How to salvage a bad wedding photography experience?
May 14, 2008 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Trying to salvage a bad wedding photography experience. How do I utilize and process these files and help a burned bride?

My brother and sister-in-law got married late last year and hired a somewhat sketchy wedding photographer to save on the budget. This photographer's communication skills were very poor and we were all relieved when she actually showed up for the wedding. She shot quite a few photos then left for the night saying she'd see the couple again soon. She was never seen or heard from again.

My sister-in-law is not someone to be messed with and after waiting six months and not getting any of her phone calls, e-mails or letters returned, she took legal action against the photographer to get their photos. At long last, a CD with a signed copyright notice came with no explanation for the delay and none of the fees or albums she should have gotten back ever surfaced.

So, my brother and sister-in-law turned to me. I'm a graphic designer with a web and screen printing experience and some print experience. They wanted me to take the unprocessed photos and color correct/touch them up. No problem, I thought. I was wrong.

The files are less than great. They are JPGs - a nice 80 inches wide when I load them into Photoshop, but they are only 72 dpi. Awful. We think these are actually the files the photographer shot and that she didn't use RAW or TIFF.

My second problem is that the bride, feeling burned my photographers in general, wants me to do her prints and album. I've never done anything like this before and don't know exactly where to start. I started contacting some album companies, but they will only work with established photographers. I know that this is understandable and they do this to protect their clientele, but it is frustrating for me.

I've taken the files to a popular local photo processing place and had a large test strip run to see how the resolution would print. It was not bad and probably good enough to hang on a wall.

I need to proceed from here, now. My questions are:
-Does anyone have any tips for how to process the photos so that I can get proofs to the bride and help her get the prints she wants? Should I go with the local processor or is there a lab somewhere that would work with a graphic designer?
-Are there any album companies that will work with a graphic designer? My bride is very picky and wants a flush-mount seamless album of good quality.
-Any tips for photographic color correction? I have practical experience from prior jobs doing catalogs, but somehow this seems different and a little more daunting.

Thanks so much for your help. Normally I would tell my sister-in-law to take this to a photography professional, because I would just as soon give the business to a skilled individual who knows what they are doing and has more resources. I really want to do this for them though, if I am able. This is my brother and his wife and they have done a lot for me in the past and I'd really like to help them out in this situation. Thanks again!
posted by bristolcat to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen (and purchased) some nice books from Apple's photo-printing service (available through iPhoto or Aperture). Not sure it's quite at the level of what you would get from a professional photographer's service, but on the other hand, it sounds like you don't have professional photographs, either.

Especially if you have access to Aperture, there are a lot of interesting, flexible photo book choices.
posted by leahwrenn at 1:06 PM on May 14, 2008

Fix the photos the best you can, then use blurb.
posted by jazzman at 1:15 PM on May 14, 2008

You could print all the photos in a hardbound book from Blurb. You can lay the pages out yourself however you like them. I have never seen the final product in person though but the photos of the books look great.
posted by GuyZero at 1:16 PM on May 14, 2008

You could use Blurb to make a nice hardcover book.

(And wouldn't 80" @ 72 translate into something like 720 dpi @ 8" ? )
posted by R. Mutt at 1:18 PM on May 14, 2008

Best answer: Mrs. Ant over at WeddingBee has a lot of great advice for brides trying to make albums without their photographers.
posted by Alison at 1:22 PM on May 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestions but I am definitely thinking of something beyond Blurb. I just used Blurb to publish a photo book for my own wedding and comparing it to what my sister-in-law wants is like comparing an apple to an orange. She has something more like this* in mind.

*This company would not work with me, unfortunately.
posted by bristolcat at 1:24 PM on May 14, 2008

Best answer: Dittoing Blurb, I've used it myself for photos and it turns out very well.

As for processing, something you might consider is whether or not the bride wants a more "processed" look to them - deeper contrasts, more punchy, sometimes with a soft filter. These styles and more are very popular for some kinds of wedding photography.

