Blog Archive

Editing: The Unseen Art

People expect to hire a photographer and receive pictures but many times, not much thought is given to that period of time between snapping the shutter and delivering the image. When I tell a client the amount of work that goes in to editing an image, they often walk away with a better understanding of the entire photographic process and a deeper appreciation for the depth of skills that we as artists possess in order to produce world-class imagery.

Since this is something I've found myself explaining time and again, I felt it would be useful to post a series of images taking you from an untouched image to the finished product. Also, this is just an example. Sometimes we do less editing and sometimes more...this is just to give a general idea of what go into a headshot portrait session. 

1. First of all, we have to take our picture. If you're hiring a pro, you're paying for years of experience, resulting in someone who has learned to properly expose an image in all sorts of settings and under the pressure of time and - sometimes - an overbearing mother of the bride (but not your mother, of course!) Here's an image I took today while shooting for the UConn School of Business. This is no editing, straight out of camera. Confident and natural pose.

2. The first touches are adjusting the exposure and lighting. I like my ambient exposure to be 1-2 stops below my light, so I dropped the exposure in lightroom and upped the highlights. I also started to drop the contrast to preserve some of the darker areas in the image. I also use a gradient filter to drop the exposure of the concrete to our subject's right (camera left) because as I upped the highlights, it was competing with the highlights on her face and I wanted her skin to be the brightest spot in the image, so as to draw the viewer's eye. Lastly, I did a basic rotate and crop to have our subject take up more of the frame while keeping her hands (interesting pose) and head within the image.

3. In the next image, you'll see that the contrast was dropped more, so we can preserve her jawline and some of the details in the brick. This is also the step we did skin retouching. We use a custom brush in lightroom to soften the skin. This isn't a reflection on her skin, but is a typical part of the process we take with any commercial shoot. This is in part because it helps distribute the light more evenly across a face. Some people take offense thinking there's something wrong with their skin but it's just part of our retouching process that ultimately results in a more pleasing image. We also zoom in to 200% and make some adjustments on the eyes. Here, we brought up the highlights/exposure of the white and did a separate brush for the iris to bring out the natural eye color but adjusting clarity and highlights. From a distance, this really makes a difference. We also did a slight increase in overall sharpness at this point.

4. Our last adjustments are personal color/style preference. We chose this image because it has that semi-serious CEO-look to it, so we dropped a bit of the overall warmth by reducing vibrance. We brought overall clarity up just a touch to give a slight push to the edges and called it a day.

Here's a comparison photo for you to review. You can see the image we began with and the final image to the right. This isn't the same treatment we would use on any image, it just happened to be the feel we were going for in this photo.

So there you have it! Not every photographer takes the time (or has the skillset) to do this, but it's an integral part of my workflow. Not for nothing, but this is why we don't deliver RAW images...you're getting something that is only half-done in my eyes and doesn't represent my brand or your photos in the best possible way. 

Breakfast Blend: What Are We Thinking?!

Ever wonder what is going through a photographer's mind during a wedding shoot? When we are shooting a wedding -- which is really a series of portrait and candid sessions strung together in different weather conditions and lighting scenarios -- our minds are constantly evaluating our surroundings, seeking out light sources, playing with different camera settings in our head and eventually, pressing the shutter release. 

For example, take this image:

Believe it or not, I didn't pull over on the side of the road when I saw a beautiful bride sitting (posing) on a vintage bench, with a backdrop of our wondrous Connecticut forest behind her. We made this shot. Here's what had to happen:

  1. We were shooting inside a house, so step one was checking out the property to see what we had at our disposal for a bridal portrait session. 
  2. While documenting the getting ready process, I knew I would have about 5-10 minutes alone with the bride, so I started thinking about where we could shoot. Inside by a window? Outside in front of some trees? Wait...how about we exercise some creative freedom here...let's mix some natural surroundings with our own limited "props" to achieve a certain feel.
  3. Speaking of "feel", how did we know that we wanted an outdoorsy-chic shot? Well, for one, our wonderful bride (Shannon) is really laid back and was up for anything. Secondly, her dress was Anthropologie, which has an organic/natural style. Thirdly, the whole wedding was outdoors at a stunning lodge, so it just made sense.
  4. I saw the bench when taking detail images earlier in the morning, and with Anthropologie on my mind, I asked permission to bring it outdoors set it against this idyllic backdrop of a garden, fence and forest.
  5. Now we had to determine the shot...which lens? Lighting? What about posing? It doesn't just fall together. I wanted a normal angle of view, not too wide, not too close. So 50mm it is, shot fairly wide open. I wanted the background, but I didn't want to lose Shannon in it. I also didn't want to just blur the background out and lose the appeal of the green in contrast to the ivory/cream dress.
  6. Lighting: I opted not to use off-camera strobes for this image because it felt a bit counter to the whole "natural vibe" I was going for. 
  7. Pose: comfortable but stylish. Nothing extreme. Added some dynamics to the shot by giving her whole body a slant that has her looking off-frame. The pose prior to this, she was leaning forward and looking off the other side of the frame and it wasn't quite the feel I wanted. She crossed her legs on her own and I think it showed off the fabric of the dress perfectly.

So that's what it took to get the shot, in camera. Then we processed it in Lightroom with VSCO Kodak 100++ tweaked and added some light particles for texture. This isn't the exact image I gave her, because the light particles would have been over the top, but I added them later when doing some digital advertising, I felt like it added a nice touch without being gaudy. 

So there you have it...lots of though all going into one image! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments...

- Nate