Timothy Armes' blog

Life as I experience it…


Of Portfolios, Post-Processing and “Getting it right in-camera”

As a commercial photographer I sometimes find myself in a bit of a quandry.  Here’s the problem:

  • I aim to deliver images that separate myself from the crowd. Post-processing and retouching thus form a critical string to my bow, allowing me far more self-expression than I can achieve otherwise. I’ve written about this previously.
  • I put my images into my portfolio, and these attract the attention of potential clients. When I’m hired, they’re hiring me in part for my ability to deliver the certain style of imagery that I use to promote myself. A good portion of that style is due to this post-processing work.
  • The client then asks me to deliver images that have not been retouched – they often prefer to retouch in-house in order to have more creative flexibilty and to keep costs down.

The top image is indicative of my personal style and sets the expectations for the client. However, the bottom image is what the client then specifically asks for...

I hate delivering these un-processed images – I feel like a chef serving raw ingredients to a client’s dinner table.

Although I can generally understand the client’s reasoning I was taken aback not long ago when it was suggested to me that the photographer shouldn’t need to do any retouching – they should be “getting it right in camera”.

What’s scary here is the lack of understanding of the role of today’s commercial photographer. I believe absolutely that we should be getting the image right in camera, but the definition of “right” has evolved with the introduction of wide-spread digital techniques.

Today, the “right” image is one that is a prime candidate for manipulation. It should be well lit, well composed and technically correct – all this goes without saying, but it should be taken with consideration of the post-processing phase.

Here are some examples:

  • The final image may need to have a “blown out” look. If the original isn’t blown out I can then choose the level to which to blow it out in post.  If it’s blown in camera I loose that ability.
  • The final image may need to be toned. The “in-camera” image should nevertheless have natural coloration – no one expects the photographer to use coloured filters to do this any more!
  • By giving a little leeway to the crop when the image is taken the client has for more cropping options available in post than if the image is too tight during the shot. The above image is a good example of this.  Obviously this can’t be taken to the extreme or else they’d be no pixels left!  This is one reason why I prefer high pixel count cameras such as the 5DMkII. The cropped image above still has 8MPixels – more than enough for most uses.

The list goes on, but the principle remains the same – the “right” in-camera image will often look very different to the final result. Moreover, we pre-visualise the final image before and during the shoot and so we’re shooting with the knowledge of how we’re going to be processing.

The running image below is a perfect example of all these considerations.

The original image to the right looks appalling and yet I absolutely got this image "right" in-camera because I was specifically shooting with the final image in mind.

The solution….

How can we address this issue with respect to out clients?  I only have one solution – educate them. Clients who approach us for out photographic style need to understand that post-processing is as important to our craft as the placement of our lights when we press the shutter.

Feel free to point them to this post if you wish…

One Response to “Of Portfolios, Post-Processing and “Getting it right in-camera””

  1. Tommy says:

    So I’m a bit late to the party – just going back through your blog and enjoying it a lot. This jumped out at me because I have had to educate a number of clients recently on the retouching aspect of my work. As is obvious (for a photographer) from looking at my folio, post production plays a huge role, and I always shoot with the retouch in mind.

    I’m wondering if you itemise retouching per image (or hour) in your estimates, or roll it all as one price? I list it separately at the moment, but have been often tempted to roll it into the shoot fee, thus not even giving clients the option to question it…

    Anyway thanks for this article!


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