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Tips & Tricks

Powerful Post Production For Greatest Impact — Be Your Own Art Director Part 3

By Tanya Goodall Smith on January 25th 2016

This is part three in my Be Your Own Art Director Series. If you haven’t already, first, read part one, 6 Steps to Planning a Photo Shoot and part two, 6 Tips to Executing Your Planned Photo Shoot.

Woo hoo! You’ve completed your planned photo shoot, and everything went well. Now, how do you complete your shoot in post production with the critical eye of an art director? The images aren’t complete until they’ve been developed. How do you move into the post-production phase in a powerful and intentional way? Here are my tips for polishing off your shoot in post-production for the greatest impact for your clients and your own portfolio.

Culling

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The first step, after uploading your images, is to cull them. This can be quick and painless or time-consuming and procrastination-inducing if you don’t have a system in place and a standard by which to judge your images. Culling is one of my favorite parts of the photography process because I love seeing the shots I totally nailed and surprise successes from my shoots. I even love seeing what didn’t work so I can learn from it for next time.

I personally cull my images in Adobe Lightroom. It’s so fast and easy. I use a star rating system to narrow down which images to keep and present to my client by making multiple passes through the gallery. I mark any images that are good enough to keep with one star. Then, at the end of that pass, if my image count is way too large, I make another pass using the Compare feature and start to get brutally honest with myself about which images to keep and which to reject. I’ll mark those I want to present to my client with a two, etc. Those I really love and want to put in my portfolio I’ll mark with a 5. After the images are delivered, those that do not have any stars are deleted.

There are several different ways to rate your images in Lightroom, and you can choose the method that works best for you. The star rating system has worked well for me, but it can be a little subjective and confusing. I’ve been considering using the pick/reject flagging system Pye teaches in this video segment from our SLR Lounge Lightroom Workshop.

I especially like the keyboard shortcuts in this method, P for Pick, U for Unselect, X for Reject. It’s easy to remember and replicate if you hire someone to do your culling for you. I also like the fact that the rejected images gray out in the thumbnail gallery, which makes it easier to tell which images you don’t need to bother with editing.

Which method of culling do you prefer?

A note on critique

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The next article in this series will focus exclusively on critiquing your images and how to learn to be your best critic. Critiquing one’s work is a learned skill and evolutionary process. If you want your work to improve, you must evaluate it and be open to change. As you learn to do so, you’ll become more proficient in culling your work subjectively and effectively. We’ll focus on that in detail in the next article, but for basic culling purposes, here are a list of some things I consider when rejecting photos.

  • Out of focus
  • Awkward expression, pose, etc.
  • Awful lighting
  • Poor composition
  • Limbs, appendages cut off
  • Just don’t like it
  • Multiples of similar shot

Editing

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After you’ve culled your images down with whatever process works best for you, the fun part begins! Editing can make or break your work, especially if you’re shooting in a RAW format, which I highly recommend (read more about why here: RAW VS JPEG (JPG) – THE ULTIMATE VISUAL GUIDE).  Editing can also be incredibly time-consuming if you don’t have a fast and familiar system. Before I discovered the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System, editing took me hours, and it would take me weeks to wrap up a shoot. Now I spend a few minutes or less on each image, and I’m done (barring any major retouching, which generally happens in Photoshop).

The thing I love most about the SLR Lounge Preset System is that it’s essentially not a preset system at all. It’s a set of preset actions you can take to create your own presets in whatever style you have developed for yourself. They are designed in a workflow that goes from the top of the list down to the bottom for a fast and easy editing process. Or, you can use the preset styles that were developed by Lin & Jirsa that are included in the set. One of my favorites of those presets is the Fuji400h, which is designed to look like film and works best with outdoor images shot in natural light. Check out how easy it is to use the presets and customize them to your own style in the video below.

A Note on Editing Style

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There are many philosophies about style in photography today. Those photographers who really stand out generally have a recognizable style. Sue Bryce, Dani Diamond, Joel Grimes, Peter Hurley, Anne Geddes, and Terry Richardson are a few modern photographers who developed unique styles and have made a name for themselves. Their styles are often replicated; in fact, many of these photographers teach others how to get their look. For your own portfolio, I recommend you find a style that is consistent and unique to you.

