Ever wondered why photographers edit their photographs?
Let me explain the editing process, and how it affects your final images.
For me, as a wedding photographer, I rely on the editing process to bring my images to life. Editing is a major part of the photographic process. In today’s digital world it has become so much easier to “point & shoot.” Mobile phones now possess technology that rival many consumer cameras. The ability to share instantly onto Social Media makes interaction very accessible to everybody.
Many consumer and pro cameras have an array of image formats. The most popular being “J-peg.” In every camera, there is a menu allowing us to choose a “picture style” that will give us the best results for any given situation. Typically these will include; bright scenes, night-time scenes, snow, beach, fireworks, close up, portrait, cloudy, and indoors. These picture style “pre-sets” differ from camera to camera. They are designed to be user-friendly and allow us to see instant results. These are for the most part good enough for sharing or keeping.
In-camera picture styles
Most users who buy a new camera would set it to “auto.” Then choose a pre-set that closely matches the scene they wish to photograph and simply click the shutter. The camera then selects the settings that it thinks matches the scene and hey presto you get a photograph. This is how a mobile phone camera works.
Choosing these picture styles means that everything is done for you “in camera.” There is no need for any external editing and for the most part the end result is satisfactory for most users. So why the need for editing platforms such as Photoshop, Lightroom and Capture one?
Going up in the world!
Personally, when I bought my very first digital SLR (Canon 400D) it was quite daunting. For a couple of years, I just kept it on “auto” and clicked away. This was fine but as I became more experienced I found myself wanting to learn more about being creative. I sought the advice of a friend who took me out at weekends teaching me more about the “semi-auto” modes. I started to use the “AV” mode which gave me some degree of control over my settings. Additionally, I stopped using Jpeg and switched to a format known as “RAW”.
RAW vs J-Peg
Basically, a RAW file retains lots more information than a Jpeg allowing extensive editing in an editor. I vividly recall the time I actually tried to do any editing and I was just so overwhelmed by it all. Over time and thanks to resources such as YouTube, I persevered and started to get the hang of it.
I used to look at other people’s work and wondered how they obtained the results. As time went on I learnt lots of different techniques that could help manipulate a photograph into anything I wanted. I did lots of experimenting and it was a lot of fun. Eventually, I simply focussed on just a few basic adjustments to make any shot I took stay as natural as possible.
The “digital darkroom”
As a wedding photographer, I am used to shooting lots of images throughout the day. The conditions can and invariably will be constantly changing and to keep up with that takes skill and expertise. Being in control of the camera is vital and many users go through the same progression that I did, IE; starting on “auto” progressing to “AV” and then finally to using “manual”.
Manual gives us complete control over our camera and its settings, the camera makes no decisions whatsoever. Reaching this stage is often the culmination of years of practice, failure, and mastery. An understanding of light, composition, lens choice and technical know-how is all at our fingertips. All this is committed to memory and is second nature.
However, there are times when it’s not possible to get it right “in camera” and it is here that the RAW format comes into its own. The safety net of the RAW file has saved many photographers in the editing process. This is not always possible by relying on Jpeg alone.
Editing is not photo manipulation
Editing is simply enhancing the elements that are present in the photograph. Manipulation is the process of changing those elements to portray an artistic vision. So why do we edit.? Why do we have to use an editor at all.? Sometimes we do not have any control over where we work weddings move very fast. Getting the shot despite some technical issues is better than getting no shot at all. There are many techniques that an editor has to learn. Personally, I have a handful that are the mainstay of my editing process.
white balance – exposure – colour corrections – cropping – cloning – spot removal
The editing process
All these settings can be changed in the editing process after the event. Changing the white balance of a photograph if for some reason I failed to do this on the day. I can crop a photo to make it more pleasing to the eye. Removing unwanted objects from the scene, such as debris on the floor, a plane from the sky, marks on a dress or blemishes from a face.
Colours can be intensified or desaturated. Boosting contrast or changing the hue doing any number of things to make that photograph come to life and “pop.”
This is not manipulation for manipulation’s sake. Nor is it replacing it with elements that were not present at the time, but rather to enhance and to coax the elements to life.
Here are 2 examples of “before & after” photographs, taken in the “RAW” format.
On the left, we have 2 photographs that are “straight out of camera” and on the right are the processed images that were delivered to the client
We can clearly see from these two images the level of editing that has been done. The shot of a groom holding his jacket was taken outdoors with a telephoto lens in fairly good light. I increased the exposure slightly, added some colour correction and some sharpening. The shot of his bride was taken indoors on a dance floor with only the DJ’s lights as my primary light source.
Using my Canon 35mm F1/4 prime lens I was able to shoot this photograph without the need for a flashgun. This enabled me to retain all the lovely ambient light that conveys the atmosphere perfectly. Had I used a flash then some of that ambient light would have been lost. A fair bit of work was needed on this shot to bring it to life. Noise adjustment, exposure, colour correction, white balance and temperature were all adjusted.
Had I been shooting with a mobile phone the shot would have looked a lot different. If I had been shooting with a cheap lens the shot would not have been possible. Thanks to the RAW file together with a quality lens I was able to adjust a multitude of parameters.
As photographers, we sometimes have limited control over the environments in which we find ourselves. When I’m shooting a wedding I will have previously scouted the area looking for locations in which to shoot. Typically I will opt for pleasing backgrounds nothing too distracting and reasonably neutral. However, there will be occasions when I will have to concede and do the best I can. The spot removal tool in Lightroom is a very powerful module that enables me to “clean up” an area that has “artefacts” present in the shot.
These can be anything from “debris” on the ground, spots on someone’s face, blemishes, marks on clothing etc. Paying close attention to little details like this is an important part of my editing process.
The two photographs below are an example of what this tool can do. This was a model shoot I did here in Milton Keynes on an Autumn day. The ground was littered with leaves and various other elements I did not want in the shot. Pay close attention to the bottom of the photograph and you will see the level of debris removal.
Cropping & Tilting
Creating dynamic compositions in our photography draws the viewer into the shot. Often employed by cinematographers the “Dutch” angle was made popular by Gary Winogrand in his street photography. Shooting at this angle gives us a sense of slanted perspective and creates a dynamic that makes the shot more interesting. As a wedding photographer, I use this technique for certain types of portraiture. Overusing it will reduce the impact.
Here is an example of a “before & after” shot using this technique. The background on the 2nd image is angled giving the shot an extra dynamic.
Most wedding photographers will use only the very best equipment. Using high-quality lenses that operate above and beyond the scope of a basic kit lens goes a long way to ensuring your final images look fantastic. While the RAW file format is essential it’s important to note that it can only work with what it’s given. The question every bride should be asking is “what equipment do you have.”
Most photographers, myself included look forward to the editing process. It is here that the photographs “come to life” a careful step by step will reproduce the elements to look like they did on the day of the shoot. Of course, it is here that many photographers will introduce their “signature” look, or follow a brief from the client. Most though will simply spend some time doing basic but very necessary enhancements. Highlighting the elements, bringing out the quality, creating a unique vision, preparing for great looking prints and of course making you look amazing.