Finish What You Started

Finish What You Started with Sal Cincotta

It is so important that, as artists, we finish our final images before delivering to our clients. The images we create are more than just a snapshot in time; they are truly a representation of how we see the world around us. These images will live on for generations to come. Shouldn’t we polish them before we deliver them to our clients?

Now, in the world of post-production, we tend to see two camps. There’s that of purists, who believe in just delivering images as they were captured, reminiscent of the days of film before we had Photoshop. And then there are those on the other end of the spectrum who believe in using software to shape, alter, and polish their images before presenting to their clients. I’d like to think I live somewhere in the middle, which I am sure many of you can relate to.

What I would like to do here is explore how the right amount of post-production can help you and your business stand out.

First, let’s start with this idea of being a “purist.” I love when I run into these people. “Not me, bro. I’m straight out of camera,” they claim. They go on, “It’s like the days of film—you didn’t have all this photoshopping, you had to get it right in camera.” Really? You do realize that even in the days of film, they were implementing post-production strategies, right? This is usually where I start scratching my head and question intelligence levels. Don’t get me wrong—if you are all about minimal retouching, I support you. I believe we all need to find our style and create a consistent brand, but please, know what you are talking about.

Even in the days of glass plate negatives, altering a photo was a thing. Darkroom techniques included dodging, burning, masking, skin smoothing, toning, body shaping and more. The “skinny” tool existed long before Photoshop. So, it’s laughable when people believe they are delivering on this nostalgic concept. Add to that the silly idea that in the world of digital, “straight out of camera” is delivering a real and natural image. I’m trying to be nice here, but for crying out loud, get your head out of your you-know-where. If you are using a camera, applying a camera profile, etc., you are altering the image. The difference is, instead of using Photoshop, you are allowing the camera’s processor and software to do the editing for you. But make no mistake, you are in fact manipulating the image.

Now, look, I’m saying all this to drive a single point home. We have to finish what we start. As photographers, as artists, we have a vision before we clicked the button. I am of the mindset that we need to use the tools available to us to create and finalize the image we see in our mind’s eye.

The single most important piece of advice I can give you regarding your images is to finish what you started. Post-production is without a doubt how my photography studio has stood out in a crowded market. You don’t have to shoot like me or edit like me, that’s not the point. The point is we must deliver a polished final image to our client. If we do not, we run the risk of our images looking and feeling like everyone else’s.

Here is my philosophy:

Software is a tool

It’s as simple as that. Photoshop, Lightroom, Capture 1, and others—these are all tools. No different than a hammer in your garage. And just like a hammer, each can be used to build something or destroy something.

To ignore the tool is to ignore progress. I don’t believe we can truly do our jobs without software. Photoshop, actions, presets, brushes, etc. are all there to make us more efficient. They are not meant to be one-click solutions to finishing our images.

Software is a large piece of the puzzle. Driving this home, your camera choice, your lens choice, your lighting choices, and your post-production choices all work cohesively to deliver on your final vision. Can you really do your job without all the pieces?

Post-production is a spice

Season to taste. If you cook, you know what I am referring to here. As a cook, you can pick any recipe and tweak it to your personal preferences. A little bit more of this, a little less of that. The next thing you know, you have created your own masterpiece. Is photography any different? I say, no.

I’m not here to tell you how much is too much or not enough. I am driving the point home, aggressively I might add, that we must finish what we started. I want you to realize something. The images you place on your site or your social media, the ones you print for your sales room—these images are a reflection of how you see the world and of your brand. This is what people are hiring you for.

Be consistent with your application. Some will love your work, and some will hate it. Who cares? Focus on the people who gravitate to your work. A consistent portfolio will make it that much easier to find them.

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See the final image before you click

Over the years, I have come to realize that the more work I do before the shot, the easier post-production becomes. I’m not saying I know what it will look like every single time I take an image. However, what I like to do is try to see the final image in my head. Is it a high-contrast shot? Will it look better in black and white or in color? I know this sounds like a trivial thing, but it can make a huge difference to start thinking this way.

This doesn’t only apply to color toning. If you think about the final image, you will also start to see details that can’t easily be fixed in post-production. I start to look a lot closer at hand placement, hair (have you ever had to edit hair? It can be a nightmare), bad makeup, etc.

Looking for what is wrong before you take the image can save you hours of time in post-production. Spend the ten seconds before you click looking at the details and thinking about the final shot. You will thank me.

Finalize to your specific brand and vision

This is all about you and your brand. Find your style. This is so important. Over the years, we have put a lot of energy into our style. Love or hate my work, you know it when you see it. Mission accomplished. Look, I can’t expect everyone to love my work, but trying to be everything to everyone is just not a realistic goal. Instead, my mindset is to create an image that people are passionate about, one that brides and teens love. They don’t like it—they love it. If you can do that consistently, then you will stand out in the world of photography. Your clients will find you, and they won’t haggle with you over $50.

When it’s all said and done, use the tools available to you to finish the image you started. Just like a carpenter might use finishing nails and trim to dress up their final project, we need to use the tools available to us to complete our final vision.

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