“Can’t you just Photoshop it?” We get this question at least once per wedding. Maybe it’s an overcast day. Or there are construction cranes in the skyline. Or the ring bearer’s face is red and puffy from crying. One time, a bold groomsman asked if I could “copy and paste” him into the photos later on because he simply didn’t feel like sticking around for the wedding party portraits. Regardless of the perceived problem, the proposed solution is always the same: “Photoshop it!” But how much can/should wedding photographers Photoshop wedding photos?
The answer depends on many different factors.
Photoshop: Facts vs. Fiction
Photoshop is a powerful tool, but it isn’t magic. Despite what iPhone commercials would have you believe, removing, adding or transforming elements of a digital photograph does not, in fact, happen with the click of a button. It takes a lot of time and hard work to manipulate images to the nth degree (if you want it to look good, that is.)
Graphic designers spend their whole lives perfecting their Photoshop skills. Professional photographers spend their whole lives perfecting their photography skills. This means equipment and exposure; lighting and composition; posing and shooting candidly. You hire a wedding photographer because they make art with a camera, not a computer program. And even if your photographer is a Photoshop wiz, the finished product always looks better if it was done right at the time of capture.
“But you do edit the photos, right?”
Great question. Yes. Yes, we do.
Confused yet? I can’t blame you.
Photoshop Wedding Photos: Editing vs. Retouching
Photo editing is a blanket term that refers to an array of correction and enhancement tools, such as cropping, color balance, contrast, sharpening, etc.
Here are a few examples of photos before and after basic editing.
Photo retouching is a far more specialized form of editing that’s most commonly utilized in the world of fashion and portrait photography. Retouching involves removing imperfections from and softening skin (also known as “airbrushing”), brightening eyes, whitening teeth, “tummy tucking,” etc.
I’m not a fashion photographer, so I don’t have any “before and afters” to share. But we’ve all seen posts online about popular magazines and websites Photoshoppping the bejeezus out of their models and, in turn, creating unrealistic standards of beauty. This is retouching in a nutshell.
So when your grandmother asks if I can “make her look like Elizabeth Taylor,” the answer is no. Not only because this isn’t the type of work I do, but also because your grandmother is beautiful the way she is, damn it!
Wedding photographers deliver hundreds of images for each wedding and there just isn’t enough time to do that kind of work every week. And even if there was, it wouldn’t be an accurate representation of your wedding day. It would be fake. Years from now, you’re going to want to look back at your wedding photos and remember your day for the way it was. Imperfect, maybe. But that’s okay. It’s your wedding’s eccentricities that will make it unique.
Photoshop | Editing Style
I need to point out here that editing style varies widely among wedding photographers.
Heck, some photographers specialize in retouching, whether they do it themselves or outsource it to a third party company.
Some photographers don’t edit their images at all. This is called “shoot and burn,” which means they shoot a wedding, “burn” the images to a disc (or upload to a USB drive or “the cloud” because this is the 21st century) and call it good.
Some photographers specialize in black and white edits, which, when shooting digitally, is done in post production.
Others use filters that look like they came straight off of Instagram, strong vignettes, selective blurring and softening, etc. Some photographers use these processes to salvage a photo that wasn’t quite perfect on camera, while some use them because that’s their style. This is why it’s absolutely essential to look through a ton of portfolios and hire a photographer whose work really speaks to you.
Our style here at J. La Plante Photo could most aptly be described as “hyperrealism” or “photorealism” (both painting terms), meaning we simply enhance the elements of the photograph that were already in place when the image was captured. The final product is a slightly heightened version of reality, not a complete metamorphosis of reality.
We do this by adjusting color balance, tweaking contrast, boosting saturation and/or vibrance, sharpening, brightening or darkening certain areas of the image (referred to as “burning and dodging” in the film days), cropping, etc.
To reiterate, the vast majority of what we do is accomplished in-camera with lighting, exposure and composition. Our editing style just makes the work a little bit better.
Here are a few more examples:
Photoshop Wedding Photos | Conclusion
So what’s the moral of this story?
If you don’t want your tattoos to show in your wedding photos, you should probably wear a dress that covers them up. If your groom spills red wine on his shirt during dinner, he should probably go change his shirt. If you have Jimmy Johns wrappers and Starbucks cups scattered about your hotel room when you’re getting ready, you’re probably going to have Jimmy Johns wrappers and Starbucks cups in your photos.
Don’t assume that your photographer can “just Photoshop it.” There aren’t enough hours in the day. And this person isn’t a magician. Unless, of course, you hired a magician to shoot your wedding, which would be pretty f*cking cool. In theory, at least.