how to successfully outsource your digital post-production

by Heather Young

So, you're a professional photographer, and you're ready to start outsourcing your digital post-production.

That's great! The post-production company I work for gets rapturous testimonies from our clients; they tell us we've given them their lives back, freed up their schedules so they have more time to shoot and cultivate new clients, or even saved their marriage. Our clients routinely tell us that using our services is the decision they've ever made for their business.

However, whether you're a technically-minded Lightroom power-user with your own preset and a carefully refined workflow or a tech-averse computer-phobe who sees post-processing as a confusing but irritatingly necessary evil, entrusting your all-important images to another set of eyeballs can be an unnerving process. Here's a few tips to make sure your experience outsourcing your post-production is a successful one.

know what you want and articulate it clearly

Different photographers care about different things. Sounds obvious, right? But it's all too easy to assume that your personal preferences are the correct, obvious way to edit, and then find yourself disappointed to get back images that have been edited to meet a different standard. For example: some photographers take it as gospel that highlights must be preserved even if it means a darker overall image, while others are more concerned with making sure that the subject of the image is sufficiently bright, even if that means sacrificing the highlights a bit. Some photographers want to preserve the ambient light of a location, while others value perfectly consistent skintones and brightness across the entire job above all. Some photographers hate recovery and never use it, others love it so much they build it into their preset. The more clearly you can articulate what you want, even if you feel like you're saying something that should be obvious, the happier you'll be with the end results. Don't worry about seeming particular or fussy, or hurting our feelings. We're all professionals here; high standards and constructive criticism are good things.

be patient

Photographers can be a bit jumpy about handing over their images to someone else to edit. After all, when you're an independent photographer, your photographs are your brand and your brand is you. It's very personal. And — I say this lovingly — perfectionism and control freak tendencies are not entirely uncommon characteristics amongst professional photographers. It's can be tempting, when you get that first job back and it's not exactly how you would have done it, to just write it off and say, "I'm a special snowflake and no one can do what I can do, so I guess I just have to do all my own post-production on my own forever, free time be damned." But seriously, give us a little credit. Any respectable post-production agency will have worked with hundreds, perhaps thousands of photographers with every kind of preference you can imagine, each one special in their own way (and many undoubtedly much stranger than you) and we wouldn't still be in business if we didn't have the chops to keep them happy. Until mind-meld technology becomes readily available, it's just an unavoidable fact of life that it may require a bit of time and communication for two separate entities to achieve synchronicity. Getting back all those hours you'd be spending on digital post-production is worth a little patience and effort.

explain your process

It's pretty common for a photographer to send us their images to do a basic correction in Lightroom, then run a custom Photoshop action on those photos once they get them back. That's a completely reasonable way to work. But tell us! We'll be looking at your portfolio and/or blog to get a feel for your style, and if there's a secret Ps action in the mix we don't know about, it can skew the way we edit. You should also let us know if you've recently changed your style and your website isn't reflective of the look you're hoping to get from us. Keep us in the loop.

cull, cull, cull

Every post-production agency I know charges on a per-image basis, so it makes good economic sense to cull your images before you send them to us, or to have us do the culling for you. (It also makes things simpler and less overwhelming for your clients, and makes it more interesting for us to edit. Seriously, I'd take two well-cullled 750 image wedding over one unculled 1500 image wedding with lots of repetitive shots and photos of people blinking any day of the week.) If you haven't established a serious culling routine with your work (and you should!), now would be the opportune time.

always go over the samples with a fine-toothed comb

General practice for outsourcing a post-production job: you'll send the agency or editor your images, they'll send you a selection of sample images, then once you've approved those samples, they'll edit the rest of the job to match. Carefully evaluating these sample images, revising them if necessary, is an utterly crucial component of the post-production process. Even after you've successfully established a relationship with a post-production company, the price of good images is eternal vigilance over sample quality. To borrow a meme, if you approve samples that aren't really representative of what you want, you're gonna have a bad time.

If you really want to make your editor love you, you might consider preparing samples of your own. Some of the photographers I edit regularly like to prepare a few dozen samples for each individual job. Not every agency allows it, and it's a bit of an effort, but if you can, there's no better way to ensure that your images are edited exactly to your specifications.

Every post-production company and editor is different, but with patience, focus, and above all communication you can build a successful relationship that will make the endless hours spent at your computer editing your images a thing of the past.

Good luck, and enjoy your newfound free time!