Let’s start off with a disclaimer: every wedding is different, each location, and annual date has a unique look that requires slight modifications to how the photos get processed. Also, as the tools get better and I learn new techniques this methodology will change; indeed, I will probably be doing something slightly differently by the time you read this.
Immediately after I get home from a wedding, I import the raw files into Lightroom and have them converted to DNG’s with the raw file embedded. Once the files are completed copied to the computer I run a backup program to duplicate the files to an external hard drive. Those of you keeping score at home will know that I now have 3 copies of the files. I don’t erase my cards until I need them.
Importing – A little more about my import process: Although I use a single Lightroom catalog per year wedding files are imported into a separate “Wedding” folder in that catalog. All of my personal work is imported and sorted in folders by Month/Day. I have all filenames changed to the date/time the photo was taken. This makes it much easier for me to keep the photos in chronological order. I’ve made an import preset that changes my Camera Calibration settings to Portrait and the preset also turns on Lens Corrections.
Editing – I break down my processing into small steps. I have a 17 month old girl and so I am constantly stopping and starting in Lightroom. The only way for me to maintain a consistent look across all of the photos is to adjust them in distinct phases. This is an overview of those steps.
- Cull out the crud. Using the delete flag, I mark all photos that I would not show to a client. These photos include exposure tests, super out-of-focus shots, really bad expressions, etc. These files go directly to the trash and I never see them again.
- Step 1 was editing out. Step 2 is editing in. In this phase, I quickly run through all of the files and apply a rating of one-star to everything that I will work on. The number of photos that gets marked at one star is typically between 800 and 1,000.
- In this next editing pass, I use a color coding scheme to make some basic decisions up front. Yellow labeled files will get converted to B&W, Red labels are used on files that will need some Photoshop love and red gets used predominately on group photos where head swaps may be required. Sometimes, I use blue and green labels for special projects but that’s pretty rare. At the same time that I am doing color coding, I am also looking for really nice photos that will go to my blog. These will get assigned 2 or 3 stars depending how many I am liking.
- As an aside, I do use the basic Flag system but I reserve that for deciding on what will go into albums.
Processing - These steps will be slightly different for every wedding but this outline is close enough to give you an idea of what I do.
- White Balance and Basic exposure panel equalizing. This panel is, obviously, the most important in achieving a consistent look across the photographs so I spend quite a bit of time in this phase. Especially, when we are talking about 800-1,000 photos. Shooting in manual mode with manual white balance will make this phase much, much faster.
- This phase is a little quicker. Here I make saturation, contrast, and color adjustments. Often times, I will flip through various presets to see how the photos react. Other Lightroom panels will come into play as well, such as Noise Reduction and Color panels.
- Still in Lightroom, I now begin using the patch tools, brushes, and gradients. At this point, the photos are 90% done.
- I filter the Red labeled photos and export them to Photoshop for further actions such as cloning, liquify, head/eye swaps, etc. Once I’m done I remove the red labels.
- At this point, I’ll run the files through Alien Skin’s Exposure program for a more analog look. I’m not necessarily going for a specific film look but I happen to like how Exposure modifies colors and contrast to reduce the digital-ness of the photos. Again, visually, every wedding is different so I don’t have a specific color preset that I use. I have some base presets that I have made and then I adjust them to taste for the wedding that I am working on at that moment. I also perform B&W conversions using Exposure and have several versions of each B&W preset.
- Back in Lightroom, I’ll use the crop tool and add a little bit of vignetting if I feel that it looks good.
- And finally, I’ll rename the deliverable files with bride and groom’s first names and then a numerical suffix.
Exporting – I’ll do my first export at about 750 pixels wide and at lower quality so that I can upload these preview images to my gallery/photo ordering system and then send a link to that gallery to the bride and groom. For my second export, I’ll filter to see the 2 and 3 star rated files that will be uploaded to my blog and then export those at 990 pixels wide which is what my website is set to show. The third and final export, is the full resolution, full quality version JPGs that will be burned to a DVD for delivery to the clients.
Blogging – Once I have my files of 990 pixels exported to a folder, I’ll open Adobe Bridge and begin placing them in an order that makes sense and that flows well. I’ll work to match up diptychs and triptychs at the same time, which will then be created in Photoshop. After the files are ready to go (Phew!) I’ll do one last rename of the files with a numerical suffix and then upload to my website.
I hope this helps and makes some sort of sense. I’ll be back in this post making grammatical and spelling fixes once I’ve had a break from it for a few minutes. Also, this is just the way I work. Yes, there are faster ways to do some of these steps but I have to keep them somewhat self-contained due to my need to walk away from the computer every so often.