On Editing

after the father-daughter dance

after the father-daughter dance

Here are two versions of a photo I took back in August 2007 — my very first DSLR-shot wedding — with two different styles of editing. This is one of my favourite shots of the whole wedding, at the end of the father-daughter dance. The more I look at this picture, the more I like it: her mum is just visible on the left and someone is clapping on the right. The only thing I would’ve done differently is moved back and to the right a little to frame it better but everything moves quickly at weddings and I might not have had the space behind me to move that far… I can’t remember. When I was editing the photo last night, I couldn’t decide which style I liked better, but after a few rounds of comparison the second style is winning.

I’ve had a couple of photography client meetings recently, and naturally the subject of editing comes up, because it’s part of what I do. Handing over a disc of images without editing them is like a clothing designer handing over a dress with only the pieces sewn together: it’s incomplete. The finishing touches such as buttons, zippers, and structural additions PLUS ironing is what gives the dress shape and contribute to the overall polished look. And sometimes you have to go back to the drawing board and fix something that looks wrong while you’re trying to finish it.

When you see a photographer’s work it is a combination of technical skill, creativity, and a certain aesthetic while editing. There’s a great deal of on-the-fly judgement involved while shooting, but there’s a great deal of judgement in the post-production process as well because the photos get sewn together, in a way, and finished as a group to tell a story. When I post photos, I’m presenting a finished product. If I give it away unfinished, then someone else will have to finish it and it’s not mine anymore and I’m reluctant to put my name on it.

Editing is much more work than shooting, but in the digital age the film lab workers have been replaced by software and photographers have to learn how to use it — it’s part of the skillset. I spend untold hours learning software because people are hiring me as both a photographer AND a digital lab. I can’t separate the two. When I’m shooting I’m also editing in my head.

I came across the website of a Canadian photographer today where the composition and framing of the shots were not bad but the processing was shockingly sub-standard: chronic abuse of a Photoshop filter called ‘diffuse glow’ (used judiciously it can enhance, but it also hides mistakes like blurry focus), overprocessing to the point where it looked like it was meant to hide cheap glass, so much grain that it overpowered the photo… it’s a shame because like I said, the photos themselves were OK but with quality lenses and skill the use of Photoshop filters should be subtle. What’s the point of buying expensive equipment then blowing out details with high contrast? I checked out her prices and I was even more shocked, but obviously people like her style and are paying those rates. This is baffling!

It’s a highly competitive field out there. Photographers are a dime a dozen. Anyone with money can buy the equipment (not so easy for the rest of us), but that’s only a small part of it. I really hope people are choosing photographers for skill AND style.