November 23, 2009

Pancake Session: Post-Processing, Gear & In-Sourcing

I sat down at my desk with a gingerbread latte and an ounce of determination. No, no… two ounces. This was long over due.

Sitting idle in my mail box was a folder called “to do-photog emails” and it had been neglected too long. Way too long. It had been over a month and it was now overflowing.

I took a deep breath and I went to work. Except the thing is…”work” was the last thing that it felt like.

As I read through the emails one by one, I couldn’t help myself from smiling back at my screen. A big toothy, goofy, yea you can see all my fillings smile.

And I felt so lucky.

Lucky because it’s not your questions that you are sharing with us. I get that. It’s your lives. Your hearts. Your dreams. Your fears, your failures, your strengths, your victories.

And you’re sharing them with us. Little old “who the heck are they” us. And I thank you for that.

I want you to understand that I know the courage it takes to write someone and ask for help. To put it all out there, bare bones and all. To be vulnerable. To say you’re on the brink. To risk looking stupid or reveal yourself as not having it all together. I know all to well because I’ve been there. I’ve asked for help. I’ve felt stupid. And I’ve had people make me feel so small.

But more often than that, I’ve had people reach out a hand and help me. And that’s really what it’s all about. So I just want you to know that I love each and every one of you. And I know that it’s an honor for us to be the ones that you write to. So I never want to get too busy to be able to write back to you or to start taking what you’re sharing for granted. Because it counts. With us, it always counts. We love you guys!!

And as always….thank you for sharing life with us.

Now on to the Pancake Session!! For those of you who are new to the blog, you can check out how the Pancake Sessions got started HERE, and you can also go under categories to pull up all the past Pancake Sessions.

KATE CARMACK: Wow, guys. Your photos are just breathtaking…every time. I look at your blog ALL the time…I don’t know how you have the time to consistently crank out incredible imagery day after day. I am an aspiring photographer just out of college…and I’m not kissing ass when I say this–I aspire to be YOU. To be so successful doing something that you are passionate about…and to have such a strong partnership built on that passion…is truly one-of-a-kind. Thank you for all your inspiration. When are you coming to DC or Richmond? And can I still get a ticket? Also, just out of curiosity…what camera(s) and lenses do you use to shoot your weddings? I am about to buy my first REAL ($$$) professional camera and would love to know what equipment is responsible for that AMAZING sharpness and quality!!

Hey Kate!! Ooooh GREAT question!! We actually have a very exciting week planned around here as far as Spread the Love in concerned! I will tell you this: you’re going to want to tune in tomorrow with your calendar ready! For our gear, we are 100% Nikon shooters (I got a Nikon camera….love to take a photograph!). Right now we’re shooting with dueling D700’s and a D2Xs as our back up. I think we’ll probably upgrade again in the Spring to the D3s. For lenses we mainly use the 50 1.4 (my personal fave and it is tack sharp!), Justin’s favorite the 85 1.4, the 70-200 2.8, and a Carl Zeiss 25mm 2.8. You can read more about our lenses in this Pancake Session HERE.

KATELYN JAMES Can I just tell you that you guys are officially on my favorite “gotta check daily” list!! You’re right up with with j* and Jessica Claire :) I love your style and your spunk! It’s so refreshing!! So I am a full time college student. I started InspiredDesigns one year ago and have had 23 weddings since then! I honestly don’t know how it happened! It’s like I had this blurry idea of a dream and step by step it has become clearer and clearer. I want to do this after I graduate in May! However, I’m still doing about 2 weddings a month while I am still in school full time and to top it off, I got engaged as of a month ago!!
:) Needless to say, I’m overwhelmed and I’m trying to keep doing what I love and delegating out other work. I want to try outsourcing and I would REALLY love to know if you guys outsource your weddings. If so, who do you use and do your tweek portraits afterwards? I don’t know if this is a smart move but i really just need a way to cut my editing time! Thanks so so much for your time! You guys are an amazing team!

