March 15, 2012

Pancake Session: The Color Well on Editing Workflow

**Today we are SO excited to welcome Chris Bartelski from The Color Well on to guest blog for the Pancake Session!! Enjoy!**

Simplicity is freedom.

In everything you do in life and business, I have found that simplicity is freedom. It took me a couple of years to get our workflow down pat, but now I can honestly say editing is something I really enjoy. The goal for me was to get consistent, high quality results in a very fast manner. I tried every kind of shortcut or preset and all of them turned out to only slow me down. So I devised a workflow where I edit every image, with no presets. I adjust exposure, white balance, tint, recovery, blacks and cropping/straightening for every image. At first I thought giving this kind of attention would actually slow me down, but I’ve found the opposite is true. I really got in a groove and started turning our weddings around at lightning pace. A while back one of our best friends, Maya Laurent, an amazing senior photographer in Indianapolis asked me if I’d start editing her files, and that was the beginning of The Color Well.

In September, my best friend got me the book Start Something That Matters. Honestly, it’s the first book since high school that I finished reading. The book shares the story behind how TOMS came to be, and how you can make giving part of your business model as well. The entire time I was reading it I had the idea for The Color Well in the back of my mind. So I formalized my editing for other photographers into this business model: 20% of all money (gross, not net) gets immediately donated to Thirst Relief. It’s really that simple. If your wedding cost you $250 for us to edit, we donate $50. Through Thirst Relief, every $5 provides one person with clean water for 25 years. So an average wedding’s worth of editing changes the life of 10-15 people. What a motivation for us to get your images done fast! Because the quicker we turn your files around (1-4 days), the faster someone gets water! Simplicity really is freedom. In this case, a simple business model means the freedom of clean water. If you like the sound of that, pop over to our site and give us a shot.

But in case you do choose to do your own editing, here are the three biggest lessons I’ve learned along the way for creating a high quality and speedy workflow to help get you started!

1. Out of sight is out of mind.
One of the biggest battles in a good workflow can be won before you even start to edit your photos. Take the time to cull your photos before you bring them into your editor. I’m sure most of you already do this, but how many of you cull within the same program you edit? If you do, I highly recommend that you don’t. This is one of the most common mistakes I see when people ask me to help sort out their workflow and here’s why: out of sight is truly out of mind. Using the same program to edit as you do to cull is going to leave you with the temptation to keep going back to make sure you don’t really prefer some other version of the same shot. You’ll end up drowning yourself with options of a single photo, and cause your workflow & efficiency to slow down to a snail’s pace. Instead, my wife and I have worked out this system for culling:

a. Eliminate any bad shots (out of focus, bad composition, etc). Then, walk away. Yes, that’s hard to do. But my family, creative energy, peace of mind, and clients are worth it. We’ve started using the program Photo Mechanic to do our culling because it is ridiculously fast, and saves us a ton of time on our workflow. And that’s time that I can be with my family. b. Decide on what’s great. My wife then takes what I’ve have culled and, with the story of the day in mind, she makes the call on which photos are great. We know before every session or wedding a range of the number of photos we are going to want to show to the client. For an engagement session, it’s 50-80. For a wedding it’s 400-600. That way we’re not tempted to show too many. c. Import only the great ones.I then take her selection of great files only – without second guessing – and import only those files into an editing project within Lightroom/Aperture. Note that we don’t delete any of the usable, but not great, images from our original set. We just store them elsewhere. So we still have our “just in case safety net,” although most likely we’ll never need to go back. In the 100+ weddings Allie and I have shot, we’ve had to go back and find a single photo within the rejects only twice. Cull for the 99%, and deal with the 1% as the issue arises. Plus, keeping the number of files we load into Aperture/Lightroom to a minimum makes sure those programs keep running lightning fast.

2. Presets can actually be the enemy of a speedy workflow.
There are many products out there claiming that their set of presets will cut your editing time in half. This is, in my opinion, a mistake. It’s so easy to click a preset to make a photo look a certain way, but no preset takes into account all the parameters that change within every photo. And then you spend even more time trying to make the preset look good on an image that isn’t right yet. Before you lose yourself in applying looks, take the time to properly develop your photos. At first, the only parameters you should be looking to to get your images color corrected are: white balance, tint, recovery, blacks, basic curves, exposure, crop and straightening. Now, once you’ve brought all your files to a standard, applying a single look to all the images will guarantee consistent results across the board. You could take any image from all of the weddings my wife and I shoot, put it next to an image from another one of our weddings, and the tones, color and depth will always fit together.

