A wedding photographer's workflow - Step by Step Guide (Post- Processing)
You may have spent months planning a wedding with your client (Read on my earlier blog on Wedding Photography Budget. After countless emails, meetings; the finally the day of wedding arrives. And I don’t know about you but shooting weddings gives me high; it’s a roller-coaster of human emotions. After returning from the joy ride and experiencing the fun and challenges of shooting a wedding begins the most demanding aspect of the workflow as a wedding photographer .
It’s this part of a wedding photographer that few clients ever see (and most never think about or imagine the magnanimity of it) and even many aspiring photographers fail to understand it. Yet it’s the lion share of our workload.
The wedding photography workflow covers everything from that initial contact to delivery of the final edited images — and sometimes even beyond.
Cameras produce images with the expectation that they will be altered later, will be corrected, sharpened, tinted, etc. What this means is that post-processing plays an important role in shaping the final output especially if you shoot in RAW, which I can’t recommend enough. With so many different elements to think about during your post-processing workflow, it can very quickly become an inefficient and time-consuming process – especially if you’re just getting started as a photographer and constantly learning new techniques.
That isn’t to say that every photographer today has to love post-processing. Some photographers, greatly prefer working in the field to working on the computer and often outsource some of the work. While it’s possible to shorten one’s post-processing workflow, a minimum amount of editing is necessary to keep up with today’s artistic and technological standards.
Step 1: Back up your RAW Files
Whenever I return from the shoot; after unpacking and putting back my gears in their respective cabinets; the first thing I do is to copy my (and my team’s) memory card to my computer. Even if I’m dead tired after 18 hours of shoot (pretty normal in Indian weddings) and may again have to go back after just 5-6 hours; I never skip this step.
Once copied, take multiple backups on external hard drives and lastly put them to upload on the cloud and go to bed. Minimum three backups is a must plus I don’t format the memory cards till the final delivery is done to the client.
These RAW files are literally your raw material. Lose this and you’ve lost not only your income, but also the memories of the most important day of your couple. It’s therefore important that you back up your images as soon as possible (ideally as soon as you get home) to avoid any disasters.
Step 2: Culling and Rating
The most exciting part of your job – not really :)
This step could well be the hardest on the whole list. It’s time to – sharp intake of breath – kill your darlings.
I’m going to be honest here, culling, or going through every image you took of a wedding, rating them, and deciding which to keep and which to trash, is the most tedious, eye-bleeding part of your job. This is why it’s not a good idea to “spray and pray” throughout a wedding day with your cameras. The more selective you are with the photos you take, the faster your post-wedding workflow will be. Always “Shoot with Intent” and you will not have to work hard in this step.
Use a tool like Photo Mechanic to catalog and rate your images as quickly as possible. Sort them by capture time. Photo Mechanic allows you to do a simple yay/nay to all of your images so that you can decide which ones will be in your final edit. Don’t keep anything you would not want to give your couple – this is a time to be as ruthless as possible with your work. Only your finest shots with the best potential should make the cut.
Another option is Adobe Bridge which comes free with Lightroom and Photoshop. It’s slower than Photo Mechanic but for starters it’s a great tool. Professionals who have large set of images from multiple cameras (their and their team members); it is recommended to invest in Photo Mechanic and saves precious time.
Once culled, sort the images by rating (or color if you used it for culling) and copy the culled set into a new folder.
Alternatively, there are companies you can use to cull your images for you if that is within your budget. But I would always recommend to keep this step in-house.
Step 3: Cataloging and Importing
Now the real fun can begin: In Lightroom, create a new Lightroom catalog for your client in their client folder: File>New Catalog. It is recommended to always create a new catalog for a wedding/client; you can later add these Catalogs into your master catalog if you choose have all your work or one year’s of work under one master Catalog.
Once you’ve imported everything, sort the images by capture time (make sure that your camera time is accurate first!) so that the photos are displayed in chronological order for you to begin editing.
Pro Tip: Always sync your camera (and your teams’s to the last of a second). This allows to see all the images taken by different camera’s at any given time which helps in culling and editing.
Now is the time for another round of Backup of your Lightroom Catalog and culled images folder.
Step 4: Basic Editing
This is where the magic happens!