Hey Katelyn! First off, CONGRATS!!! Booming business, graduating school AND getting engaged? Uh yea, it sounds like you’ve been busy!! Holy moly! So you are definitely going to want to find a way to take something off your plate and I think editing is a great place to start! What we actually do is “in-source” all of our editing with a full time editor through our busy season. What’s been great about that is that while she was already very familiar with Lightroom, we could “train” her in our style of editing and what we look for in color and exposure. It’s been so amazing to have that off of our shoulders. But then what we do is keep our 100 or so faves from every wedding and really go through and fix those up for the blog. That way we feel like the best ones and the ones that really tell the story are getting our full attention. It’s been great so far!

NELZ I’m a beginner in photography and i absolutely LOVE your work! Truly inspiring! It would be really nice to see before and after photos on here somewhere too. That always helps me understand the style of editing you conduct, and it may help me with my own style :)

HALEY: I follow your blog like crazy and have been wondering lately about what post processing actions or techniques you use? You are both extremely talented photographers – and although you probably already know that, its nice to be reminded right? :)

Oooh great questions!! Although I *will* admit that the idea of showing all the before’s out there for the whole world to see kinda makes me wanna throw up a little bit!! I am definitely not the world’s most technical person, so I tend to edit the way that I cook. A little of this, a little of that until it tastes pretty good. Or is at least edible!! Justin on the other hand is one of the world’s MOST technical people having been taught that way, and tends to cringe at my total & utter disregard for all things histogram-y. But somewhere along the line, just like in our kitchen, we’ve found a common ground that has evolved into our style. But trust me, it was a process!! :) So….here goes!!

We actually shoot RAW so *most* of the work we do on our pictures for the blog is done right in Camera Raw when we open the files in Photoshop. Here’s an example of a before. You can see all of the adjustment tools that Camera Raw offers, and we usually get the picture pretty close to where we want it to be with exposure, temperature, contrast and vibrance (vibrance is pretty cool because it’s more subtle and natural than saturation. it’s just a fun little boost!) Here’s the before, with no adjustments at all. (Go easy on me now!!)

You can see that I underexposed it a bit, which I do tend to lean towards so that I have a cushion for the next set of processing coming up. I also cooled the picture down, added a smidge of green, brought the blacks down ever so slightly (that was more Justin with his histogram again!), boosted the contrast, and added a couple pinches of vibrance.

Once we have the picture looking pretty much where we want it, we’ll do some fine tuning with some of our favorite actions. From the Totally Rad Actions set we love Pro Retouch for any skin retouching, Claire-ify (we owe this one 100% to our girl Jasmine for talking about on her blog. She’s the bomb dot com!), Lux Soft, Oh Snap, Punch Out, Yin & Yang, and +Contrast. But we use all of those pretty sparingly.

For this one, I did Clarify at 23% and Oh Snap at 10%. For the Clarie-ify, we run the action and then add a layer mask so we can erase it off everything but the subject. I usually leave a nice circle around the subject rather than trying to perfectly erase around the edges because it ends up being less noticeable or looking like a bad dodge job. Here’s the after:

CASEY FIGLEWICZ: Man your guys Black and White photos are amazing! Can I get some info on what you are doing in you post production to make them so amazing. Software? Plug-ins? Keep Rocking it and I hope to see you in Long Beach, Ca soon!

Hey Casey!! Thanks so much for that! For our B&W’s, we’re pretty much doing the same thing where we’re making a custom adjustment in Camera Raw for each image. The first step, is to just take the saturation out! :) Then from there we play with contrast, exposure and black point until we’re feeling pretty good. Here’s the image with just the saturation taken out:

Again, underexposed a bit so that we can use Claire-ify later just on Nick. We get the exposure pretty close to where we want it to be (still a little under) and boost the contrast.

Then we’ll polish it up with some Claire-ify (45%) & Punch Out (10%). And we always finish every image up with a healthy dose of Magic Sharp from Kubota’s actions. And that’s pretty much it!

Again thank you guys for writing SOOOO much! You guys are the best!
xoxo
M:)

  1. Susannah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I LOVE the clarity and sharpness of your images!

  2. JENA

    Definitely a helpful post! Thanks so much guys :) Glad to hear you’re Nikon people too!