3. Big job, small goals.
I used to start editing weddings at the top and work my way down to the bottom. That was a daunting task. I’d be staring down over 500+ files and would easily get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work I still had to do. Like you’ve probably heard in other business or life situations, it’s good to break a big goal into little goals that are easier to manage. So what we do, is after we import the culled images into Lightroom/Aperture, we take the time to sort the images into categories like getting ready, ceremony, bride, groom, etc, leaving us with 6-10 categories and a manageable amount of photos in each. I then usually start editing the categories I like the least (reception and ceremony) before I dive into my favorites (bridals and the couple), and I give myself a mile markers along the way- I can run to Starbucks once I finish this category- to keep myself moving along. Taking this extra step to sort first has honestly cut my editing time in half.

Thanks again for taking the time to read about The Color Well, and hopefully the tips above will help you with your workflow. If you want to give, whether or not you use The Color Well, please visit our campaign with Thirst Relief HERE All donations are tax deductable, and no donation is too small. Really! $5 saves a life. It’s that simple.

**As a little bonus today for all you J&M readers out there, we’re giving away 1 wedding (400-600 images) and 3 sessions (50-90 images) worth of RAW processing!! All you have to do is leave a comment below telling us why you want to win and then follow us & send us a tweet @the_color_well to let us know to come check it out! We’ll be announcing the winners tomorrow!

Also, if you email the folks at Photo Mechanic at with the code TCW041512 that will get you 10% off your purchase for the next month!

  1. Ashley Barnett

    Ooo! Pick me!! Jen and I have 10 weddings in 11 weekends coming up and it’s a pretty daunting feeling knowing we have to edit all those! We’d LOVE to get a chance to give back to Thirst Relief and give us a little breathing room :) what a great thing you are doing!!!

  2. Kate

    I’d love to win! I love your mission statement, and I’ve also always wanted to see what it’s like to have someone else process your images. I’m all in!

  3. chatti

    i love your concept of giving back! And helping other photographers (p.s. I need help). : )

  4. Elizabeth and Ryan | Elizabeth Ryan Photography

    YAY to running a business with purpose! It is so amazing that you give 20% back to Thirst! We would love the opportunity to try out The Color Well while also helping provide clean water. We are always looking for fabulous ways to speed up our work flow and fabulous companies to work with. The Color Well definitely sounds like both!

  5. Ely

    I’ve been thinking about the going with a post processing company so that I can have more time to dedicate to spend with my family and friends, and provide my clients with a quicker turn around. I love the idea of investing my art into a company that invests into other people. My husband and I have a heart for missions, and it’s nice to think we could give back with our day to day profession.

  6. Julianna

    Getting a break from editing and feeling like your are doing some good in the world is a dream combination

  7. Rachael Hughes

    Wow, I’ve never seen a photo-related company give like this. That is amazing & inspiring. I would love to win! I’ve never sent my images to an editor & I’ve always wanted to try it. As a mother of 3 under the age of 6, I can use all the help I can get in with post-processing. Thanks for offering such a great opportunity! I love your website & your clean edits!

  8. Bethany Cox

    I would love to win this because I am toying with the idea of outsourceing our editing. I am the only one who edits (Dan is colorblind) and im anxious about all the weddings that we have in a row coming up this fall. I dont want to lose my mind, or shorten my hamstrings by sitting in front of the computer all that time. Id love to see how this editing thing works! And yeah… I tweeted about it too :) @bethanyanddan

  9. Michelle

    I spend way more time in post-processing than I should. It really takes me away from what I’d rather be doing- hanging out with my baby girls and making more photographs.

    I checked out your website and love your mission! You really are making a difference in people’s lives.

  10. Angela

    Last year our workflow brought me to tears many times….and staying up until 2am so many nights is not good for the marriage. So I am considering an alternative and you may be the answer!!

