When you employ the services of a professional photographer, one of the key skills you are paying for is that of post-production. This is the process which happens to a photo after it is taken and is made up of the following steps.

1. File management
2. Editing
3. Processing
4. Retouching
5. Exporting

File management

This includes the process of downloading the photos, organising them into a system so they can be easily retrieved and backed up.

This takes time and involves a degree of expense in the form of hard drive space and devising a system for ensuring that images aren’t at risk of loss, so may also require specific software or online services.

Image selection

This is the process of selecting and deciding which frames are kept and delivered to the client and which ones are removed, eventually to be deleted. This is typically between 1 in 3 and 1 in 10. In other words, 65-90% of images are typically deleted, either because they are very similar / identical to other frames, technically inferior to other similar frames, or just simply no good!

This is in much the same way as a feature film would involve hundreds of hours of footage, which would then be ‘edited’ down to the final cut of 90 minutes. I like this analogy because it goes some way to explaining why you shouldn’t need to see the ‘out-takes’. (Do you really expect to see these after going to the cinema? Some funny ones perhaps..) No, because you trust that the Director knows how to pick the best takes because that’s his profession and his artistic merits are the reason that you will hopefully enjoy the final piece! If you don’t enjoy the film, it’s unlikely to be because of the choice of final cut. Ok so the director doesn’t decide on the final cut, (hence the Director’s Cut) but you get the gist.

Processing

This is when the images are adjusted mainly for colour, contrast and tonal range, but also potentially straightened up and cropped. There are many other finer adjustments and tweaks that photographers sometimes make to their images such as correcting for lens flaws, perspective and sharpness too.

Photographers may also use ‘styles’ which are a pre-determined set of colour and contrast values, applied to an image to give it a particular look. In the film industry a similar process is referred to as colour grading. Instagram filters are an example of the use of styles, although professional photographers will usually use them far more subtly.

Retouching

Most people are familiar with the concept of retouching which is also sometimes called air-brushing or editing. This is when very specific changes are made to remove, alter or enhance elements of an image. It can include beauty retouching (from removing spots and wrinkles, to changing body shapes, hair colour etc) and is mostly commonly associated with Adobe’s ‘Photoshop’ software. For this reason, it is also commonly referred to as ‘photoshopping’.

In my first job as a photographer’s assistant, I spent many hours retouching images using a 000 brush and water based paints which were applied directly to the print. This was often done to remove dust spots, but also for shiny skin, pimples, lines under eyes and that sort of thing.

Exporting

This is the final stage which converts our ‘raw’ files to a high resolution .jpeg (or occasionally .tiff and soon perhaps a .heif). A raw file is an unprocessed file which is not easily read or shared due to their unusual file type and size. We rarely deliver these to our clients unless they are skilled in using them and are therefore able to undertake the post-production process safely from steps 2 to 5.

In summary, post-production is essential to the work flow of a professional photographer, and includes such elements as editing and retouching, but also file management, processing and the exporting of images. Professional photographers can’t deliver their work without each of these 5 steps to some extent, with the exception of retouching.

Since it’s a necessary part of the process, at Fisher Studios we factor the cost of post-production into our overhead. We only charge separately for retouching, if our clients specifically request retouching, and for this we quote separately depending on what what is required. However we are usually very happy to accept minor requests for retouching free of charge, provided it is only to a selection of images (we always provide many more photos that we know you’ll ever need), after all we want our images to look amazing too!

Question: The photo below illustrates just how different an image can look as a result of post-production, but can you tell which changes are a result of ‘processing’ and which are a result of ‘retouching’?

Answer: The only retouching was to remove the vertical window frames. All other changes are in the processing of the image.