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.
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.