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Is It Alright NOT To Edit Wedding Photos?

“There are questions about when it is alright or not alright to edit wedding photos, or indeed what is expected by couples from their wedding photographer.”

This isn’t about the morals of beauty filters or the controversy in the beauty industry surrounding the rights and wrongs of using blemish removal or body reshaping techniques in the photo post capture process. But there are questions about when it is alright or not alright to edit wedding photos, or indeed what is expected by couples from their wedding photographer. It is almost essential for a photographer to edit wedding photos under normal circumstances. There are two main kinds of edits. Basic toning, that brings a digital photo to reflect a fair representation of reality, and then those edits that alter images beyond the reality of the scene at the time the photograph was taken.

I should explain that there are also two main types of digital image file format used by photographers. One, known as a raw file, must be edited. Others such as jpeg files could feasibly be provided to couples as they are, straight out of the camera. I don’t think there are many photographers that provide jpeg files straight out of the camera. Most prefer the flexibility provided by editing the raw file format. Technical, but useful to know. You will see what I mean.

Wedding Photography Editing

It is a reasonable expectation that wedding photos should be edited to bring them to a state that reflects reality at the time of capture. It’s also fair to expect that reality may be enhanced slightly in terms of contrast and brightness, etc. But how far should reality be pushed? Cinematic effects are sometimes used these days. A bit like filters but more controlled and more purposeful. These effects are part of the creative style of some photographers. It is part of what makes us different, and it is fine so long as it is clear to the couple at the time of booking that this is the look that they should expect.

wedding photo edit teal & orange plus matt
A cinematic effect has been applied to this image, purely for demonstration purposes! You can see some more creative effects in my previous post about Creative Style in Wedding Photography

I edit wedding photos! Unlike the shot of these two cool dudes above, I don’t usually apply effects. My editing process begins with a cull and selection of images as I have described in a previous post.

My Editing Workflow

There are two main applications that I use to catalog and edit my wedding photography, they are both part of the Adobe Creative Cloud Suite and are Lightroom and Photoshop. I use these programs because I have got to know them well over the years and to change to another system, of which there are strong contenders, would be an unnecessary burden for me. Also because these two programs, whilst not perfect in every way, are good for what I need them to do.

I shoot weddings in the raw image file format. This means that the digital file produced by the camera is not processed and not ready to be printed. It is the raw data from the camera and when viewed on a computer screen is flat in appearance and may appear to lack detail in some areas. The benefit of the raw file format is that the photographer has full control over the process to produce the final image. Lightroom is the cataloging and raw conversion program. It is also very capable of certain kinds of photo editing.

Optimise Contrast

The first stage in the process is to bring contrast to the raw images. The tones in a digital image can be divided into 5 main areas, the blacks, the shadows, the mid-tones, the highlights, and the whites. These tonal areas can be individually adjusted, in tone and colour, with the aim of bringing out detail in the image and adding contrast. This is the first real step in the editing process and is carried out in Lightroom.

wedding photo before tone editwedding photo after tone edit
Before and After Simple Tone Edit

The image above shows a raw file as it is straight out of camera, compared to the same image after tonal edits have been applied to make the photo reflect reality. Perhaps a slightly enhanced version of reality but still reflective of the scene at the time of capture.

It is important to note that these edits are of a global nature. That means that the whole image is effected and not just specific parts. Because of this, it is possible in Lightroom to bulk edit batches of images in this way. This speeds up the process and makes it easier to deal with the relatively large number of images involved.

Eliminate Noise

Noise is a feature of digital images shot in low light conditions. It affects images to a greater or lesser degree depending upon various factors including just how low the light is, camera settings and the quality, and design of the camera equipment used. It can be quite prevalent in wedding photography where much of the work is in the low lighting conditions of churches or ceremony rooms and the addition of light, such as flash is not always desirable. Thankfully, there are ways of dealing with noise. Again, Lightroom contains tools to reduce noise and it is another of those global edits that can be applied in batches. (Though sometimes, better results can be obtained by working on individual images with other tools.)

Before and After Noise Reduction

The effect of noise can be seen in this image, which for demonstration purposes, has been zoomed to 100%. In reality, not many images in wedding photography would be zoomed, or cropped to this extent, so the noise would be less noticeable. It is also usually less noticeable in print than when viewed on a screen. It is however an image quality issue and one that needs to be addressed, not to enhance the photography, but to bring it to a standard that would meet any reasonable person’s expectations.

Cropping

Not every image needs cropped, but many do. It is a consequence of the reportage, or journalistic style of wedding photography. It is an edit that is unique to every image and is considered on an image by image basis for every shot that is to appear in the private online gallery.

wedding ceremony photo uncropped
cropped wedding ceremony photo

There are various reasons to crop an image. In this case it was the moment when the Bride and Groom’s eyes met as she walked along the aisle towards him. Cropping is often a way of improving the composition, and guiding the viewers attention to the subject of the picture. Cropping can be completed in Lightroom and it is probably the first edit that enhances the image beyond the processing of the raw image file.

Remove Distractions

As an edit to wedding photos, distraction removal is an enhancement. It removes something that in reality, was there at the time when the photo was taken. Most people who were there at the time, however, probably wouldn’t have noticed. Their attention would have been, fairly much exclusively focused on the couple. The same could be said about a person viewing the photograph, except that now there is time that allows the viewer’s eye to be distracted. And quite often it is. So whilst distraction removal is, kind of an enhancement to the image, arguably, it’s not really!

distraction removal edit - before
Before.
Note the microphone cable near the Groom’s right hand.
distraction removal edit - after
After.
The distracting cable has been removed.

Basic distraction removal can be done in Lightroom but most of the time the image would be opened in Photoshop for this kind of edit. Depending on the complexity of the background distraction removal can be a time consuming task. I do build editing time into my pricing structure but it is not open ended. Distraction removal is not, therefore an edit that I do for every relevant image. As well as the time factor, there is also a line to be drawn as to what is actually distracting. For the client’s online gallery I would usually only remove the worst distractions, but for a Wedding Album or Photo Storybook I would remove all of them. I am also happy to remove distractions on a few images at a client’s request for no additional charge.

Blemish Removal & Skin Softening

There is blemish removal and there is skin softening and they are both image enhancing edits. They are the kind of edits that draw criticism from some quarters towards the beauty and advertising industries. I take the view that most of my wedding photography clients are happy with a moderate degree of both kinds of edit.

Blemish Removal

I treat blemish removal in a similar way as I would distraction removal as described above. The difference however is that Lightroom can be quite good for blemish removal. It is still a local edit though, and cannot be applied to images in bulk. The time and effort required may be less than that for distraction removal, so it is likely that more blemish removal can reasonably be achieved for the client gallery.

Skin Softening

I use two methods of achieving skin softening. For the client gallery, part of my Lightroom workflow applies a small reduction of clarity in bulk, throughout all of the images. This is subtle and also helps to lend an overall slightly soft appearance to my galleries without loss of critical sharpness where sharpness is required. Where images are to be printed however, they are individually opened in Photoshop and local, targeted edits made to enhance the appearance of the girl’s skin. Yes, I do make a difference between the girls and the guys as don’t believe the guys, in most cases, would want their skin softened. Happy to do so, or not as the case may be, if requested though.

Changing Appearance

Apart from those discussed here I don’t usually make any other appearance changing edits in my wedding photography workflow.

Some Examples

You can check out some of my edited wedding photography galleries here.

If you liked this post you might also like my post, Creative Style In Wedding Photography.

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