You may have spent months planning a wedding with your client. After countless emails, meetings, and the actual wedding day itself; it’s time for the lengthiest part of your work to begin, the post-processing. Your wedding photography workflow is the part of the job that clients never see (and most never think about) after the event is over. Post-processing for digital photography starts from the moment you return to your home or office up until the clients receive their final images.
Wedding photography workflow
Every photographer has their own speed and style to post-processing and most will have their own aesthetic or editing programs they prefer to use. However, after owning a busy wedding photography studio for the past five years, I have created an efficient workflow that works well, while giving images a personal aesthetic. In this article you’ll find what to do after the wedding day is over, to delivering the final product to your clients using an efficient workflow.
Step 1: Back Up
You may have been shooting for eight or more hours, but when you get home, don’t crawl in that sweet, comfy bed just yet – your night isn’t over. It’s imperative that you back your client’s images up in several places as soon as possible. Not only did your client pay a lot of money for your time and expertise, but for the safety of their images as well. Until their images are backed up safely in several locations, no naps allowed! Don’t learn the hard way, back those things up.
Part one – download
On your computer, create a folder with the client’s name, and a sub-folder called “RAWS” (assuming you shoot in RAW, which you should. More on that later). You will need to copy the images from all of your memory cards into the new “RAWS” folder on your computer.
Note: RAW files are huge, s,o you will probably need to upgrade the amount of storage space on your computer, and get some more RAM while you’re at it to run your computer programs efficiently. If you’re using a Mac, make sure your computer is scheduled to back up using Time Machine as well.
Part two – make a copy
After all the files are on your computer, back them up again to a client folder on an external hard drive. When not in use, the external hard drive should be kept securely in a place like a fireproof safe. Some photographers back up on more than one external hard drive.
Part three – backup online
Lastly, when you don’t think you can stay awake another second, you need to start your RAW file back up to an online or cloud location. I use Zenfolio for my RAW storage, although there are other storage sites available. The good news? You can go to sleep while the files upload overnight (and maybe the next few days if you have a slower internet connection).
Step 2: Importing and Culling
The most exciting part of your job – not!
I’m going to be honest here, culling, or going through every image you took of a wedding, rating them, and deciding which to keep and which to trash, is the most tedious, eye-bleeding part of your job. This is why it’s not a good idea to “spray and pray” throughout a wedding day with your cameras. The more selective you are with the photos you take, the faster your post-wedding workflow will be. Alternatively, there are companies you can use to cull your images for you if that is within your budget.
In Lightroom, create a new Lightroom catalog for your client in their client folder: File>New Catalog. Then import your RAW files from the client folder you created while in the Library module.
Once all the images are imported, make sure all cameras are set to the correct time, and do a “sort by capture time” so everything from the wedding day on all cameras is in chronological order.
Next, start to cull your photos by lens. I have found this is the quickest way to make a decision on which images to keep. You can do this in the Library Module, going to Metadata (or hitting the / key), and selecting the lens you want to cull (see below). Rate your images on what to keep (hit P for picks or keepers) and what to toss (hit X for rejects). Repeat your rating process with each lens, and after they are finished filter by “all lenses” in the Library module to see the images all together. From there, do a second (or third) round of culling in the Library module until you have your final number.
For the step above, you’ll need to choose a rating system that works well for you. My rating system is 1 stars are rejects, 2 stars are keepers, and 3 stars are keepers that need Photoshop retouching. I often find that if I took a series of photos at once (like I do for the family formals to ensure no eye blinks) the last ones in the set are usually the best, so I will look at those images first for my 2-star keepers.
Step 3: Basic Edits
This is where the magic happens!
You have your final number of culled images, and can now begin your basic Lightroom edits. This is where your cropping, straightening, and adjustments for exposure, contrast, shadow, highlights, etc., come into play. This part is very personal to each photographer and this is where your style begins to emerge. This is also why shooting in RAW is so important, as you will have greater flexibility in editing as compared to a JPG. Many photographers may stop after this step, and that’s A-Okay if you’re happy with your result! However, if you want to push your images further – there are a few more steps involved.
Quick tip! If you have a series of photos in the same lighting situation taken with the same camera, edit the first photo in the set, select the rest of the photos that match, then hit the “Sync” button to apply your edit to all of the photos in that set at once.
Step 4: Polishing
Making your images sparkle using Alien Skin or Presets.
