“The (photographic) negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score… and the print is the equivalent of the conductor’s performance.” — Ansel Adams
Many of my wedding photography clients ask if they will get their images on disk. My answer usually goes something like, “uh, yes… you’ll get unretouched files, but they’ll be color and exposure-corrected.” And I see in the bride’s eyes hope and confusion at the same time. So I’ve started bringing prints with me to show them what that all means.
Before the days of digital, professional photographers rarely gave negatives to their clients. A person hired a photographer for a portrait or event, and then ordered prints from that same photographer. The client didn’t worry about what the photographer did behind the scenes. And if a client did want the negatives, they were very expensive. The main reason for this is because the negative is just one factor in how the final print looks. As Ansel Adams said, it’s the score, and no professional photographer wants his score performed by a minimum wage employee at 1-hour Photo-Mat.
Now, we have digital photography, but the file that comes out of my camera is akin to that negative. And this is where my processing begins.
Many point and shoot cameras automatically increase contrast and saturation, so that your photo looks more like what your eyes see. I’ve turned all those adjustments off in my camera, so my files, straight out of the camera, are a bit lack-luster. They might be a little dark, contrast is poor, color is a little flat. I like it that way… this means I have complete control over the performance now.
This is what your photos will look like on your disk— it’s subtle, but the skin tone is correct and the contrast has been bumped a bit. While this photo will look just fine if you have it printed by Snapfish or Target, I recommend getting your prints through me so that I can give them thorough retouching.
In the retouching phase, I correct skin blemishes, eyeglass glare, and any other distractions. In the photo above, notice that I corrected the bride’s dress under her left arm. Furthermore, after retouching, I have color profiles established with the professional printers I use. This way, I know that photo print will not be a little red or a little blue… it will sparkling and perfect.
If you want a black and white print, the conversion is not as simple as clicking “desaturate” in Photoshop. Our eyes have a tendency to enhance certain colors, often greens, over others, so I manipulate the individual colors in the photo to make a black and white look sharp and have the proper contrast.
Lastly, I can create true works of art with your photos with color effects, textures and borders. Images processed this way tend to look edgier and trendier. I wouldn’t recommend this for an album that you expect to stand the test of time. But I think it’s a fun way to display some photos hanging in your home.
I hope this post demystifies some photographer-speak for you, and gives you some insight into what I do after I get home from your wedding with cards full of images. Feel free to email me if you have any questions, or better yet ask in the comments. I promise to answer!