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    A Behind-the-Scenes Look at How Pro Photographers Edit Images

    Just what goes into a photo after the shoot is over? Learn from these seasoned photographers how they create masterful photos in post-production.


    Photo retouchers date back to just a few years after the commercial invention of the camera. The first known retouching took place in 1846, when the Welsh painter Calvert Jones used India ink to remove a figure from one of his negatives. But the advent of digital photography changed everything, giving the public the opportunity to edit photos without painstaking manual work. Now, mobile editing apps compete for downloads. Retouching tools, once reserved for the photographic elite, have become part of our daily lives.
    These days, the task of editing can require just as much time and effort as the actual shooting. In stock photography in particular, images have to meet a high technical standard. The colors, the focus, and the crop must be perfect. We wondered: How do modern stock photographers edit their images? Below, seven photographers and one creative director tell us exactly what goes into making a picture ready to submit and sell.

    1. “I adjust the lighting, color, tone, and contrast, making sure the image conveys the mood or emotion I want to portray.”

    Suzanne Tucker

    Image by Suzanne Tucker. Gear: Canon EOS 6D camera, EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens. Settings:Focal length 50mm; exposure 1 sec; f4.5; ISO 100.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    Our backyard is filled in the summer with fireflies. I go out each evening at dusk with my tripod and a shutter release, set the camera on bulb, focus where I want my subject to be, and wait for the fireflies to come out. I take multiple long exposure images to capture their light and light trails and then stack the photos in layers while editing to recreate the scene.
    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    I do all my own editing and retouching. The time that goes into editing my images far surpasses the time spent shooting. I always make sure my photo is exactly the way I want it. I start with cloning out any imperfections or trademarks and logos. I adjust the lighting, color, tone, and contrast, making sure the image conveys the mood or emotion I want to portray.


    2. “I love color, so many of my photos are colorful, and I like to make sure that those colors are nice and vibrant so that they stand out.”

    JeniFoto (Jennifer Barrow)

    Image by JeniFoto (Jennifer Barrow). Gear: Sony Alpha SLT-A33 camera, Sony DT 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 lens. Settings: Focal length 55mm; exposure 1/60 sec; f13; ISO 100.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    This photo was taken down a hidden street on the colorful island of Burano while I was visiting Venice, Italy. I love the look of the narrow European streets, and the color on this island is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen. It was an irresistible place to photograph.

    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    Every photo has three phases: the actual shoot, the editing, and the keywording and titling. I do all of my own editing and post-production. I always ensure that each photo looks good to my eye. That usually means ensuring that all the angles are right, that the black/white levels are good, and that the colors pop or are subdued, depending on the mood I’m trying to create. I love color, so many of my photos are colorful, and I like to make sure that those colors are nice and vibrant so that they stand out.


    3. “Usually, the last thing I do is look again at the photo after a while, and I check that the most important keywords have been attached.”

    William Perugini

    Image by William Perugini. Gear: Canon 5D Mark IV camera, Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 L USM lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/320 sec; f3.5; ISO 400.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    I love traveling, and I love flying. Every time, I choose a window seat, waiting for something special to capture. In this situation, I had the whole row of seats to myself, so I could move and play with the composition a bit more.
    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    The process of uploading a photo takes much longer than people usually think, and the shooting part is almost the less “important” one. I start by looking for ideas, planning the shoot, scouting models and locations, etc. I do everything by myself; I prefer a smaller production so I can maintain control of the process from A to Z. Usually, the last thing I do is look again at the photo after a while, and I check that the most important keywords have been attached. If Iʼm still happy about it, I go for the upload.


    4. “We do the editing ourselves to determine the color scheme and image detail. Then we give the photos to external image retouchers…”

    stockfour (Ralf Cornesse)

    Image by stockfour (Ralf Cornesse). Gear: Sony A7RII camera, Carl Zeiss FE 55mm 1.8 lens. Settings:Exposure 1/160 sec; f2.5; ISO 100.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    We like the light mood and the minimalist, relaxed look in this shoot.

