How Photoshop May Be Damaging Your Business

How Photoshop May Be Damaging Your Business

Postproduction is often so integral to a photographer's style that many photographers wouldn't dream of allowing their raw files to be seen by clients because they feel that their editing process is what makes the photo look like "their work." While I find postproduction just as important as any photographer, the unfortunate truth is that spending too much time in Lightroom or Photoshop might actually be damaging your business.

If you're like me, you enjoy the process of bringing an image to life in Photoshop. When I first started my business, I spent literally hours on every photograph I showed to my clients. I wanted to make sure that everything was as perfect as I could make it. I didn't realize that I was actually damaging my business and my technical skill with a camera in the process.

Photoshop Screenshot

Many photographers make the leap from hobbyist to business person because they love photography and the promise doing something they're passionate about for a living is too tempting to pass up. Unfortunately, most of us don't walk into our new photography business with an MBA. Since we don't always fully understand how to figure editing time into cost of doing business, we fail to recognize that every hour spent in postproduction needs to be accounted for with sales.

If your postproduction techniques run you into hours of editing that aren't being added into the cost of your sales, whether you sell digital packages or prints, you're cutting your profits short and lowering the amount of new clients you can reach. Why? Because every hour you spend in Photoshop is an hour less you spend creating compelling advertisements, networking, selling, and doing the other things that will bring clients in your door and keep money in the coffers.

I'm not saying you should throw editing to the wind, far from it. But you need to remember that if you're running a business, you've got to keep your bottom line in mind to keep your doors open.

I know this, because I fell into the trap. I was happy to spend hours editing photos without realizing two important factors: one, most of my editing time was spent compensating for a lack of some technical skill and, two, that I wasn't charging enough for the kind of editing I was performing. The combined result of these two mistakes was that my business was losing money.

Luckily, these two mistakes can be rectified.

The first step is to look at what you spend the most time adjusting in Photoshop. Are you constantly lightening shadows beneath your subject's eyes? Do you always have to brighten the exposure on your subject and darken your background? Are you rescuing blown out skies or swapping them in because you've lost them? Then you need to spend more time learning to properly light your subject in camera and balance that light with the ambient exposure of the scene. Not only do properly lit photos equal higher quality images, but it also means much less time spent in Photoshop.

If you're constantly liquifying, there is a good chance you need practice with posing, or more oversight in helping your clients chose their outfits. 

If you're getting stuck on color, you probably need to invest in a grey card or opt for a color checker so you can nail your white balance in camera.

Pay attention to where you spend the most time editing, and it might give you a clue about where you can improve your photographic technique to save yourself time on the back end.

The second thing to consider is how different editing styles work within your personal style, genre, and price range. As a genre, boudoir generally requires more extensive editing that family portraits. Knowing what expectations are within your genre and how those expectations fit into your personal style can help you shave time off of postproduction. If you're spending several hours hand editing images for families but you aren't charging for custom edits, you're losing money.

Consider whether outsourcing will save you money in the long run or if you need to create a set of actions that will shorten your editing time. If your style of editing is a necessity in how you chose to do business, and outsourcing or bulk actions make your skin crawl, then you need to be sure your prices are adjusted to account for that time.

Photoshop can be a delightful hole to fall into. After all, who doesn't love turning on and off the layers to watch your edits appear and disappear, seeing how your finishing touches have made your photograph just perfect for your client? When those edits are costing your business money, instead of making your business money, it's time to re-evaluate how your editing time fits into your cost of doing business. Remember, you can always make more money, but you can never make more time. If you're spending too much time in Photoshop, just be sure that it's worth it.

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Chad Foreman's picture

Thank you. So true. I've been telling myself this over and over again lately. It's helpful to hear it from another source.

Jared Wolfe's picture

This is why using a real incident lightmeter is a huge money maker. I get much more consistent exposure, know my exact contrast ratios between key light and fill/ambient. As a result I spend far less time in post dicking with shadows and highlights trying to get the contrast right. I get much more consistent results with my presets. Consistency will save you a ton of time post. Time = Money.

David Mawson's picture

Why not just switch to a mirrorless and see the exposure you'll get?

Jared Wolfe's picture

Because the EVF is not going show me the flash exposure. At best I can look at histogram after the shot is taken just like any other digital camera. Looking at histogram is not nearly the same as measuring the light with incident meter and knowing the exact contrast difference between lights and shadows.

David Mawson's picture

An ambient meter won't either. You mean a FLASH meter. Different!

Also, having used both, I don't think a flash meter is superior to checking the back of the camera if the camera has a competently designed review facility. I don't bother using the histogram; I zoom in and examine the darkest and brightest areas I care about. This has the advantage of letting you see the interaction of light quality with the material you are shooting.

Of course a lot of cameras don't have screens good enough for this or a decent controls for getting around the screen fast. In which case I use a wifi sd card and a phone with a large 440ppi screen. With some practice flicking and zooming, this gives a very nice hand held version of tethering. It's not even expensive (used windows phones with screens like this are very cheap and there's an app for flash air cards.)

