When it comes to wedding photography there are many steps along the way but in general terms there are 3 key steps in the process: meetings and prep, taking the photos themselves and finally the subject of today’s post: processing the images.
In this modern digital age more than ever the way a photographer processes their images is as much a personal signature as the way they frame and capture the images themselves. Every photographer has their own individual processing style and when you look at the work of great wedding photographers there is always a level of consistency in the way their images look, defined (to varying degrees) by the way those photographs have been processed.
Each photographer has their own colour palette, their own individual preferences on levels of saturation, contrast and brightness and their own thoughts on retouching any imperfections within their images. Processing is of course not the only factor here – you could apply the same filtering techniques to two photos of the same object taken by different photographers and get completely different results depending on their own in-camera settings and preferences with regard to the way they take a shot, but processing is what will generally produce that final polished look. But what does processing really involve?
Different photographers will have very varied opinions on the level of retouching they are prepared to do. This isn’t a reflection of their level of photoshop skills but more about how they want to portray their images as a whole. Some wedding photographers apply large amounts of retouching to each of their images in an effort to create that magazine “perfect version of you”. They will remove all of your wrinkles and blemishes, perhaps artificially help you lose a few pounds, smooth your skin, widen your eyes and do all those little touches that make you look the way you always dreamed of looking on your wedding day. On the other hand some pure documentarians might refuse to do any retouching whatsoever in favour of absolute truth. Most though probably position themselves somewhere between these two extremes, happy to remove the odd spot or bruise that is there only temporarily but often declining to alter features that are truly part of you, part of your character, part of your beauty. It’s also worth noting that great photographers should be looking to capture the most flattering image possible of you in the first place, helping to keep retouching to a minimum.
Group shots are often another area where a bit of creative retouching might be needed as sometimes, no matter how many shots you take of each group there simply isn’t one with everybody smiling and a little creative editing can combine more than one shot to put a smile on everyone’s face.
Retouching isn’t limited to people though – sometimes despite framing a shot to the best possible effect there are some extraneous elements that the photographer simply cannot control, for example an object that draws focus from the shot but that there was no way to frame around in camera. When this occurs sometimes the photographer will feel compelled to artificially remove or correct it to enhance the shot. Again not every photographer is happy to do this though if it’s not part of their own style to do so.
On the flip side recently there has been more of a trend towards artificially placing objects into photographs rather than taking them away. Lately for example we’ve seen wedding photographs of guests running from various savage creatures and again this is something some photographers use to define their imagery whilst others might refuse ever to add anything in that wasn’t present on the day.
Every photographer will also have their own colour palette. Now this may sound strange, after all this isn’t a painting we’re creating, the colours are already right there captured in camera, but the way those colours are manipulated and the level of colour saturation has a huge bearing on the way the image will look. Now we’re not saying that they’re going to start changing your blue jacket to a red one, but subtle differences in the tones of the colours are an enormous part of any photographer’s style. Some photographers will of course try to keep the colours as natural as possible and only make changes to compensate for any limitations in what the camera could capture in comparison to what the human eye could see. Others though might take a firmer approach in portraying the way they see the world by increasing the saturation of the colours to create a more brash, colourful image or sometimes muting certain colours to create a softer look. There’s no right or wrong way to do this, purely individual tastes.
Sometimes of course a photographer might choose to remove the colour entirely and create some black and white images, often mixed in amongst full colour shots. Again though a black and white image is not simply a generic black and white – there are varying subtle shades of black and choosing how dark those blacks should be is another key choice for the wedding photographer. Choosing which images should be black and white in the first place though is again a matter of taste and experience and the individual photographer will have a good idea of which of their images will work best in black and white. Some years ago there was also a trend towards having just one part of the image in colour and the rest in black and white – a technique known as ‘spot colouring’ although fashions have moved on and this is now generally a fairly unpopular technique amongst top photographers.
Sharpness and Contrast
How sharp or soft the image is will again be a huge factor in the look of the picture. Many wedding photographers adopt a softer, dreamier, more forgiving look for their images whilst others will try to grab the attention with something bold and sharp. The levels of contrast will play a big part here too as, for example sometimes that softer look is accompanied by a slightly faded appearance to the photographs, perhaps to create a slightly aged or film-like look.
There are many more factors that go into editing a wedding photograph, but at the end of it what you have is a process. A process that helps define and enhance that particular artist’s style. Some might wish for their photographs to look like a specific type of analogue film or even like a really old vintage photograph from the past. Others might choose to use their process to create a bright, eye-grabbing look with colours even brighter than their real-life counterparts. Each photographer has to find their own look and also discover the process that best fits and enhances the way they take a photograph and best represents the way they individually see the world.
But why are we telling you all this?
Because in choosing a wedding photographer you’re choosing their processing just as much as you are choosing the way they take photographs. You can’t always guarantee that your photographs will have exactly the same look as all the others in their portfolio because photography is based on light and a golden sunny day in California will never share exactly the same colour palette as a cloudy Winter’s day in London, but you need to fall in love with their way of processing images almost as much as you fall in love with the images themselves. Processing is a part of each photographer’s artistic vision and it’s not something they’re likely to be willing to change. It’s part of their unified style, part of their creative instinct, and it’s very important to look through your photographer’s portfolio thoroughly in order to fully understand what that style is. Only then will you really know if you’ve found the right photographer to capture your big day and deliver the type of photographs you’d always dreamed of.