How much digital manipulation?

At a recent Ayrshire Wedding exhibition I found one thing which made brides question me more than any other - the fact that I don't use Photoshop to create some of the stunning sunsets and colours in my bridal portraits. "That MUST be Photoshopped!" was all I seemed to hear! Now, I'll be the first to admit that sometimes Photoshop can be a helpful tool but, in my opinion, it should only be used to enhance a shot which is already great - not to save a poor one or hide a lack of technical ability. The fact that so many brides & grooms assumed the colours and effects were purely down to digital manipulation than skill with a camera and lighting merely highlights everything that's wrong with the wedding photography industry just now. We have people with cameras who happily snap away (usually on full-auto) and use a variety of digital filters and actions to create something 'arty' to hide the fact that the original image was nothing more than a snapshot to start with. We see new backgrounds dropped into images, skies from a completely different image added and a whole host of  digital tricks being used to create something which wasn't there in the first place. Anyone who knows a bit about photography knows that a RAW file is quite a flat image and needs some tweaks in specialist software to bring out the details and colours in it, so I accept that some digital work has to be done to get the final image - but how much? Personally, I try to get as much right 'in-camera' as possible and often take longer to set up a shot than I actually do taking the shot. Everything is shot in full Manual mode, so I control the ISO, aperture and shutter speed as well as my lights. This approach means that I tell the camera how I want the scene recorded - NOT the other way around. Almost all of my editing is done in Adobe Lightroom and is kept to an absolute minimum - in fact I usually spend more time working on black & white shots than colour.
So, for all the brides & grooms (and photographers) who find it hard to believe that stunning shots can be created without the need for Photoshop, here are a few samples from recent weddings and shoots with a copy of the original shot SOOC (Straight Out Of Camera) I hope that some of you may find this useful.

Slight warmth added by changing the colour balance and the shadows raised a little.

A slight crop and a wee bit more warmth added via the white balance. The only light used was the setting sun as it broke through some trees.

A slight increase in exposure and the shadows were raised a little.

I included a wider view to show the position of the off-camera flash.
A slight increase in exposure and contrast was added...
... before cropping to a square format as originally planned.

The flash was then switched off to create a silhouette against this stunning sunset.
Again, a slight increase in exposure and contrast was all that this shot needed.

To finish off I would like to say that none of the things I have shown here are particularly hard, or complicated, to do and that having the technical knowledge to control what your camera captures is crucial to producing stunning images. Don't believe me? Well, have a look at the next couple of shots:

This shot received exactly the same treatment as the one above...
... and it was shot by my 9 year-old daughter!

Making a fraction of a second... last a lifetime


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