Best bet is to ask the bride - show her some examples (like from the site below) to see if she wants that kind of "look" for the final photos.

If you're not familiar with this kind of stylized retouching you might consider picking up an action set or two for Photoshop to help you: Nicole Van's actions offer a great selection of styles.

Also, if you're not familiar with retouching skin, you might consider picking up Portraiture, which is also a plugin and will help LOADS with skin tones and evenness.

You didn't mention your budget for this but IMO if your bride is looking for these kind of results, these two ideas (and there are LOTS out there where these came from) are worth their weight in gold.
posted by twiki at 1:26 PM on May 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Blurb is great and I've used them for parent albums, but you'll get more of a coffee table book and not a flush-mount like your bride wants. The blog entry I linked above has suggestions for companies that will do flush-mounts, and they are really a different, much more expensive animal than the hardcover books that Blurb does.
posted by Alison at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2008

My deepest sympathies to the newlyweds. I was once in a similar situation. It's not something they should have had to go through.
posted by JimN2TAW at 1:28 PM on May 14, 2008

If you've got 72 dpi images that are 80 inches wide, that's 5,760 pixels wide. Sounds like there's plenty of data there. That the files are jpegs means that some image quality has been lost, but it's not like you or anybody else will be able to look at these pictures and point to anything in particular that isn't as rich as it should be. (They should be saved as tiffs or another lossless format when any forthcoming editing occurs, though.)

I'm not sure what the industry standard for wedding albums is these days (not to mention what your sister-in-law particularly wants), but if getting decently priced professional prints is a practical starting point, Adorama is a good resource.

An alternative to an "album company" would be to find out where the book and paper artists hang out in your community -- I'll bet you could find someone who makes beautiful books and has layout skills you trust. I see you're in Sioux Falls -- so maybe the Minnesota Center for Book Arts is a useful resource.
posted by gum at 1:31 PM on May 14, 2008

80in at 72 dpi is 5760 pixels which is 19.2 in @ 300dpi, which pretty big. (Do Image > Image Size, un-check Resample image and set the dpi to 300) As long as you don't resample, you're not adding or removing information, just adjusting the size of the output dots.

Now, how they got to that size is a question, I have a 40D (10 MP) and the native files are 3888 px wide. Camera RAW says if I up sample to 5120 it's like 17 MP, which would be one fancy camera for a flaky photographer.

Depending on the version, PS can do Contact Sheets that you can email to the bride to at least start the process of weeding out the really awful ones, look in File > Automate.

Google, "color correction gray point curves", the basic idea is you tell PS via the eye-dropper: this spot is gray, and PS will try to adjust the channels to make that spot numerically gray thus eliminating a color cast. This works OK. Sometimes it's WAY off.

Shadow and Highlight is a pretty powerful tool (if your ver. of PS has it) for recovering detail if the exposures are bad.
posted by JulianDay at 1:31 PM on May 14, 2008

They are JPGs - a nice 80 inches wide when I load them into Photoshop, but they are only 72 dpi.
This is tangential to your question, but remember that "dpi" is kind of meaningless when you're dealing with images in Photoshop, until it comes time to print. An image that's 80 inches wide at 72 DPI would be 40 inches wide at 144 DPI, 20 inches wide at 288 DPI, etc. If you're printing these pictures out at 8x10, you'll be getting about 576 DPI which is plenty, so don't sweat that. The JPEG-ness is kind of sketchy in this day and age, but you can still get a decent quality print out of a high quality JPEG.

Also, some lateral advice here ... either make it clear that you may not be able to handle this, or else bail on helping out if you want to stay friends. The reason professional wedding photography still exists is to handle the stress involved in "perfectly" capturing and reproducing a one time event. (perfectly according to the bride and groom).

Proofs are just prints, so going to a lab shouldn't be a problem. If you start getting crap about not being a wedding photographer printing wedding photos and what are you trying to pull, show them the copyright release you have. That's what it's for. They may want a physical copy of the release, just remember to NEVER hand the original over to anyone.

