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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Professional Photographer Column June 2014


A QUESTION OF FINISH

I have mentioned in the column before how a change in approach to pricing has had a huge impact on my business and how I feel about sales.  At the core of the remodeling has been the introduction of charging an hourly rate – for shooting but also for post production.  We all know the digital reality of the hours spent behind a computer screen and I believe that it is necessary for us to educate our clients about it.

Most of the photographers I train baulk at the prospect of putting a number next to their hourly worth for shooting – which I understand, but at the end of the day the figure needs to be a reflection of their skill and market position as well as taking into consideration the cost of kit and insurance. 

I believe that charging an hourly rate for post production is also vital – particularly for a photographer like me.  One that believes ‘finish’ is very important and that it involves a level of service that my clients need to be prepared to pay for.  Why?  Because it takes time.  

In the ‘My Approach To Weddings’ section of the information that I send to interested couples I say: Shooting your wedding day itself is just the beginning.  Whilst you are away on honeymoon I hand edit every image that plays its part in the story of your day.  I take great care in this post production stage to create a stunning and individual finish – so that your images look and feel a long way from the hundreds of extra images that you will be given by friends and family”.  And then later under ‘Wedding Packages and Pricing’ I further reiterate the process by saying  As you may have discovered, there are many different ways that people choose to price wedding photography and so I want to be totally transparent about what you are paying for. The most important thing that you are investing in is actually my time – it takes a lot of effort and skill to make beautiful pictures, both during the capture and afterwards in post-production.

Charging properly for the post production stage has changed the way I feel about editing too – it is no longer a cross to bear.  I have discovered that, on average, an hour of shooting equals an hour of editing which means I can schedule post production into my work diary and approach it in the full knowledge that I am being paid to do it. 

Now some of you may be reading this thinking that you take much longer to edit a wedding or shoot than that.  I’ve been there and it’s not a great place to be – it can feel like you are selling your soul to the LR/PS Devil.  I openly admit that my editing time has decreased as my in camera skills have increased – at the end of the day post production should be the icing on the cake and not an attempt to save a poor image.  Creating a manageable workflow has also been essential and has taken time and investment.  I eventually gave in to the idea of outsourcing the middle stage of a wedding edit and I now send my shortlisted RAW files to Pro Image Editors in the States who tweak exposure, correct white balance and lens distortion, straighten horizons and take dust spots out of the sky.   The images come back clean via a LR catalogue and for many photographers this would be the stage at which they begin proofing.

For me this is the point at which I begin to tone my work to deliver the look that my customers want.  Many of them can’t put it into words but they all ask me if their images will be ‘warm’, ‘soft’, ‘artistic and ‘timeless’ like those on my website.  I think I’m fairly gentle with my editing (RAW vs Edit above) but for every one customer that loves my style there are probably loads that really don’t like it.  What I have found is that my clients are prepared to pay the extra to have imagery that looks that bit more special.   Over the last four years I have honed my colour and b/w treatments to quite a limited palette and actually had Lightroom presets developed specifically for my brand, delivering both stylistic consistency and workflow efficiency.  It is worth mentioning that clients don’t notice the extra 10% of post production effort that I was once prepared to give every image – now only images destined for albums or frames get that.

On a final note one of the main things that I notice when I am asked to review lifestyle portfolios is the lack of consistency in post production treatment – resulting in the imagery looking eclectic and not the work of one person.  A lot of you agonise over the issue of style and I happen to believe that your post production ‘finish’, or not, plays an important role…

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