How I Edit: Making a Photo, not Taking a Photo
I love my cameras. Like literally LOVE them. I even kiss them now and then. They amaze me every single time I use them. They can freeze flying objects in mid air with pin sharp precision. They can magic light into a room without even using flash. They can blur a half eaten pot of hummus into a beautiful bokeh that perfectly frames a bride’s face being painted. I am in constant, total awe at how on earth they have been designed and made – by people far, far cleverer than I. And yet, there’s something important they still can’t do. My cameras can’t feel.
Used in the right way, a good camera can capture a scene in near perfect replica. Getting your camera to do this is a key skill set for any photographer to master. Intuitively knowing exactly what settings to use in a split second takes years to learn and can always been improved. Of course even spotting the scene in the first place is a talent – in the blink of an eye emotions will change and the moment will pass.
Getting that shot is a big part of success, but for me, as a rule of thumb, I’d say it only gets me halfway there. The rest of the process happens back in the studio, in front of the computer screen. The pretentiousness of saying this makes me cringe, but 27” of Mac is the easel of this digital photographer.
There are basic things that I’ll do to most shots – straighten lines, crop to further improve composition….slightly tweaking exposure and highlights. This is like preparing the canvas – necessary groundwork, but not the most exciting bit. It’s after this that the fun really starts. I set about, using all I know, to finish creating the image that I had in mind when I pressed the button.
Imagine a shot of a bride walking down the aisle to meet her future husband. I’m pretty sure the groom waiting at the other end didn’t take in that scene and think, partway through, “oh look, there’s a large air conditioning unit on the wall just there”. Well, I don’t want him to think that when he looks at the photo either. So I’ll carefully remove it and ensure the focus is on her excited, nervous face and her barely-stifled tears. The same applies for all those detail shots – flowers, dewdrops, jewellery. Again, all of these can be altered – elements brightened, details sharpened, colours deepened. I’m purposefully avoiding saying “improved”, because that would imply I am giving some false sense of reality. My intention is to actually to achieve the exact opposite.
I aim to recreate what the people who love the subject see. It is hugely important to me that my work stays authentic. I tell the story truthfully, but I’ll compose and edit in a way that gives more focus to bright eyes, rosy cheeks and wild hair than to snotty noses and ill-timed spots. Post-capture alterations to people’s appearance is, quite rightly, an area fraught with contention. Of course I constantly get asked to “take a couple of stone off me” “get rid of three of my chins” or “smooth the sh*t out of my face”. The pressure is more real than ever in a world where we all have access to amazingly effective filters on our phones. So, how do I decide how far to take things? For me it has been a skill learnt in time, through seeking feedback and developing a style that I am happy with in that moment. I also take my lead from the choices a couple have already made. A blemish they’ve asked a make-up artist to cover up is permission to me to zap it out if it became more noticeable throughout the day.
For me, post-processing isn’t about creating a false sense of reality through enhancement, or “improving” what’s there. It’s about replicating the reality that was, as close as I possibly can, with heart as much as mind. This is why I can’t ever imagine outsourcing any of my editing process to someone who quite simply wasn’t there.
Whether it’s the shiny eyes and crumpled face of a grandpa or the soft drape of carefully sewn fabric, I’ll use layers, brushes, textures and tools to sharpen, mute,brighten, and even to paint colours onto the raw image until it’s just the way I remember it being.
I was there when it happened. I pressed the button. I remember how the fabric gently fell and how the light through the window hit it. It was me that got wet knees when I crouched down to see the sunlight shine through the frosty grass. I held my breath along with the rest of the room when the father of the bride struggled to speak through his tears. It’s my job to take you to back to those places and those emotions, every time you look at one of my photos. My super technical cameras and arty-farty me are a flipping good team.
To find out more about why I never share all the unedited files from your wedding view this reel here.