* Reposted from my facebook page here.
I recently had this question posted on my facebook page and it’s one I get all the time, so I thought I’d take a moment to try and answer it as best I can.
How do you know/decide which way to go with an image?
The answer isn’t really straightforward, and a lot of factors go into making that decision, including my mood that particular day. In general, I take my cues from the tones and colors of the clothing and background and the kind of light that’s captured in the image. If I have a rich green background, I might go richer to bring out those greens. Or if the subject is wearing rich, colorful clothing, I’ll tend to go darker and deeper as well. If they wear pastels or light clothes or the background is lighter, I might go more light and airy. If the colors are difficult or clashing, I might go right to black and white. If the image calls for more drama, again, black and white is nice. For urban sessions, I almost always edit darker, richer and more vibrant to match the feel of the gritty downtown alleyways.
I also really look at the expression of the person and decide the processing from that. If they are particularl calm and quiet, then I want a calm, gentle edit with lighter more soft tones. If they are silly or boisterous, then richer, heavier editing might be called for. I enjoy warmer images for the most part, so I look for things in the background that will allow for that warmth. Like for instance my greens. I don’t really like a neon or citrus green grass or trees. I tend to warm things up to take that edge off. But, that warmth has to fit with the lighting and the clothing of the subject. It can be a fine line and many times, it’s splitting hairs over what tone to add to the image. But that’s the beauty of editing…. you can go in many different directions with any given image and experiment to find new looks that you never ventured into before.
On a side note, I will say that even when I’m editing a lighter more pastel looking image, I do tend to boost my contrast with something like Bland to Brilliant or Posh first and then run a delicate action like Sweet Delight, Euphoria, Daydream or even the lighter tones like Honeysuckle or Kiwi to lighten and give that softer, more airy look over the top. Mixing richer base edits with lighter actions over the top creates a very lovely result.
One other thing to consider is the style of your client. When shooting clients, I try to take note of or ask about the style and decor of their home. What colors do they use a lot? Is it shabby chic or traditional Victorian with lots of rich colors? I guide them with their clothing choices with this in mind as well. If you can give them a final product with an appropriately matched processing that will fit in to their home cohesively, they will be more prone to purchase larger showcase products. (I learned that one over time.)
Finding the “right” look for any given image is completely subjective. I often find that I like a few different looks for an image. Many times I’ll edit an image a couple different ways and then compare them side by side and choose which one speaks to me more. You will find that it’s just the little finishing touches like tones or hazes that completely change the look and feel of an otherwise tired or predictable edit. Those small alterations don’t take a lot of time to create and can easily be turned on and off in the layers palette for quick comparisons.
You may be one of those photographers who find a processing “look” that you particularly love and then build your sessions around that. Not all styles of processing will go with every location or lighting situation. If you hone in on a certain editing style that defines your brand, you may find yourself trying harder to shoot in locations and conditions that are more conducive to producing the right out of camera images you need to fit your signature editing style rather than adjusting your processing to match the background. I think some of the most successful photographers operate from that angle.
An edgier, more dramatic edit fits this funky senior’s expression and demeanor.
With nothing but brown dead grass and a brown fence behind her, a more tonal matte finish fits this image to give it a soft delicate feeling to match her sweet expression and the delicate flower.
The color and vignetting help bring the attention straight to the boy in this image. A lighter more airy edit would have much less impact and would fall a bit flat.
Softer processing and warmer tones fit this quietly romantic posing in this image.