Photo editing is something I’ve always enjoyed doing however it is something I’ve only relatively recently started spending appropriate time on. In addition to slowing down my work flow I’ve started spending more time on my images to ensure the quality is as high as I can achieve. I’ve also found there is a lot of misunderstanding from clients when it comes to photo editing; they assume that as I’m a professional photographer, I’m also a professional retoucher. While I am the former, I am not the latter, however photo editing is certainly an associated skill that compliments my behind the camera abilities and something I continually strive to improve.
My first forays into photo editing were as a hobbyist photographer whilst serving in the British Army in Afghanistan. My compact Canon G9 was my first camera capable of shooting RAW images, all my previous cameras only offering the compressed JPG format, and I toyed with the packaged editing software that came with the camera. When I left the Army I attended a beginner dSLR course at Photofusion, in Brixton, which is where I had my first taste of the Adobe photography tools Lightroom and the more powerful Photoshop; tools I continue to use to this day. It was while on the course that I met Louis Quail, a photographer recently returned from Afghanistan commissioned by the Daily Telegraph, who looked at my Helmand photographs and commented that my post production techniques had turned them into graphics and wistfully added he would have liked to have seen the original versions. This comment struck me and has stuck with me. Just because I could achieve an effect in post production did not necessarily mean I should use said effect. As a beginner in post production I had been so enamoured with what could be done, I’d lost sight of what should be done. A decade later, I always bear in mind the following when I am editing a photograph:
- Is what I am doing suitable for the image and should I do it?
- Does the image benefit from the extra attention?
- At what stage is enough, enough or too much?
- Is what I am doing going to stand the test of time, or am I editing the image according to current trends which will be out of date in 6months or less?
Today I spend anywhere from 10 to 45 minutes editing a photograph. And the more care I spend on photo editing, the more I pay attention to trying to get the image correct in camera beforehand. While this sounds backwards I have found the more time I spend perfecting the image in real life, the less time I spend afterwards in post production correcting details; a minute or two in real life can potentially save 10- 15minutes in photo editing. This includes everything from strands of hair across a face to removing items from a location background.
In addition to improving my photo editing skills, I have also had to finesse my communication skills with clients who I find and benefit from advice and guidance. The first time I recall being asked to work on a specific element of a photograph was a portrait I took for the Army Benevolent Fund (since renamed as the ABF The Soldiers’ Charity) of a veteran whom I photographed in his home, who wore a pair of glasses. The ABF requested I remove a reflection in the glasses caused by a combination of the angle of the light, through the glassed to the camera. I agonised over the request, and spent hours researching and testing solutions before finally conceding defeat. Hindsight being wonderful I should have noticed the reflection at the time of taking the portrait and tried to avoid it. Also I should have been more confident with the ABF in telling them that I was a photographer, not a retoucher. Ultimately the image was published in the charity magazine so small in size that the reflection was barely noticeable; however it was never communicated to me whether this was pre-planned or due to the ‘error’ in the image. Either way it was the first and last portrait I took for the charity; while I was asked to photograph several events afterwards I was not asked to take a portrait again.
While the first, it was not the last time I have had to deal with assumptions and expectations; while photographing jewellery at Mayfair jeweller a member of staff repeatedly instructed me to hurry up and perfect the image in Photoshop, and I’ve often been asked to undo work in one area and fix another element of an image. Needless to say, in these instances, the areas requested work was undone were areas I had not touched and elements that need work already have had attention paid to them. My experience has taught me that it is worth talking about post production with a client at the start of a project before any images are taken. It is important to manage expectations and emphasise that preparatory work will help not only the shoot go smoothly but also any follow up efforts. And then having taken the images I make a point of discussing the photographs in detail with the client to ensure their direct input should any additional work be required. If the images are portraits and the client wants to ‘look younger’, my normal reply is a ‘no’. No, because every time I’ve tried to comply with that particular request I’ve then had the subject complain and inform me they don’t recognise themselves.