Documenting a wedding in itself is very demanding. It often requires 12 or more hours of coverage during which you must be creative almost every second. But wedding photography doesn’t stop when the big day ends. Then come the culling and editing. It’s probably the part where event photographers spend most of their time and also the task they like the least. Fortunately enough, retouching companies exist and can lighten if not remove that part of the job entirely. I made the switch for my wedding business, and I share my experience with you here as well as why you should give it a try as well.
The first years of business, we usually do everything ourselves and with reason, or so we think. We tend not to have enough liquidity to be able to hire someone, we want to learn, and often we don’t imagine anyone could do a better job than us. However, all of these reasons are far from the reality.
The money aspect is probably the least true. The numerous hours spent editing or retouching are precious hours you don’t spend finding new clients to fill your agenda or behind your camera working for a customer or improving your skills. For less than $300 you can have a wedding culled and edited, ready to be delivered to your brides and grooms. Unless you are really fast, I would guess that the same job would eat up to two days of your time. Imagine for a minute everything you could do in two days: how many venues you could call to ask for referrals, how many blog posts you could get ready to improve your SEO, how many emails you could send out to potential clients, or how many books or videos you could read/watch to learn and refining your craft. These are all things wedding photographers tend to do during their offseason, but what if you could actually do it all year long while taking more clients, making more money, and having more free time?
We also like to think that it’s important to learn to do everything. While it’s true that having a basic knowledge of things before outsourcing them, it’s crucial to focus on what we do best. If you want to specialize in wedding photography, don’t specialize in running a wedding photography business. Do the photography part of your business and outsource as much of the other tasks as possible, retouching included. Retouching and photography are two very different jobs.
"But It's So Hard to Let It Go"
Because we photographers tend to like to think we do everything better than others — until we spend time looking at our competitors’ websites — we are often afraid to send our retouching to someone. This is probably the most often heard excuse for not outsourcing: “They will never get it like I want it to be.” The truth is, more than likely a good retoucher will edit your images to look like you want them to be, and I would be ready to bet that a great retoucher will take your pictures to the next level.
Why am I so sure? I offer portrait retouching services and often find my editing to be better, more consistent on others’ pictures than on mine. It’s much easier to see, or admit, what is wrong with an image when it’s not yours, thus much simpler to correct. It personally took me quite some time to come to this realization, or at least accept it. It’s not an easy task to let go of our “cherished images,” but once you try it, you never look back.
Choose the Right Company for You
Outsourcing should be about freeing more time for you to work on other things, but it should also be about taking your work to the next level. Meaning you must find a company or an editor with whom you can communicate easily, who can match and improve your current style, and who can be trusted. If you decide to try outsourcing, you might want to read about these top 25 photo editing services to compare their work, turnaround, actual prices, and the way you should place your order.
While I haven’t tested every single wedding retouching company out there, I have tried a few in the past before finding the perfect match. Here are the ones I have tried so far.
RDFL was the first company I worked with. The communication was excellent, the turnaround was consistent and fast (less than 10 days), the cost is fixed by the range of pictures that are sent for edit, and culling is cheap ($50 for up to 5,000 images).
It took about 2 or 3 weddings to get my images to look the way I wanted. Then everything was great. I stopped working with them for two reasons. The first was that I switched over to Capture One and thought, “I could do it better myself.” The second reason was that a few times I gave specific requests (no detail pictures in black and white for example), but then when the Lightroom catalogs came back, the requests I made had not been followed. I'll note, however, that each time they corrected their mistake without any additional costs.
All in all, great and fast service that is not too expensive. Perfect if you are looking for simple editing or color correction.
However, I was never quite happy with how the pictures looked. Despite asking for a pure black point, I received images with a pulled black point on all images. As for color, the white balance was often varying from picture to picture. It is important to note that I didn’t send them many weddings. Perhaps if I had taken the time to work with them, I could have gotten somewhere. But seeing that the first results were so far off compared to other companies I tried at the same time, I preferred to go along with another editor.
I sent Fotofafa one wedding, along with a gallery and info on what I wanted — the same details I had sent to My Lavalu. The wedding came back close to perfect. I was really happy with the work they had done. Only a few tweaks were required to get my work to the next level.
Pricing is more than correct, and the turnaround was extremely fast (two to three days for culling, about five days for editing). If the color correction was all I needed, I would certainly be still working with them today.
The Image Salon
The Image Salon is probably the best thing that happened to my wedding photography business. When sending my pictures to other editing companies, I used to spend time then dodging and burning pictures to bring them to life after they had done color correction. Color correction is one thing, but I like my pictures to have more dimension. If you don’t know what I am talking about, please read how I (used to) create my dramatic wedding images.
The Image Salon is slightly more expensive than the other services aforementioned. However, they can deliver pictures that I may send directly to my clients. No need anymore to open the catalog and manually brush every single image. Now I simply open, check that everything looks good, export, and send it to my clients.
When sending my first wedding to the Image Salon, I also gave the same details as I did to Fotofafa and My Lavalu. They sent me a first batch that looked very close to what I wanted. But what convinced me to trust them was that you get a personal editor. Meaning, unlike most weddings editing companies, one retoucher is in charge of all your jobs. This way, all your weddings look similar and if any communication is required, you can email or Skype directly your editor. No need to go through multiple persons without really receiving the same answer.
The price is a bit more expensive than other companies, but you get more for your money. Turnaround is OK, but then again, more work is done, and brushing does take a bit of time.
I want to insist on the fact that this is my experience and my experience only. Perhaps some of you are working with some of these companies and have an entirely different opinion. What I want to stress by sharing these mini-reviews is that all businesses are different, and you should try a few before selecting the one you want to work with. Also keep in mind that usually at least two or three weddings are required to get your editing style matched and improved. Don’t give up on outsourcing your editing work if you sent one wedding to one company and it doesn’t come back correctly.
Added Benefit of Outsourcing
There is one last added benefit to outsourcing your work. We all know how difficult it is to show raw files to someone, especially when our work is far from perfect technically. We never really want to show anyone underexposed, blurred, poorly framed pictures. When we edit our work ourselves, we just get used to it and retouch it as best we can. However, when sending the same images to an editor, we feel a bit of shame… and the only thing we want is to improve our work so that our editor will be thrilled to edit it and create beautiful images with us!
In other words, that little bit of shame or fear we feel by having someone judging our work will most likely help us as photographers to improve our business. Helping once again to bring our imagery to the next level.
It’s Only the Beginning
Once you find the perfect editor for your images, you may find yourself wanting to outsource more. As you will very quickly discover, having someone doing work that you do not enjoy doing, or that takes too much of your time, is liberating. You can finally refine your craft, have more personal time, and develop your business in ways you never imagined possible. Outsourcing is a huge step forward if you are looking to grow your company.