Wedding Photography 101 by Antony Hands
Lesson 6 - Processing, presentation and post-wedding review
So the day is over! You have photographed the wedding and now you are left with all of the RAW files to process and review, before delivering the final product to the bride and groom. I bet you thought most of the work was over! Well, perhaps it would have been in the days of film, but nowadays that is not the case.
After shooting a wedding I normally have between 600 and 900 frames to review, process and cull. The procedure I use is as follows.
Step 1 - Backup RAW files
Immediately after getting home from the wedding I will download all of the images taken to my hard drive. Due to the slow transfer speed of most cameras I use a card reader to perform this task. These can normally download images much faster than directly from the camera, and are quite inexpensive. If you don’t have one I highly recommend investing in one.
Once the images are downloaded to the computer I immediately back up the images to an external hard drive and burn DVDs of the images. The DVDs are then stored off-site. That is probably an extreme precaution, but the important thing to ensure is that you have the key data stored in at least two places.
I recently acquired an Epson P-5000 to enhance my capacity to manage this process, as it enables me to back-up during the day, for additional protection. The Epson P-5000 is a portable storage system with a 4 inch screen and an 80GB hard drive that downloads and displays both RAW files and JPEGs. While I don’t feel that this is absolutely necessary on the day, if you have a similar device consider taking it along to provide additional protection.
Step 2 - Process the images
Shooting in RAW provides great benefits to the inexperienced photographer, and in fact to any wedding photographer. Firstly, it means that you don’t need to worry about white balance during the day. When you are rushing around trying to photograph a wedding you really don’t want to be worrying about white balance as well. Shooting RAW means you can adjust this later, and will help you get a consistent white balance from shot to shot. Secondly, and importantly, you can adjust brightness and contrast in a much more effective manner than doing it later with JPEGs. It is VERY easy to underexpose shots when you are rushing around on the day, and as a first timer you are likely to forget to use exposure compensation (‘EC’) to adjust for some situations where your camera won’t meter well. By shooting RAW I can often pull up a shot that is underexposed by up to 1.5 stops without any noticeable impact in terms of noise etc. (particularly at lower ISOs). This is not an excuse not to use EC in the first place, it is just a way to save a shot that otherwise is too dark or too light.
Shooting in RAW does, however, mean that you have a task ahead of you after finishing the day. The process of optimising the images takes me approximately 3-4 hours after the wedding, depending on the number of shots taken. I use a professional program called “Capture One” to process my images, but every camera manufacturer provides a program with their digital SLRs that will enable you to process the images satisfactorily. The professional programs are designed for optimising workflow processes, and as a result can often be faster than the programs provided by the camera manufacturers, but don’t worry, you will get there in the end. Additionally, there are image processing forums on virtually every photography related forum site which can provide advice and point you in the right direction.
One hint I have with respect to processing images is to err on the side of warmer images. When I started and moved to a color-calibrated monitor I was able for the first time to get white balance exactly correct on my prints and screen. What I found is that even though I might have had the colour temperature technically correct, couples often felt that the images were cold. I now prepare all of my shots with a touch more warmth, not enough so they look wrong, but just enough to give them an inviting feel. Naturally if I later decide I want to go back to the original it is as easy as pulling up my RAW and making a minor change.
Speaking of colour calibration, the monitor you are using right now, if not specifically color calibrated, can often be quite off, resulting in electronic images that look different when viewed on a different computer, and prints that look different to the way the images appear on your screen. The process of color calibration can be expensive and certainly deserves another article, rather than being covered here. That said, if you are going to be presenting prints to the bride and groom it is worthwhile taking say 10 images to the lab and checking how they come out before processing the whole lot! If your screen is significantly off you will need to try to correct it before providing the finished products to the bride and groom.
That reminds me. If you are providing prints to the bride and groom I strongly recommend having them prepared by a professional rather than printing them at home. This way you will ensure that the prints have a longer life. Additionally, it is cheaper in the long run given the number of images you will be providing.
Step 3 - Cull the images
I know how hard it can be to cull images before presenting them to the bride and groom. After all we are all proud of our work, and can find it hard to criticise it impartially. On the other hand, giving a couple 800 pictures including obvious errors and duplicate shots etc. is expensive, and won’t help you look like a good photographer.
Here is what I do. First of all, I run through the images taken and I delete any where the focus is off or I have made an obvious error, except where that image is a particularly important one. After all a slightly blurry picture of the first kiss is better than no picture at all. Next, I review pictures that are very similar. I often will take two or three shots of the one pose that are virtually identical to ensure I have focus spot on etc. If so, I will pick the best of the shots and delete the others. The only time I do not consider deleting shots is for the group formal pictures. These I always provide all of to the couple. I then consider photographs where for whatever reason the bride or groom look bad. This may be due to an unflattering pose, or a strange expression on the face. In these circumstances I consider if there are sufficient photos that are relatively similar to enable me to delete the shots. Finally, I review the candids taken on the day and pull out shots with no merit (ie. backs of peoples’ heads etc.).
What I am left with is shots that are of a good quality, show the couple off to their best, and provide a full and complete coverage of the day. These are the shots I will give to the bride and groom.
If you are concerned about not giving them everything, don’t be. You are the photographer, these are your photos, they reflect upon your competence and ability. As long as you provide a full and complete coverage the bride and groom don’t need to see the stuff-ups.
Step 4 - Presentation
If you agree to do a complimentary wedding shoot for good friends try to ensure that you present the couple with something nice. Don't just deliver them a DVD in a paper envelope with "wedding photos" printed on the front. This is just not appropriate if it comprises your wedding gift. For presentation you may consider the following.
If you provide 6x4s of the images taken to the couple, make sure they are professionally printed and on good quality paper. I use my pro lab for this, which costs much more than a similar consumer lab, but any good consumer lab will do. The cost of getting 400 or so images printed is not to be taken for granted, so bear this in mind if you are proposing to do this for the couple. You do not want to cull images just to save a few bucks.
You might consider placing the images in a presentation box, together with a DVD that contains full sized images, plus folders with image versions resized email. No-one wants to get an email containing four or five 12MP JPEGs, so make it easy on the couple by providing email sized images for them to send around. This can be done easily by setting up an action in Photoshop, and then using the “Automate” function to process the whole lot quickly and easily.
I recommend that you also include a handwritten card thanking them for the opportunity to be a part of their day, and recommending that they back-up the DVD to their hard drive, and make an extra copy and put it in a safe place.
Step 5 - Post wedding review
It is important that after the wedding you take the time to reflect on what went well, or poorly on the big day. Have a think about what you could have done better, and what you need to practice better for next time. Critically review your coverage and determine if there were any areas which were underdone, and deserved more shots. Review the poses you set-up for the couple and assess if they could have been improved. Importantly, look at every shot you took that was poor, either through focus, camera settings, camera shake etc and determine what was the cause. Check the metadata on the files to help get to the bottom of why the shots went wrong. These are the shots you need extra practice on before you shoot your next wedding.
Thanks for reading my series on “How to shoot a wedding”. I hope you got a bit out of it, and if you are ever called upon to perform the service for a friend or family member that it will help you perform well and capture all of their precious moments.
About the author
Antony Hands is an experienced professional wedding photographer . He is the principal of Chasing Summer Photography, a studio which specialises in wedding photography and fun stop motion wedding films and services the surrounding districts including Tamworth, Armidale, Port Macquarie, Kempsey, Nambucca Heads, Grafton and as far North as Ballina.