Are there any schools with a photography program in your area? You might find a student that's willing to help with the inner workings of the wedding photo trade (aka, could help with getting a quality album made, and not some print on demand schlock).
posted by alan at 1:32 PM on May 14, 2008

My bride is very picky and wants a flush-mount seamless album of good quality.

I think you have to manage some expectations here. Give them an idea of what you would be able to do, and ask them if that product is something they would be interested in. If not, tell them that you can't help them, but here are the names of some people that look like they know what they are doing.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:32 PM on May 14, 2008

Oh, woah on the Blurb shoutouts. Anyway, if that's not your thing then just lay out individual pages, print them on high-high-quality paper and stick them in a nice album. You can get albums like this at places like Michael's craft supplies, etc. Check out "scrapbooking" stores - they exist to create stuff like this.
posted by GuyZero at 1:37 PM on May 14, 2008

My bride is very picky and wants a flush-mount seamless album of good quality.

My brother and sister-in-law got married late last year and hired a somewhat sketchy wedding photographer to save on the budget.

They want the fancy stuff without having to pay for it . . . that's fine and good, but there is a reason there are professionals for this kind of thing and a reason behind their prices. I'm not saying that you wouldn't be able to take on this project. But, it does seem a huge undertaking.

Rock Steady, above, has it right. See what you can reasonably do and present it to them to see if it's what they want . . . if not . . .then they need to get someone who can do it right (and they will need to pay for it).

Look around for different layouts - what you linked to above is simply beautiful - no disputing that, but given your limitations, I'd explore other just as beautiful options that you can do yourself. Maybe presenting with something just as classy and mentioning the price issue, they'd be willing to compromise.
posted by Sassyfras at 1:42 PM on May 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Check out for really nice albums. I'm a sometimes wedding photographer and that's my style...print out the pictures myself and then mount them in one of those albums. I think they are very classy, and so much nicer than that flush cut BS. I think most wedding albums are truly awful looking though. Apparently most people do not.

If your jpegs are 80 inches wide at 72dpi, they are high res. You don't have to worry. If the pictures suck though, they suck. Nothing to be done abotu that. Do you know how to do a levels adjustment in photoshop? that will fix a lot of exposure problems, probably the #1 worst problem with photographs.

Sounds like the bride scrimped and got screwed and is now looking for you to fix everything. I would not want to be in your shoes, exactly.
posted by sully75 at 1:46 PM on May 14, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, the answers are coming fast! Thanks everyone, I totally got reschooled in resolution. I think that my concern came in that the bride's original print she wanted was quite large and so the resolution did come into play there and that's why we did the test strip.

I'm confident in my layout abilities and I am willing to design the album. It's not unlike things I have done before. I am happy to get these tips, however. The actions site was awesome as are some of the color correction tips. Usually I'm color correcting golf equipment, not people, so I'm a little intimidated. But, we already weeded through the contact sheets and we have the photos picked out. So, it's just a matter of getting to the next step.

It's also nice to get an idea of who is who and what is what in the photography world. There aren't any book artists or photography schools in my area, unfortunately.

Also, I think the bride is willing to pay for a good quality album, but still wants me to do it as they trust me and have seen some of the other things I've done. I'm just trying to get a handle on how a photographer's workflow works and what resources I need to utilize.
posted by bristolcat at 1:48 PM on May 14, 2008

Don't fret about them being 72 ppi (dpi is essentially an obsolete/inaccurate term when speaking of digital camera originals). 80" wide at 72 ppi translates into 19.2 inches wide at 300 ppi. So, it sounds like you have no problem issues regarding sufficient resolution for large prints or whatever you want.

If the photographer didn't upsize the images prior to delivering to you, they were taken with a (relatively) very high end high resolution camera. As a graphic designer you probably have Adobe Photoshop. If so, open one of the files and go to File>File Info>Camera Data 1. If the fields are populated this will tell you what kind of camera was used. Based on the file dimensions in your original post, I'm guessing one of the Canon 1DS models.

