Rant Warning: "Photoshopping" Images

Disclaimer: Ok, before I start, I’ll get the small print out of the way: this blog relates only to professional photographers, not selfie obsessed self-promoters who canvas social media with what’s going on in their lives, posting burry photos only Big Foot hunters would be proud of (that’s a blog for a whole other day). Also, I totally understand everyone has their own style and post-production workflow, and good on them – I’m all for that, in fact, the variety in styles and client needs is what keeps so many of us professional photographers in business.

Now that’s out of the way. In my opinion, there’s only one thing worse than a bad photo…a poorly edited image which has been butchered in Photoshop. I’m sure you’ve seen what I’m referring to:

- images where the colours are way over the top – skins more orange than a fruit;
- teeth or eyes which glow unnaturally;
- over sharpening or increasing the contrast way too high;
- overly heavy vignettes / darkening around the edge of the frame;
- using the latest Photoshop gimmick such as putting a dinosaur in the background, using selective colour in black & white images or superimposing the couple into the bouquet;
- destroying the beauty of a black & white image with blue or orange tones;
- or (my pet hate) they’ve applied the digital equivalent of “smearing Vaseline over the lens” to soften the image and smooth the skin to add “beauty” to the bride!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of these purists who only believe the minimal amount of editing should be applied to an image, with the intent being to produce a true-to life portrait of the subject (warts and all).

In fact, I believe the post-processing of an image is just as important as the taking of the image itself; for me the real work starts when I’ve got home and uploaded the images to Lightroom for my post-shoot workflow.

When I digitally edit an image I’m making it the best it can be, while maintaining the integrity of the original image I captured; this includes cropping, straightening, correcting white balance, removing blemishes (while leaving permanent features alone), adding / removing light and shadow where appropriate. Sometimes I'll remove distracting objects from the foreground or background that I either didn't notice while taking the shot or couldn't avoid.

Most of this is done in Lightroom, with a custom set of actions ready to be ran in Photoshop once I’ve got the image how I like it. It’s nothing over the top, slight vignette to frame the image to better focus the eye, delicate warming of the scene and a reduction of any image noise.

I’m not going to name any photographers who overwork Photoshop, that wouldn’t be right, but I can show my approach to processing an image by showing you a before and after screenshot.

The other month, Jared Polin over at FroKnowsPhoto (check it out if you’re into photography in any way) posted a raw image file from one of his studio portrait sessions for people to download, giving them the challenge of processing it in their style. The image he uploaded was hi res, well lit and a classically composed studio headshot.

Below on the left is the raw unedited out-of-camera image file and to the right is my edit to that image. I’ve removed blemishes, balanced the colour, increased the contrast a little to make the image “pop”, applied a very slight crop to tighten the image and added a vignette to better focus the eye. Nothing I wouldn’t normally do to a client image, or my own home photos for that matter, and it only took 5 minutes.

As I stated earlier – my intention is to make the subject in the image appear the best they can be, while maintaining a natural look.

Better to be safe than sorry

As a professional wedding photographer I regularly deal with thousands of image files from any one day’s shooting – often covering events that are unique, without the possibly of a re-shoot. Therefore, it cannot be stressed enough the importance I place on the storage of the images I’m entrusted with...I shudder just thinking about having to ever go to a couple and inform them I’ve lost all the visual memories from their Special Day.

Why bring this up you might ask?

Just last week one of my hard drives had a catastrophic meltdown – a drive which stores ALL my client and personal images! Thankfully, because I adopted a hard drive mirroring facility (where the data on one drive is duplicated on another in real-time) the only inconvenience I had was that of money (for the cost of replacement drives) and time (waiting for the replacement drives to arrive and installation). However, had I not foresaw (and invested) in such a safety mechanism, this would be a very much different blog post.

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It’s not just the short and long term storage of images which I take into consideration. It starts with the actual capturing of the images on the Big Day. I have more than one camera body, multiple lenses covering a variety of focal lengths, investment in pro-level camera bodies and lenses and I don’t store all the photos on one high capacity memory card; I split them over a number of 8GB & 16GB cards – so that if one card is lost or fails I only lose the images on that card and no the whole days shoot

Next is the post-shoot workflow processes for images storage. As soon as I arrive home after a day’s shooting (after demolishing some fast food) I import all photos from the memory cards onto my PC with one copy going onto my mirrored drive and another on an external network drive. Copies are also archived on a physical backup (DVDs), which is stored at a separate location the next day; I won’t format the memory cards until all backups have been stored and checked.

Once I’ve processed the wedding photos and delivered them to the client I’ll purge my main drive leaving only the hi-res final images, album design and accompanying files; with a copy of the complete final output being stored again on DVD and a network / cloud drive (along with the original raw backup). Also, for those couples who have purchased a licence to print the images I give them two copies – one to put in a safe place and another for taking to friends and family or printing.

This all may seem a bit over the top (and it is, until you need it), but in this day and age people rarely print images (even I’m guilty of this) and keep images in digital format on their phones, tablets or laptop – not giving much thought to what would happen if those devices were lost or damaged. For the typical person, if they had encountered a disk failure there would probably been no recovery of those images, which could have resulted years’ worth of irreplaceable memories being lost. So my advice to anyone is to regularly backup your photos, and print them – or do something with them; in terms of entrusting someone with your wedding photography – ask what safeguarding procedures they have in place for wedding photos, and what long-term storage policies they have.