Wedding Photographers: Get Your Life Back by Outsourcing Your Editing

Wedding Photographers: Get Your Life Back by Outsourcing Your Editing

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.

Why Outsource?

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

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.

My Lavalu

I worked a few times with My Lavalu. What drew me to them was their pricing. They are extremely aggressive compared to other services price-wise, and the turnaround is very fast.

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.

Fotofafa

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.

Other Companies

There are dozens of other companies to choose from, but there are a few you may also want to consider including wedding-retouching.com, which also offers a wide array of photo editing services. Additionally, you may want to take a look at Weeditphotos, which offers both basic level and pro level edits on photos. Finally, Fixthephoto can do extensive photo editing work to any of your portraits that need to be touched up.

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.

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80 Comments

Ett Venter's picture

This is only if you hate editing, or if you're really slow at it, though. I edit an entire wedding in a morning or afternoon. That's from start to finish. And I can't begin to tell you how being able to do that has changed my life. It was a mountain of work to get to that point, but it's worth everything

A solid workflow goes a hell of a long way. Shooting properly on the day and making sure that your shots are as good as possible SOOC will bring editing time down significantly. Pair that up with something like Keyboard Maestro, and you're ready to go. With Keyboard Maestro, I have all my lightroom adjustments built into my keyboard, so I can press certain keys for certain adjustments.

Travis Alex's picture

If you hate editing, then you aren't ready to handle digital photography. It's that simple. Sell your gear, shoot film, give your rolls to a development and print lab, have it all done for you, go home and enjoy your shots. Or use your smartphone. This generation of photographer is lazy, that is the real culprit here.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Even if I were to spend just half a day editing a wedding, I'd rather outsource it. It's still half a day during which I could take another wedding, shoot one or two portrait sessions, take care of my marketing, write an article for Fstoppers, or just go out to enjoy the sun :) But I guess we all have different visions, which is fine! I totally understand both sides of the story as I don't want to let go of my portrait/beauty retouching.

Chris McCullum's picture

Disclaimer: I did not read the article.

I wholeheartedly disagree with outsourcing Your edits. I think it really begs the question: why not "outsource" all the shooting too? I know that there are people who do this sort of thing, and obviously I disagree with that too. If I hired [photo Jo] to shoot my wedding, and one of [photo Jo's] associates showed up, I'd be pretty disappointed to say the least. Now, I understand that shooting, and editing are two different things, and that people claim distinction between photographer and editor, but if you don't want to learn how to edit then you better learn to shoot damn good images, and forego the editing altogether.

michael andrew's picture

I hate staring at computers. I love shooting photos. My least favorite thing is editing. My favorite thing is shooting.

Chris McCullum's picture

"Now, I understand that shooting, and editing are two different things, and that people claim distinction between photographer and editor, but if you don't want to learn how to edit then you better learn to shoot damn good images, and forego the editing altogether."

If you don't like computers, shoot film. If you don't like editing, don't edit.

John Ohle's picture

When people shoot film they "outsource" the editing anf printing. When there was only film there we used pro-processing labs. Very few photographers processed there own colour film and prints themselves. So outsourcing is not anything new?

A parallel situation: You want a house build, you could go directly to a builder for the house, or you could get an architect to design the house for the builder to follow. With both ways you get a house, but the architect designed house should be a better design.

I think the point of article is a great idea. Think od the situation, you shoot a wedding on a Friday and one on a Saturday, plus a second shooter on both. How many images is that? Outsourcing would save a huge amount of time. In saying that, for me, I do not shoot weddings and I do not outsource. The reason is that I shoot mainly PR, so the turn-around need for my clients is in hours (or minutes) rather than days. And there is less retouching allowed.

Chris McCullum's picture

I think sending film to a lab for printing is a lot different than editing a digital image. I think it's more analogous to sending processed files off to be printed. I don't imagine the film lab saying "are there any areas you would like darkened or lightened?" (But maybe I'm wrong) They simply correctly process your negatives.

As far as the architect, do they not have to render an image in some way? The architect(photographer) must at least be able to draw out(edit) his vision in a way that allows the builders(print lab) to build the structure.

John Ohle's picture

Hi Chris, if you got a hand print done in the lab you would be asked about lighting/darkening parts of the image. If you have a good printer they would just do the doging and burning themselves. It still is somebody else finishing off your image for you.

Chris McCullum's picture

Well I stand corrected, but if that's the case I'm glad I don't shoot film

michael andrew's picture

Exactly, people think that when you shoot film the roll just spits out cover photos. Sheez, people these days.

Chris McCullum's picture

Michael, I hope you don't think that's what I was implying here. I'm well aware of the work that can be done to film, and I certainly don't think film is some magical medium that makes every shot award winning. What said was that "if you don't like computers, shoot film. If you don't like editing, don't edit," this statement leaves you with a few options: shoot film, and edit in the darkroom, Shoot digital and don't edit your photos, or shoot film and don't edit. Clearly you, and anyone else are free to do whatever suits them I just wanted to clarify

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Why limit yourself to film just because you don't like editing? Digital has plenty other advantages over film than just raw files. How about being able to check your picture right away for example? But film vs. digital is a whole other topic. And by the way, in the list of editing companies I tested, I mentioned RDFL which is perfect for people shooting weddings and doing both film and digital. They develop/edit both :)

Chris McCullum's picture

I didn't say a person should shoot film if the don't like editing. I said a person who doesn't like editing should shoot film OR don't edit

Travis Alex's picture

@Michael Andrew then you have 0 business doing anything photography related. You are not ready. Part of truly loving photography is embracing the things that you don't enjoy, just as much as the things you enjoy. If you can't get passed that hurdle, then it's time for a new hobby.

michael andrew's picture

I disagree with your opinion.

