How To Edit a Wedding in 2 Days or Less
by RC Concepcion
September 18, 2013 —As a photographer, there is no bigger thrill than to be behind the lens capturing wonderful memories for clients. But as the dance songs fade, the last guests disappear into the night and you find yourself dumping your cards into a laptop in your car (I never make it all the way home on a shoot, call me paranoid), the inescapable dread hits: it’s time to edit.
The scenario is always the same: You’ve shot thousands of frames that need to be gelled together into a story—fast. Like, “it’d be nice if I had a rough draft of this tomorrow,” kind of fast. You have other jobs waiting, and no luxury of wasting time. This is the truth of the working photographer.
“Hunters aren’t cooks,” Henri Cartier-Bresson famously stated when describing his lack of interest in photography after getting the picture “in the box.” Luckily, there are ways to take your initial edit time from what feels like forever, to a couple of days—sleep included.
Step 1: Load your first set of images into a bigger window and look at the first picture no longer than two seconds. If there’s nothing glaringly wrong in the shot, mark it as acceptable using whichever method your program lets you do (different programs have different flags—from “Pick” to “Winner” to “1 Star”). Move to the next. If you spend more than two seconds looking at any one photo, immediately skip it and move on. The goal here is to land on the images you know are not good, mark them as rejected and move on. You’ll now have three sets of images: Those flagged that “work,” those you passed on, and those you need to delete.
Step 2: After deleting the rejected images, go back to only the ones you passed on and start round two of this process. By not getting into the minutiae of which picture is the best, you immediately get rid of the trash, and make the job smaller.
Step 3: The only thing that I add to this process is what I call the “5-Star Kicker.” While making edits, If I run into a photo that I know is a stunner, I flag this image separately from the group (this is where I use my 5-star ranking). Then I break for lunch.
This is also a good time for you to add any metadata to images. While this may not necessarily help your editing process, adding the information en masse while it’s fresh in your head will help you find images later in the process should you need to. Metadata is always a topic that photographers hate, but it’s because the photographer hates having to do it to 40,000 images months after a shoot. It will take you seconds during the import, and save you the hassle later.
Programs like Lightroom now allow you to apply a Camera Profile to your image, so that settings mimic what you would see on the back of your camera. Applying these profiles to your images in bulk can get rid of a lot of the original tonal edits that you’ll make to your RAW files—getting you closer to a final result. Because most RAW files will not have sharpening applied to them, it’s often a good idea to apply a bit of sharpening to the images during this pre-edit process (known as pre-capture sharpening) to make sure you’re judging a photo as fairly as possible before making additional edits.
Highlighting a group of images from that same moment, apply those develop settings to all of those images to get you closer to a vision on a group of shots. It’s a lot easier to go through the images and tone only one or two of them, applying the changes to a whole group than it is to try to replicate the same tones individually.
There are, however, those moments where you will come back to the job and say, “Wow. this is perfect as it is.” But those are incredibly rare (and when it happens, write it down and do a jig).
Because your book is now nearly complete, your role becomes more like that of a director. You are recasting that moment, and it doesn’t quite feel like you’re trudging through thousands of images.
It’s at this point—and only at this point—where I say to myself, “Now I am going to fire up Photoshop and start making these good images great ones.”
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