Chances are most of you arriving here are aware of the backstory to this article, but if you arrived here via the Google signposts, I'll quickly catch you up.
A few weeks ago I announced a community competition on my Facebook page; all you had to do to enter was to submit a 'before' photo (the raw) and an 'after' photo (the final fully retouched photo). There would be two winners; one chosen by a populous vote and one chosen myself. The winners would then receive their entries fully retouched by myself.
How important is post-pro in todays photography market?
Beyond the simple fun of entering a photographic competition my goal was to outline and showcase the importance of a post-pro process. How important is post-pro in our current photographic market? Are we simply polishing and enhancing our photos or can post-pro play more of a significant role in the final image?
Digital photography has divided some people in what it means to produce a truly great photograph. There are those who believe a photo should be untouched and even simple colour correction is frowned upon, but there are certainly a lot who believe there is no limit to what can be tweaked, adjusted and manipulated to achieve that truly great and perfect image.
Like me, you probably sit somewhere in the middle, you try to get as much as possible done in-camera, but you're not shy about using programs like Lightroom and Photoshop to really bring your image to life in whatever way you see fit.
The purpose of this exercise was to illustrate how incredibly powerful the post-pro process can be by getting multiple people to retouch the same file. Namely you guys and then by me. The competition winners are shown below.
Photograph or Digital Image?
At this point I think we can just agree post-pro is a fundamental part of our industry and chances are, if you're still reading this then you, like me, retouch your own images. Now that we all agree post-pro is part of our process we next need to address the topic of, 'how big a part does post-pro play?'
In my recent experience I have witness some truly phenomenal retouching work from freelance, professional retouchers. In once such case I was recently contacted by one of these retouchers as they were offering me their services. consequently they sent me a portfolio of their work and understandably they included some of their more challenging jobs.
What I saw frankly took my breath away. They sent me 'before' and 'after' images of a professional photographer that I knew, and as you would expect, the 'after' shot was magnificent. Sadly, the 'before' (raw) was nothing short of disgraceful.
If I had submitted that poorly lit and underexposed shot of an awkward pose on a lifeless model when I was at college, I would have failed. But this was a working professional photographers work, how can that be?
The stark reality of this is that we now live in an age where every pixel can be punished beyond recognition and if you're willing to pay for it, practically anything can be 'saved' (resurrected) by a professional retoucher and not only used, but sold in a commercial market.
The retoucher in question had practically relit the image with dodge and burn, removed an awkward hand from the frame, brightened eyes and added catchlights, and we haven't even got to the flawless skin retouching, sharpening and colour toning yet.
If I was asked who the photographer was on that image, it should be the retouchers name by it as the real photographer was more like a hinderance to finished product if anything.
Personal Editing Style
Granted, I'm sure this is an extreme example but it does illustrate just how fundamental retouching is in our current professional market. So now that we've established post-pro is important, how are each of us approaching it?
It was my goal with this competition to take your images and retouch them as I saw fit based on my personal editing style. Those that entered and won had already retouched the shots so now it was my turn. In the end I chose three files to retouch plus the top voted shot. The winners kindly sent me their raw files and I did everything in my power to block out their final edits and just concentrate on what I would normally do had I taken the shot to begin with.
The results can be seen below but I purposefully chose these three as I felt I could offer a different approach and look to what the original photographers had done. I'll explain this in more detail below but it's important to note that this is an exercise in showing a different approach, not better or worse.
All images below can be clicked to enlarge to full screen.
Gelled Studio Portrait Winner Clovis Durand chosen by me.
Populas vote winner David Schick
Environmental Portrait Winner Simon Carter Chosen by me
White Light Studio Portrait Winner Stuart Thornes chosen by me.
Retouching is not about right and wrong
Firstly, I want to thank everybody once again who took part in this competition, I think we had over 30 entries in the end which is amazing as I was worried nobody would take part. The reason for this is because I think we as photographers are very secretive about our raw shots and I fully respect all of you that put that aside to take part in this.
If you'd like to see all the other entries, including all of their 'before' and 'afters' then the post is still live on my Facebook page here.
Secondly, I want to point out that this was not an exercise in highlighting right and wrong ways to edit an image. All of the 'after' shots posted up there by the winners are all viable interpretations of the source image, and my final edit is just another example of how I personally retouched the shot. It's not better or worse, simply different and it's that difference that I want to drive home here. Post-producition is a critically fundamental part of creating a photograph in our current photographic generation, failing to fully realise its full potential and scope could be doing your source material a huge disservice.
So to answer the question that was the title of this post 'Is a Personal Editing Style Just as Important as a Photographic Style?' Absolutely! In my mind, the post-pro style is actually fast becoming the more important style to get right. The post-pro can be the deciding factor of what makes a good or terrible image and it can also be the unifying look that ties your portfolio, and ultimately your photographic style all together.
If you're learning post-production (just like we all are) then be sure to seek out great retouchers to learn from just like you would seek out great photographers to learn from. Yes of course you can learn from me (you knew that was coming) I have online video tutorials as well as in person workshops, but honestly the point of this article is to find retouchers that work well with your photographic style and learn from them. Remember, photography is art so there is no right or wrong, only what you prefer.
As always, I really appreciate your time in checking out this article. I hope you found the results interesting because I certainly did, and this was only made possible thanks to the outstanding support and interaction of my community. You guys rock :)
Also, If you're new here then feel free to join our very active community of like minded lighting-nerds (c'mon, admit it, you're one of us :D ) on my Facebook page. I'm always discussing lighting ideas and offering feedback on community images over there.
If you'd like to stay up to date on more photography related tips and techniques then sign up to my mailing list where I'll send you a monthly roundup of all my articles (plus signing up gets you a free 10 page studio lighting pdf too :) ). Thanks again and I'll see you all in the next one.
:WARNING: 'Probably' the worlds best photographic tools await below :D
If you're interested in any of my work and would like to know more about how I created some of my shots then why not check out my workshops. Here you can find out everything there is to know about Gelled Lighting, Long Exposure Flash Photography and my entire Post-Pro Workflow. Jake Hicks Photography - Workshops
I've also just released a brand new 22 hour complete Gelled Lighting Tutorial video. I go over everything from studio lighting setups with gels to being on location with gels plus I also go through my complete retouching and post pro workflow. For more details and complete breakdown of everything that's include check out my Coloured Gel Portraits Tutorial
I also offer comprehensive coloured gel packs. These collections of gels are what I use day to day to create some of the most highly saturated colours around. If you're looking at getting into gelled lighting or need to get stronger and richer colours in your coloured gel work why not check out my Jake Hicks Photography Gel Packs