If using a flash meter works for you, great. But I don't think it should be promoted as the most accurate or informative means of determining flash exposure anymore. Handheld tethering now works very nicely - and the cost of adding it to a shooting set-up can be less than that of a decent flash meter.

Jared Wolfe's picture

Is the LCD on your camera calibrated? Are you viewing the back of your screen in the same lighting everytime? No? All of these will impact how bright or dark your image looks or how much detail you see. It is not nearly the same as actually measuring the light with an incident meter.

David Mawson's picture

>> Is the LCD on your camera calibrated? Are you viewing the back of your screen in the same lighting everytime? No

Ok: the problem here is that you don't understand how your exposure meter or camera work or what the words you are using mean.

Is the screen "calibrated"? Relative to what??? Your question shows that you don't understand the issues.

The screen is at a CONSISTENT setting relative to the sensor, therefore I can use it to judge exposure. More accurately than you can any handheld meter I'm aware of - because handheld meters don't take into account light colour (the way that say Nikon internal metering does) let alone use a profile that let's you adjust this for the different sensors in the camera bodies you use....

>> It is not nearly the same as actually measuring the light with an incident meter.

No, it's better. You're making a classic mistake that people without science and engineering backgrounds make. You're worshipping a measurement without understand what is being measured. You think a meter reading is absolute truth when it fact it is a very partial and conditional one - not least because it lumps different light frequences together ***and may do so in a different way to your camera sensor***. You're getting away with it because what you are doing is probably very easy - most modern sensors are very forgiving.

I switched to phablet shooting when I started using a foveon sensor - they have lots of virtues, but they're not strong on forgiveness. (Honestly, shooting film was easier....)

I'm probably not explaining this very well. Let me try with another example:

You have 4 cameras and an exposure meter. When you shoot grey cards, everything is fine. But when you shooting blue cards, each camera will match 50% grey with a different card. The meter may agree with one of them - it can't agree with them all. And ditto for red and green and values other than 50%.

And the lenses you are using are marked in f-stops not t-stops and you've never bothered to find out the difference...

So you imagine that you're performing according to exact science, but you're not. It's a botched approximation that's a lot less robust than tethering - given some sense about how you view the screen. (Which is also something you don't understand because you think viewing conditions are more important than they are. Using an ETTR strategy - which I'd argue you should be for any work worth taking care over, no.)

Studio 403's picture

Good article, I have a war within me about all this retouching, etc etc. But I am doing better. Like someone said, "the truth sucks, but in time, its the best pain you ever had" .

Kirk Darling's picture

Good article, great reminders.

David Love's picture

One, I sit down with my clients and let them choose the images they want in Lightroom. I don't want to spend a lot of time on a pic they hated from the start. As a bonus, female models can see that I'm not zoomed in on their boobs the whole time which builds trust. I shoot a lot of stuff for composites so my photo shoots are more like movie sets and directing so we have to get some looks or poses correct so I show them the back of the camera as we go. Which also saves you time if they see an eye lash out of place before you get 30 frames in.

But because my work is mostly composites I get swamped pretty quick between long shoots and even longer editing times. Kind of makes me miss the days of fashion and bikini shoots where you retouch and done.

red cat's picture

love your work, man. your photos are greatly shot and composited, that's what photoshop skill is all about : making fantasy come true !

marknie's picture

My images (Like Ansel Adams) do not represent reality but what is in my mind. Photoshop is an essential tool to get that done as well as the camera. (Just like Ansel Adams but he used the dark room). . . The result must represent your minds eye and your message. I doesn't matter a tinkers damn what tool you use. I applaud Photoshop users and I think all pro's should be experts in both tools (cameras and Pshop) to get anyone to pay attention to what you are creating. Everyone else just seems to whine about one or the other. IT DOESNT MATTER!!!

Nicole York's picture

Oh, I agree wholeheartedly that Photoshop is an essential tool (for photogs who use it) so please don't mistake this article as Photoshop bashing! I'm pointing out that business people need to get paid for their time, and they need to include the time they spend in post processing in their cost of doing business. There are too many photographers who don't and it's costing them money.

aaronbratkovics's picture

I learned to tether to a computer a long time ago. It saved a lot of my time in post.

Nicole York's picture

I tether every chance I get!

Simon Patterson's picture

As a hobbyist, when I'm post processing, I often think "I'm glad I don't do this for a living - I'd never be able to charge for all the time I put into this". But I think that you make a great point for both amateur and professional, about getting it right in camera, to avoid needing to waste time "fixing" things in post.

jeremy thomas's picture

I've learned to just copy and past in lightroom and not rely so much on photoshop. My clients don't really want crazy edited images. Most of the time they just want the usual blemishes removed.

paul aparycki's picture

I'm surprised you are in, or still in business.

This is something that is blatantly obvious, not unlike in the old days fools who kept dark rooms thinking they were "saving".

You are a photographer . . . or you are not. In your case it is obvious.

If you are a photographer, you photograph and do what is pertinent to obtaining the photo.

The rest is up to a darkroom technician or a digital tech. Anyone who pretends otherwise is doomed to failure ultimately. It is ALWAYS cheaper to have someone do post for you.