the Journal

I'm Sarah Leying: friend of God, photographer of marriage & family, and hopeless romantic. On this journal, I share my recent work, experiences, and personal journey with Jesus, art, heritage, and learning to capturing the nuance of Love and life in still photographs.

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How To Find Your Editing Style

Let me guess: everywhere you look, you see free editing softwares, advertisements, and an overwhelming amount of presets: presets here, presets there, presets everywhere –– the world of photography editing can be confusing, to say the very least! So how on earth are you supposed to find your editing style, one that actually makes you and your clients happy?

I feel you. It took me years and years of editing to find a style that I’m content with –– but it doesn’t have to take YOU years. I’ve put together a step-by-step list for you to help you find your ideal editing style, from the perspective of a wedding and portrait photographer. Let’s go!


Step 1: Put on a client mindset

Take you and your business –– and even your audience –– out of the picture for a while. If YOU were getting your senior photos done, if YOU were getting your wedding photographed, what kind of image do you want sent to all your family and friends? What kind of photo do you want framed on your wall? That’s key.

When it comes to how to find your editing style, you’ve got to remember that if we as photographers don’t even enjoy looking at our own work, it’s only a matter of time before we burn out. I mean, you’re going to be editing hundreds of photos in this style. You’ll also be photographing hundreds of photos to match this style too.

So take yourself out of the photography industry. Quit thinking about what sells, and start thinking about what YOU would pay for. Would you want classic and true to life photos with minimal color changes? Would you go for film-toned photographers? Or deep down, do you just really want to photograph warm, earthy boho-esque moments?

Action step: Create a Pinterest board or Instagram folder, and start saving every image you see that pulls your attention. Don’t overthink it.


Step 2: Look at presets without buying

After you’ve collected a group of images that you are drawn to as a client, chances are you’ll see a common thread in them. I gravitate towards film images with a good amount of contrast; others find themselves loving warm and moody images full of muted colors and golden sunsets.

Which takes us into the unavoidable subject of presets. Think of presets as highly customizable filters ––they set base colors and tones for your photos, and you can go into a software like Capture One or Lightroom to adjust any minute setting that you need to.

Presets aren’t something to avoid or look down on at all! But the biggest mistake we can make as photographers is seeing beautiful images edited with a certain preset and assuming that ours will look the same. Follow that mindset, and you end up having spent hundreds of dollars on presets and many, MANY hours faceplanting on your desk and hitting the “reset” button in Lightroom (this may or may not be personal experience DD:).

Once you have a vague idea of the colors and style that you like from Step 1, it’s time to explore presets. But hear me out here –– DO NOT spend a dime yet.

What to do instead: Join FaceBook groups. Reach out to friends who you know edit in styles you love.

Send them a RAW photo file and ask them if it’s possible for them to quickly test edit your photo. For example, TAP (The Archetype Process) FaceBook group is full of photographers who will edit images in a certain profile to give you an idea of what can be done with your photo. So are many other dark and moody or light and airy photographer groups!

By reaching out to preset FaceBook groups and fellow photographers whose work you admire, you can get a test run on a photo of your choice –– along with visual feedback on how your in-camera shots match, or don’t quite match, the editing you have in mind.

Light and airy editing style

Step 3: Take a look at your niche

Don’t mistake this for “Decide your editing style based on your niche”. There is ALWAYS room for the light and airy, warm and moody, and everything in between no matter what kind of portrait work you’re doing: families, wedding, seniors, you name it, it’s possible!

What this step is for is to find out your *audience* within said niche. For the sake of this post, let’s talk in extremes: light and airy vs. dark and moody.

In the wedding world, warm, moody editing tends to be popular with couples who book adventure sessions and elopements. You can also expect to see weddings decked out with pampas grass, rustic colors, and boho gowns. So, those couples are probably less likely to book a light and airy photographer. Catch my drift?

For senior photographers, these two extremes take on different forms. For example: from what I saw when I worked solely as a senior photographer, true-to-color senior photos lend themselves to parents who want albums and prints.

In short: get to know the audience that you want to serve! There’s no right or wrong; just familiarize yourself with these people. Because they’re people, not just a pool of potential clients, and you’ll be spending a lot of time with them.

Step 4: Pick an editing style and stick with it

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had a complete! Editing! Crisis!

(Both of my hands are raised, by the way.)

Even now, there are days when I put one of my former presets on a photo and think, “Wow. That looks AMAZING warm and moody. Sheesh, maybe I should . . . .”

Which is why this step is last! Because if it was just up to us, heck, we would change our editing at the sight of rain (or pampas grass. whichever you prefer). But once you’ve walked through steps 1 through 3, well, you have an audience to serve now. You have people who glance over your Instagram page when they’re looking for photographers to book or refer. It’s vital that you have some semblance of consistency that they can depend on.

You have an audience to serve now. You have fellow photographers who glance over your Instagram page when they’re looking for people to refer to their clients. So it’s vital that you show them consistency that they can depend on.

Here’s where you can seriously consider buying a preset. You can also hand edit a few photos in Lightroom to experiment and teach yourself the ins and outs of what you like and don’t like your finished photos to look like!

Either way, consistency is key, so set a number of sessions that you absolutely will NOT change your editing style during. Let’s say –– ten sessions. Now put that light and airy, or that dark and moody, or true to life edit, on every photo from those sessions, and deliver those galleries, no if, ands, or buts.

Over those ten sessions, you’ll be able to see what works and what doesn’t. Maybe the people you’re photographing have a similar way of dressing that just doesn’t work with your vision. Maybe you’re realizing that your edit looks fantastic on a wide-angled shot, but looks weird on the skin for individual portraits. Either way, keep finding those issues and improving on them with every gallery you deliver.

Once you’ve completed your set number of galleries, reassess. Chances are that you feel differently about your editing than you did when you delivered your first one! Do you feel like you need to branch out? Do you want to tweak your current editing more over the next weeks and months? It’s up to you from here on out, but after reading this post, you’ve gotten a solid head start on how to find your editing style! You got this!

Sarah Leying is a wedding photographer in Chapel Hill, NC capturing the journey of marriage in unhurried and artful photographs. Follow along on Instagram or continue reading the blog below!