Hi all. I’ll start this series with a humble, realistic disclaimer:
I decided to write these Wednesday posts, not because I think I have all the answers, or that I am particularly spectacular. Because art is so fluid, I’m not even promising that I’ll always do things the same way or that I’ll never change my process.
I’m actually not 100% sure why I finally decided to write about the inner workings of what I do. Maybe it was the emails I’ve gotten from beginners, or the fact that my degree is in teaching so I have a desire to share knowledge, or maybe I just feel compassion when I think back on my beginner self and the blood, sweat, tears and $$ I spent to learn some very simple lessons. Maybe it’s a little bit because I get sick of hearing all the bad advice out there.
Anyway, my aim is just to help. I hope that something I write may plant a seed in someone that will sprout into greatness or just plain old peace of mind! If you have any particular topics that you would like covered, always feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com or just leave a comment.
It never ceases to amuse me that the questions I am asked the most by beginners have to do with editing. It amuses me because I remember being there. I remember before I developed a serious interest in photography actually thinking that a photographer’s “look” pretty much came down to photoshop.
Because it’s such a hot button and the #1 thing that I wasted money on when I first started shooting (drumroll… actions and presets), let’s talk shop about the editing process.
1. I think editing is GOOD.
~ Here’s the thing… in the film days, if you had a great lab to develop your images, editing simply meant deciding which photos to keep and which to toss before giving them to the client. I still have to edit after every wedding (I call it culling) and in camera deciding which shots to actually take instead of “spraying and praying”. In the digital age, editing has taken on more of a darkroom connotation where we are talking about perfecting an image. This is also good…which brings me to…
~ Let me be frank. I edit every photo that is released from my studio in digital or print form. This is not because I think my photos out of camera are bad, or that I’m always correcting mistakes (though sometimes that IS the case!). It is because I want my work to be recognizable. I have worked really hard to develop a way that I do things and to (hopefully) produce a consistent look through my work. With digital photography, this process actually starts in camera and ends in a digital darkroom program (with film it’s almost the same… you can set up a “color pac” with a lab like Richard Photo Lab and they will help you develop a singular look for your scans, though it still STARTS in camera)… I’ll get into the full process below. This part is VERY important. Remember, if you are not unique, there is no reason for anyone to hire you in the competitive market of photography. Don’t strive to look like everyone else. Take the best of your inspiration but always make it your own.
~ Lastly, I think editing is good because it’s FUN. We are artists after all… it’s fun to put your own special stamp on your work.
2. My Process
Here’s where the SECRET comes in (if you can even call it a secret!)… to be able to get the look YOU want in editing, you MUST shoot a certain way. For me it goes like this:
- Meter for the mid tones (usually skin) METERING will be one of our upcoming segments FYI
- Shoot in soft light or backlight
- Natural, romantic, feminine poses
- Wide open apertures for shallow DOF
- Shoot in RAW
- Shoot aiming to expose my image toward the right side of the histogram (on a Canon)
- Auto White Balance if using my favorite presets, Expo Disc to set custom white balance if I want a completely natural look
For you it may be completely different. For example, if you prefer a more contrasty image, you may want to mostly meter for the highlights in your images. You may want to shoot at smaller apertures if you like sharp images from front to back. You may be more fun and crazy than me and have ninja poses for your clients. Whatever it is, decide what YOU want your images to look like first. Clarity is key in sharing your artistic voice in your images.
Another very important thing to remember is to discover ways you should shoot if you want to use a certain manufacturer’s actions. I think actions and presets from companies like Florabella, Yellow Sky (Yay Yellow Sky! I just won a contest from them HERE), Oh So Posh, TRA, Kubota, MCP, etc can be great, but if you’re not shooting the way these developers shoot you won’t get the same results. Sometimes this is good because you’ll find a whole new look, but most times it just discourages you and makes you spend a lot of money and still come up empty. I would ask your favorite photoshop whiz action seller questions like, what camera do YOU use… Canon or Nikon… do you shoot jpg or RAW? I mean, don’t be a pest, but it can be key to getting the look you want. The equipment does not a photographer make, but it can give a different nuance to your image. A good example of this is when I use my favorite presets in Lightroom, they work better when I shoot in Auto White Balance. I usually prefer to shoot with an Expo Disc or on Cloudy/Shade setting because AWB on my Canon usually turns out cool since I shoot in backlight a lot, but my presets seem to warm up the image too much if I have already corrected the WB in camera. I digress.
My two personal favorite actions/preset companies are VSCO FILM and Red Leaf Boutique. I think the reason for this is that VSCO actually makes different presets for your particular model and manufacturer of camera so the colors are more accurate, Richard and Amy of Red Leaf Boutique do all their digital work on a Canon 5D Mark ii (the camera I shoot with- !even though my 5D Mark iii is on the way!) and both companies try and give a timeless film look to their images- my preference as well. Because this is what I’m going for, I can know that these will work every time for me without question
Before I move on, I was struck by a funny conversation I had at WPPI with one of the VSCO developers. He was teasing me about the questions he sometimes gets from customers as he was showing me some stuff I was ignorant about in Adobe Lightroom. I teased back and said, I bet they ask, why don’t my images look like Jonas Peterson’s… I mean… I bought your presets? He looked at me with a dead stare and said, “Really, we get THAT exact question… often.” I think this shows a disconnect in our profession. Shoot first, edit second.
3. My Editing
Now that I’ve bored you to death, let me get down to the brass tacks.
There are two ways I edit and I always start with the same kind of image. Let me explain a little about a RAW image:
A RAW image is an unflattened image with all the information the camera captured still in a pretty moldable form. These images will look a bit muddy and flat right out of camera and cannot be printed until they’ve been edited and flattened as a jpg. When you shoot in jpg the camera does this process for you. Call me a control freak, but most of the time I want to be in control of this step. The other reason this is great for me is that I have more control over my highlights in RAW. Digital cameras still blow out highlights easier than film and remember- I like a film look.
1. VSCO Presets.. they’re almost one click for me, though sometimes I’ll pull up the brightness or add more shadow in curves. I also take away most of the grain.
2. Natural edit: Fix White Balance if needed, pull up brightness, add shadow, sharpen a bit, sometimes add vibrance… just a clean edit. (This is the step where you could add an “action” if you like. I usually leave well enough alone here. By the way, I should mention here… if you find yourself doing the same edit over and over in Lightroom or Photoshop, make your OWN action or preset for your workflow. I’ll discuss this at a later time too.
** If skin needs editing I will either clone and heal or use “pro retouch” from TRA in Photoshop (because I shoot at shallow DOF, toward the right of the histogram , and add brightness my skin usually doesn’t need much help)
Three Examples of My Usual Edits:
Hope this helps someone! It might not be the best way, but it’s my way of doing things:) Feel free to leave any questions, comments or just a Ciao!