What if you’re not sure what your style is or how to develop one? Rather than copying someone else, I recommend you dream up some ideas, learn as many techniques as you can and then go out and shoot, shoot, shoot and edit, edit, edit. Then you can take a look at your entire body of work and determine some common themes that define your style. Once you’ve defined it, you can magnify it.

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Here’s an example from my own experience. I’ve been shooting seriously for about five years now. When updating my personal portfolio recently, I took a look at my body of work and wrote down a few words that described the common themes my images. Take a look at my portrait and humanitarian work (and the portfolios coming soon to workstoryphotography.com) and you will notice everything I have posted fits within at least one or more of these themes.

  • Bright/colorful
  • Motion
  • Whimsical
  • Connection
  • Emotion
  • Fun/Joyful
  • Storytelling/Photojournalistic

These words define my style. As I’m editing, I keep them in mind. Yes, I may stray from these for a particular project, but I’ll generally keep at least one element of them in my work to maintain consistency. These tend to come naturally to me anyway. My style is part of my expression as an artist; I’ve taken note of what defines it and let it guide me when making artistic decisions. Knowing these can also help me break out of a rut and try something new by doing the opposite.

Adapting Your Style

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When creating commercial work for a particular brand, you may be required to adapt your style, or apply your style in a way that is appropriate for the project you’ve been asked to do. This is a developed skill and an important part of art direction. You can use the same technique I described above to make sure you’re infusing the right communications into the images you’re creating. Does the brand you’re working with have a style guide? A mission statement? What words and themes are there that will guide your image creation, both in shooting and editing? If the words don’t mesh with your style, you might not be the right photographer for them.

The Next Step

Stay tuned for the next article, which is all about critiquing yourself, asking for and accepting critique of others. It’s the subject that prompted this entire series for me. I see so many photographer portfolios that are weak, ineffective critique given in online photography groups, and overall lack of understanding in this area.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. William Irwin

    First pass I reject any technically bad images to remove them from the whole order. These get deleted so I never have to deal with them again.

    I assign a 1 star to any image that is worth attention. Often I will have multiple angles of the same subject. From those I may assign a higher star depending which I like better.

    Usually by the time I’ve hit 2nd or 3rd pass I have some images that are at least 3 stars. Any images that are portfolio worth automatically get 5 star. Images that are 3 and above will go to the Client, while a 4 and 5 star will be added to other things such as portfolios or special collections.

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  2. Jean-Francois Perreault

    I cull images in Lightroom too. I have an empty catalog for my current shoot where I do all my edits and when they are done, I transfer my images to my main catalog.
    I use the Pick/Reject as well as the star system. I reject images that are really bad (out of focus, shots of my feet, etc.). The rest gets picked.
    Once done, I re-review my images and assign a star.
    1 star means I don’t want to develop it but I don’t want to delete it either.
    2 stars means I might edit it but I’m still not sure. Will be reviewed later.
    3 stars means I will edit this image.
    4 stars is a wow image. I’ll spend more time editing these ones.
    5 stars means I’m gonna be rich ;) Still don’t have a single 5 star image :(

    Often I’ll end up rejecting 1 star images, depending on the shoot. Family shots probably won’t get deleted but anything that I don’t have a personal interest in will get deleted.
    This system works for me. For some it may be cumbersome but I find that going through picks and rejects first makes me see the shoot entirely and when I’m ready to rate them, I already have an idea of the images I have.

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  3. Alex Petrenko

    “I personally cull my images in Adobe Lightroom. It’s so fast and easy.” Fast? Is there something in this world (except smart previews :) )that makes LR fast? :)

    I also use stars ratings, keyboard shortcuts for which are also worth noting – these are keys 1 to 5 . Usually, we come with a client to 4 starts and 5 stars means finished image.

    Pick/reject approach is somehow limiting, usually “picks” for me are 1 star photos, which I select in Photo Mechanics (events and weddings).

    Portfolio quality images usually go to “Collections” (press “B” to add to current collection).

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    • Tanya Goodall Smith

      Nice. Thanks for sharing. Lightroom is pretty quick for me. I archive individual projects from my main catalog into their own catalogs so it doesn’t get bogged down.

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