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I did an engagement shoot this past weekend (the actual proposal followed by some staged photos) for some friends. We plan on doing a more staged shoot later on.

For context this was all shot on a Canon EOS Rebel SL2 with a 70-200 lens. I am also not charging them for this photoshoot (they are planning on paying me for the more staged engagement photos, if I'm the photographer).

For this being my first real application of any kind of pressure regarding photography, the photos actually turned out very good.

I've been going into Lightroom and editing the photos, and I'm wondering about editing style.

Some photos deserve just a simple touch up/"naturalizing" of the photo. Think just tweaking the settings under the Basic Lightroom section. All of the photos are enhanced by doing this, however I'm wondering just how much I should be editing them.

A few photos, such as a close-up of them holding hands with the ring on look much better in black and white. Another selection of photos look extremely good when making the photo look a little "older" and more seasonal (Fall) and moody.

My question is, how does one choose an editing style, and how strict should that style be? Is that up to the client? Do I do some extra edits as a sort of bonus?

Some of these more moody edits disrupt the general feel of the photographs as a whole, but by themselves look very nice. Does this mean I shouldn't do these moody edits?

I'm asking this under the assumption that I am the chosen photographer for their staged engagement photos, so if I'm being paid, I'm not sure exactly what is expected that I deliver. I'm not married myself so this whole realm is fairly foreign.

Also, is there a way to tell what editing style will look better for print, versus, say online (instagram)?

Here's an example photograph, edited as raw/basic enhancements/moody:

Raw: https://i.stack.imgur.com/HWGA1.jpg

Basic: https://i.stack.imgur.com/Uguz5.jpg

Moody: https://i.stack.imgur.com/xI4lJ.jpg

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    I'm not a professional photographer, but speaking as someone who hired one for this job once... please consider what those hiring you ask for. I asked our photographer for some quality but normal natural looking photos. What I got were a pile of stereotypically stylized edits. Having not hired a photographer before, I really didn't expect to have to be more verbose in saying "normal natural photos", and the photographer having done several weddings assumed I didn't actually want that. Share examples of what you do with your clients so they at least know what your normal style is. – Brad Oct 7 '20 at 3:32
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    FWIW, 'basic' is the one I'd want. Definitely not the others. – Strawberry Oct 7 '20 at 9:45
  • The Moody one looks like it's out of a horror film. – theonlygusti Oct 7 '20 at 11:44
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Ultimately style in editing is an artistic choice. As such, there is no "correct" answer as to whether a particular type of shoot should be edited "this" way or "that" way. There are trends that come and go as to what basic style is popular for common scenarios such as engagement photographs. Personally, I tend to prefer more "classic" looks that will weather well as time marches on, particularly for "lifetime" events such as engagements, weddings, graduations, and the like. But some folks prefer the more trendy looks that others would consider too gimmicky. There's room for all of it in the great big world we live in.

As a business decision, though, things are a bit clearer. If you want folks to look at your work and say to themselves, "That's who I want to shoot my engagement session when the time comes..." then you're going to need to eventually pick a style and stay within shouting distance of that style with most or all of your edits, at least in the work you do for pay. You need to establish a look that is recognizable enough for folks to see your images and know you're the one who shot them.

Sure, you'll miss out on folks who might be more interested in another way of making the images look. But I think you'll find that if your edits are all over the place you'll miss out on almost everyone. This is because people will see a few images they like, but they will also see many more images in other styles that they don't care for as much. Will they be concerned that the shots they liked were just a lucky accident? Will they wonder what kind of images you'll deliver if they hire you? If they think they'll only get a handful of photos they really want from everything you sell them will that make them want to hire you? You need to give them confidence regarding what they can expect to see in the images you deliver if they hire you.

Building a brand means creating an expectation of what you will deliver. That means you need to narrow it down.

You don't need to do this immediately. In fact, you probably should take a bit of time and experiment with different ways of editing¹ until you can find a groove that you like, or one that energizes your friends and their circles of friends. But if and when you decide to get serious about marketing your services as a photographer you'll need to be able to present a portfolio that is more unified.

I think one thing that is perfectly acceptable is to finish a few images in monochrome, particularly those that have strong compositional elements that can stand on their own without depending on complementary and contrasting colors to guide the eye through the frame. But within the monochrome category, you again need to pick a general style and stick with it. Do you tone all of your Monochrome images in a heavy sepia cast? Or maybe a slight hint of blue toning? Or pure B&W with the RGB values the same for every pixel?

Your instinct regarding a "ring shot" that looks good in monochrome was spot on! Those more "traditional" shots that everyone expects to be a part of their package, the same ones their parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings and cousins, etc. have are great candidates for the B&W treatment. You can work the shot from more than one angle and then do the frame that works best as a monochrome edit in monochrome while leaving yourself room to still do a color edit of one of the other shots that is different enough from the one you choose to give the B&W treatment that they aren't repetitious.

One thing I avoid is to deliver the same image in more than one edit (other than with regard to aspect ratios for different print sizes - there one has to be flexible). Sometimes it's hard to resist the urge to do a color and B&W of the same shot when both look really nice! But in the end doing that seems to me to show indecisiveness. This is also true of different editing style for color images. Trust your instincts and choose which way represents the brand you're interested in building.

¹ You need to not only experiment with an editing style, but you also need to experiment with different lighting philosophies. "Natural light portrait photographers" (that is, those who can't be bothered to learn about controlling lighting to give a consistent look regardless of the weather) are a dime a dozen. Photographers who learn lighting, develop their own style, and can shoot the same look consistently regardless of external conditions are the ones folks are willing to pay a premium to have shoot for them!

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    Regarding tonality of B/W shots, I knew a woman who paid for 2 different photographers for engagement photos. Both delivered pretty good packages, including a handful of B/Ws, that the woman framed and hung. They looked horrible next to each other because of the different tones of one photog’s B/W vs the other. – scottbb Oct 6 '20 at 15:20
  • Excellent information, thanks a ton for the write-up. – follmer Oct 6 '20 at 16:40
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How much you edit your work is your decision. However, you are usually selling not only pictures, but a story, a bouquet of feelings to your client.

So usually it is up to you to find out what the client might want. This can be done as simple as via asking your clients, creating some shared moodboard before the shooting or by establishing a certain shooting/editing style and featuring that in your portfolio.

So you have to ask yourself, is an engagement a "moody" thing. For some it might be but usually it should convey joy, lightness, a glimpse into a bright future. Your moody editing style fits nicely into some autumn themed session with a bit of melancholy.

My advise is, use the editing to support your story. Things that might come to mind on an engagement is a lighter style, warm colors. If you want to go for a a light and faded look (works, but I find that yucky) or light and bold colors, it's up to you. Dare to experiment.

As to should they all be edited the same: It depends. It usually looks more professional if the images seem to fit together. But some images, just might not fit the style. If it helps you, group them into named sets, this way you make a conscious decision about what fits the same style, and what does not.

I am sorry that there is no easy answer to you question.

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  • I assumed there wouldn't be a straight-forward answer, but this helps a ton. Thanks! – follmer Oct 6 '20 at 16:40

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