    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    The image processing must correspond to our style, and it must have a consistently high quality. This requires a lot of discipline and the development of a well-organized workflow. We do the editing ourselves to determine the color scheme and image detail. Then we give the photos to external image retouchers, and we control each image to ensure the quality. We take over the keywording ourselves.


    5. “You have to carefully edit you photos first, then proceed with the retouching, including the general cleaning of the image, the removal of logos, and the color correction.”

    Rido

    Image by Rido. Gear: Nikon D810 camera, 50mm f1.4 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/125 sec; f2.8; ISO 400.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    For this photoshoot, I was interested in capturing some family moments with some models I carefully cast. We shot different situations in an airy apartment, trying to recreate authentic and intimate situations.
    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    You have to carefully edit you photos first, then proceed with the retouching, including the general cleaning of the image, the removal of logos, and the color correction. I have an assistant who takes care of this part of the job, even if I personally double check each image before the uploading process. I’m not a super skilled post-producer, as I try to keep my photos natural, so I rely more on the editing, trying to pick the best possible shots while avoiding any unnecessary doubles.


    6. “The most important thing is that you take care of the composition. Be sure that your photos have are sharp—I mean really sharp!”

    oneinchpunch (Cristian Negroni)

    Image by oneinchpunch (Cristian Negroni). Gear: Nikon D610 camera, Tamron 24-70mm F/2.8 lens. Settings: Focal length 24mm; exposure 1/800 sec; f3.2; ISO 125.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    We were in California, and we planned a sunset shoot with friends making barbecue and a bonfire on the beach.

    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    For an image to be sellable, it must have a commercial side, even if it’s artistic. You should ask yourself, “Why should customers buy it, and how could they use it?” There are different theories about the style of the pictures. Some people like the overly post-produced look with vibrant colors and extreme effects. Others prefer to make the post very natural. We take care of everything; we don’t have editors working for us. The most important thing is that you take care of the composition. Be sure that your photos have are sharp—I mean really sharp!


    7. “I always turn down the purple tones in my pictures if purple is not an important color. This way, I get rid of aberrations and any problems in the color metering of our cameras.”

    Minerva Studio (Luca Bertolli)

    Image by Minerva Studio (Luca Bertolli). Gear: Canon 5D IV camera, 70-300mm F/4-5.6 lens. Settings: Exposure 1/160 sec; ISO 160.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    This one was done in our studio. We shoot on white backgrounds and then add fake backgrounds in post-production. In our studio, we use a beauty dish to light the subject. It gives a three-dimensionality that I really appreciate.
    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    Both my colleague Massimo and I do everything from the beginning to the final product. I personally usually organize the shoots, calling models and asking for locations. Then both of us shoot with different gear and lenses from different points of view so to have different pics of the same scene. Ialways turn down the purple tones in my pictures if purple is not an important color. This way, I get rid of aberrations and any problems in the color metering of our cameras.


    8. “After we’ve chosen the subject, the photographers have the chance to edit the images, meaning they can crop them, retouch them, and give them a compelling, hip look.”

    Daniel Ingold/Image Source

    Image by Daniel Ingold/Image Source. Interview with Martine Praessl, Creative Director for Westend61, a German supplier and image producer.

    What’s the story behind this photo?
    The appeal of industrial production facilities is no longer just the exciting technology but also their design and organization. It’s difficult to gain access to these types of locations, so we were all the more enthusiastic about this industrial plant. Our photographer Daniel Ingold and his models were allowed to have the run of the place.

    What exactly goes into making a photograph ready to submit and sell?
    At our agency, we spend a lot of time on editing to select the right photo for the market. After we’ve chosen the subject, the photographers have the chance to edit the images, meaning they can crop them, retouch them, and give them a compelling, hip look. We think that’s very important, so we also give them tips for doing it. In the end, these high end edited photos go through another round of quality control to ensure that all of our images adhere to the highest technical standards.

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