every single one before handing them over to the client.
Many clients assume that once the shoot is over, most of the work is done. Far from it! This is where the bulk of the work begins, and it's called post-processing. This involves sorting through the images and getting rid of the duds (this alone can take a few days), and then going through all the 'keepers' and editing them for colour, contrast tone and overall quality. I go through each image individually and make sure that they are good to print. I could spend anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes on a single image. Whilst I might like to apply toning effects to some images, I also need to keep in mind how all the images will look together in an album or side-by-side on a wall. With this in mind I tend to edit similar photos in a group to complement each other, but another group of photos in a different part of a session may get different treatment. The vast majority of photos I leave with natural colours and just tweak the contrast and colours for great skin tones and a photo that 'pops'.
I have updated this post (March 2013) to reflect my more recent work and style.
What is toning?
An image might look great straight out of the camera, but some images just look better with a little extra love. Sometimes the exposure might be a little off and need correcting, sometimes the white balance isn't right. Toning is about adjusting the colours, brightness and contrast of the image, amongst other things, to suit the mood and subject. Ideally, the image should still be the most striking thing, not how it is processed. If all people notice is a special effect, then it isn't done right. Unfortunately some photographers rely on gimmicky effects rather than creating a good image in the first place. Take Photoshop away from them and the image does not stand on its own.
I rarely use Photoshop by the way, I do most of my editing in Lightroom. I make my own presets (settings that I can store and apply to multiple images) and even do quite a bit of retouching within this software. I turn to Photoshop only when I need to do a complex retouching job that Lightroom just can't handle. And of course, I shoot RAW not JPG so that I have the most image information to work with.
If I really love an image and it works really well toned a few different ways, I'll sometimes provide a few versions of the image to give the client a choice. I might also include a 'regular' version in case their tastes don't match mine. I like to think that they do because they hired me though!
Here's a few examples of how some images looked before and after processing. The first image in each set is straight out of the camera (SOOC) with Lightrooom's default settings.
What about retouching?
I tend to shoot in a photojournalistic style as much as I can, because I want to capture real expressions and emotions. In my view, done well, these make the best images. Sometimes though, an otherwise great image will have a stray hair across the face, or an ugly exit sign in the background, or a person that couldn't move out of the way - things that were out of my control when I shot the image because catching the moment was more important. If these things detract from an image that I like and want to give to the client, I will retouch it to remove the offending pixels. I don't make major alterations to a scene, I still wish it to represent reality as much as I can, but I want the image to look great too. I don't have the time to pick up rubbish or move things around when I'm shooting, and I can't always exclude things when I compose the shot, much as I would like to.
Of course, I also retouch blemishes on faces, and make sure that my subject's skin looks great in the photos. This is mostly only needed on close-up shots, and only in certain lighting. The right lighting from the start always gives people an excellent complexion! No-one wants to see a big red pimple in their portrait. Other features such as a mole, I might play down a little but not remove entirely (unless I am asked to) because it is part of the person. It will still be there but you won't notice it.
What do I retouch the most? HAIRS! It gets windy in the mountains, and that is something that will always be hard to avoid. Most shots are timed when the hair is blown off the face, but sometimes there are a few that go right across the face and spoil an otherwise nice photo. So I retouch them and remove those offending hairs.
Here are a few retouching examples...
I could bore you with more examples, but suffice it to say that I have cloned out everything from water bottles to exit signs! If they stick out like a sore thumb in the photo, they're gone.
I include editing and retouching in all my packages. Next time you're comparing photographers and prices, consider this aspect of the package and you will realise that there is sometimes a lot of added value in areas you might not have been considering. Some photographers provide unaltered proofs and only edit images you choose. Some will edit and tone all images, but many will not include retouching in their standard pricing. I charge extra for retouching only if the task is a specific request of the client, and something I wouldn't normally have done. If you're looking for true photojournalism with nothing altered, I am happy to do that as well. Just let me know that you don't want any retouching. In most shoots, I only need to retouch a handful of images anyway.
I hope this post gave you a deeper understanding of what goes on between the shoot and the day you receive your disc in the mail. The work is definitely not done when the shoot is over, and my goal is to make sure you love your photos.