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Insights & Thoughts

Are You Making This Post-Processing Mistake?

By Brandon Perron on May 31st 2015

Some of the best lessons are learned the hard the way, especially in this profession. However, sometimes those lessons aren’t realized to be such, and consequently many aren’t able to learn from them. The lesson I want to discuss in this article is a mistake that I feel many photographers make when they are new in the business in regards to post-processing; specifically the impression that one must process every image to what they feel is the absolute best end result, with no consideration of the amount of time needlessly lost in doing so. I get it; it makes logical sense to show the client the absolute best images possible…so we follow that logic. I can assure it is not needed for many types of photography. Let’s delve into how many successful photographers show their clients initially, all while spending almost no time on the images.

To start, let’s talk images and the different stages of them. I feel this is very timely, as I see more and more discussions within the photography world filled with confusion and even some misguided sentiments. There are some very rough, but fairly recognized generalities of the different stages of post processing. These are not written in stone “rules” or categories, but we need some sort of reference point, and these are widely used, understood and accepted by most.


Post Processing: The “General” Categories

SOOC (straight out of camera) – I believe most know what this means, but just in case you don’t, SOOC means that the photo has ZERO manipulation done to it. Nada, zilch, nothing.

Proof – Very, very slight global corrections, usually done as batch adjustments; exposure, WB, slight color corrections, sharpening, etc. It is one of the great thing about the SLR Lounge preset system is that you can do this on import and actually add no additional work on your part, and improve the images enough, while adding your own “style” to them, so they are not just SOOC.

Retouched – This is where the tools come out in Photoshop or Lightroom; spot correction, dodging, burning, light skin softening, etc. Minor, minor stuff; I would say not more than 3-7 mins of time spent on any one image.

Full Edit – An extreme version of retouching; spending more time with tools, maybe cloning something out, dropping multiple layers on top of each other, swapping eyes, getting rid of bags under eyes, etc. I would say about 10-60 mins. (40+ being at the extreme end of things) per photo (depending on the extent of work that needs to be done).

Digital Manipulation – This is pretty much anything where the photo becomes more of a created piece of art, with much time spent on the image; maybe adding elements that did not exist in it before (composites very much fit into this category). 60+ mins on each photo with some taking hours and hours.

**Times are relative to someone’s skill within the program. The times I have listed are for someone who is very comfortable and proficient within the programs.**

The Rookie Mistake and Mentality

The biggest mistake that I see most new/inexperienced photographers make is the mentality and the insentient need to fully retouch every single one of their images. I think this stems from the desire to make sure everyone looks absolutely stellar for their clients. I think most feel that if they do not show EVERY photo in a fully retouched and refinished stage, the clients might be unhappy. I am going to let you in on a secret; if you let them know up front that the photos are only proof stage, and the ones that are purchased will be retouched, they won’t care. In all reality, they will completely understand that it is just not realistic to retouch hundreds of photos when most will never be purchased or make it past the proofing gallery.


Staying In ‘Retouch’ Realm

I have a sneaking suspicion that most will try to fully edit the images that are purchased, and from my experience, that is also a mistake. We need to live in the ‘retouch’ realm and not the ‘fully edited’ realm. It just doesn’t make financial sense to be fully retouching even purchased images. It just takes too much time. When you get to the point of being a very busy photographer, you more than likely won’t have enough time in the day to fully edit all the images that are being purchased. The ‘retouch’ realm is that happy medium between having some sanity in your life and offering a good product for your clients. Remember, they are not buying high dollar art, they are buying professional level quality prints with a bit of style to them. They want the memories that you have captured, the editing of the images comes very much 2nd to that.

Hatching a Plan For Minimizing Post Processing Times

  1. Let the “I must fully edit all images” mindset no longer be relevant. Understand that proof stage photos initially is very much acceptable.
  2. Figure out what slight global corrections you want to add to your images to add a bit of style to them, so they are not just SOOC.
  3. Spend some time boning up on import settings and how to automate them in LR/or Photoshop (see link at the end of this article to get you started).
  4. Put steps 1-3 together and thank me later for the countless hours you have gotten back.



I understand that this will be tough for some to get in the mindset of, but I assure you it will be better. Set the expectation up front with your clients, develop an import process that adds your style to the images, while creating no additional time spent on your part and upload them. After the first time, you will see what I am talking about. Your clients will be happy, and you will have more time to spend reading SLR Lounge articles.

To get a bit more in-depth on some batch processing in LR to cut down in your post processing time, go check out this oldie, but a goody – What is Batch Processing in LR?

