On Processing Photos

I almost wrote “editing” instead of processing, because sometimes I still think of “editing photos” meaning: correcting, cropping, etc.

But that’s semantics. What I really mean is, I give my photos a certain look, and this is how I do it.

To illustrate, I’m going to use a senior portrait shoot from last summer.

This is Kaitlyn.

Senior Portraits: Kaitlyn

Kaitlyn and I worked together on a hot summer evening around the college where I work. In all, we hit up an abandoned Catholic church, a wooded seating area, the football field, and the college’s nature center.

Let’s start with the out-of-camera raw file, and work our way toward the finished product.

Here’s a sample of a raw photo file from the shoot. It’s important to get lighting and composition down first, of course. Here, things look okay. But we’re just getting started.

To start, I play with a few VSCO film emulations I like, usually in the Kodak Portra family. In this case, it’s Portra 400 VC.

I like my photos to have lots of contrast, so I bump that in Lightroom. Nothing crazy, but usually in the 20-50 range. This deepens the shadows and make the colors stand out a bit.

Next, I tweak the highlights and shadows if I need to. I’d rather have more details in the shadows and then darken them with contrast. This photo was a little on the light side, so I dropped the highlights slider in Lightroom to bring more detail back into the face.

If it’s appropriate, I’ll boost the vibrance a bit to help the colors stand out.

I don’t always add a vignette, but in the case of strong center-point portraits like Kaitlyn’s, I think a bit of vignetting adds some focus.

To finish up a portrait, I’ll darken the hair around the face, lighten any dark spots under the eyes, and add emphasis to the contours of the face. If needed, I’ll pull the photo into Photoshop and clean up stray hairs here and there.

Here’s the finished product, before and after:

That’s basically it. Tone, contrast, and some clean-up work are the big three. There may be some cropping involved, too, or taking out distracting background elements. But I can get a lot done using these basic techniques.

Here are a few other samples from the photo shoot, with before and after images.

See the full set from Kaitlyn’s shoot. You can also hire me to do your portrait shoot.