One of the questions I get asked the most often before and after photographing a wedding is “How long will it take to edit our wedding photographs?” Every wedding photographer will likely have a slightly different answer, as everyone edits differently, and everyone has different schedules, so I can only really speak for myself.

Typically, for a full day wedding, and especially between May and September, I’ll advise allowing up to 6-8 weeks before it’s all ready for you. Sometimes I get everything ready a few weeks quicker, and very occasionally it might actually take a bit longer, but that’s a good rule of thumb.

So why does it take that long? Well, from start to finish the actual work is probably 2-3 full working days, including all the bits and pieces in between the ‘editing’ parts. So it’s more about when I can carve out the time in my diary between shoots, edits, general admin etc – it’s just little old me here after all!

But when I’m actually working on your photos here’s what the process looks like.

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Step one: import all the photos from my cameras

This gets done on the night of your wedding. If I’m coming straight home everything gets downloaded to my Mac Mini’s huge internal SSD. If I’m on the road at a hotel it gets copied to my MacBook Pro’s equally huge SSD, and then copied from there to the Mac Mini when I get home.

Then I use Carbon Copy Cloner to make a second copy of the whole shoot on an external ‘Archive’ drive. Then both the Mac Mini SSD and the Archive drive are copied again to backup drives.

The new files on my Mac Mini also start uploading to my cloud backup service, Backblaze. So within a day or two I have a fifth copy available off-site. I also have a copy on the SD cards too, but they’re formatted once all my backups are made and verified.


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Step two: culling the shoot for the first time

It’ll usually be several weeks before I get to this stage, for a few reasons. Firstly, I don’t like to edit more than one wedding at a time, so I only start this once I’ve got the last wedding I was editing completely delivered.

I also really want to get this stage done in as close to one go as possible, so I typically wait until I’ve got at least a full half-day free to dedicate. I usually have other shoots during the week and they typically require overnight editing, so there can be a bit of a backlog.

Once I’ve got the time I need I sit down and I go through all 5000+ photos, very quickly, giving anything that looks like a potential keeper ‘two stars’ in Adobe Lightroom Classic, my editing software.

(Photographers – are you still using Photo Mechanic for culling and Lightroom Classic for editing? Unless you’ve got a really slow computer it’s perfectly possible to cull at high speed in LRC these days! Give me a shout and I’ll share my settings)

The alternative is to give everything a rating, or to select what you want to chuck out. However, I find it’s much easier and quicker to decide if something is any level of ‘good’ than if something is ‘bad’. I can make more detailed quality decisions later once I’ve got the best shots selected.

This first pass through will typically take a couple of hours to do properly, with occasional breaks to stretch my legs and rest my eyes and brain! And I’ll usually end up having selected a fifth to a quarter of however many I shot. There’ll be loads of ‘doubles’, and shots I’ve got better versions of elsewhere, but it’s a start!

(Photographers – wondering if I use AI-powered culling tools? I’ve tried a couple and I really, really don’t like them. I just think the selection needs to be done by a human being who was there, and knows what stories were important, and which photos best capture the emotions. A cold, unfeeling AI algorithm can’t really do that, and I’d need to double-check it which rather defeats the purpose.)


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Step three: refining the selection

At this point I either take a break and go and do something else for a bit, or if I’m In The Zone then I dive right back in. Either way, when I’m ready I’ll filter for everything I’ve given two stars and I’ll go through this selection giving things I don’t like so much just one star.

That’s the opposite of what I was doing the first time (selecting what I want to keep, not what I want to lose) but by now I’m very familiar with what I’ve selected so far, so it’s much easier to tell if I don’t want to keep something because I know I’ve got a better photo of that person elsewhere, or to compare two versions of the same moment.

After this process I’m almost always down to around 700-900 photos, depending on the day. Now I’m done with simple ‘culling’ and I’m ready to start actually editing.


