There's so much happening before your session - location decisions, outfit consultations, etc. - and then the session itself. But for me, the process doesn't stop there, it's only just begun! I thought it might be helpful to share what happens after your session, when I take your gorgeous images and add a dose of my artistic vision to each one.
The first thing I do when I get home is download all the session images. My family knows they can't even talk to me - I always make a beeline to my computer and download all the RAW files (we'll talk about what RAW is later!). I've heard way too many horror stories of photographers who left the card in their camera only to find they accidentally delete them or have an issue. Once they're on my computer, I know they are safe as I have them there and I have 2 separate backups running every day to a hard drive and to a secure cloud service.
Next, is the "culling" process. I whittle out the less ideal images for a multitude of reasons - I look at composure, facial expressions, lighting - there are so many variables and if there are multiple family members in the images, I retain the best images for each person in a particular pose or moment.
After I have the reduced set of images, I do a first pass of editing in Lightroom. I have an idea in my head of what I want each image to become. I apply some basic adjustments such as exposure, highlights and shadows. The RAW term I used before? I shoot every image in RAW format as it captures all image data recorded by the sensor when you take a photo. Because no information is compressed with RAW I'm able to produce higher quality images, as well as correct problem images that would be unrecoverable if shot in the JPEG format. When your images are how I'd like them, then I open them in Photoshop.
In Photoshop, I have a basic process. First, I remove anything I don't want in the image - I don't want anything in the image that will distract the eye from what I want the focus to be. Some things I've removed - electric wires, trash in a park, a car, a leash on a dog, strands of hair in the wrong spot, a purse, an entire person, the list goes on and on! Second, if some "swaps" are needed, I apply those. Swaps are so important when there are large group photographs and definitely when there are sessions with littles! Littles are often on the go and are not going to want to stay in one spot with their family, so this is when head or expression swaps are so important. Someone's eyes are closed in an image where everyone and everything else is perfect? If I have a less ideal image where that person's eyes are open, then I swap it out. I want every image to have the best starting point for the rest of my magic. What don't I don't do? My policy is that if there's something that could have been done in advance, then that is not included as a basic service (you can ask me for additional retouch costs though!). Some of these include - touching up your roots, removing wrinkles - wrinkles from sitting in a car yes I do remove a few of those, wrinkles because your teenager didn't iron his shirt, that will be extra :).
Next, I crop each if necessary and then edit faces. I zoom right up close and remove extra hair that may be distracting, brighten eyes, sharpen eyelashes, take care of blemishes and yes, even smooth out a wrinkle or two. I don't like to over edit, but I do want everyone to look their best, so if a little woke up with a scratch on their face, a newborn has eczema or a teen has a pimple, I do take care of those in the most natural way possible.
Once that's all set, then I apply my artistic vision. I create a vision for each session and that varies based on location, lighting, etc. Based on the vision, I may have had to adjust for the brightness of the sky - do I need to pull back highlights or light out of the sky to pop the clouds, do I need to brighten the foreground/the individuals in the image to account for wanting to capture the definition in the sky. Some other thoughts going through my head - do I want to warm up the image, do I want to add more light to the center of the image or draw the eye to a particular section by brightening or darkening it, do I want more contrast, do I want to brighten or add vibrancy to the color in the image, do I want to add more blur or sharpening, there are so many decisions to be made and it helps to be really adept at Photoshop to make my vision come to life.
And that, my friends, at a very high level is how I take those captures of a moment in time and transform them into beautiful art for your home. This process takes time yes and hopefully you've come to appreciate a little why fine art photographers do charge a bit more than others, but it also takes a connection with each and every family member I photograph. As I edit your images, I'm taken back to our session or even prior sessions if it's a family I've photographed a few times over the years, and I'm smiling, I'm remembering the funny things we did or what we talked about. This is why I love what I do.
Included in this post are a couple "before and afters" of personal images I've taken in the past couple weeks so you can see the transformation.