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Funny to read that… most of the successful photographers I know outsource their editing. Just to name a few: Jerry Ghionis, Ryan Schembri, Two Mann Studio, Melissa Rodwell, Joey L, Lara Jade… Sure some of them also edit their work from time to time, but still, they have some of strongest businesses in the industry but outsource (part of) their editing/retouching work. Go tell them they have 0 business doing anything photo related ;)

Travis Alex's picture

Hmm, I'm pretty sure your looking for "Hiring assistants and staff", not "Outsourcing". There is a difference between an overseas outsource for cheap, and hiring an actual staff you work with ;)

I don't complain and find ways to do my own editing and hiring people I trust to help me out instead, keeping the business going for people up and coming (paying it forward), instead of hiring someone on slave labor benefits.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Slave labor?

Christopher Johnston's picture

I've only shot one wedding and 2nd shot 2 others and I'm outsourcing from here on out. I hate editing and it's an entirely different skillset than shooting. I also think those that say you should edit your images forget that when people shot film there was very little editing that could be done. I think people pay you for your vision and you don't have to do every piece to realize that vision.

Chris McCullum's picture

There was (is) quite a bit of editing that can be done with film development. People make the mistake of thinking that shooting film is all shot no edit. If you don't have the skills to realize your vision with your own hands then you should practice, and develope said skills (I don't mean you specifically, but a general "you")

Travis Alex's picture

I personally think then you really don't love photography that much. Learning to embrace the uncomfort and the things that are not fun in photography is part of the process of art in general. If you don't like it, find a new hobby.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Can someone please ban this arrogant sod?

Travis Alex's picture

I find photo forums interesting. Anytime someone has a different opinion with real reasons why, they get all butthurt. Why are you really mad though? If I'm not right and you really think that, why even bother insulting me? I'm not going to get mad about it and I genuinely give 0 what you think of me at all, I know my points are valid.

Eric Mazzone's picture

Your points might be valid for YOU, but YOU are the one getting all butthurt like a little fake marine, coming in here and insulting everyone else with whom you disagree.

And I quote; "I personally think then you really don't love photography that much. Learning to embrace the uncomfort and the things that are not fun in photography is part of the process of art in general. If you don't like it, find a new hobby."

"@Michael Andrew then you have 0 business doing anything photography related. You are not ready. Part of truly loving photography is embracing the things that you don't enjoy, just as much as the things you enjoy. If you can't get passed that hurdle, then it's time for a new hobby."

"If you hate editing, then you aren't ready to handle digital photography. It's that simple. Sell your gear, shoot film, give your rolls to a development and print lab, have it all done for you, go home and enjoy your shots. Or use your smartphone. This generation of photographer is lazy, that is the real culprit here."

Nearly EVERY one of your posts here come off as condescending arrogance and insulting. What are you a republican? Grow up and go improve your work, it needs it. At least I'm working to improve my work.

Danisa Rais's picture

"I personally think then you really don't love photography that much. Learning to embrace the uncomfort and the things that are not fun in photography is part of the process of art in general. If you don't like it, find a new hobby."

Why should you suggest that? Outsourcing their editing can be their business strategy, they are feeling comfortable with this. And whatever their ability, they are still delivering wining photographs. Why don't they will outsource if it cause profitable? As it is said..different men has different point of view.

Gypsy Frank's picture

I take a certain pride in editing my own digital work, but when I shoot film, I send it to a Lab. This is no different as it's no different to find some film photographers who love to develop and print their own film. Some people feel comfortable doing all of the work from start to finish like Ansel Adams and some people prefer just shooting and directing their lab on how they want the final output to look like Henri Cartier-Bresson. Figure out what works best for you and your business and roll with it.

Fred van Leeuwen's picture

I have to agree with Ett Venter. I'm probably too much of a control freak to let go of my editing. Probably useful for some, but those who enjoy shooting and editing a solid workflow should be in place. It's so easy to fall behind if you're stuck sorting out crap that could've been avoided had you implemented a solid flow from the start.

Travis Alex's picture

This is actually a good thing. Being a little hard on yourself makes you a better artist. It's the artists who post everything and lack quality control that don't get it.

Alexander Petrenko's picture

I'm already outsourcing my portrait photography retouching and would say it is the greatest thing that happened to me in my photography career. It is not just giving me more time to live, it allows me to shoot more risky. I'm less scared by harsh shadows, hard light. I'm still reviewing every single image, but it is just 1-2 minutes instead of 15-30 minutes of detailed work.

As for the wedding - it is very tempting to outsource it, but it is not yet clear for me, what I want from retouching, the result I expect. So, I do it myself for the moment. But as soon as it is more clear - I'll jump right after.

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