Outsourcing for me has always been one of those things I just never thought to be possible. How could someone who doesn't know what I’m thinking know how I want an image to look? Sometimes I don't even know what I want an image to look like and some of my favorite images have come from playing around while editing. So when I was contacted by Pro Image Editors, one of the largest postproduction companies around with 400-plus employees, and offered the chance to try their services, I was a bit skeptical.
The first thing you have to deal with is the ordering process, and I was pleasantly surprised how easy it really was. You begin with a list of questions and requirements that specify how you want your image edited. Things like exposure, clarity, sharpening, and noise reduction. The good thing here is that you have the ability to say no to the ones you don't want. For example, if you don't like the noise reduction from Lightroom, then you can choose for them not to do any noise reduction. Likewise, if you only want images over a certain ISO to have noise reduction, you have that option as well. There is also the option to have images converted to black and white as well as have all the images exported to JPEG.
Once you have the order form filled out, you then have to send them your files. For this step you have three different options. The first way is to use their online uploader where you can drag and drop the raw file and have them uploaded to your specific order. The problem here is that you can’t drag and drop an entire folder, so if your files are in different sets of folders, you have to do a few sets of dragging and dropping. The second option is to use their FTP upload process, which is a bit more complicated, but a lot easier once you have things setup. This FTP upload allows you to upload an entire set of folders instead of individually dragging sets of files. This allows you to upload an entire Lightroom catalog along with smart previews. Not only does this speed up the process because smart previews are so much smaller, but it also makes the delivery process easier because you get your exact catalog delivered back to you instead of a catalog they had to create themselves off the raw files you sent. The last option is to send them a link to the files on your Dropbox or other type of cloud storage. This is a good option for smaller jobs, But storing an entire wedding in the cloud could get expensive.
Samples and Proofs
When starting out, it isn’t as simple as sending off your images and then getting them back a few days later. You have to communicate with the editing team in order for them to know how you want your images edited. Do you like dark and moody? Warm skin tones or cool? High or low contrast? The best way to get all this information to them is to simply send them your preset along with some image samples. If you use any of the popular presets such as VSCO, then they also have these available and you simply tell them what preset to use. Along with the preset info, you can also send them your website and/or image samples. From here they can get a pretty good idea of what you are wanting.
After they have your editing style and your images, they won't just edit the entire set and send them back. Instead you will get a small sample set returned for you approval. This makes it so they can verify they have things dialed in the way you want and also gives you another opportunity to communicate any changes or style preferences you may not of thought of at the beginning. After I received my sample set back, everything looked pretty good. I didn't see anything worth noting and went ahead and approved the rest of the order to be edited with the current process.
Mine Vs. Theirs
For my first wedding I had them edit, I did something a little different with this review in mind. I wanted to be able to have an unbiased look at their editing and remove the possibility of saying things like “I would have done this” or “they should have done that.” In order to accomplish this, I sent them a wedding that I had already fully edited and delivered to the client. This left no question as to what I would have done, because I had already done it.
What I got back was good, but it wasn't perfect. After I received the full order, I did notice a few situations where things needed to be changed. The main scenario was when I placed my subject in a pool of light and exposed for the highlights in order to create a super dramatic image. When reviewing the images, I noticed that this style of image had been edited in a way to minimize the contrast by lowering the highlights and bringing back the shadows.
After discussing things with the account manager, I was told about my user profile. Each change and correction I ask for goes into my user profile. This way, next time an editor goes into edit one of my orders, they can review my profile and see the feedback I have given along with various examples. What this does is allows you to fine-tune your editing style the more you use the service. Think of it as hiring an editor and training them to match your style. There is no way they will get it just right after the first pass. The difference here is that these people edit all day everyday, so they learn pretty fast. So now when an editor sees this specific type of image, they know exactly how they should handle it.
Wedding Number Two
After the first run, it was time to send in a second wedding. For this one I used the FTP process and sent in a catalog along with the smart previews. After about 3 business days, I had the full wedding returned (average is quoted at 5 days and a rush of 36 hours). Going through the images, things looked pretty good. There were still the occasional image where I wanted it a bit darker then it was, or others I wanted a bit brighter. Also, when submitting the order, I had selected a neutral skin tone to be used. But after going through the images there were a few sets where I really wanted them to be warmer due to the scene. The good thing here is that all the images are now edited to a consistent base. So all I have to do is dial in the white balance I want on a single image, then copy it across the rest in the set.
One of the biggest questions that come up when outsourcing is how much will this cost me? This is where things get good. For their “Essential Edit” service, you will only pay 17 cents per image. This is about half the price as some of the competition and even includes features that other editors require you to upgrade services to get. Things like cropping and straightening, sharpening, and noise reduction. So for $100, you can have about 588 images fully edited. They also offer all new users a free 500 image trial. This is awesome because you can get a lot of the fine tuning done to your editing style before you even have to pay.
What I Liked
- Fast turnaround.
- Amazing customer support.
- Great results.
- Most affordable option I have seen.
What I Didn't Like
- There is a time investment in order to communicate editing style and feedback.
- You still need to fine tune an image here and there after delivery (although this may get better and better the more you use the service and they learn your preferences).
While I did still have to go through and check my results as well as fine-tune a few images here and there, it was a small percentage of images that needed to be adjusted. The images that did need to be adjusted where the ones with complex mixed lighting, or boiled down to nothing being wrong but me just wanting something a bit different. The main difference I noticed with this new workflow is that I was more willing to spend time making an image better by using the local adjustments or taking the image into Photoshop. So at the end of the day I think I spent the same amount of time editing, but was able to take more images to that next level that is normally reserved for a smaller percent.
This is great because depending on what your goal is, this extra time could be used in different ways. You can either do what I did and use that time to make the images even better than they would have been, or you could deliver a similar product as before and use that extra time for other tasks within your business. Overall, I think Pro Image Editors is a fantastic outsourcing resource and is more affordable than the vast majority of options.