Welcome to my first non-wedding blog post. First of all, I want to make it clear that this isn’t an instructional post. I’m not going to tell you how to edit, I’m not going to tell you that what you’re doing is right or wrong. Everyone has their own style, their own flow.
I get asked a lot about my editing processes - what presets I use, what software I use and I wanted to create a post that talked about my editing journey from starting my business a few years back to today. I think the editing is as important as taking the photographs and they are two separate journeys of their own of learning, discovery and experimentation and I wanted to make a post that was bold, honest and open.
T H E B E G I N N I N G
When I started my wedding photography adventure back in University, I was still using Adobe Photoshop to edit everything. I had no real idea of wedding photography and had done little research and not really looked at what other people were doing. It started out as a favour for a family friend, then one of their friends asked if I could photograph their wedding too and then another friend asked and before I knew it, it was a thing.
I feel like word of mouth has always been my strongest factor in securing work, but that’s another story for another day. Today we’re talking about editing! Oh Photoshop… I think my first wedding took me about a month to edit and I ended up giving them around 600 photographs. I had no idea about Adobe Bridge (If I’m honest, I’m still not 100% on how that works…) and I certainly didn’t quite understand or recognise consistency in my style of editing. I think overall, I was had an inkling in my mind of something fresh and bright but my first ever wedding was actually (Thank the heavens) a beautiful, soft and pearly cloudy day in winter and so that made editing a lot easier. Although I look back at my early work and think “Oh man, how could I charge money for my work?!” I have to remember that everyone starts somewhere and we can’t move forward without learning how to really see our work and develop an eye for taking it to the next level. I think if my first wedding had been a hot, bright July day I would have lost the confidence to ever shoot again. Those were also the days when I hadn’t learned about the harsh light cast by bright, open sunlight and how you need to plan and work dynamically in that sort of weather to create flattering photos that aren’t a nightmare to edit.
After my third wedding, I discovered Lightroom and my life was transformed. I still use Lightroom to this day and although I’m still learning all of its features, I absolutely love it. I look back at the days where I edited everything in photoshop and I give the past me a sympathetic pat on the back. With the discovery of lightroom in those early days came the discovery of presets. I think VSCO was all the rage back then and at that point, I had begun to look at the work of other wedding photographers and trends in wedding photography. Everywhere I looked, photos were rich, contrasting and vibrant. Flat and dull images of the early noughties when digital cameras were new and accessible were a thing of the past, as was (thank god) colour splashing and dutch angles. For the most part.
I still wasn’t sure what I was trying to do with my style and I jumped on the bandwagon trend of VSCO presets and a few of the weddings that I was beginning to capture then were working with bolder colour palettes and styles that suited that vibrant, VSCO look and so that’s the avenue I went down… for a very short while.
T H E E A R L Y D A Y S
When I came up against the wedding that I didn’t know then would launch my career, looking at the RAW images afterwards it was oh so clear that VSCO presets were NOT going to suit it. It was at this gorgeous venue in Bath, the light was hazy and pearl and the colour palette was soft and pastel. The bride had also vocalised that she wanted soft photos that suited them as a couple and it was still the early days of my venture. She knew I was just fresh out of university and she had even cancelled on her previous wedding photographer who’s style she felt nervous about and took a chance on me. Lydia, THANKYOU endlessly for taking that chance on me. I hope I did you proud! At that point, I was looking at a lot of Film Photography and the works of some very well known photographers that used medium format film for their wedding photography work. It’s that which really influenced my editing for that wedding and the overall aesthetic was soft, natural and fresh. I didn’t go anywhere near a preset and back then I didn’t know I could make my own on lightroom otherwise I would have saved those settings because once the images from that wedding went out into the world, their friends and people who had seen those photos started booking wanting the same.
At that point though, I still hadn’t established what was ‘my style.’ I was still in a mindset to experiment and I think in those early days it’s ok. When I was a new wedding photographer and charging pennies, I felt like it was Ok to find myself and to talk to my clients about this and make them aware of what I was doing, my processes and ideas so that they weren’t surprised (in a bad way) when they got their photos. I always talked through editing with my clients and I think at that point, I would follow the tone of the day. If the wedding was bright and bold, I edited to suit and the same if it was pastel and soft or moody and more autumnal. Those days were fun for experimenting but it did mean that my portfolio lacked a consistency in its overall finish that I think did harm potential bookings and target clients but it takes years to set up a sustainable business so sometimes you’ve just got to get that desire to try everything out of your system. I think that did influence my workflow and approach to editing today but I managed to reign in the obvious, gaping contrasts in style and stick to an aesthetic that was subtly changeable depending on colour, light, mood and tone of the day.
