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Before & After – The Importance of Custom Hand-Finished Photos

October 10, 2013 | By | No Comments

I just finished two very long days editing a recent full wedding.

I hate to admit it, but I can spend 15 to 20 hours editing a full wedding. I labor over each image, doing everything I can to make sure that the image, and my clients, look their very best. In the case of this wedding I just finished editing, we shot about 2,100 images on three cameras, and I delivered 1,500 fully finished images. (BTW, that’s way more than I should or want to deliver. I always try to get the final count down to under 1,000, but I deliver the images I would want to see from my own wedding, images with feeling, friends, fun.)

I’ve heard many photographers say that they can edit a full wedding in 4 hours or less. I believe them.

But I honestly do not understand how they can deliver a high-quality, complete, custom finish to each image in so little time. My guess is that they can not.

Perhaps they get perfect images in-camera more often than I do? Maybe. But every image, no matter how good in-camera, can be improved in post-processing. This image below, while nearly perfect in-camera, benefited from a little straightening & cropping, and removal of my super-secret-sauce speedlite tree 🙂

Another example below where an image that is very good right in-camera still benefits from modest finishing touches like straightening, tone curve bump, and vignette.

But many wedding images are not perfect in-camera. Wedding photography is notorious for its unpredictable, radically changing lighting conditions, where the difference between a RAW photo straight from the camera and one beautifully finished by the professional photographer can be huge.

Take this image below for example, where the exposure falloff from window-right to far-left was probably two full stops, and where multiple light sources created significant variation of color temperature within the photo.

Perhaps those fast photographers I’ve heard about outsource their post-processing? There are services like MyLavaLu and ShootDotEdit that will edit your whole wedding for a per-photo price. I’ve tried outsourcing, but I’ve always been dissatisfied because they don’t go as deep as I do, they don’t seem to care about perfecting the quality of each image as much as I do. And why would they? Do you care how well-dressed and polite the children of strangers are, compared to your own children? Of course not! 🙂

These photos are like my children, who I am getting ready to present to the world.


What does “fully finished” mean? Exactly what am I doing with my client’s photos that takes so long?

It means that I tweak, enhance and improve all or some of the following attributes in Adobe Lightroom for each and every delivered photo:

  • color temperature
  • exposure
  • contrast
  • highlights
  • shadows
  • whites
  • blacks
  • clarity
  • vibrance
  • tone curve
  • color hue
  • color saturation
  • color luminance
  • sharpening
  • noise reduction
  • vignetting
  • straightening
  • cropping
  • localalized brush
  • localized graduated filter
  • spot removal

And sometimes, for more radical surgery, or for very detailed work, I take photos into Photoshop, Lightroom’s big brother.

The photo below was riddled with dust spots, after a day shooting out on the dusty playa. Looking at the before and after below you might think that the dust spots are no big deal – you can’t even really see them…

… until you see the hundreds of spots all over the image in this detail. I removed each dust spot by hand in Photoshop in scores of photos.

Some might think that normal people wouldn’t even notice all those dust spots. But I do. And I worked as many hours as it took to clean them up, ‘cuz they’re my babies!

Am I crazy to spend so much time perfecting my clients’ images? What do you think?


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