Creating A Consistent Photo Editing Style
(Consistent photo editing style article first published in Summer Issue of Senior Muse Magazine)
Creating and maintaining a consistent photo editing style in my work has always been difficult for me. I find that with all of the options in programs like Lightroom, Photoshop, etc.. there are just so many possibilities that it tends to be a bit crippling both in maintaining consistency and just being a huge time suck. Through this article I hope to give you some insight on how to develop consistency in your workflow and develop a style that stands out.
Maintaining a consistent editing style that sets you apart is very important for your business and your brand. Light & Airy, Cinematic, Muted, Black and white, Matte look, etc… the list goes on. We have so many different options at our fingertips. How does one choose and stick with it?
Let’s Take A Look
I believe you need to take some time and look at a lot of peoples work that you love. There are a handful of photographers that I look at consistently to get inspiration from. My approach is to adopt a little bit from each of them and create something unique based upon that.
Find What You Like And Make It Yours.
For instance if you love the color palette from one photographer you can work on combining your edits to include those with the contrast and slightly more muted look of another. A lot of times these photographers will have tutorials or presets available on how they get the look they get in post processing. Anotherwords find someone’s work that you love and learn from them.
I have lost track of how many tutorials I have purchased over the years, but I do not edit the same as any of them. Somethings are too time consuming, others to complicated. And at times I just do not like how a certain technique looks. You need to adopt your own style, take what you love and leave the rest. Do not become a clone of someone else.
My Workflow For a Consistent Photo Editing Style (typical portrait session – Prep for viewing)
I start by processing my raw images in Lightroom Classic. Once I get them culled. I do very simple color balance, exposure and contrast adjustments. I personally do not apply presets to the raw files. During my busy months I send this part out to a culling service who does the basic adjustments for me. This saves time but is not perfect and it is hard at times to give up control. I feel this is a good option to get back as much of your time as you can.
Culling & Converting
For a typical portrait session I will get it narrowed down between 40-60 of the best images. Once the raw file adjustment and culling is done I open them all and re-save them as Tiff files. These are then re-stacked with the raw files in Lightroom.
I find this step a necessary evil for a number of reasons:
- Consistency between different cameras when applying a final color / preset ( Currently I shoot with either Canon and/or Sony depending on the lighting – but often both for a single senior)
- I can now apply the same color / preset in either Photoshop using Camera Raw or Lightroom and the images will look the same.
- For a typical job I send the final ordered images to my retouching service for blemish /zit removal and they are working on the “original” tiff file that is linked to my color grade in lightroom.
- Allows for more consistency across multiple locations and lighting scenarios.
- In my experience I have found that most presets behave more consistently and look better when used this way.
I do not typically do any retouching until an image has been ordered. If the subject has bad acne you can add a grain layer in Lightroom to help hide it a bit and simply explain that the retouching is done after an image is ordered. All ordered images are uploaded to a retouching service via Dropbox to take care of any acne, blemishes and other specific retouching that needs to be addressed
Applying The Style
Now for applying my style to the images once they are back in Lightroom I use presets that I have created over the years. My presets have developed from different images and lighting scenarios that I encounter. They represent a style I have developed that fits me and my brand.
I love using presets in this way because it gives me that consistency that I am after. Presets are a great starting point. Quite often you will need to make adjustments to the settings to make it “fit” the image. I have also created different percentages as well to give different intensities. For instance I have each one saved as a preset with 25%, 50%, 75%, 100% and 125% of the overall settings. It is nice because now in Lightroom by just scrolling over the presets you can see the different intensities in real time. This makes finding the right fit for any particular image much easier without having to make so many adjustments while applied.
Batch Process Pre-set Workflow
Once I have found the style and preset I want to go with (usually consistent based on lighting and location from one job to the next) I either copy and paste from one to the next or sync all adjustments between like images at the same location. I work through the next outfit/location the same way and so on. You can also add a little iris enhance to the eyes if you wish but I find if the lighting is right I rarely need to.
I will also often use a radial brush preset I made to make the face pop a bit more. It is a slight exposure, highlight & shadow increase and brings the blacks down slightly. This just adds a tad more pop and I decrease the overall exposure to compensate for this. You will need to move the radial adjustment around from image to image.
It is at this point that I will export the images to Pro Select, do an album layout with Smart Albums and make a mobile app to show at the clients viewing appointment.
My Workflow For A Consistent Photo Editing Style (Instagram Edit)
After each portrait session I like to post a sneak peak to keep everyone excited about the portrait session. I usually know from the session which image that will be as soon as I have taken it.
My workflow for this is similar but I am doing the retouching myself (often a bit more intense as well). Usually I will apply the preset in Adobe Camera Raw for these images. I also make sure my monitor is on the calibration setting to display as close as possible to my iPhone.
Once the raw adjustments are finished (same workflow as before) I open the image in Photoshop to retouch. I run through a series of actions I have created as follows:
- Clone/Healing Layer – Remove acne / blemish using healing brush
- Dodge/Burn (local) – Skin retouching
- Frequency Separation – Skin retouching (if needed or limited time for dodge/burn)
- Dodge/Burn (global) – Contouring
- Eyes – Sharpen darken eyeliner / Increase contrast in iris & brighten
- Dodge/Burn (global) – Gives images more dimension
(The steps above are also very image dependent. Sometimes you might not do any of the above.)
Applying The Style
From here I make a duplicate layer of everything and convert it to a smart object. Next I open up Camera Raw and work through one of my preset. Then, apply the style I am looking for and make necessary adjustments. Once applied you have the advantage in Photoshop to reduce the effect. You can do this by lowering the opacity of the layer it is applied to.
What’s nice is I can apply the same look in Photoshop this way as I can in Lightroom. It is just a matter of preference but you can get identical images with the preset in ACR and Lightroom.
A Word on Monitor Calibration For Your Photo Editing Style
Monitor calibration for printing is a must. However, I also want to calibrate my screen to look just how my phone looks. I want to make sure I know how the images will look on my clients phones. This is where our clients will typically be seeing them and showing them to friends. I realize all devices are going to be a little different but want to get close. At least as close as we can get.
Set Up Multiple Profiles
One way to do this is to have two profiles set up on your computer or monitor. I would set up one for devices and one for lab prints. Another way is to use lightroom mobile and sync to your phone or iPad. More and more I find myself finishing up images on my iPad. This is important, I sell a lot of wall portraits and albums. I need to make sure they are going to look good in print and on my client’s phones.
I hope this article gives you some direction on where to start with developing your own photo editing style.
For more in-depth retouching and editing make sure to check out my full retouching course: Retouch and Colorgrade Like A Boss