When it comes to photography, there are two defining elements that determine the style and substance of your image: the choices you make in camera and the choices you make while editing. This is not new to digital photography- back in the darkroom days, there were editing techniques including masking, dodging and burning, various contrast filters for the enlarger, among others. The onset of digital photography and editing software has simply streamlined this process and made it more accessible, but the truth still remains that the way that a photo is edited can dramatically alter the look and mood of a photo. So, I thought I would have a look at a few particular editing trends using a few presets I've downloaded to see how the same photos can look dramatically different depending on the editing style. Whether you are a photographer yourself, or you're looking to hire a photographer to take photos of you, understanding the different styles can really help you navigate your preferences and find the right fit for you.
Some technical notes: All of these photos were shot with either a Nikon D800 or a Nikon D700 using natural light and edited in Lightroom. I do use various types of artificial light on a regular basis, but for the sake of simplicity, I stuck with natural light for this post. Using various types of artificial light (flash, tungsten, fluorescent, LED, etc) can affect the colors of the image (depending on what white balance you set, any filters on the lights that you use, light source combinations present, etc), and those color variations will further affect the aesthetic outcome of your photos. I am also sticking with color photographs and mainly addressing the wedding editing trends I've seen- there are other aesthetic/editing styles popular in other photography genres, and black and white is a whole other ball of wax. Maybe we can address some of those in another post sometime, but for today, lets dive into some color wedding photography editing trends:
RAW, or Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)
Ah, the OG #nofilter. This is indeed an editing choice, the choice being not to edit at all, that is. I'm including it, both because some people make this choice their signature style, but also to give a visual point of reference for how the other editing style choices alter the look and feel of the original image.
Earthy, or Moody
For all of my Earthy edits, I will be using DC Presets
Earthy (or, sometimes called "Dark and Moody") editing is EXTREMELY popular right now. Scroll through Instagram and hip wedding blogs and publications, and you will see a lot of this style. There are different presets and everyone has their own personal preferences, of course, but overall this style emphasizes creamy neutral tones, saturated russet tones (oranges, reds, some golden hues of yellow), desaturated greens and blues, plus darkened shadows.
I really like the look of earthy edits when I see other people doing them, and I do like the way this looks... except I just love greens and blues too much to lose those colors. So I personally can't bring myself to be a consistently Earthy photographer. There are situations, however, where I love the earthy presets which I will examine below (and they still look consistent with my general editing).
Light and Airy
For all of my Light and Airy edits, I will be using The Lush Collection by Modern Market
Light and Airy has been the dominant industry standard in wedding photography editing for some time now. It still remains very popular, even as Earthy has surged in popularity as well. Light and Airy edits generally emphasize bright whites, as well as peachy orange, pink, and minty green tones. Colors are generally saturated, but of a more pastel hue, and shadows are generally brightened for an overall lower contrast look.
Full disclosure, I don't often use the Lush Collection presets for color photographs. Something about them doesn't quite jibe with my preferences. I love the accompanying black and white presets in this pack, though.
For all of My Edits, I will be using Mastin Labs Fujicolor Original Pack*
*For the sake of consistency, I will use this even when the actual edit I delivered to the client was not necessarily using my Mastin Labs presets
My default preset that I always start with is Mastin Labs Fuji 400H Neutral which mimics the colors and tones of Fuji film. I started my photography journey back in the '90s with Film, so there's something comforting and familiar about the Mastin Labs presets for me. They give the image a very subtle boost without dramatically altering anything. I would say 90% of the time, I use the Mastin Labs Fuji presets as my base and make modifications from there. My editing could be categorized as "Raw Plus", if you will. I like to keep the image pretty true to the scene, just brightened up and contrast boosted slightly. I like colors and I like a good tonal contrast range.
For what it's worth, Mastin Labs categorizes the Fujicolor pack as "Light and Airy", but I personally find it more of a good in-between preset that's not overly stylized.
Okay, that was fun. Now let's have a look at a scene in a different setting with a very different color scheme to compare.
This is one of those instances where this Earthy preset is actually my preferred edit. I love this, from the punchy reds in the brick to the creamy whites. Plus the slight desaturation in the greens isn't as glaring here as it is in the other scene, which was more dominated by green trees. It feels more natural, and still works to bring focus to the couple. I often use these earthy presets to edit my city shots because I find them to be really complementary.
Light and Airy
As the name "Light and Airy" implies, there's a weightless, effervescent quality to this editing style. Sometimes that is absolutely perfect for the shot (see ring shot below), but for me personally, sometimes it's a real miss. This shot is one example for me where it doesn't look bad, but for my taste, it doesn't quite work. I like some weight to my colors and tonal range. In this instance, I like the brick to have a deeper hue and more heft in the shadows, both because that feels true to life (brick is heavy!), but also because the tonal juxtaposition makes the couple to pop as a result.
Mastin Labs is kind of like the Little Bear in Goldilocks and the Three Bears in this instance- not too bright, not too dark, not too saturated, not too muted. It falls right in between.
Here is another image, both with a very different color scheme, but also setting and subject matter. For this one, I wanted to examine an image with more subtle distinctions between the presets/styles, and also, for parity, to show an example where the "Light and Airy" edit was actually the one I preferred and delivered.
Technical note: as you can see, this Raw file is underexposed- this was intentional, in an effort not to overexpose the highlights reflected off the ring. So for the following images, in the Earthy and My Edit images, the exposure was increased 1.55 stops in Lightroom before applying the presets (since those presets don't affect the exposure, while Lush Collection does).
This is pretty, and definitely a more dramatic edit with the deeper shadows and warmer highlights. The ring really pops here.
Light and Airy
My preferred edit, for this image. In this case, I like the lower contrast because the florals are so delicate and the ring is so detailed. And those minty/peachy colors and bright whites are accurate to the scene.
This is similar to the Light and Airy one from a color perspective, just with darker shadows and more contrast. Which normally I prefer, but for this shot, I preferred the lower contrast.
Before we go...
Here are a few more in a few different lighting scenarios (sunset backlit, blue hour on a cloudy day, afternoon on a slightly overcast day in summer and winter, and high afternoon direct summer sun) just for fun.
So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this little run down of editing styles. As you can see, there are no right or wrong choices with regard to the style- it is all a matter of personal preference and what looks best to you, as the artist or the consumer. If you're a photographer still trying to find your voice (or are just curious about why some styles of photos look the way that they do), or if you're someone just looking for a photographer to hire, now you can better understand what you're looking for, and what kind of work you're looking at when assessing a person's work.
Feel free to let me know in the comments what your thoughts are on these different styles, what your favorite look or editing techniques are... or hey, anything else for that matter! Happy editing!