How are my finished wedding images created?

July 5, 2019
how wedding photographers edit wedding pics

Hi friends! Today I’m going to take a deeper dive into the editing process in layman’s terms. Hopefully this will be helpful in understanding what the heck the photographer does once they leave the wedding. It also helps to throw some light on why it takes the length of time it does to deliver your finished wedding gallery!

There are articles online about what happens during post-processing but many of them are overly technical, weirdly defensive or out of date (at no point does a DVD or CD enter my studio!)

I use the terms ‘editing’, ‘post-processing’ and ‘post-production’ somewhat interchangeably. It tends to be called ‘editing’ by the community at large, but I think post-production is actually more correct because it encompasses more!

I can only speak as to what I personally do for my image processing, but to make this article more helpful I’ve included some info what’s common practice across the industry.

Unlike all your other vendors who take a break when your wedding’s done, your photographer’s real work starts after your wedding.

Our editing process means turning the RAW, unedited files into the finished jpegs that have been corrected for wonky horizons, color casts, correct exposure for skin and overall consistency. (And many other things too). That involves a few steps, broken down for you here.

Importing (AKA ingesting) the RAW files

After the wedding I grab all the cards that my second shooter and I shot to. I have a program that ingests all of these juicy RAW files to my hard drive. It’s called Photo Mechanic. Never really timed it, but it’s around an hour or two. I step away and let the computer do its thing.

It’s a process of swapping out the various memory cards from me and my second shooter and being REALLY darn sure I have copied everything before formatting the cards ready for the next wedding! (I do back up about a million times and also shoot to two different memory cards in each camera at the wedding. Isn’t that cool?!)

screenshot of photo mechanic explaining how its used by wedding photographers


Culling (selecting photos) – Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits

Industry standard these days is using Photo Mechanic which easily allows me to pick the images I want to deliver to you. Yep, that’s what it does. It selects images. It doesn’t alter them in any way.

Out of the 6,000+ images we might take, I pick the best. That number may be 500, it may be 1,200.*

It depends on how many guests you have, whether you have a lot of decor and details, the pace of your day, whether you’ve had special requests to capture, how lively your guests are, the type of venue you’re in, how long we’ve had for newlywed portraits, how long we were there, how many ‘moments’ there were…

Rest assured it takes time to make sure I’ve not picked duplicates of the same thing which would get really boring to look at. It also takes some time and experience (trust me, I’ve made the mistakes) to not pick just the best of the best and leave behind some great moments and variety because they were not prize-winning masterpieces.

showing workflow for wedding photographers using lightroom

Adobe Lightroom – individual adjustments and consistency overall

Lightroom (available through Adobe Creative Cloud) is extremely popular for making global adjustments such as throwing on my custom preset that creates consistency and my signature look, and for tweaking elements in individual pics.

It’s like when you grab a picture from your phone and edit it in your favorite photo editing app, but on a much grander scale. The preset often sets the tone (ha, literally THE TONES!!) for your photographer’s style.

Stuff like when the DJ lights make your skin look a crazy color, when there’s a ton of photographic grain in the images because it was indoors, cropping for better compositions, and generally making sure everything looks tip-top.

As you can imagine, going through each of the hundreds of selects one by one takes a lot of time. Like throwing up a VSCO filter on your selfie, you want it to look polished but natural. Not like you’re trying too hard. Welcome to my world.

Then you want to make sure pics from the beginning of the ceremony look the same color as the end of the ceremony and you haven’t just randomly changed editing styles halfway through due to screen fatigue.

That’s why it’s important to take breaks and return to editing the next day when you can see with fresh eyes. Looking at the images for too long can compromise our judgment.

Adobe Photoshop – for images that need further work

This is a very personal decision. Some photographers are adamant that they will not touch Photoshop (available through Adobe Creative Cloud) without you paying a retouching fee, others will run Photoshop on every image to create their signature look that you’ve hired them for.

I’m somewhere in between. I will do fine-image retouching to make you slimmer or remove wrinkles but these further requests do incur a fee. I do some ‘invisible Photoshopping’ on a handful of images in each gallery to remove some distracting elements. You won’t even know that the fire alarm has been zapped.

*Side note / confession time – overshooting (AKA nailing the moment)

I overshoot at a wedding and encourage my second shooter to do the same. Our record is 7,934 files from a 7.5-hour wedding, which equates to 209 GB of RAW files. Yupp, almost a quarter TB! I’d rather spend more money on file storage, and more time culling and editing if it means I really nail the moment.

I keep shooting, and something even more awesome/ funny/ poignant happens.

Either that or you take one shot and the camera decides to focus on that exciting trash can, or someone’s blinking, or you cut something off, or your flash doesn’t fire. So that moment ends up on the cutting room floor, and is one less memory for you to enjoy.

If I have 40 shots of the ‘same’ moment, I can pick the one(s) that are the best.

Yes, I’m obsessed.

Wrapping up

Hopefully this is helpful in understanding what the photographer does when they bid farewell and disappear into the night! I have more blog posts coming up that are helpful tips for clients to make sense of all the jargon and funny things surrounding their wedding photography experience.

Thanks for reading!


san francisco city hall wedding photographer

Zoe Larkin is a San Francisco-based wedding photographer & fine art graduate originally from London. She specializes in photographing intimate weddings for joyful, free-thinking couples. Zoe creates raw, personal images that evoke a range of emotions, combining documentary photography with a stylized edge. Her work has been published on Offbeat Bride, Equally Wed, Catalyst Wed Co, Love Inc Mag among others. She adores simplicity, kindness & Earl Grey. Zoe is an equality-minded vendor that celebrates diversity in all its forms. She is passionate about SF City Hall weddings, having had one herself! Read more about Zoe here