Sunday, October 2, 2011

Wedding Pictures and Retouching

One of the things that can be confusing when you start searching for a wedding photographer here in Tampa Bay is the level of "retouching" that will be done to your images.

The problem is that "retouching" can mean different things to different people.  It's hard to know exactly what a person means when they say that they "retouch" your images.  It's a little like someone saying that they are going to paint a room.  Are they going to paint it all one color with a spray can?  Are they going to faux-paint with sponges and special applicators?  Will they being doing something in between those two extremes?

I can't speak for every photographer in town but I can tell you what I do and what I call it... so that you will at least understand what to expect from me.

But first, some technical mumbo-jumbo that will help you understand the process:

Professional photographers shoot in a format called RAW.  Your pocket sized, point-and-shoot camera shoots in a format called .JPG. So does your phone.

What's the difference?

Well, in layman's terms it's this: The camera records a whole bunch of information into memory about the image.  Then, it takes that information and converts it to a digital file that we can view and print.  That is a .JPG.

A RAW file is basically all the information before it's converted to a .JPG.  It's a huge file (literrally, 25 meg for one image) and it can only be viewed by special software (like Photoshop Bridge or Lightroom).  Once we've downloaded all the RAW files, we then have to convert them all to .JPG files.

So, why do we shoot in RAW if it takes up so much space and requires a time consuming step to covert the files into something we can actually see and print?  Because, RAW files contain all the raw data that make up the image, before it's converted.  That means, with special software (like Photoshop Bridge or Lightroom) we can manipulate and change that data.  We can adjust dozens of settings from exposure to color balance... levels to fill light... and the results will be better than if we were working on a .JPG file.  So, we import the file in RAW format, make changes to it in Photoshop Bridge or Lightroom, and then convert it to a .JPG.

That is retouching.

Let's look at an image from a recent wedding:

Click on any of these images to make them larger.

This is what the image looks like in RAW.  It would look the same if I had shot it in .JPG.  But, since I shot it in RAW, I can now retouch it and get a better image.  So, I look at the image and make some adjustments in RAW (using Bridge or Lightroom)... this is mostly done with a series of sliders and the mouse.  Now I have this:

I've increased the exposure a little bit because the original was too dark.  I also de-saturated the color a touch because I thought it was a little too rich... I wanted a more vintage look.  Finally, I used a graduated filter to make the bottom of the image (the cement) a little less exposed.  The cement doesn't look any different in the two images but remember, I made the whole image brighter, including the cement.  It doesn't look brighter because I then darkened it back to the original setting.

The image above is what was burned to disc and given to the client along with the rest of their wedding pictures.  I call this sort of retouching "bulk retouching."  This is because I can often make changes to several images at once.  If I have several images that were all shot at the same time and place with the same light, I can select them all and adjust their settings together.  I would still have to do the cement individually but the color balance and exposure could be done to several at once, as long as they all had the same characteristics.

How long does it take to import, sort, bulk retouch and convert wedding images to .JPG?  About one hour for every hour spent shooting.  So, if I spend 7 hours photographing your wedding, I still have an entire day of work ahead of me just to get to the point where I have suitable images.

However, there is one more step that gets applied to select images:  Hand-retouching.

Hand-retouching involves importing the image into Photoshop and working on it some more.  I use an electronic paint brush tool to further retouch the image.  Skin is smoothed, blemishes are erased, people and objects that affect the image in a negative way might be removed.  I go over the image like it's a painting until it looks as good as I can make it look.  Here's our image after it has been hand-retouched:

This image has had about 8 different changes.  The most noticable one is that the car on the right side is gone now.  There are plenty more that I won't detail here but it's this last step that prepares an image for printing. 

The obvious question is: If hand-retouching is so great, why don't you do it to all the images that are on the disc?

Because if I did that. I would have to charge more money or give my clients fewer wedding pictures.

I prefer to bulk retouch the images, (which only takes an entire day!) and give my clients a lot of pictures.  Then, when they pick the images they want in their album or for wall portraits, I hand-retouch them for printing.  If I hand-retouched everything on the disc it would take days and I would have to charge more money for that extra work.  Or, if I wanted to do all the hand-retouching in one day, I could probably do it if I only gave my clients 100 pictures (instead of 400-500).  But I don't want to do that.

There are some photographers who might disagree with me.  They would argue that it's my privilege as an artist to decide what image is the best and only deliver that image.  The problem is that I have had clients pick images that were their favorites that I would never pick!  It happens all the time.  I think that people like choices (I know I do) and I have discovered that, although I am fantastic at picking the best image, I can't always pick the image that is best for you. 

So, I give my clients more images and only hand-retouch the ones they print.  That way, they get to make the final decision on what's "album worthy."

I do want to point out that not every image gets hand-retouched for printing.  Some images are perfect after the bulk-retouch, especially pictures of objects, etc.  It's the portraits that require the most work and the closer the portrait, the more facial retouching is done.  Here's an image from the same wedding that was bulk retouched and is ready to print without any extra work:

Hopefully this post has made the retouching mystery a little clearer.  There are three types of photographers:  Those who don't retouch at all (avoid, avoid, avoid..), those who bulk-retouch (the majority of your images won't require anything else...) and those who bulk-retouch everything and hand-retouch the images (especially portraits) that are printed or included in an album.

Don't settle for a bad headshot on your website or social media pages. Get the best professional headshot in Tampa bay..