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This is exactly how I process every wedding that I photograph. I am now on my fifth year of shooting weddings and have shot roughly 70 of them. I am a big fan of working smart and not hard. Every step of my workflow is thought out, and belongs for very specific reasons. Most of the time I am finishing and delivering my wedding photos within four to five days. If it wasn’t for attention span and the internet, I should be able to finish wedding photographs in 24 hours every time.
I first import all images (1500-2000) via Lightroom into a folder (titled bride’s name and groom’s name, in alphabetical order) on my 1TB portable Lacie Porsche drive.
I work on the go a lot, and I am often editing in a coffee shop, friend’s place or co-working space, so I have my 13 inch Macbook Pro (retina display) and portable drive to work from. The drive currently holds about six months of images, or 80,000 photos.
I have a big gripe about people who organize their photos by date. In my opinion, it’s a terrible system when it comes to finding photos at a later date. When your bride Tiffany asks for a change in a photo from color to black and white, how do you find that folder with her wedding? On my drive it would be under “Weddings,” and in a subfolder titled “Jeremy & Tiffany.”
While my images are uploading I will be posting a Facebook album of the same day slideshow that I produced at the wedding, and tagging the bride and groom in it. This is usually 30-50 images that I’ve edited during dinner or during any sort of down time, like the end of cocktail hour.
Note: This means I have already added the bride and/or groom on Facebook, which is standard practice for me. Being friends with my clients is probably one of the greatest perks of my job, and it also guarantees tons of referrals. I have a competitive side that always wants to post the pictures faster and better than any friend, uncle or cousin at the wedding. Whoever posts first on Facebook will get the most attention.
I then plug in my backup 3TB drive, go to sleep and let my computer backup via Time Machine overnight.
Losing photos is the greatest fear of most photographers, and for that reason alone many professionals have multiple backup systems in place. I don’t usually format my memory cards until the wedding has been delivered or backed up, if I can help it. I also use Backblaze, a cloud-based backup system that constantly backs up files whenever I am online.
In Lightroom I go through all 1500-2000 photos and select every photo that looks good, unique, and usable. I use the star rating system in Lightroom, by pressing the “1” key on the photos I like. I usually end up with about 800 photos after this. If you focus and know what you are looking for, this should only take about 30 minutes to an hour, maximum. No agonizing over which photo is best between two very similar ones. Just trust your gut and go.
One “trick” I’ve unconsciously been doing is usually selecting the last photo in a series of similar photos. If you’re like me, you take two or three photos of each thing you are photographing. I move on when I think I’ve got it, and that means the second or third photo in a series should be my selection.
Next I go through and do my two-star selects. These are the best photos from the day that tell a clear story from beginning to end. They are images that would likely end up in a photo album (besides family photos). I almost always end up with 100 photos, give or take a few. This should take about 10-15 minutes, since you are selecting from a much narrower field of photos. Also, you really have to trust your gut on which photos are winners here.
After I’ve selected my favorites, I edit them first. I actually enjoy editing these ones, because I am proudest of them, and they are all different. I edit everything in Lightroom. I never open photoshop unless I’m making a diptych or doing heavy changes to a photo. Sometimes I start with a base preset in Lightroom, one I called “Typical Phil.” I hand edit all of these photos. This should take about an hour or two tops. These are then exported at 2500px, 300dpi, 88 quality, (and also renamed Highlights-0001.jpg, Highlights-0002.jpg, etc.), into a folder called Highlights which has been created inside the the main folder of images. I upload the Highlights into a PASS gallery, and deliver this immediately, so the clients don’t have to wait any longer to see some of their wedding images.
Never spend more than 30 seconds on a photo. If you do, you are editing for yourself and other photographers, not the client. Most clients won’t be able to tell the difference between good, great, and perfect. Aim for great.
My export settings make each of my images only about one or two megabytes in size, but they are able to be printed up to 11×14″. Anything larger and I’m happy to provide a specific file to my client directly. I do this in the interest of hard drive and cloud storage space. Also, clients are usually only printing at most one or two photos extra large, so I don’t see the need to make every photo 30 inches on the long edge.
PASS is a phenomenal application that is incredibly intuitive and easy to use for delivering digital photos to clients. Pixieset is another popular competitor. PASS charges per album of photos; Pixieset charges for bandwith/storage.
This next part is the secret to my rapid editing and turnaround of images. Take each of the favorite images that you’ve edited (two-star images), and copy each edit onto surrounding photos with a similar light source. If your exposure is consistent in this range of photos, the edit you do for one image should look great for every other image in that scene. This should take about two hours straight through.
Here is a Lightroom secret to make the copying and deselecting of images extra fast. With your main image selected, hold down Command and select all the other images you want to copy the edit to. In Develop mode, hold down the option key and press sync. This automatically copies the edit onto all the other photos (to make sure you are copying the appropriate edits across all photos, you can simply press sync and a dialogue box will pop up showing which edits are going to be copied).
Now that the edits are synced, you can deselect each image and check for consistency by pressing “/” which is the shortcut for deselecting the current image. I do this to make sure I’ve seen and checked each image for perfect exposure.
Remember, you’re not retouching every face, every sky, every element of a picture. You can spend a little more time doing that on the favorites, but chances are your couple isn’t going to be printing every single photo from their wedding, so why are you retouching random shots from the reception?
Export all images from each section of the wedding into their own folders. Folders and images can be named according to which part of the wedding they belong to (Getting Ready or Pre-Ceremony, Ceremony, Family, etc.). These can all be exported with these settings: 88 Quality, 2500 px long edge, 300dpi. This should take about ten minutes to start doing, and maybe an hour for the computer to finish (depending on number of images and your computer’s power and speed).
Upload all your files to your photo sharing service of choice (PASS, Pixieset, Zenfolio, Pixifi, etc.). Ideally, the first gallery that a viewer will see is the Favorites, or Highlights gallery. No need to overwhelm them with every photo from the Getting Ready series. Your top 50-100 photos makes for an excellent opener in an online wedding gallery, like this.
That should take about 10-30 minutes (up to an hour or so), depending on how fast your internet connection is.
Email the bride/groom the following:
“Hi! How is everything going? I know I said it would be a couple of weeks until the photos are finished, but I have good news for you! I’ve finished and edited ALL the photos and they are ready for you to see and download in this gallery here.
Simply click on the download button to create a zip file with all of the high resolution images to your computer. This will save you time having to wait for me to mail you a disk or thumb drive, which would have all the exact same files in it.
As a special surprise, I am gifting you $50 of print credit! Simply put in “bridegroomname” in the checkout section of ordering prints under coupon code. This should buy you up to X amount of 8×10’s, or X amount of 5×7’s.
Let me know if you have any questions about anything! Enjoy the photos 🙂
I recognize this doesn’t involve an in-person sales meeting, delivery of albums, or anything of that nature. This is simply the fastest way you can do business and work smart, not hard. I regularly book weddings between $3000-4000 doing exactly this. I have sold wedding albums, and that’s room for more profit, but also more headache and work. Write to me and I’ll let you know how to make album making a painless, quick process as well. It’s all about guiding your clients’ expectations.
Do you have any other workflow tips for weddings?