Touching Up Part I: Death to the Intruder

I recently revisited an engagement session that I did last month with the intent of sending the client some high resolution versions of their top five images. Their wedding is next year, so I thought they might like some images to share with their friends that wouldn't worsen anyone's cataracts.

Personally, the images they chose were some of my favorites as well (and isn't it great when a couple and their photographer are in synch?) but they needed a little bit of punch up.

When people say that a picture is worth a thousand words, they are describing all of the little technical and artistic elements that make up an image. Part of that story is how your eye moves through a photograph and where it comes to rest. Normally, you want the eye to rest on your subject and not some incidental object that found its way into the frame in spite of your best efforts. Unless you're setting up a hunt and find photo for a live version of Where's Waldo, these intruders have to go make an okay image great.

Ideally you want to pull these out before you press the shutter button, but every so often you forget to look up, look down and all around (incidentally for more tips on making a great photo right out of the camera, check out Scott Bourne's post on Photofocus: Seven Ways to Improve Your Photographic Vision). Here is where photo retouching comes in to the process.

Typically I edit every photograph I'll hand to a client for four things: quality, crop, color and exposure. Otherwise I'd spend an eternity in the digital darkroom and clients wouldn't see their photos for years and I would be locked up in some Dickensian poor house (or banished to Australia). However, with every package there is an allowance for a number of retouches where I go above and beyond the culling for quality and nit-picking of crop, color and exposure.

Here is where I begin to pull out intruders, like the rails above that cut through Stephanie and Jon, or below where a casually placed black bag drew too much attention to itself and broke up a few leading lines.

In any photo there are a number of things that could be pulled out or erased from existence to simplify the image and help draw the eye to the subject. Typically this is a no-no for photojournalists who must represent a scene as it truly was (rather than for some artistic notion of what the truth is), but for the photojournalistic wedding photographer the lines are a lot blurrier. Usually I'll leave something alone if it's not too obnoxious, figuring that a little scavenger hunt in the photos adds to their fun and the style.

Taking something out is more labor intensive than challenging. Photoshop offers a number of great tools and brushes for pulling out rogue elements (the clone stamp, the healing brush and layers, beautiful layers). Then there's an endless amount of fiddling to make sure everything is relatively seemless to the naked eye (I never edit for pixel peepers, they can always find something wrong with a photo).

Before I get to the digital darkroom it helps if everyone else lends a hand. During your shoot (unless you're otherwise busy) it helps for everyone involved to remember to look up, look down and look all around for stray bits and pieces that don't help to tell the story. To help get you into shape, I offer one last image where I've pulled out two intruders. Can you tell what's been changed?