Here’s something you may not know. As a custom photographer, I spend a lot of time in front of the computer after a photo session. The amount of time that goes into a custom photography session extends well beyond just that of the actual session. A lot of time and effort goes into digital darkroom editing and post-processing of images after your session is complete. Often, clients are waiting on pins and needles to see the images from their session… and I am too! I often try to post a sneak peek on Facebook right after the session, but my average turn around time for a session is between 1-2 weeks and this is why.
So many people think that professional photographers are able to produce stunning images straight from the camera. While we strive to get as much right in the camera as possible, sometimes the images that come straight from the camera are far from perfect and need a bit of work. No matter what gear you have and how well you use it, photographers still have to work with their files in post-processing to make them shine. I shoot manually in RAW format, which means all of the data that my camera captures is in an uncompressed, naked state. RAW files are muddy and have a grey ‘film’ to them, so they require at least some post-processing work to make them beautiful.
The image below is an example of an image that came straight out of the camera (SOOC) and needed quite a bit of work. It was terribly underexposed and muddy. Let’s be honest, this file is ugly and downright embarrassing. To share this file with the world is like going out in public without any makeup on… a scary sight, I assure you. This particular file would never be presented to a client of mine. Ever. It is kind of nerve-wracking to put this out there, but I hope it helps my readers and clients understand the processing work I do after a session.
One of the first things I do after a session is upload all of my RAW files into Adobe Lightroom. During import I apply a standard preset to all of my images that gives me a good “starting point” as far as processing goes. Early on in my business, I found that I was consistently doing the same adjustments to all of my photos to achieve the look I was after. This standard preset makes it easier for me since it runs automatically on all of my files upon import and gives me a solid starting place for editing. I also do other adjustments while working in Lightroom, like cropping the photo if needed and tweaking the individual image’s settings like white balance, saturation, brightness, etc. to enhance each photo so it looks great. This is what the RAW file looks like after the Lightroom preset is applied, but before any other adjustments are made. It looks better than the SOOC image, but it’s still not something I would show a client.
After I finish my adjustments in Lightroom, I export the files into Photoshop where I usually apply a curves layer, do any cloning work that may be needed (like cleaning eye boogers, removing leashes, etc), brightening the eyes and sharpening. Finally… after spending a good amount of time behind the scenes editing the RAW file, I have the finished product that I can be proud of.
So if you are ever wondering why it takes so long for your custom photographer to get your images to you, or why custom photography is so expensive, this is why. You’re not just paying for a photographer – you’re paying for someone to creatively edit your images. We spend a lot of time working with our files and editing them to perfection, so that our clients are only seeing the absolute best product we can offer them. Big box photography studios and shoot + burn photographers cannot afford to offer such meticulous editing, so this is what sets us apart as custom photographers. We spend the extra time to ensure we are producing a stunning product for our clients because they deserve the very best from us!