Recently my daughter got married at our home beside the river. As you can see in my profile pic... the river was muddy due to recent rain. It was the focal point of the event... we pushed the time back 5 hours in order to have it here rather than move it to an inside venue.

We asked our photographer to edit the muddiness of the river so it did not look so horrible in the pics... she said it would cost an additional $50 per hour and that each pic would take 1 1/2 hours? She of course will not release her RAW files, so I can have another photographer do this? Is there a program or a way I can have this done from the CD file we were given?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, and with respect, I would wonder whether it really matters. Of course I haven't seen the photos. But the photos are of a happy couple's wedding day, and they were happy even with a brown river. So who cares? What do the photos look like simply converted to black and white? \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Jun 10, 2017 at 14:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ One more comment - I would not consider that this should have been done as part of the original costs. The photographer is there to record the day, not to record an alternate reality. \$\endgroup\$
    – osullic
    Jun 10, 2017 at 14:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do you have a contract? What does the contract say about image editing? I agree with osullic that altering reality would not normally be considered something to expect. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 10, 2017 at 14:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't really tell from the small sample in your profile picture, but I am relatively confident that the wedding photographer's work is significantly better than you would have gotten from random cellphone snaps. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 10, 2017 at 17:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that making a muddy river to appear as a clear river is a reasonable expectation as a matter of course. Paying extra for this seems fair. Are you saying that you already paid so little that paying $750 or whatever would double what you paid? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 10, 2017 at 17:14

1 Answer 1


Please take this in a kindly way — I'm not sure how to say it otherwise.

There are literally thousands of programs which can edit JPEG files. Adobe Photoshop is the big name, but you can also use Gimp (which is free and open source software) or online editors like https://pixlr.com/. Even programs like Adobe Lightroom or Darktable which process RAW files can usually work on JPEGs as well.

Having RAW files would make the job somewhat easier, but isn't essential (see Good examples of RAW's advantages over JPEG?) — but as you note, the photographer doesn't have to give these to you (see If I paid for photography am I entitled to raw images? for more on this whole issue).

But, here's the thing... if you don't have the computer savvy to figure this out, doing a complex task like making a muddy river in the background look nice isn't going to be easy either. No software will have a "detect and fix river" button, and any alternation will involve painstaking work with the edges where the river meets the foliage or is behind the lace of the dress.

I think the photographer's estimate of an hour and a half per image to do a good job is completely reasonable. It might be possible for an expert to do something more quickly, but if you want the detail right and for the change to look realistic, there's no magic; it just takes skilled, artistic work.

How much is your time worth? How much patience do you have, and how important is it to get right?

Personally, I think I would just accept that the photographer documented the day as it was, and not look for a doctored reality. But if you — or, really, I think more importantly here, your daughter! — aren't happy with that, I'd consider paying what the photographer asks. As I said, not only is the time estimate reasonable, the price is quite fair. (I don't contract to do this kind of thing, but if I did, I'd probably charge twice that.) Pick your favorite five photos (or two, or ten — what's it worth to you?) and spend the money and be happy.

Or (as suggested by osullic), you might ask the photographer for black and white versions. This can look nice and artistic, and that conversion may be something more like 10 minutes per image. Assuming the same rate, perhaps that will fit better in what you can budget for.

As a footnote: although they are of your daughter's wedding, and although you have purchased digital copies, unless you have a contract which says otherwise (and this is rare and expensive), the photographer owns the copyright to the images. Among other things, this means that the right to make modifications rests with her. Although it's somewhat unlikely, if you make the modification yourself or pay someone else to, you could be liable for copyright violation.

As in If I paid for photography am I entitled to raw images?, this isn't fun to realize after the fact, but when paying for an artistic service like this, if you have special demands, you need to make sure it's all agreed upon and spelled out in writing in advance. The photographer is trying to make a living in a low-margin and cutthroat business; she can't just do out-of-the-ordinary work with no consideration and still feed her family. Of course, you have no obligation to provide her with a sustainable livelyhood — but you do have the obligation to hold up your side of the agreement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Also consider that just masking the water and changing the hue isn't going to make it look like clear, sparkling water... probably more like some kind of crazy algae bloom. The complex reflections and shadows would pretty much need to be rendered by a painter or sophistcated modeling software to look at all like what you're probably imagining. I suspect the photographer knows that getting anything but horrible results with any reasonable amount of effort is unlikely, and is trying to dissuade without refusing outright. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 10, 2017 at 19:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you all so much for your help. My intention was to help my daughter not insult the photographer and it is not a matter of her additional expense not being worth it but my daughter not having the funds. It is unfortunate that my question could not have simply been addressed without the accusations and attacks? Wish you all the best. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 11, 2017 at 13:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would just try the free photoshop cloud demo for 30 days. Your simplest route is masking the water and playing with its color channels to see if you can make it bluer. You don't need a raw file and don't worry about the preciseness of the mask a first - just see if you're happy with the color adjustments. +1 to just making it black and white. \$\endgroup\$
    – rrauenza
    Jun 12, 2017 at 14:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the most feasible solution edition wise is to return to the location and shoot the water from the original angles under similar lighting conditions. Then make a composite with the normal water. Changing the colour of the muddy water is not going to look natural at all. \$\endgroup\$
    – Robin
    Jun 13, 2017 at 16:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Robin That's a good suggestion at least for some formal shots which don't require too many other guests... but, I certainly wouldn't expect this without additional fee either unless there was some related clause in the contract. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Jun 13, 2017 at 18:57

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