Do you know what the difference between photo editing and retouching is, and whether or not you get one or both in your wedding photography package? This is an easily overlooked detail when looking for the perfect wedding photographer and how he or she will give you your final images. You might be surprised to learn not all photographers process their image in house, or even have the experience to do it themselves if need be. Ultimately, big wedding studios are all about the bottom dollar and not so much about quality and attention to detail.
A recent conversation with a soon to be bride and groom sparked an interesting topic about wedding photography edits. While a lot of terminology in the photography or wedding industry might be familiar to those with experience, it can be very stressful for a newly engaged couple to learn all the terms from all the vendors they are about to throw down serious cash for. We think it is very important when talking with our couples that we explain everything in as much detail as they need to understand what they are getting. Sometimes there are questions they don’t even know to ask until it’s too late and we will do anything to avoid an unhappy bride!
A little backstory from our previous conversation that sparked this topic. A friend of mine hired another wedding photographer (unfortunately we were already booked) and just had their engagement session. They got their photos back in 3 days, which was unusually fast from a professional. The couple felt the photo edits looked rushed with no attention to detail to each image. After further investigation we concluded the big problem with the wedding industry: outsourcing!
Our friend had hired a “high end” wedding photographer that charged a premium if she actually shot the wedding, and a more affordable price if she hired one of her “associates.” A lot of self-proclaimed big-shot photographers have a list of associates (with less experience) that they source out for the couple’s wedding day. The actual photographer makes a few hundred bucks, and the boss takes in the rest. The outsourced photographer has no personal motivation to do their best, nor do they establish a relationship or trust from the beginning because they never talk to the couple.
The next step for the boss is to download the photos and send it out to be outsourced for dirt cheap in another country. They will edit the photos for pennies through batch processing in a popular software we all use, Adobe Lightroom, and get it done in a few business days. If they don’t outsource it and edit in-house, they also put the entire album through one preset in Lightroom and call it a day. We see so many wedding photos being posted on our social media where it looks so obvious that the photographer purchased or downloaded a trendy new color preset and applied it to all the photos (ie overexposed green tinted photos). No individual photo touchups, just mass production.
This is where the shock came to the couple with their mediocre photos. It was stated in their contract that the photos are “edited,” however this term is very vague without further written description in the contract. This couple got the fast color and exposure preset filter (anyone can do this at home). The photographer told the couple after the session that any photos that required retouching would be $15 each. It seems like the photographer also outsources the retouching, hence the charge. It’s very unlikely that a photography boss would spend the time sitting down on the computer for hours doing detailed retouching for countless hours when she can be making lots of money selling herself to newly engaged victims. Business people outsource the work.
This topic is a sore spot for us because we experienced the same issue with our wedding photographer for our special day. All of our wedding photos from the day was shoved through a high contrast, high clarity sausage grinder and came out looking like minced sludge. No second thought was given to any portraits where skin tones and texture were crucial in making a beautiful portrait. Like buying dollar store ground meat and mashing it together into a lump, microwaving it, and calling it filet mignon. Delicious.
The good news for this couple is that we talked them into dumping this wedding photography factory and hiring a much better skilled and personal wedding photographer. Someone like us who will show up as the actual photographer you talked to and booked. Even losing the initial deposit is worth every penny of avoiding a lifetime of regret with bad photos.
We take pride in our work, from start to finish. I am also obsessively compulsive about the quality of work that is attached to our name, so no one will ever be given the responsibility of creating our work or doing our job. We are not savvy business people, we are passionate artists that care about the joy that the photos bring to people. We will not be rude to the couple after we’ve been paid, in fact, we usually end up becoming friends with the couples after the wedding. When it comes to wedding photos, our hands are the only ones that captures, picks, edits, retouches, curates, and delivers them to the couple. Keep that in mind when interviewing wedding photographers.
Editing versus Retouching
So what do we offer with editing and retouching, and what’s the difference? Edits can generally mean color correction and exposure correction. Exposure correction fixes any photo that is too bright or too dark. Color correction fixes the general color tone of the photo to be warmer, cooler, or neutral. While there can be a debatable accurate correction for each photo if one were to follow the rules by the book, it is up to the photographer to color the story as an artist. Every single professional movie scene is color graded in a way that gives a mood or feeling to push along the narrative the director envisioned. There is no such thing as one filter fits all.
Every engagement or wedding session has different narratives based on location, weather, attire, and light. Even within the same day the mood can and will change, so the tone of the photos must flow with the story. It is this understanding of narrative that boggles my mind that many self-proclaimed wedding photographers out there dare to apply the same preset to every single photo of every single session they have!
If a photographer were to just make well thought out edits to tell the story, I can forgive them for not being able to retouch. Editing is pushing and pulling a few sliders left and right, similar to Instagram editing, which is why there is absolutely no excuse for a professional to slack off with edits. Retouching is a whole other skill that takes years to master. It is the equivalent of taking a paint brush and creating an image on a canvas with the understanding of color, light, and geometry. Retouching wedding photos can range from cloning out a simple pimple or dust particle in a photo, to reshaping a person, to removing people or signs from a complicated scene.
While not absolutely crucial in the narrative, retouching is more of a professional bonus that a couple can be confident they will look “perfect” on their wedding day. Not every couple or wedding needs retouching, but it is an enormous tool to have handy. When a couple is looking for a wedding photographer, they should consider how important is retouching, and whether or not the photographer has the resources to do so, and at what cost. We include retouching in all of our work. We retouch responsibly, however. We make the couples look like themselves, we do not make them look like supermodels. That will cost significantly extra.
In closing, please do your homework when searching for your wedding story teller. Take a deep look into their wedding photo albums, don’t trust the highlights or slideshows on their front page because that’s just the best ten photos they’ve ever shot. Can the photographer produce the same quality work through out an entire ten hour day? Take a look through our blog posts and you can be the judge.