In this article I’m going to give a brief intro to how I edit photos as a wedding photographer. Photographers will talk a lot about their editing style. They’ll allude to the editing process and the various steps that are involved from selecting the images through final delivery.
Since I wrote this article, I now have a team that edits and retouches images for me, as we have scaled the business quite a bit in the last few years.
I use the terms ‘editing’, ‘post-processing’ and ‘post-production’ somewhat interchangeably. It tends to be called ‘editing’ by the community at large. I think ‘post-production’ is actually more correct because it encompasses more than the actual ‘tweaking’ of pictures.
Unlike all your other vendors who are done when your wedding’s over, your photographer’s real work starts after the wedding. Our editing process means turning the RAW, unedited files into the finished jpegs you see in your online gallery. That involves a few steps, broken down for you here.
I can only speak as to what I personally do for my post-processing workflow. However, I believe much of this is also common practice throughout the wedding photography industry.
Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the service, I may receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions are my own.
Please check out this more detailed blog post that goes into more detail about Photoshop work (‘retouching’) and what you can expect.
Table of Contents
Importing (AKA ingesting) the RAW files
After the wedding, I collect both the memory cards that contain images from your wedding. When me and my second photographer shoot, the images are automatically recorded to CF cards and the SD cards, in our cameras.
I only import from the CF cards which are more robust. The SD cards, which have the exact duplicate files, are safely stored in a fire safe. They’re only formatted once I’ve delivered your finished photos to you.
I have a program that ingests all of these juicy RAW files to my hard drive. Ingesting just means transferring (either moving or, to be on the safe side, copying files from the memory card to the hard drive).
The program that does this is called Photo Mechanic. It’s more robust than simply using the computer system’s own ‘copy and paste’ system that you’d use to copy files.
I step away and let the computer do its thing. It takes quite a while because it could be anything up to about 100GB of files.
I have to be REALLY darn sure I have copied everything before formatting the cards ready for the next wedding! (Remember the SD cards? They’re still sitting pretty, just in case there’s any issue despite the checking and double-checking).
After import, this is when some photographers create what’s called a sneak peek – a small sample of images that the client will have in their inboxes shortly after the wedding! There is a lot involved with this process. You can read more about that below.
Part of the ingesting process is then making sure the files are backed up both online and offline.
For my online back up I use Backblaze which automatically uploads any file that makes its way on to my computer’s hard drive, or a particular external hard drive. It’s an essential cloud backup for wedding photographers!
It runs in the background and only alerts me if there’s any problems! I also recommend it for anyone who wants to back up their files easily and quickly.
It’s a one-way back up (i.e not a sync like Google Drive), so if I accidentally delete something I can always retrieve it from Backblaze’s servers.
For my offline backup I transfer (copy) the files onto a secondary external hard drive, which is essentially a clone of the original one. I use 2 X 4TB hard drives that are my active pair. Then, once they are full, they join my archive and I obtain two new 4TB hard drives and the process continues.
These backups are in addition to the secondary identical original files that were shot to SD card at the wedding.
Culling (selecting photos) – Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits
Industry standard these days is using Photo Mechanic program that also takes care of the importing. The program 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.
(Or in this 2023 edit, the company I outsource my editing to does all of this and I’ve been using them since 2021).
I pick the keepers out of all the images shot. Photo Mechanic is much faster and easier than Lightroom to do this. I can quickly locate images without the computer slowing down. When we’re dealing with 50 – 100GB of files, that makes all the difference!
Rest assured it takes time to make sure and rounds of revision to whittle down to the final selection. Usually there are a couple of passes of selecting, the first is the broader sweep. Then another day I go back and see if I can cull down further so as not to pick near-duplicates of the same moment.
I make my selects thoughtfully and diligently, keeping into account the flow and pace of the day.
Adobe Lightroom – individual adjustments and consistency overall
Lightroom (available through Adobe Creative Cloud) is extremely popular for making global adjustments. I use my own custom preset which creates consistency and my signature look. The software also allows me to tweak some elements within individual pics. On the whole, it isn’t great for retouching and fine-detail editing, however.
Lightroom is like when you put a picture from your phone through your favorite photo editing app, but on a much grander scale. This is done one by one, but usually the same color temperature adjustments and others can be applied across a whole batch from the same sequence.
The preset often sets the feel for your photographer’s style. Lightroom takes care of things like: minimizing the photographic grain in the images, cropping for better compositions, adjusting wonky horizons, and creating uniformity across images.
As you can imagine, going through each of the hundreds of selects one by one takes a lot of time. I want the finished images to look polished but natural. Consistency is such a big thing too, that takes time to learn and have the eye for.
Screen fatigue can become an issue when trying to edit for long stretches of time, which is another reason why editing isn’t really the kind of task most photographers want to sit down and do for 8 hours straight.
Returning to editing another day means seeing everything 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). Others will run every image through Photoshop to create their signature look.
I’m somewhere in between. 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.
I can do fine-image retouching to make you slimmer or remove wrinkles but only on request – I would never presume you’d want your appearance changed. This is also outsourced to another company, one that specializes in Photoshop work.
Generally I always take care to get it right in camera to avoid painstaking Photoshop work afterwards, which isn’t within the scope of what was agreed on, but can be done for an extra fee.
For more information on the FULL process for what to expect with your Photoshopping (or ‘retouching’) of your wedding photos, check out this full blog post that dives into the topic at length.
Final delivery – uploading to wedding gallery
I use Pixieset for client gallery delivery. It allows so much customization so that you can see the images displayed as beautifully and boldly as possible.
Plus, you can crucially download the entire gallery or individual photos, ‘favorite’ images, share them and even purchase prints directly in a range of sizes and formats.
Wondering what else we wedding photographers get up to, when we’re not out shooting weddings?
Hopefully this article is helpful in understanding a little about the wedding photography editing process. There is a lot that goes into creating your finished wedding images which look effortlessly consistent, fresh and beautiful.
Even though I now outsource all my editing, there are many steps that I’m personally involved in.
It’s safe to say the photographer’s work is loaded very much on the back end. For the editing process in total, in terms of how long it takes it can really vary. As a rule of thumb, I find that for every hour of shooting, it’s about 2 – 2.5 hours of post-processing.
It can take longer when there is extensive Photoshopping to be done, if it was a super dark venue, or if there was flash used in some photos but not others.
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