Wedding Photography Post Production – Part 1

 

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The Develop module in Adobe Lightroom, where the bulk of the work on photographs is done.

 

A whole book could be written about the subject of wedding photography post production. Even though what I’ll write here on the blog will be a fairly brief overview, it will be lengthy enough that I’ve decided to spread it over two posts. This first one will give an introduction, describing my work-flow in Adobe Lightroom from importing the images from memory cards to exporting the polished, finished photographs onto a client’s USB stick or perhaps off to the printers for a wedding book.  It will take a particularly detailed look at the Develop module where the majority of the editing of a picture takes place. I’ll then take an in depth look at the editing of two formal wedding portraits from start to finish, the choices I made and the reasons for making them. In Part 2, I’ll go into a more detailed look at more specific aspects and techniques such as sepia toning, imitating film techniques like cross processing and black and white conversion, which I’ll illustrate with examples. Photoshop is the most well known photo editing application, but it is a more general piece of software for use by graphic designers as well as photographers, and it lacks Lightroom’s cataloging capabilities,  which is really essential.

Lightroom is  easily navigated, intuitive and does everything I need it to do for my wedding photography, which generally is not very complicated: conversion of RAW files, cataloging, editing/processing and exporting. A RAW file contains the unprocessed data for an image. Because of this it looks flatter and duller than an image file that the camera would process and store (as a JPEG ) on the spot at the time it was taken. A RAW file is processed later in software. In the creating of a JPEG, the camera is throwing data away in it’s processing. When it shoots a RAW file, all that available data is preserved and is available for editing later in an application like Lightroom. In the move from film to digital some things have been lost and some things have been gained. A photographer doesn’t have the same physical connection to the work that he or she had when working with materials in a darkroom. However, far more detail can be captured in a RAW file than on a photographic negative, which gives much more scope for creativity in the post production stage. A RAW file is the highest quality setting on a camera and I don’t shoot any other way at weddings.

 

Importing and Selection

My cameras have their dates and times synced so that when images are imported from multiple memory cards into Lightroom they are automatically arranged in chronological order. The import dialogue also gives me options on whether or not to move or copy files, where to put them, whether or not to apply a preset that could cover an extensive number of develop settings, and apply metadata (keywords, copyright info, shoot dates and descriptions.)

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The Library module in Lightroom.

 

The Library module is where I go through the process of deciding which pictures to keep and which ones to throw away. The number of photos that are imported varies from wedding to wedding and an all day shoot could mean sifting through well over a thousand images. Generally I’m trying to get the number down to between 150 and 250, depending on how long the day was. I don’t think you need more than that to tell the story of wedding. The first pass will be getting rid of obviously bad images that are blurry or unflattering or misfires. I take multiple shots of the group portraits, so there’s a high probability that I’ll have at least one shot that doesn’t catch someone mid blink. If all else fails, it will mean a trip to Photoshop (actually I use Affinity Photo instead) for the task of swapping a head or two round. So only about 1 in 5 group shots are retained. That gets the number down a fair bit, but then it gets a little more tricky to decide. With another pass or two it’s about selecting the most effective shots in a particular batch or scene. Each rejected shot gets tagged as such. Lightroom also allows me to give each photo a star rating or a colour code. Generally I’ll give the photos I deem the best quality a red code. These are the images that will get the most attention when it comes to detailed editing. Once the selection process is complete, the rejected images are deleted. Keywording and cataloging is also done in the Library, but I will leave this until the end as there may still be images that get thrown out in the developing stage.

 

Developing Images

When I move to the Develop module in Lightroom, I batch process the entire collection for lens correction and camera calibration (see below). I then move on to developing the images shot by shot. Of course some, particularly those I’ve tagged red, will get more attention and more work done on them. It’s also possible to batch process smaller selections from the collection that need to be processed in the same way. For example I’ll use the library to call up images that have the same ISO rating and batch process them with the same noise reduction preset. A preset is a saved snapshot of the develop settings that can be applied, like a recipe, to an individual image or group of images.

Below is an illustrated guide to how I proceed working though an image in the Develop panel, using the scrolling side panel at the right hand side of the screen where the various tools are located (see the screen shot at the top of the page).

 

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Once all the images are processed, I’ll go back to the library module and add key words to the pictures – so I can easily find a certain kind of image at a later date using queries – and add the collection to my weddings catalog. Next the pictures are exported to an external hard drive in two formats; full size, high resolution JPEGS for printing and smaller size, low resolution JPEGS optimized for the web that clients can easily share on social media.

Next, lets take a look at two wedding photos in detail and see how I used post production processes in Lightroom to arrive at the polished, finished image from the original, in camera RAW file.

