The Power of Editing in Portrait Photography

Before I became a professional photographer I had no idea what went on in the “digital darkroom”.  I knew about software like Photoshop, but beyond some simple filters I didn’t really understand what photographers did behind the scenes.  I thought today I’d talk a bit about what it means to post process an image, why it is important and the amount of time we photog’s spend in front of our computer monitors.  A good photographer needs to have a thorough understanding of how to capture the best image “in camera”, (you know all those settings and dials on our expensive non point and shoot cameras) but knowing how to tweak things after the fact is a handy skill.

I am a big fan of Lightroom and do almost all of my post processing using that software tool, but for the tricky bits I go to the grandmama of all editing software, Photoshop.  Let’s take the photos below as examples.

These cuties, Jack and Rachel, spent a morning with me at the park last fall.  When I loaded and reviewed my images I felt this one was a good in camera capture and what you see here is SOOC (straight out of the camera = not edited).  Not bad, kids look cute, got a little sibling love going on here, exposure and tone are OK, but I think I can make this image pop.

bay area portrait photography

Now I’m also a fan of black and white and artistic treatments.  So let’s play with the color here or actually remove the color for the most part.

bw1 example (1 of 1)

OK, I like that but it isn’t really making me say wow yet.

How about cropping so the image is not dead center?  I frequently crop in camera, but because my work is so often fluid and the subjects are not sitting still posing, post camera cropping is helpful.

Also making the eyes standout in a photo draws you in and helps you connect to the subject.  This can be, and generally is, a subtle treatment for me in post, but I almost always sharpen and lighten the eyes.  I’m also increasing the exposure in the below example and removing some of the brown tones for a crisper black and white look.

Alright, this is much better, and I would totally present this to the client.

bw2 example (1 of 1)-2

Now let’s also revert back to color because I like to be able give my clients several choices.

edit1 example (1 of 1)

Ah, now this image makes me smile.  The colors are fun and bright and their smiles and eyes are vivid.  I also feel this image needs tighter cropping for two reasons. One to focus the attention more on the subjects and also because of the bright section in the upper left corner which I find pulls the viewers attention away from the main subject.

edit2 example (1 of 1)

I also think there is too much green in this image, so I’ve lessened it and added a small amount of vignette. Now I have two choices I’m pleased to share with the client and that will look great hanging on their wall.

Ultimately, post processing and the finishing treatment given (or not given) to an individual image is a matter of personal preference, but below is an example of what I see too often.  Either over-saturated images with too much vignette or no post processing at all when just a little could turn an ordinary image into an eye-catching one.

I hope you’ve found this post an interesting one.  I know I spend hours reviewing my images and playing with them to achieve the desired result that both myself and my clients are looking for.

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