I mention all of the above because even though you think the photographer shot jpegs, you'll want to take extra care in any subsequent image processing steps if the size of the originals has already been ramped up, since the photographer may have done this in a less than optimal way.

Actually, pretty much all of the advice I was going to give you from this point on depends upon whether or not you have the current version of Photoshop. If you do, you can do some image optimization on an individual images or batch basis in Bridge which will be non-destructive to your working files. If you post an answer to this I can perhaps be of more help.

Also, and this is important, is the signed copyright notice you received with the disk a copyright release bearing language which gives your brother the right to print or otherwise reproduce the photos, or is it a document asserting that the photographer does not grant permission for this?
posted by imjustsaying at 1:50 PM on May 14, 2008

They are JPGs - a nice 80 inches wide when I load them into Photoshop, but they are only 72 dpi. Awful.

Huh? That's VERY high resolution. 72dpi is just the way you're choosing to view them. If they're regular 4:3 images, that's 5670x4320 pixels, which is 24 million pixels.

24 megapixel is not "awful" photographic resolution. It's terrific!
posted by rokusan at 2:02 PM on May 14, 2008

(I have to preface this by saying I'm a professional wedding photographer...)

I hate to say this, but you should really take the prints to a professional photographer. Just don't get a sketchy one this time.

No "tips" or tutorials can substitute for the years of experience that a professional will have editing photos. It is also true that many album companies will only work with professional photographers.

Especially for something as crucial as wedding photos, isn't it worth the cost of hiring someone who has done this a hundred times over?

Since you don't need the photog to shoot the wedding, you have the entire world of photographers on the internet to choose from. Look for someone whose "style" you like and ask about pricing for Photoshopping and a flushmount album.
posted by mamessner at 2:02 PM on May 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

I guess everybody's mileage varies.

I'm a professional photographer too, and I have to say that if somebody called me to work over someone else's photos, they'd be looking at some extremely serious dollars; like more dollars than it would have cost them to have booked me to shoot the event in the first place and deliver it as it should have been delivered.

I know that there are specialists who will be more than happy to put things together for the original poster, but I don't think that there will be a lot of photographers beating down the doors to clean up another photographer's mess unless there's a very large check to be writen when it's all said and done.

Of course, if writing the very large check isn't a problem then more power to you!
posted by imjustsaying at 2:33 PM on May 14, 2008

In the Zookbinders FAQ, they mention Zoho Design as the shop they work through. Zoho Design will take the photos, do post-processing, and then get Zookbinders to make the album. If the couple is willing to spend some money for the seamless album, I think that's a good way to go. It takes the pressure off you for both the post-processing work and printing. You can be there to help them review the photos and pick the ones for the album.
posted by junesix at 4:10 PM on May 14, 2008

I really want to do this for them though, if I am able.

Seconding mamessner. I find it a bit strange that, after being cheapskates and hiring a cut-rate photographer, and getting burned in the process, they are cheapskates in trying to salvage the situation. This sounds like a recipe for serious disappointment if your attempts don't meet their apparently high standards.

Could you tactfully explain, "I've consulted with a lot of people who know what they are talking about, and they advised you to hire professionals"?
posted by jayder at 7:13 PM on May 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks to those who answered the questions I asked. I'll update this thread later with what steps I took.
posted by bristolcat at 8:31 PM on May 14, 2008

I went through the same song-and-dance with wedding album companies when I first tried to get set up as a wedding photographer. I don't have experience with these guys because I went with another company, but Art Leather may be able to help you out. If you contact your local rep and tell them you're just starting out, they'll tell you when the next tradeshow is and give you a free pass, and you can go check out their wares. But since your bride is sure she wants flushmount, you may even be able to just go ahead and get their price lists and info. You probably need to give them a tax ID in order to get the info, but maybe you have one already if you happen to be freelance?
posted by xo at 11:41 PM on May 14, 2008

« Older Help me find medical insurance in Boston.   |   Because I *want* to drink orange juice after... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.