It’s also this part in your process that the decision to shoot in RAW instead of JPEG really comes into its own, as you’ll have so much more scope to adjust your images exactly as you please.
You have your final number of culled images, and can now begin your basic Lightroom edits. This is where your cropping, straightening, and adjustments for exposure, contrast, shadow, highlights, etc., come into play. This part is very personal to each photographer and this is where your style begins to emerge.
Pro Tip: If you have a series of photos in the same lighting situation taken with the same camera, edit the first photo in the set, select the rest of the photos that match, then hit the “Sync” button to apply your edit to all of the photos in that set at once.
You can also create your own preset if you think you want to use it later again. You can also star/flag the images which you think would require advance retouching. Create a collection of these images.
Step 5: Advance Editing
Right click on the image in Lightroom collection which you want to further edit and click on “Edit in”—>”Edit in Adobe Photoshop CC 2018”. This will open file in Photoshop. Here you can add/remove certain objects, remove blemishes, do advance color grading, apply LUTs etc. Be careful and not overdo it.
Once you have finished and have achieved the desired results; click on “Save” ( not “save as”) and close it. Lightroom image will sync and show the edited image here. This way the Catalog remains a single repository if you ever want to revisit and make further changes.
You can also use other programs like Alien Skin, Capture One etc. based on your preference for specific task of your choice.
Step 6: Exporting. The Home Stretch!
Hooray! All of your images have been backed-up, picked your favorites, put your creative touch on them – you’re on the final stretch! Now comes the time to export your final versions to the client folder you set up.
Create a new sub-folder (something like ‘Edited images or JPEGs’), and then select all of your edited files in Lightroom. Set the file settings and file names (you can set up custom preferences in the Lightroom settings), and then hit export. Make sure you export your images in full resolution – don’t worry about the file size at this stage. We’ll deal with that in the next step.
Step 7: Optimize your file sizes
I use JPEG Mini to optimize the file sizes based on the usage. Using their patented technology, JPEGmini allows you to reduce your image file size up up to 80%, but the resolution and quality will stay the same. That means no more dragging around numerous external drives, or long upload/download times. It even plugs in to Lightroom, so you can export directly to JPEGmini after editing, allowing you to enjoy a more seamless workflow.
For Social Media; I optimize the sizes according to their recommended resolutions. For client delivery you can choose to give them in high resolution or low depending on your agreement terms.
Step 8: Create an online gallery
I personally prefer to deliver images via professional gallery rather than using Google Drive, Dropbox etc. One of our personal favorites is Shootproof. It allows you to upload your images to a branded gallery, where your clients can then select – and even purchase – their favorites from within the gallery itself. It handles all payments if you want to sell your prints online, and photos can also be downloaded directly from the platform too. You can password protect it, create a secure PIN for the downloads. All of this allows clients to view and share it among friends and family members so much easier and give your business a professional touch.
Best of all, Shootproof is designed for the social generation. Social sharing is built into the platform, so – with the right permissions – your clients can share your branded work to their social networks, giving you priceless exposure. There are other alternatives like Pixiset, Zenfolio, Smugmug etc. You can choose based on your liking and required features.
Clients can also select and mark their favorites for the album so that you can move to the next step.
Step 9: Album Designing
Once I have selection from the client; I start designing my Album/Photobook based on our agreed size and finish in Pixellu’s Smart Album. This is a very easy to use software with lot of customization and pre-designed spreads. This software has built in margins for major companies from all over the world including India. Else you can always enter in manually based on your local printer’s specifications.
Once designed I can send the design to the client using their Cloud Proofing service and get the feedback. After getting the approval I export the designs and send it to my Photobook company.
Step 10: Deliver your work to your clients
Finally! After all your hard work it’s time to deliver your works of magic to your client and see the look of joy and marvel on their faces. If requested we also provide a custom pen-drive, Canvas Prints etc.
Our contract only includes standard editing work based on our style. However if requested by client; we do provide advanced retouching like body slimming, compositing etc. on additional charges or include certain number of edits in the packages.
Streamlining your workflow in standard step wise manner makes it more efficient and helps you evolve and stay consistent in your service delivery. Also it is equally important to customize this according to your geography, service offering and customer requirements.
If you have reached this far then I hope that you learned and gained something of use. Please do comments and share this link with your friends.