  11. Maya Laurent

    I don’t want to win the free processing cause I want someone new to try out Color Well. BUT I will say that sending my processing out has changed my business. I can actually concentrate on my clients and their experience…which has improved my business! So thankful for Color Well and what they are doing to impact the world.

  12. Michelle

    Oh wow, That’s a huge giveaway! After attending a conference the other day, I would love to try something like this out and gain my family life back. Spend more time with my little guy & Husband and get away from this computer. Thank you!

  13. Jen

    I’ve considered outsourcing my post processing just to give myself more time to enjoy life! I would love to try out The Color Well. Fabulous giveaway!

  14. Em

    I don’t just want I NEED to win. I need to spend less time on stuff like this and more on the kind of stuff that makes my soul come alive.

  15. Kari Jeanne

    Amazing tips!! I would love to win because I’ve thought about outsourcing my editing but am not sure if it’s for me – this would be a great risk free way to try it out!!

  16. Kristen Schueler

    Those 3 tips really sound like they might cut my processing in half, so thanks!! I work full time as a retoucher at a portrait studio, so coming home and working on an overwhelming number of wedding images after retouching for 10 hours at my job is a lot!

  17. Amy

    I struggle with control over my images, but more so paying $250 when I could keep that money and put it towards something else. With a slow business and tight budget I have to keep every penny! But what if I opened up that time and put it into other things…this might help me realize how beneficial outsourcing could be!

  18. Daniel Nedelcu

    I’m still a beginner, and I’ve always struggled with editing. I still don’t get consistent results across different lighting situations. Your tips are invaluable – trying to find a couple of presets that work for most pictures was my biggest mistake right there. I’d love to have a full set of images to learn to process quickly, and then unify their look.

  19. Lisa Cour

    Love your ideas…had not thought of categorizing the parts of the day like that, but it makes perfect sense and appeals to my ADD. :) I also really like your argument for PM…that it makes it so all you see in LR are the keepers and not the ones that you might want to go back through and reconsider…not that I’ve ever done that. :)
    I’m right on the edge of outsourcing my editing…while I want to give my all to my business, I also relize my husband and three small children must come first. Finding the balance…

  20. Christa

    That’s awesome that you give to Thirst Relief with every edit. Makes you a company that I would want to support for that reason.

  21. Gabby / En Route Photography

    A great reminder to start using categories in Lightroom! Thanks for a great post! ;)

  22. Gabby / En Route Photography

    P.S: I do think about outsourcing once business picks up!

  23. Emily

    I think that’s amazing that you are giving so much back! I am looking for a new editing company and this would be perfect to try you out!!

  24. Kathryn Denelle Stevens

    I definitely have control issues when it comes to my images. But, I realize that by giving this up, I would free myself to put time into more creative endeavors, that will actually move my business forward! I would love to work with a company that has purpose! Thanks for the opportunity!

  25. athena

    i have a full-time corporate job – one that i hope to leave in the future – as well as two darling and amazing little girls at home that keep me busy. i can’t take on as many photo gigs as i’d like because of the editing – the workflow – the post-processing, behind-the-scenes of a photography business. i’ve thought about using off-site editing before, as a way to free my hands (and my clock!) and make room for more business, but I was neve sure if it was something that fit into my budget. I would absolutely, wholeheartedly, without-a-doubt LOVE to win this from you! I am chasing my dreams – trying to Start Something That Matter (PS: LOVE that book-am halfway through!) and Make Things Happen, and it’s not easy. Sure, it’s not supposed to be, and yes, I am incredibly blessed. But help is….well….nice. And I’m not afraid to speak up when I think I need it.

    Thank you for your post – for your generosity, and also for leading such a great example how each of us can really make a difference.

    All it takes is a choice.

    (and duh, I hope you choose me :)

  26. Sophie

    Wow, what a wonderful concept. We’ve been toying with the idea of outsourcing the post-processing, and this sounds like the perfect opportunity to give it a whirl!!

  27. Mark Andrew

    Thanks for the post. I’m a Photomechanic user and have been using it to ingest photos and cull and agree 100% about importing on the 300-600 culls photos into LR. Like the tip on separating into 4-5 categories. Thinking of starting at the top and working down through 500 images will cause me to procrastinate!

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