Aren't All of Your Images Just Photoshop?
(I expose a lot of my secrets here...)
Believe it or not, this is perhaps my most asked question. It is also the biggest compliment and biggest insult rolled into one. I didn't release it was such a big issue until I did my first wedding fair just over a year ago. The comment that struck me the most was 'your images are lovely but it's all just photoshop isn't it?' and I honestly didn't know what to say. I thought it was a one-off occurrence until an hour later it happened again. 'That's a lovely photo, I can see you've added a filter to get that effect...' - That statement stunned me into silence as much then as it did just, when I typed it out.
Let me show you some of the offending images:
[above] Those pink, out of focus blobs are actually flowers in front of the lens - you can see similar flowers in front of the bride and groom. Shooting with a wide aperture (here at f/2.8) means that anything close to the lens and far from the bride and groom is really, really out of focus. It's not a filter - it's physics. This is the image that one person said was the clear use of a filter.
[above] Perhaps my most well-known image: Those white dots in the sky (whereby a lot of people think I have crudely attempted to 'photoshop' stars into the image) are actually flies. I had no idea they were there until I took the photo - This was taken in pitch-black, with the only light coming from a flash I had placed behind the bride and groom. I actually though the camera was broken when I took the image and was trying to work out how to break the news to the couple.
[above] Yup, that's a real deer. (See the very rare behind-the-scenes photos below, taken by an usher using my back-up camera.) The dramatic effect here is created using flash, in a very simple way - expose for the sunset (where the bride and groom would otherwise be a silhouette) and ramp up the flash, manually, until the exposure for the couple matches the exposure for the sky. The deer was a freak occurrence, and no, I didn't bait them with marmite as someone suggested!
Let's be honest - if I was going to 'photoshop' something into an image, it would be something a lot more interesting than a deer!
[above] Here's a recent favourite of mine, taken at Whitbourne Hall on the Worcestershire/Herefordshire border. Despite the amazing effect shown in this photo, this is pretty much as it was taken. Of course I say 'pretty much' and you go 'ah ha! photoshop has added the magic!' - anyone who is familiar with the venue knows that the front of the building is a gravel car park, not a lake or mirror as this image might suggest. It is in fact, a reflection made in the screen of my phone, held beneath the camera lens. If you still don't believe me, check out the image below, with the original image on the left and the 'edited' image on the right.
I know what you're thinking - that the two images appear different. The image on the left is quite flat, lacking colour and contrast, and the image on the right is pretty nice, right?
Digital, professional SLR cameras shoot in a format that's called raw format. Raw photos are boring to look at, and nothing like the scene they were capturing originally. They purposely lack contrast, punch, saturation and any form of vibrance. They're boring and flat because that gives the photographer the greatest chance to make them look how they wanted them to. Some people go all out on the editing, with styles that endlessly come and go - in 2017/18, 'vintage' style photos were all the rage, but 12 months on and they already look really dated. I give my clients the most authentic representation of their wedding day that I can.
Because of how mundane raw photos are, all images require some level of editing, but just to put a little life back into them. Magic (in photography) is real, and you can't fake it. And even if you could, at a wedding, why would you? My clients look back at their photos now and say 'wow, I can't believe that actually happened' which is amazing: I've made a career from being in the right place at the right time with a camera in my hands. The important thing is, I'm showing people their wedding day, as it happened. Who wants to look back at their wedding pictures and relive something that I invented anyway?
There are times however, that images require a lot of editing - but perhaps not in the way you might expect. No matter how prepared you think you are as a photographer, every now and again, something will happen before you that you couldn't have planned for. You point your camera, hit the shutter button and hope that whatever settings you have 'mashed' into the camera work. As I said, magic is real - and thanks to a modern camera, you can capture the magic of a moment, with the wrong camera settings, and just about get a workable image back from it. You're not faking anything - the scene you portray to the client is the one they remember and how it was at the time, but the editing hides the fact the camera settings were completely wrong in the do-or-die instance.
I would love to show you some before-and-afters of times I'd messed-up, but luckily for us both, I can't find any unedited photos to demonstrate this...
[above] Real rain and real people, who, at the time were slightly too drunk to care they were getting wet. No photoshop or fancy editing, just good photography - with a flash placed behind the couple and me guessing the settings.
I can understand why people assume everything these days is faked in the digital darkroom. It's because it's so easy. You take a photo on your smartphone and before you send it on snapchat or upload it to instagram, you apply a filter that makes the image look better. When it's so easy it can be done on your phone with the press of a single button, it's very easy to assume that professional photos get the same treatment. After all, if it's so easy, why wouldn't we do it?
Because it's a lie. It isn't your real wedding day. It isn't how you should look back at it in 10/20/50 years. For me it's a dignity thing too - I haven't accrued years of experience at hundreds of weddings, tens of thousands of pounds of camera gear, endless patience and a work ethic like no other, just to fake it.
So back to my original point. 'Aren't all of your images just photoshop?' is an amazing compliment because people assume the images I capture are so good that they have to be fake. But it's very insulting too because people assume that I fake things in lieu of having real skill with a camera.
The perception, perhaps, that wedding photography is so easy that anyone with an iPhone and access to snapchat filters can do it, might be why there's this perception that wedding photography is extortionately priced. It isn't, which I cover at length in my article Why is Wedding Photography So Expensive?
Wedding photography is hard because you can't fake it. Don't trust the most important day of your lives to a friend with a camera in the hope that filters and photoshop will make the difference. Trust it to someone who can see potential in every circumstance and can capture the magic you may not have known was there in the first place.