From Basic to Beautiful, The Magic of Photo Enhancement

Many self-proclaimed photography purists proudly boast that they never touch an image in Photoshop or other post processing software. “I want my images to be ‘real,’” they say. Others say they “get it right” in the camera and don’t like the idea of “fixing” a shot.

Well, with respect, I feel it’s a grave disservice to simply abandon an image after it’s taken. I’m not a journalist, despite shooting in a candid style. I’m a story teller. It’s my job to make the story of the wedding day both accurate and beautiful. Yes, it is important to get the shot right in the camera, but I’m not interested in making a cold, hard record of the order of events. I’m capturing memories, and memories are very subjective, tinted with emotion and selectivity. I capture the romance, the nostalgia, and the overall feel of the day. Cold, factual photographs can’t do that.

I spend a lot of time at the computer after each wedding selecting, enhancing, and tweaking hundreds of photos, one at a time. I don’t do it to “fix” bad photos, rather it gives my photos a look that no one else can offer and helps me to capture the emotional feeling of the day. I’m often asked just what goes into the photos, and why it takes a few weeks to get a client a CD when Uncle Joe emailed his photos two days after the wedding.


Choosing Only the Best Images

First, I have between 1500 and 2500 photos to deal with, as opposed to the dozen or so Uncle Joe took. Before I even look at a single one everything is backed up twice. Next I spend several hours going through them all one by one and get rid of any that don’t make the grade. Someone might blink…throw it out. Three identical shots…carefully examine each one in detail and select the best…throw the rest out. Out of focus…throw it out. When all is said and done, about one in three photos (roughly 400 to 800 in all) make the cut and move on to the next step.

Next comes pre-processing. This is already more than some photographers and almost every Uncle Joe does. Pre-processing basically prepares the image by straightening, cropping and adjusting the brightness and contrast. There is no “auto” button to do this, at least if it’s going to be done right. The interesting thing is, the photos actually don’t look very good when they come out of this step. They’re very flat, a little over bright, and generally lack any kind of “punch.” But, because they make the most of the information available in the file, they’re a perfect “blank slate” for the next step.

At this point, I can begin my 25 Step Artistic Enhancement. I won’t go into too much detail, both because it would really bore a large portion of readers and… well… trade secrets and all. It wouldn’t be the Patrick Pope Look if everybody did it, now would it? However, the way I like to explain it in general is to say it gives my images that warm, romantic, timeless look that my clients generally seek me out for.


Before and After - The Patrick Pope Difference!

Finally, I go through them all yet again for the finishing touches. I add a little more vignetting, a little more selective sharpening, and give them a final tweak. At this point, I imagine that I’m the lighting director on the set of a Hollywood movie. If I was going to ideally light this scene, where would I place the lights, how strong would they be, and what color would I use. No, I can’t actually change the light that was present on the wedding day, but I can create the illusion of light to some extent. It draws the eye to where I want to place the emphasis in the final photo.

When all is said and done, I’ll spend between 20 and 60 hours each wedding making the photos look perfect. It takes a lot of grit to keep focused and mentally sharp. Especially when I know so many other wedding photographers do little to nothing with the images after the big day. But I really feel the end result is worth the work. I guess my couples feel the same way.


2 thoughts on “From Basic to Beautiful, The Magic of Photo Enhancement”

  1. Well, you have some nice shots….but I’m one of the ones who refuses to use any editing software, not saying the ones that do are right or wrong….I don’t.
    I suppose if I were to start shooting weddings I may feel different.

    What I hate the most is a lot of photographers do not know when to quit editing a picture, and you end up not with a photo, but a piece of “wall art”.


    1. I can certainly understand the concept of an overdone image. I have seen some photos taken to the point that they look more like airbrushed illustrations. However, what one artist would consider “too far” another would consider “not far enough.” It’s all about striking the balance that achieves the desired look and finding a good client/photographer match.

      Too, there is the question, “What is post processing?” If a photographer shoots film, their lab automatically makes certain adjustments. I’d have to consider this post processing even though it’s done by someone else. If a photographer uses the .jpg file straight from the camera, then the camera itself is doing those adjustments, but still they are being made. When using the camera’s raw file to make a photograph, the photographer is taking on the task him/her self. Direct raw files are generally pretty ugly as they are intended to capture the maximum amount of available information, which by itself is not always the most aesthetically pleasing.

      I can certainly respect capturing an image in the camera and presenting it directly. The excellent quality of your own photos shows that images direct from the camera can be beautiful. However, in telling the emotional story of the wedding day I find that my work benefits from my 25 step enhancement. It refines the emotional impact (much like the musical score in a movie) and helps to differentiate my images from the work of other photographers in a crowded market. I think, most importantly, they most accurately express the way I actually see the world around me, whether through a camera or with my naked eyes.

      Thanks for the comment! Your images are lovely.

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