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Brandon Perron is a wedding photographer, making a transition into a freelance automotive digital contributor/photographer, as well as setting up his own private gallery. In his words, he is an uber sarcastic gasoline loving gear head, lost amongst the hipster hyper Eco-friendly crowd of PDX and has a mouth that makes sailors blush. He likes to think of himself as a daily life commentator, where nothing is off limits to poke fun at.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. damian thompson

    Definitely something i will remember in future.

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  2. Scott Pacaldo

    Thanks for this eye-opener article.
    Please correct me if I’m wrong, that this is more useful for event-types gig like a wedding where the client can choose images to purchase. And that you don’t have to use this kind of workflow for every type of shooting you do. Like for me, I also do street photography, and each shot I like, I go full OC and process it as I see fit.

    Can anyone explain how a client ‘choose’ from the proofs? Do you upload it somewhere and let them mark the photo they want to purchase, then you retouch it, then deliver?
    Like, can you do the same through SLR Lounge’s Cloud Spot?

    Thank you!

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    • Brandon Perron

      Scott…i am glad you fond the article helpful. I appreciate you taking the time to read it.

      Yes, this is more gear toward event style of shooting when the client is choosing the ones they want. When you are choosing what to show the world, than it makes absolute sense to fully edit them from the go.

      Yes, i use an online proofing gallery, where clients choose the ones they want, orser right there and I get a notification, usually only retouch them, unless a full edit is warranted and I send them off to be printed.

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    • Hanssie

      I upload my images to Cloudspot and my clients favorite the ones they like. I am then able to retouch them and it goes through WHCC and straight to the client. It’s clean and simple and easy.

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  3. Thomas Horton

    Like many things in life: Just because you can, does not mean you should.

    It is tempting to use every slider/adjustment that the software gives you. Hey! I paid for all those sliders, I sure as hell will use ALL of them!! :)

    To me, post processing is like a woman wearing make up… if the first thing you notice is that the photograph has had post processing, you probably did it wrong. It is much better for the viewer to first notice how great the photograph is first… and then see the post processing that went into it if they look hard enough.

    I am sure we have all seen (and even produced) photographs where the first impression is “well, the photographer discovered the saturation slider, that’s evident”. :)

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    • Brandon Perron

      No one said use all the sliders on every photograph….?

      Also, it’s photography and it is all subjective and completely up to one’s personal preference of what they like to add to thier images…there can be no right or wrong.

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  4. Stan Rogers

    The only thing I’s argue with is the terminology. I’m stinkin’ old, and retouching was something I used to do either under a loupe (on a vibrating tight table) or on a huge print with #6-0 (or finer) brushes, needle-sharp pencils, a Paasche Turbo, frisket films, swivel knives, dyes, inks, paints and bleaches. It was the whole kit and kaboodle, and collages and comps were no more difficult than anything else in any meaningful sense — there was no CMD+Z or CTRL+Z — except when it came to rephotographing (avoiding edge shadows). Things like spotting, dodging and burning (with or without masks), etc., were done with the Photographer or Darkroom Tech hat on; retouching was that (perhaps) week-long *expensive* process that the hero image went through after most of the decisions were made. Still is, really — there’s no particular reason why an entire professional segment of this industry should change their job titles.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Stan, you are for sure old school and that is great…but whether you decide to change or not, things have changed and are in perpetual flux and always shifting or evolving. We live in a right now society, and most client’s expectations are very much rooted in that realm. So, many photographers need to adapt and be able to deliver on that.

      If you are a fine art photographer, then spending way more time on an image is a luxury you might have, but for photographers who make their living on a per hour sort of basis and are delivering hundreds of images on a weekly basis, aren’t really afforded the ability to spend a week on a photo.

      It also seems that you have a problem with how stuff is labeled…like I said, they are not set in stone, but they are widely used and accepted…

      I appreciate you taking the time.

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    • Stan Rogers

      I think you misunderstand me, Brandon — I agree with everything *except* the names of your last two categories. “Retouch” has a meaning in the industry, and there are people who specialize in that part of the trade. It more-or-less corresponds to what you’ve called “a full edit”.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Again not set in stone names…however, they are widely used and accepted by the vast majority, which is good enough for me. ;-)

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  5. barbara farley

    I am a new photographer and I have not found a workflow that, well… flows. I appreciate all these tips. It’s also encouraging to see that I’m not the only one who gives love to each image… as if it’s a child :)

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  6. Michael LaNasa

    This is definitely good advice. I’ve had to learn this over the years with weddings and fashion shoots, getting too wrapped up in perfecting each photo too early in the process, wasting hours upon hours of my time. I love editing, especially “the” shots that really shine, but the batch-import-process combined with narrowing things down from the proof level is so very useful.