Many photographers may polish their images (a.k.a. color tone) with a chosen preset after the basic edits are done. You can buy Lightroom presets from a plethora of sources online or create your own. I found the Alien Skin program years ago and fell in love. For me, Alien Skin gives me the pop, sharpness, and great skin tones that I absolutely adore. It also has beautiful lens flares and light leaks that I use for enhancing natural sunlight. If you choose to try Alien Skin, see the steps below, otherwise skip to Step 5.
- Choose your favorite images (or all of them) to put through Alien Skin by selecting them in Lightroom, right-clicking and choosing “Edit in Alien Skin” (once the program is installed, this will be an option).
- You can create your own presets in Alien Skin for a faster workflow and a likely favorite will emerge. Select your most used preset and apply to all. Then deselect all.
- Go through each photo individually, and make sure that’s the Alien Skin preset you want to use and see what tweaks are needed for each image.
- When you’re finished, click save and your images will automatically import back into Lightroom (as copies) with the filters applied. Hit the 1 key, to discard the originals that you’re not going to use. (Occasionally, I end up liking my Lightroom edit better than my Alien Skin edit, so it’s nice to compare them side-by-side).
Step 5: Photoshop – Retouching Your Images
Now that your images have all your basic edits and color toning, select the images that need to be retouched with Photoshop by filtering for the 3-star rated images. Retouching can include editing out acne, stray hairs, doing head swaps or editing out any distracting objects in the image. On a Mac, you can hit command+E (Window is Control+E) in Lightroom to open your image in Photoshop. After retouching is complete, you can select CMD/CTRL+S (or File>Save) to return your retouched image to Lightroom.
Step 6: Black and White Images
This is the quickest part of my post-production and one my favorites, as well, because I love black and white images so much. Many wedding photographers provide a mix of color and black and white photos, with the color versions of each black and white as well. This where Alien Skin comes into play again. Not only are the black and white filters so dreamy, but they automatically make a copy for you, making your job really easy.
- In Lightroom, select the images you want to be in black and white by using CMD/CTRL+click to individually select them.
- Right-click and select “Edit in Alien Skin”. From there, all the selected images are uploaded to Alien Skin.
- It’s easiest if you already have a black and white preset that you love saved, and apply that to all images, then deselect all. Go through each image individually using the color sliders (especially the reds and yellows) to edit and ensure each black and white image is perfect.
- Save all black and white images back to Lightroom where the edited color version and the edited black and white version will be side by side.
Black and white images can also be made in Lightroom by creating a virtual copy, Photo>Create Virtual Copy (or CMD/CTRL+’). Then select “Black and White’ in your Basic Edits box, and adjust the color sliders until they’re perfect.
Step 7: Exporting. The Home Stretch!
Hooray! All of your images have been backed-up, culled, edited, polished, retouched, and you have your black and white copies. Now you just need to export the final versions to your client’s folder on your computer (I create a folder called “Edited:).
Select all of your completed images in Lightroom, go to File>Export. Choose your file location, file name (I have mine set to custom name and sequence), file settings (Mine is set to jpeg, sRGB, quality 100), and then select export when you are finished.
Step 8: Importing to an Online Client Gallery
Once all of your high-resolution JPGs are exported to the Edited client folder on your computer, you can then upload to the online gallery of your choice. Some online galleries allow you to upload your high-res JPGs directly from Lightroom using a plug-in, letting you skip a step in the process. I use Pixieset for my galleries, as I like the modern look, ease of use, and their customer service.
Step 9: At Long Last…
After you upload your images to an online gallery, copy your final edits to your external hard drive in their client folder. Once your edited files are safely online and on an external hard drive, you can delete the RAW files from your computer, because they take up a lot of space and you already have them safely backed up online and to an external hard drive (or two). If you ever want to use that Lightroom catalog again, it’s easy to sync the RAW files on your external hard drive with the Lightroom catalog that’s stored on your computer. I like to leave the edited JPGs on my computer for easy access.
This entire workflow process time will vary for every photographer. For me, I need 4-5 full days of nearly uninterrupted work. As you know, photographers are humans too. With life and other weddings/shoots in between – delivery time can take weeks or months after the event, depending on how busy your season is, how many photos you have, and how much retouching is required. You may need to mail prints, albums, USB drives, etc., as well, so keep that in mind for your total post-production time.
With a lot of practice and knowing your style, you’ll see your post-processing time get shorter and shorter. If you’re lucky enough to find a post-processing company that fits your style and budget, you’ll have extra time in life for the things you love, like photography. Until then, get to work!