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?