    I do have to say that I still have a hard time passing any final images without giving each some serious personal attention though. Maybe that’s something I can (should) dial back on a bit, but the thought of an 80% finalized photo floating around out there makes me anxious. Maybe I’m just too OCD….

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    • Brandon Perron

      I am glad you appreciate the advice and agree.

      I am not big into fashion…so I do not know how it works, but ny proofs never go anywhere, they are only viewed. So they don’t “float” around anywhere, per say. If you are giving proofs out, maybe throw a lightend opacity proof marks on the image, so the image can still be seen, but prevent it ever going on beyond any sort of proof process.

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    • Michael LaNasa

      I see what you’re saying and that makes sense. I think the combination of spending less time with the proofs and polishing up my processing will make that easier too.

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  7. Anders Madsen

    I’ll be damned – an article where I fully agree with Brandon Perron? ;)

    Really good pointers about when to stick with a certain stage of edit – thanks.

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    • Brandon Perron

      The ground really feels much colder today, hell hath frozen over, huh? This can’t be Anders, we both have reputations to up hold…lol. ;-)

      All kidding aside…it is great to see we agree on something. I also, do appreciate you still reading my articles, even if you don’t think you’ll agree. Looks like I can surprise even the biggest critics. ;-)

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  8. Jon Penton

    Great wisdom. I needed to hear/read this. I spend so much time editing all the little details in each image, working to ensure consistency across the batch, while finding a few different flavors to bring variety throughout. This results in an embarrassing amount of time I cant bring myself to charge my clients for, they didn’t ask me to spend 30 minutes editing one photo, that was because of my lack of initial vision for the photo or set of photos! That certainly is not cost efficient. I will move forward, editing less and shooting more. Thank you for the wake up call. #balance

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    • Brandon Perron

      I agree heavy editing on images that clients haven’t paid for, shouldn’t be charged. It is a very hard habit to break and get on board with that sort of philosophy. Once you do…life will get much better. :-)

      I am glad this was useful and will help with improving your time management.

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  9. Christian Boecker

    Great reading, Brandon! I agree to this and came to exactly the same experience in my fotography journey.
    I am a dance sport photographer and always come back with hundrets of pictures from a tournament. I only do some minor retouch on the pictures, mostly with batch processing. When a picture is purchased, I do the full retouch to it.
    I think, if you shoot events on regular basis and have to show hundrets of pictures quickly to your customers, you will develop such a system/workflow on your own because you have to.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Exactly…if you only shoot an event or two here and there, it might not seem to be needed, but ince you get beyond that in terms of how busy you are, time begins to run out quickly…so fast proofing becomes important.

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  10. Chuck Eggen

    Great advice!

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  11. Dylan Martin

    This was helpful. I have been unsure how much to put into a proof and I found it difficult to find something that went to a bit more depth. It would be great if you could do an article that talks more about what proofing is and the process in a digital age.

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    • Brandon Perron

      Could you elaborate a bit more in what you might be looking for?

      I am glad this was helpful.

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  12. Dustin Baugh

    I really don’t like online or purchased presets. I see it as the post processing version of shooting in Auto and letting the camera (computer) make all editing decisions that may not be tailored to the image.

    But I have noticed there are some edits I make on all images from a specific camera due to it’s own peculiarities that work great for importing images as proofs. I think people should be hands on for a few thousand pictures till the learn those specific edits they do every time then make their own preset to give them a baseline proof to start with.

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    • Brandon Perron

      I completely disagree…just because someone makes preset, doesn’t mean anything. While I am sure you think your set of “edits” are original i am sure they actually aren’t, there are very few things left in this world, that are truly original. Hell, even physics theories thought to be original have been show through out history to not be.

      I think you have missed the point of proofing…

      Also, the presets can give you a baseline and ne mixed with others and asjusted to make them unique to one’s self.

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    • J D

      I use the SLR Lounge presets. The best part is that if it doesn’t work for the image then you don’t have to use it. I use the presets about 70% of the time and adjust the sliders a little here or there. Other times I want complete control of the editing and I do it all from scratch with no help from the presets. I’ve found them to be very helpful over the years.

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    • Graham Curran

      There are AUTO options in LR and PS, the myriad of presets available makes it the antithesis of auto. You need to know what effect you want to produce to use the correct one but I agree that you need to incorporate your own style and workflow.

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    • Brandon Perron

      JD – exactly…they don’t have to be used on every image and they can be manipulated to fit onspecific needs.

      Graham – It is all about one’s style…and that does take some time, but once you figure that out you can do the very basic things you normally do and are throughout most of your images and be done with that stage and save tons of time.

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