Imagine this typical scenario: you’ve just put in a ton of effort into getting your family camera ready. You found everyone the perfect outfits, the session went smoothly, and now you’re SO excited to see the finished product! When you inquire about turnaround times and the photographer mentions that it’ll be a few weeks until you receive your images back, you can’t help but feel disappointed. You might be wondering, why does it take so long? Does it take a photographer several weeks to edit my gallery?
What is editing, and why does it take me so long to get my photos? This question gets asked a lot, and it is a good question! If you hired a professional photographer, chances are they are earning most of or all of their money from their photography business. Like any business, some things must get done daily, weekly, monthly and annually to keep that business running smoothly and keep the clients coming back. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.
If a photographer only had one wedding, “your wedding”, to look after, reasonably, it should just take a week or two or maybe less to get your images back to you. In most instances, this would not be the norm for any photographer. Besides focusing on your beautiful wedding, they also have to focus on their business and several other clients they are producing photographs and products for.
I am sure you have all heard this from your photographer. “you will get your images back after I edit them.” It’s a phrase you hear all the time, and you will nod your head, but do you know what it means? Most people have of editing the extent of knowledge is throwing an Instagram filter on one of their cell phone pics. While I guess you could call this an edit, it’s not what your photographer will be doing to your photos (and if they are, you should run in the other direction).
Of course, we all know this, but it’s not a subject that many people openly talk about. Before I say any more, let me be completely straight. I’m not saying that there is a whole load of photographers out there actively seeking to deceive you, more than most of us tell ‘little white lies about our images. Of all the subjects open for favourable interpretation is the amount photographers post-process their pictures.
I’m not saying for one minute that anyone is looking to be intentionally deceptive; most of the time, all we are talking about is the omission of a few minor finishing touches. So what’s the big deal? Well, there isn’t any big problem as such. However, I remember as a beginner how frustrating it was trying to work out how much of a great image was due to gear, processing or falling that the skill of the photographer. Becoming a great photographer takes time, patience and practice, and it’s understandable why more experienced photographers might want to protect their trade secrets.
What the Heck Happens After a Session?
Once your session is completed, I come home and eject the memory card from my camera. I then upload your images onto my hard drive to make sure they’re saved in multiple locations.
Post Processing in Modern Photography
A standard view is that post-processing is a phenomenon that has only come about with the age of digital photography. To a certain extent, this is true; however, we need to be careful not to lump all image manipulation forms into the same category. In the film’s age, it was still possible to alter the basics such as aperture, shutter speed, and things like ISO, white balance, and the overall aesthetic of the final image.
It’s true to say that these adjustments were less convenient than they are today (you had to swap out your film etc., physically), but we shouldn’t confuse the convenience of modern technology with any form of deception. It has always been necessary to ‘adjust’ the final image to achieve something more like reality, and despite the capability of today’s cameras and equipment, this remains the case. The truth is that even the best photographers make at least minor adjustments to their images.
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So How Much?
As a beginner, what you want to know is how much processing does most people and how you know if you are doing too much? When I started to get serious about photography, this was a question that took up far too much of my time. To give you a sense of a typical photographers workflow, here is a quick summary of my usual post-processing routine and a few examples of how my images typically look before and after.
My essential advice is this; only do as much post-processing as necessary to achieve the look you want. If your goal is to achieve an image that is realistic to real-life, then assuming you have a decent initial idea, you should be able to do this fairly quickly. If you want to achieve a more artistic result, you may need to take a longer.
The majority of my images are either travel or portraiture and therefore, my basic post-processing workflow is relatively simple. I take pretty much every photo through the following five-step process, although I will often do more for specific effects. Just so you know, I shoot all of my images in RAW, with Lightroom being my editing software of choice.
- Crop & Straighten: To clean up and correct any issues with composition.
- White Balance: To correct any colour casts and ensure the image colour is as accurate as possible.
- Exposure: To improve the overall tonality and dynamic range of the image.
- Contrast & Clarity: To bring back any missing punch and bring out emphasis and detail.
- Sharpening: Where necessary, the last step is to apply selective sharpening to bring out any critical information.
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The Two Minute Rule
When you are starting, it’s essential to spend time developing your processing skills. However, as you begin to get a handle on this, it’s also crucial to get efficient. Not only will doing so stop you from wasting hours in front of your computer screen, but it’s also the best way to limit the potential for over-processing. The ‘Two Minute Rule’ is probably the best pro tip’ I have ever heard and is something that has fundamentally changed my approach to photography.
The basic idea is to limit the time you spend processing any image to no more than two minutes. Imagine that, just two minutes to do everything you need to get an idea to look precisely as you want it to? You should be asking yourself if an image needs more than two minutes of work in post, is it worth the effort? I’m not going to try and convince you that I follow this rule religiously. Still, it is a compelling way to focus your post-processing efforts, and I would certainly encourage you to consider building this into your routine. Limiting the time you spend in the post will stop you from trying to rescue dud images and give you a rough guide when you may have gone too far.
The ‘So What?’ for Beginners
If you are a beginner or someone getting started in post-processing, what am I telling you? Simply put, most of the images you see will be post-processed. Whether this is to overcome the limitations of our equipment, correct mistakes, or achieve a specific ‘look’, most photographers will process their photos.
The important thing is not to worry about what others are doing, rather about doing the right things to create the images you are looking for. Focus on learning the techniques that will help deliver the photograph you want and use them to hone your style and workflow to become an even better photographer. If you get this right, then it won’t be long before you can start fibbing about your photographs too!
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How Long Should it Take to Edit My Pictures?
Here are a few things that I usually implement when I have boatloads of pictures to edit that help me stay efficient in my photo editing:
Keep an “editor’s” mindset.