In the last two years, I began to approach a place where I was a little more confident and happy with editing. My style began to become a little more consistent - I would still very much edit to suit the couple and day but my portfolio began to have a consistency in its aesthetic which I feel helped make a better impression. I still wasn’t using presets but I had learned to make my own so that if I really loved a particular way I had edited a wedding, I saved those settings for future. I began a method of working where I was building on these existing settings and adding to them and growing which really helped my workflow and helped me develop a more consistent editing style.
M Y S T R U G G L E S
My biggest struggle with editing is feeling like they don’t look edited enough. I spent quite a lot of time on each image, removing blemishes, accidental double chins (when they’re not cute at least!) ugly signs or litter (lots of litter!) the occasional bench or electricity pylon and trying to create a finish that is pearly, fresh and reminiscent of film. I want my work to look timeless, as though in 30 years someone would open their wedding album and it wouldn’t look like a badly aged ‘once-fad’ and it wouldn’t make them cringe (kind of like a lot of 80’s wedding dresses.) I want my work to look airy, soft and dreamlike… as if you could be transported somewhere slightly ethereal but also leaning into those days that are darker and moodier when it’s true to the atmosphere. I’m not going to edit photos that were taken in a dark, gothic house or castle setting to look bright and fairyish and I’m not going to edit photos taken on a bright and sunny day to look dark and moody. I still very much follow the natural lead of how the day was to create imagery that transports people back to the very mood, emotion and feeling of the day. BUT. Now here’s the hard part for me… I look at my work and I look at the work out there. There is SO much amazing photography. And the majority of it looks nothing like mine. People edit darker, bolder, brighter - their photos pop and leap out of the screen or off the paper. They look edited and sometimes I look at mine and worry they look too soft, too plain… that they don’t pop. Lots of people use presets these days and I spend time wondering whether that’s what I should be doing. Whether I’d get more bookings and people would like me more if my work looked like that too, if the tones were richer and browner and it looked like the sort of work you see on Junebug weddings and ‘hashtag looks like film’. The thing is, I do really like that work. I like how it looks and I really admire lots of those photos but it doesn’t feel like me. And so I have all of these mini existential crises where I question whether I’m doing the right thing and whether I’m original or even good enough to be here.
I think that is a perfectly normal creative person thing to do and so quite often, I pat myself on the back (not literally) and move onwards and figure that even if there’s not a huge lot of work out there that opts for a soft approach beyond the fine-art-weddings realm, then it’s a chance for me to play and explore there and keep on developing and honing my style.
C U R R E N T D A Y
So here I am. I still use lightroom, I still edit my weddings according to the weather and I’m still working on my own big ole mixing pot of homemade Sarah presets that I keep for the sake of consistency in my photos and no, I probably won’t ever sell them. I mean, who’d want to buy them anyway? O.o I talk through editing with every single couple during their consultation, I take personal requests (like that time I photographed a gorgeous, super bright river wedding for L&B and edited to look like Kodak Portra film) and loved that challenge 150%. I try to be as transparent as possible in my processes and how I work and although my style has returned (Funnily enough) to that fateful wedding in the early days where I chose the ‘bright and airy’ path, I love the challenge of working with my raw materials to craft something perfect for the couple that SPEAKS. Something that will remind them not of just how the day looked but how it FELT and it absolutely made my life when that was something that people kept saying to me in their reviews, in their thank you cards and emails.
Thank you for reading my rambling post about editing and I hope it was worth your time and that if you’re a fellow photographer struggling with the same guilt as me about finding your own style or following what’s in fashion, hopefully it’ll help reassure you to be true to what you do and your vision and that yes there ARE trends out there, and yes they look cool and lots of target clients will be looking for that kind of thing, but you don’t have to be trendy to be cool and the people that pick you will be your PERFECT clients because they love what YOU do ;)