 

Helen and George at the Grange Hotel, York

 

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Left: Original, unprocessed shot. Right: Fully processed image.

 

  • As I said in the walk through of the Develop panel above, the first things I did here was set the camera calibration to “Portrait” and check the boxes for “Enable Profile Correction” and “Chromatic Aberration” in the Lens Correction section.
  • The next thing to deal with was the very obvious red colour cast that occurred from bouncing flash light off one of the dark, red walls in the Grange’s dining room. Why I chose to bounce the flash off a red wall and create this issue in the first place is something I talked about in a previous blog post on the use of flash in wedding photography. So removing the colour cast was done in the white balance section of the Basic panel, and was simply a matter of using the eye dropper to click on the whitest area of Helen’s dress. This told Lightroom what pure white was in the photo, information it could then use to give an accurate colour temperature for the picture, which automatically removed the colour cast. A very simple, one click operation.
  • Looking at the original image, the next issue to deal with is straightening and cropping the image. We want the picture frame to be vertical, not slanted. I can make this adjustment using the Angle tool in the Crop and Straighten section of the Basic panel. When I select this tool, and then click and drag along the length of the picture frame, I’m telling Lightroom what I want my vertical to be in the photo. This automatically rotates the picture the exact amount to give me the straight picture frame I was looking for. The next thing I did was to crop in slightly so that the intruding glasses and chair edge at the bottom, and the door frame on the left, were fully removed from the picture.
  • Next thing I did was adjust the exposure level in the Basic panel to increase the brightness of the image. I then decreased the highlights, boosted the whites a little, increased the blacks a lot, and boosted the shadows a little, to give me an overall exposure and level of contrast I was happy with.
  • Helen’s finger sticking out from behind her leg near the bottom of the frame looks a little bit inelegant, so I removed it using the Clone tool.
  • The flash has produced a slightly unflattering sheen on Helen’s forehead, nose and cheeks so I used the adjustment brush with a fully reduced Clarity (mid-tone contrast) setting to darken and smooth out her skin in those areas.
  • Next I slightly desaturated the red in the wall behind Helen which I found a little overpowering.
  • Finally, noise reduction and sharpening. The photo was shot with a moderately high ISO rating of a 1000, which had introduced a fair bit of noise into the photo, which needed to be taken out. Noise reduction produces a smoothing effect overall to the picture as inevitably detail is lost. However this can have a positive effect on the rendering of skin tones and can produce a flattering smoothness. The image was then sharpened with a high level of masking to protect the skin areas from artifacts and general coarsening.

 

Charlie and Vicki at Settrington House

 

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Original, unprocessed shot

 

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Fully processed image

 

Before getting into the step-by-step on this image, a few more words on presets, as one was used in this example. As I said before, a preset is a stored snapshot of Lightroom’s Develop module with it’s settings dialed in to produce a particular desired end result and featuring any available parameter. So using a preset you can take an image from it’s in-camera starting point to it’s sharpened end point in one click. Lightroom comes with it’s own presets, users can make their own and they can be downloaded from the internet for free or for a charge. The preset I used in this image comes from a South African wedding photographer I like a lot called Dror Eyal.

  • Applied Camera Profile, enabled Lens Profile and removed chromatic aberration.
  • Used the Crop tool to straighten the image. Unlike the previous picture, there was no straight, horizontal line that would allow me to use the Angle tool, so I had to eye ball it.
  • The image was too dark so I had to raise the exposure level. Which raised the perennial issue in wedding photography, which is getting the very bright wedding dress plus everything else exposed properly in the same shot. The camera’s sensor doesn’t have the dynamic range of the human eye, so if the dress is properly exposed, everything else will be underexposed. Another reason to shoot in RAW as this can be fairly easily fixed in post. With everything else properly exposed, by bringing the highlights slider right down I could bring back detail into the overexposed dress.  I also lightened the shadows and deepened the blacks.
  • Added the preset which gave the image it’s essential bright, slightly desaturated and yellow/green look.  Most of the parameters the preset tweaked were in the Colour Correction and Split Toning panels. It boosted the luminance (colour brightness) of the reds, yellows and oranges as well as decreasing the saturation of every colour except for green, but to differing degrees. Mostly cutting the cooler colours. Then in Split Toning, it added a  pale yellow/green to the highlights and a muddy, pale orange to the shadows.
  • Added sharpening. The image was shot in daylight at a low ISO, so there was very little noise in the image. Therefore no real noise reduction was necessary and it didn’t need the same level of sharpening as Helen and George’s shot.

That’s it for Part 1. Part 2 will follow shortly and will highlight more specific techniques plus examples.