I know I have used the word “edit” very loosely up to this point, but sit back and think about what the word “edit” really means. “Edit” can mean “cut material”. It can also mean “correcting errors”, which is what we generally use the term for fixing up our pictures to make them look nice. However, “correcting errors” is probably better termed as “processing”: following a series of actions directed toward a specific aim of fixing up my pictures to make them look better.
So, when you think of yourself in the position of a “photo editor” who is removing content to pick only the best pictures, it reduces the amount of work you end up having to process later. Just think about it. The fewer pictures you have to process, the less time it will take. Becoming more efficient in post-processing has a lot to do with having an editor’s mindset.
Out of my 255 pictures of this event, I narrowed it down to 73 that I thought was worth processing. And of those 73, there were less than 20 that captured the event well and were sharp, in focus, emotionally expressive, composed well, etc. So, I can increase my time efficiency by having an editors mindset and ruthlessly cutting away all but the best.
I have several presets that get applied to every single picture when they’re imported into Lightroom. These preset encompass file-naming, metadata info, and automatically develop settings. When there’s information I want to be added to every picture or edit, I find myself making it over and over to all my photos, then having it automatically applied during import saves a lot of time in the long run. I continually tweak the development settings after import. Still, the starting line is usually a whole lot closer to the finish line than if the preset hadn’t been applied in the beginning.
Using Lightroom, there are many settings you can synchronise between pictures. When I’ve processed a view to how I like it, I look to see if the following few photos are under similar lighting conditions or not. If so, then I can synchronise the development settings to get those pictures closer to what looks best faster. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it can sure save a lot of repetitive clicking.
Follow a consistent post-processing pattern.
Over the years, I’ve figured out what works best for me as the most efficient post-processing workflow, every step of the process from import to export. When I’m under a deadline, I stick to this workflow to get through the pictures as fast as possible. In essence, I make sure all my presets are being applied. Once imported, I add the specific location metadata to all the pictures. I then use Lightroom’s flagging system to heavily “edit down” the images to only the very best. Those are the only pictures that get processed. If I have time, I flag/star/rate/keyword/add to collections as necessary. Then I export them, using presets again. I don’t follow this workflow all the time, but it’s what I default to when I find myself in a crunch!
Stage one of the editing process is the culling of unwanted images.
This can sometimes be a difficult decision. A photographer may take several images of the same poses or slight variations to get the best angle, focus etc. Sometimes they are similar and all equally good, so photographers have to decide on the best image out of the bunch. Of course, it is easy to cull those out of focus or shots with funny faces or closed eyes; remember that not every image of you will be a masterpiece; that shutter snaps quick and can catch you mid-blink or mid-speech.
Stage two: adjusting the RAW files to produce the best colour, contrast, sharpness and exposure.
Most (but not all ) photographers shoot in RAW to maximise their ability to create an edit that matches their vision. What is a RAW file? A RAW file is a collection of unprocessed data.
This means the file has not been altered, compressed, or manipulated in any way by the camera or computer. When using a camera, most people will shoot in jpeg mode, and the camera compresses the file size and adds colour and contrast, so it generally looks great right out of the camera. This does not happen with a RAW file; all the data is left intact to manipulate it to its full potential later. It would help if you had photo processing software (such as Photoshop or Lightroom) to do this. Once your photographer has chosen the images they want to edit and put them through the RAW conversion process, the next step is to style your photos. We have an exclusive range of wedding photography Mornington Peninsula services. Check them out here.
Stage three: adding the magic.
Every photographer eventually develops a particular style of shooting and post-processing. It’s what draws you to their work. Consistency in editing is usually the photographers calling card, and everyone has a slightly different take on it. I use Photoshop for all of my editing purposes. Some photographers deem this a longer process and more complex than using a program like Lightroom, but I like it because everything is in one place, and I don’t have to switch back and forth between programs. Lightroom cannot do specific tasks that can be done in Photoshop.
So, why a few weeks?
Excellent question. All photographers have editing queues, which is the list of sessions that we need to edit. Your photographer’s turnaround time is also going to differ based on how busy he or she is, how many sessions he or she takes on a week, and what time of year it is. Fall is the peak season for us for both families and weddings. Each of my weeks in the fall looks pretty different. Sometimes I’ll have a day or two of mini sessions and sessions on each day before and after. Some day I have sunrise and sunset sessions. I’m also really invested in providing the extra styling service, so I interact more with my clients. I have an ongoing list of clients in my editing queue, and I edit in the session’s order.
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How Long is it reasonable to expect before I get my images back?
I often see posts on Facebook from brides in wedding groups saying something like this, “It’s been eight months, and I still have not received my wedding photos, is this normal?” I am going to go out on a limb here and say no, it is not. There is no good reason for your photos to take that long unless your photographer has run into severe health or another issue that prevents them from working. A reasonable time frame to expect your photos back is anywhere from 1 week to 3 months. It will often take longer to get your pics back during the high season (May to October), but your photographer should be in contact with you and have no issues answering your questions about deadlines. I know my busiest time is always August to October. I also shoot families and mini sessions in the fall, so I am often furiously editing like a madwoman! The bottom line, communication is critical, so if your photographer is dodging your questions or not returning your emails, there may be cause for concern. However, it is never good to harass your photographer daily, either asking when your pics will be done if they have communicated with you about it.
Hours spent behind the computer perfecting your images and getting them to you is a long process; remember that most of the work comes after your wedding day and not the day of. We know it’s hard to wait for those wedding images to be delivered to you; you want to reminisce about the fun and beauty of the day, but like many things in life, good things come to those who wait and having those memories perfect is worth it.