What You Can and Can’t Retouch in Your Wedding Photographs

Photographers can only do so much

Updated 12/27/17

Giving Tree Photography

Given the amount of photo manipulation we see everywhere from ads to Instagram, it might be natural to think that your wedding pics can be tweaked the same way. I mean, after all, almost anything you dislike in your final gallery can be edited out with Photoshop, right? Not exactly. Photographers caution against assuming that everything can be retouched in the final snaps. Here’s what can and can’t be done.

First Things First

Before actually signing a contract with a photographer, you need to make sure that their style matches what you are actually looking for. “I think the critical first step for clients is to choose the right sort of photographer from the start: people who like a heavily retouched look should pick a photographer who clearly leans toward that style, with lots of computer effects and ‘perfect’ airbrushed-looking subjects,” says Sarah Alderman, creative director at AGP Collective. “A reportage or documentary style photographer is going to be less inclined to do major retouching, favoring the natural and organic look they captured in-camera.” The best way to make sure someone will be able to deliver what you want is take a good look at their website and see if their images fit what you have in mind.

Set Clear Expectations

There is hardly one blanket approach, so it’s important to find out what your photographer’s view and policy is on retouching before getting started. “It definitely varies from photographer to photographer, so it's good to ask from the start what kind of photo retouching, if anything, a wedding photographer provides,” says Grace Brown, founder of Grace Brown Photography. “A lot of photographers take on the approach of ‘if it was out of my control day of, it's not on me to fix,’ which overall I agree with. But I also generally want to provide a near perfect gallery, so I retouch out anything that drives me nuts [like stray hairs or weird things in the background] before delivery. When it's something beyond my capabilities and it's bothering me, I'll send it out to a retoucher.”

Small ‘Flaws’

If there’s something about your appearance that you’re insecure about, it’s best to give your photographer a heads up before your big day, as many things can be tweaked for your final images. The important thing is to speak up, because what stands out to you may not for your photographer. “[It’s important] that my clients tell me what they’re self conscious about before we shoot so I can be aware of it and share what retouching may be possible for them,” says Alderman. “For instance, a client who is insecure about yellowed teeth: I won’t insult anyone by automatically whitening their teeth on my own, but if they request it ahead of time, it’s an easy fix. If someone has bad acne scars and they ask me to fix it, I can also address that in photos that need it. However, I never ‘fix’ anyone’s flaws unless they ask me to. [It’s] sort of rude to assume!”

When it comes to altering your body, if your photographer has an organic approach, you probably shouldn’t expect to have your waist whittled or facial features changed after the fact. “In the first meeting these things should be discussed, but for our company’s realistic lifestyle approach, altering the bodies by enhancing face shapes, waist lines, upper arms, and other body parts would not be altered unless it could have been fixed by our approach with posing,” says Irish Grzanich of Irish Grzanich Photography. “If a client wanted these things done to their photos, I would let them know we might not be the best fit for their needs. If it was a matter of a few photos they wanted to make prints of, it could be considered for an extra fee.”

Major style fixes (like completely revamping the look of your hair) may be feasible for a professional retoucher, but you should expect to pay more for it, Brown says. Bottom line? Don’t plan for a drastic change in your appearance post-production if you can help it.

Shadows and Lighting

Lighting will certainly affect your final images, so you’ll want to take into account the timing and location of your ceremony and how it will impact your wedding album. “Shadows and lighting can be controlled by your photographer but when it comes to a ceremony outside at 2 p.m. with crazy shadows all over the bride and groom’s face, that is something we can’t control,” Grzanich says. “We can try to manipulate the exposure to lessen the shadows, but asking them to be completely eliminated is unrealistic. Think about these things when planning the ceremony time with your venue.” Have any questions? Ask your photographer for input about the time of day and lighting.

Viral Photos

Photos that place you and your better half in the middle of your favorite movie set are destined to go viral, but there are a few things to consider if you want to plop yourselves in the middle of another world. If you want a more dramatic Photoshop job completely placing you in a galaxy far, far away, Brown suggests discussing it very early on with your photographer. “Some photographers may not be capable of that service or even aware they can send it out to someone, so you definitely don't want to blindside them day of the wedding,” she says. “I think it is important to know it's an added service for most photographers that would need to be charged extra, unless their portfolio is full of them and they blatantly state they provide them.”

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