  3. jackie g.

    love this post, love your work! and happy to see someone shooting with something BESIDES the 5DMkII…i’m a Nikon D700 shooter as well!

  4. Michelle Sidles

    You guys are total lovecats! ;) Thanks so much for sharing your post process. I was just wondering about that last year… but too chicken to ask. ;)

  5. tiffany zajas

    You guys are so great. Thanks for sharing your knowledge with all of us. You are greatly appreciated! :)

  6. Nicole Benitez

    Mary, you are always so forthcoming with the Pancake sessions! I love reading all of your posts, but these are some of my faves. You are fantastic as always!

  7. Jil

    seriously… you guys are so talented AND so generous. you are definitely on my "thankful for" list!

  8. Ravyn Stadick

    I love your pancake sessions!! They are so very helpful. Can’t wait to see the rest of the sneak peek from the 20th. You guys rock!!

  9. ohana photographers

    great post!

  10. Christa

    So THAT’S how you do it…love these pancake sessions.

    Sorry I haven’t commented in so long…new baby and all :)

  11. Dennis

    Great info guys!

  12. Kenny Kim

    Hey Mary & Justin,
    Thanks for all the cool content that you provide for people out there. Have an awesome thanksgiving week!

  13. WillSalomon

    Thats awesome. Thanks for baring it out there and paying it forward. You guys are official, like a ref’s whistle.

  14. Jennifer Bacchiocchi

    Great post Mary! I had to laugh because my husband is the technical guy, and I am the one with the utter disregard for all things histogram-y! But I think, like you, we are the perfect partners, in life and in business. Thanks for always sharing. You guys are such an inspiration.

  15. Treva Tribit

    LOVE my Nikon D700 too! Obsessed really.
    If you find your way down to the Lone Star State, hubby and I will buy you guys some delicious dinner, La Hacienda style, sundance fajita’s…the inventor of the frozen margarita…:) Love your work!

  16. MM

    @Treva: you are ON!!

  17. Jasmine*

    LOVE YOU!!!

  18. Kate Whitmore

    This is my first time experiencing a Justin & Mary pancake session…and THANK YOU! Love to see how things are done Marantz style.

  19. Emily Beaty

    You guys are awesome! Thanks for your willingness to share… cannot wait to meet you both one of these days! :)

  20. Lyndsay Hyatt-Almeida

    so cool of you to answer everyone’s questions!!!

  21. Erica Velasco

    OMG so glad you posted this! I always wondered how you made your black and whites so yummy!

  22. fEuza

    you just made so many of us smile and be happy! I am thankful for Justin and Mary! God Bless you guys, love the behind the scenes, it shows that you are not super photographer perfect heros, haha, well you guys are bestest

  23. Amy Clifton

    Thank you thank you!! You guys are so talented yet humble and grateful. :-) I canNOT wait for the tour dates to be announced. *squealing*

  24. Tasha Prescott

    Thank you to all the photographers that do this. It truly is helpful to see the before and afters… Truly Grateful.

  25. rachel darley

    Aaaaawesomeness. I always stuff my face with your pancake sessions!!! Thank you TONS for sharing so openly!!

  26. Tira J

    You are SO GREAT!

  27. Lydia

    Your before pictures are amazing! Thanks for being willing to be so real!

  28. Cathy Crawley

    You rock for being so generous with your tips! I want to be more like you that way :)

  29. Jenna Cole

    I know these posts take forever to write, thank you so much for showing us how you do it, I’m going to be making a few adjustments to my own workflow because of this. I love pancake sessions!

  30. erin harvey

    thank you so much for your tips! i stare in awe at the sharp yet creamy photos you guys produce on a consistent basis. i figured there was either a certain processing strategy or your subjects had the best skin ever. =)

  31. Nicole Haley

    Love this. Thank you for sharing your wisdom! :D

  32. Kate Terrill

    You are a saint for sharing this!! I’ve been beating my head against the wall trying to figure out how to make my images look like this! Thank you for sharing, can’t wait to play with my images!!

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