Many people think it is the camera that takes a beautiful image. This couldn’t be further from the truth. I would like to share with you how to evaluate photographic images. This is designed to be a basic overview for a novice bride or groom. The singular intent is to help you view and appreciate a photographers’ work more intimately, thus allowing you to discern your own tastes and ultimately help you pick the best wedding photographer.
How to Start looking at photography: Consistency through albums of work.
It’s important to know what you are looking at when viewing wedding photography. I’m specifically talking about how the images are presented. When you sit down with a prospective photographer, or are viewing an album of work online, it’s first important to know if the set of images you are looking at are the whole set of images, or images from several sets of work. The reason this is important is because you are looking for consistency across all images. If you are looking at only one set of images from one wedding, you have very little way of knowing if the images would be consistently produced when the photographer is photographing your wedding at your venue. Another thing to consider here is with the images that are presented, are they consistently lit and exposed across the images presented. This is important because still photography happens in a dynamic and ever changing environment. The photographer must be aware of all aspects of the environment, especially lighting, to insure the best deliverable image. If images within the same set are not consistent from start to finish, that is a sign that the photographer may not have been paying attention to the light during that photographic set.
How to determine if an image is good?
Photography as an art form is very subjective. This is one of the very best things about photography and it is this very subjectivity that allows for such variation. It is my belief that one cannot say which image is “bad” or “good”; instead one can determine whether an image should be a delivered or one that should not be delivered. Thankfully that is a very easy process.
Simply put, a deliverable image must have these three things: proper composition, proper exposure, and proper color.
1. Composition refers to how the image is framed. Is the subject on center with the physical borders of the photograph, or is it off center? Is there a tilt? If so does it add to the aesthetic of the image or was it obviously the result of taking a misaligned shot?
2. Exposure talks about the brightness and darkness of the image, and more specifically how the overall image is presented. Are their details in the bright parts of the image, such as the sky? How about the darker parts, such as shadows. Digital cameras are terrible at reproducing the dynamic range that the human eye can see. Many times the photographer must balance the shadows and highlights in an image by managing artificial light to light the shadows during the day while still being able to have proper exposure in the highlighted elements.
3. Color reproduction is probably the most important part of a photograph and the first thing noticed when an image appears to be off. Our eyes can see billions of colors. Most cameras are able of record millions of colors, most screen can only show thousands to millions of colors, and many printers can only show thousands of colors on a physical page- this is one reason that photographers prints cost more: they are created with inks, dyes, and printers that can faithfully reproduce millions to billions of colors. The printer sitting in your home is not a professional photographic tool and will not be able to product the same quality of prints. Color is described properly by value, hue, and luminescence. Managing the colorscape of an image requires very specific knowledge. It takes years of photographing images to be able to learn to read the light of a scene and produce the best image possible. Cameras are getting better at this but they will never be able to match the human eye. Deliverable images require all of these items, but to be truly exceptional all three components must be used together to create a work of art.
Should the photographer edit the image or should it be perfect when he takes it?
Photography, as an art form, has always been a four-stage process: visualize the subject, compose and make the image, develop the image, and produce the image. Visualizing, composing, and making the image are very much the same today as they were a hundred years ago.
The latter parts, developing and producing the image, have changed dramatically. Photographers working with film must develop their images in a darkroom. During this process of developing the negative, the photographer uses chemical and physical processes to bring about the best negative for which to enlarge and develop on photographic paper.
The use of an enlarging machine, which uses light and magnifying glass to produce an image on photovoltaic paper, is used to create images of many different sizes. Choice of paper and composition is very important because this step of the process which will produce the final printed image.
Digital photographers don’t require the same developing process. No darkroom is needed because the digital sensor stores a raw image and the image can be processed in special software. Many people are familiar with Photoshop. This is a popular editing choice for photographers because of its wide number of tools, ability to process raw images from many different cameras, and its ability to allow for very detailed control over the final look of an image.
There are other programs out there which will do the same. The final analysis is that to have a superior output, excellent input is needed. When I photograph weddings, I shoot in the raw format (plus JPEG's) which gives me the very best latitude when editing images.
In every case, the photographer must provide the client with edited images for the client to have something of any merit- otherwise the camera, not the photographer, will be making lots of choices. When the camera chooses, you lose. Be very wary of photographers that take thousands of images at weddings and talk more about their camera specifications than their photographic expertise.
Digital cameras have made it very easy to enter the photographic world of wedding photography, and a new trend that has sprung up is a “straight-to-disk” photographic service. This is also known as "burn-and-turn" photography because the photographer shoots thousands of images and then burns them straight to disk. The client is left with thousands of unedited and unusable images.