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Step three: run my basic ‘look’ across the selected photos

I move all the selected files into a new folder called ‘Selected Raws’ in the wedding folder and apply my basic ‘look’ to everything in Lightroom.

This is my starting point, applying general colouring and toning to everything to get me in the ‘ballpark’, and make it start looking like one of my edited weddings. But each individual photo will need further correcting depending on how I exposed it at the time, the white balance for the scene, and how I want to crop or creatively style each image to match my vision.

With this simple first step done I usually step away from the computer and I may not come back to them to start proper editing for several days or even a couple of weeks. Again, this is partly because I want to be able to dedicate a long chunk of time to the final stages of editing rather than doing it in lots of smaller sessions; but also so that I stay fresh and excited about the photos.

(Photographers – unlike with culling, I have started to use AI tools to apply my basic ‘look’; I like Imagen AI, which I’ve trained on thousands of my own edited raw files. I don’t have a problem using AI to apply the basic look as all it’s really doing that a preset can’t is adjusting exposure and white balance based on how it knows I like my images to look, saving me a few extra seconds per image. That frees me up to focus on the more important details like cropping and artistic adjustments.)


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Step four: start the final edit

So it’s usually been at least a day or two since I culled everything and applied my basic ‘look’ in Lightroom Classic. As soon as I’ve got ideally a full clear day available with no shoots or other edits it’s time to get cracking on the ‘final’ edit. Sometimes that’s the next day, sometimes it’s a week or two later.

This is where the real ‘editing’ work happens. I’ll go through everything one by one and make individual edits to each one. The first adjustments are usually to correct exposure and white balance; often I’ll crop it slightly to better frame the story, or set markers to straighten an image I really want to be perfect; there might be a range of light sources I need to balance across the image with masks; or something distracting in the background I want to remove; sometimes I’ll convert to black and white, either because that’s how I saw it when I shot it or because as I’m editing I realise it just works better that way (for example, because there’s so many light sources I can’t correct the white balance pleasingly).

I don’t tend to ‘retouch’ people with heavy skin smoothing and teeth whitening and ‘slimming’ techniques as I prefer to depict reality as much as possible. But some special portraits I’ll do a little retouching work to hide a temporary blemish, or smudged makeup, and others I’ll do some more detailed editing with masks and brushes to shape the light and shadows to fit the mood I want to create for the portrait.

And along the way there’ll usually be around 50-60 more photos that don’t make the cut, as I get more familiar with everything I’ve shot.

Here and there I’ll be able to skip through a series of photos quickly with no tweaks, such as the confetti moment where I shoot dozens of photos over just a few seconds and I can copy and paste the settings from the first one to all of them. Other times I might spend five or ten minutes on a single ‘hero’ image I want to make perfect.

I’ll usually give myself a full working day to do all this at a relaxed pace with a few breaks for coffee, lunch, some fresh air, or more likely catching up on a deluge of emails.

And once I get to the very end… job done, right? Not yet!


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Step five: finishing touches

First I go back through and filter for any images with high-ISO noise I want to clean up. Lightroom Classic has decent enough settings for this but they also have a new AI De-noising tool that works like magic! However, it takes around 10-15 seconds per image, so if there’s a lot to process (especially at night during the party) it could take an hour or so.

Once that’s finished working, job done, right? Still not yet!

Now I like to sleep on it and see if I still love what I’ve made the next day. Sometimes I see something obvious I missed the first time, or I might decide to tone down some of my more dramatic creative tweaks when I view them in the context of the whole set. The trick is not to get too carried away second-guessing my own work. Only stuff that really stands out to me gets this final tweak.

Once that’s done, they’re ‘finished’ and I’ll start preparing to export final JPGs.

Step six: get everything ready for you!

I upload the exported high resolution JPG files to my gallery website service, arranging everything by scene as much as possible. And then there’s a couple of other bits and bobs I do for you that I’ll keep secret here but can take another few hours to do properly.

Aaaand finally when it’s all ready, I drop you a line to let you know!