Ok, I’ve been doing photography outsourcing for a long time. Almost a decade, in fact.
That’s longer than some photographers have even been in business.
Needless to say I’ve learned what does and doesn’t work when it comes to outsourcing, and what you should do to ensure you have a successful outsourcing relationship.
Beware though – there’s some straight-up #RealTalk in this article here, so approach at your own risk.
Let me lay it on ya.
1. You want everything to be perfect. Literally, perfect.
I know that you’ve poured your blood, sweat, and tears into your images, and you want the final product to reflect that same level of care.
That makes sense, and ultimately your final product should reflect that level of care.
However, keep in mind that with outsourcing you’re working with another human being.
Even though this person may be extremely experienced and exceptional at their job, they’re still a different person entirely and as such, will perceive your images differently than you will.
(And not only that, but they’ll also be working on a different monitor and computer than you will!)
Does this mean you have to lower your standards?
Not really, actually
Rather, it means you have to adjust your standards and really define what they are.
Here’s what I mean.
Figure out where your limits are as to what you consider to be acceptable work (aka, something you can deliver to the client even though it’s not 100% exactly the way you would do it), and what you consider to be unacceptable.
How much wiggle room are you able to allow?
If an image is within 0.1 points of the correct exposure, is that still considered deliverable? What about 0.2 points?
What if the images are maybe 100 degrees cooler than what you consider the perfect white balance? Is that still an acceptable product that you can send to your client?
If you can’t come up with those parameters because you feel everything has to be exactly perfect on the nose, chances are your perfectionism will not allow you to outsource.
You’ll constantly be sending back work or redoing work yourself, which defeats the purpose.
However, I will note that a really good outsourcer will take direction from you when you say something is ‘too bright, too cold, etc.’ and adjust their editing accordingly.
An even better editor will take those critiques and re-edit work for you to make sure it’s on par with what you want, and within the parameters that you consider to be acceptable and deliverable work.
(Though I will take this opportunity to remind you that your average client, as they are not photographers, will not notice small fluctuations in white balance, exposure, etc.
They will remember how you treated them, how you made them feel, your customer service, etc. So keep that in mind when working towards letting go of some of your perfectionism.)
2. You’re not willing to take the time to work with someone.
If someone is taking the time to learn something from you, you have to fulfill your part of the bargain and teach it to them.
If you’re not willing to provide feedback and direction but still expecting them to figure out what you want, it’s never going to work.
Ever. Period. Amen. End of story.
Outsources are humans too, and even though a lot of us are freaking amazing, we’re still not blessed with the gift of telepathy yet.
There’s lots of ways you can communicate your style to someone too.
Using examples on your website/blog and social media is great, but there’s other things you can do too like taking videos of you editing so the person learning your style can see it in action.
I’ve actually had clients do this with me in the past and it’s really helpful.
Otherwise, detailed notes and written instructions of how you approach an image for editing is also great.
Providing before-and-after edits is great as well, and examples of your edits vs. their edits.
For me, I always keep that sort of stuff on file for each client so I have them to reference in the future.
3. It takes you a ridiculously long time to edit just a few images.
How long does it take you to edit approximately 25 images, including any retouching you may do?
I know that it will depend on if they’re wedding images, portrait images, boudoir images, etc. But just think about how much time you invest in editing approximately 25 images.
Truthfully, it shouldn’t take you more than a couple hours at the absolute max, including retouching time.
If you’re taking longer than that, you’re either being too much of a perfectionist.
(This is obviously an overgeneralized statement since some very specific types of photography such as fashion and fine art photography will require that sort of time commitment, but I’m referring to the average wedding or portrait photographer here.)
I once had a client inquire with me saying that they spent 8 hours on one 25-image portrait session.
So they were losing an entire day per every portrait session they shot.
And honestly, that sort of time commitment is not sustainable (unless, for example, you’re making an average of $7k+ per session or something).
Not only is it unsustainable for you, it’s going to be very difficult to find someone else that can commit that much time to every portrait session and still be affordable.
If you spend 8 hours per 25 images, that means you’re going to have to pay someone else adequately for that same amount of time.
For me, a full 8 hours of editing would charge out at almost $800.
If you outsourced two 25-image sessions a week, it would cost you $1,600 per week.
It’s just too much, and you really need to work on reigning in your perfectionism if you expect to have a successful outsourcing relationship.
4. Your editing workflow is way too complicated.
I’ve had clients get in touch with me in the past and had them describe their workflow to me in the following way:
“I start editing in LR and do my basic exposure and white balance adjustments there. Then, I open each image in PS (via LR) and apply 3+ different actions at varying opacities and layers, using the paint brush to make spot adjustments as needed. After that I retouch each one of those images while still in PS. Then I finish editing the images LR and apply a few more edits there as well as a couple presets, perform an animal sacrifice, spill the blood of a virgin, spin around in a circle three times while barking like a dog, and then finally export everything to jpeg.”
However, this sort of workflow is complicated, and not only is it difficult to teach to someone else, it’s almost impossible for someone else to replicate (notice I said almost, and not completely).
Also, think of it this way.
If you get the final product back from an editor and it doesn’t meet your expectations, it’s almost impossible to tell where in the process things went wrong.
Was it in the basic adjustments in LR? In PS? Before the final export to jpeg? And if the issues arose at the very beginning of the process, how do you correct the problem without having to completely start over?
More than likely, you can’t – you or the editor will have to start all over again.
Before outsourcing, I highly recommend you take a step back and assess whether or not all these steps are necessary, and where you can cut down or combine some of these steps.
Remember, your clients will most likely NOT know if their images are technically perfect; they’re looking more for the experience than they are the technical perfection of the final image.
That isn’t to say you shouldn’t care about the final product, but rather, put more emphasis and energy into the things that the client will actually notice and care about – how you make them feel, your customer service, and how you go above and beyond for them.
And if your editing style does include animal sacrifices, that’s ok – you do you! No one is going to tell you that’s right or wrong because this is art – there is no definitive right or wrong.
As long as it’s sustainable and doesn’t leave you working 80+ hours a week for less than minimum wage, go ahead and do it.
But do be aware that when you’re looking into outsourcing, it may make the relationship complicated at best, and unworkable at worst.
(psst…if you want to know what I recommend for the most streamlined workflows, you can check out my blog post here.)
So what’s the best way to ensure your outsourcing relationship is successful?
Now that we know what’s not going to work, what DOES work?
Like I already mentioned, there’s some great things you can do like take detailed notes on how you edit, and even provide video tutorials.
But in my years of experience, this is one of the best things you can do.
If you use Smart Previews and LR catalogues with your editor, edit a few images in the catalogue and send the catalogue – with those edits – to your editor.
That way they can see exactly what you did and work through your entire editing process.
They can also make similar images (like if it’s a set of bridal portraits, for example) look like the one you edited too. That way, you’re most likely to get back mages that meet your exact needs.
If you don’t use LR, that’s ok. Edit a few sneak peak images and send the jpegs along.
A good editor should be able to do a side-by-side comparison of the sneak peak image and the images they’re editing and match the editing style almost perfectly.
So are you still considering outsourcing?
It’s ok if you’re a little bit hesitant now about outsourcing, especially if you know that you do some of the things I say don’t work well for outsourcing relationships.
However – don’t hesitate to ask! If I (or another outsourcer) doesn’t think it will work, they will most likely tell you or at least give it a shot first.
I have clients that together we’ve come up with more complex workflows, but only after working with each other for a period of time and understanding what works for us and what doesn’t work for us.
For me, this is definitely one of the advantages of working with a small, regular client base over a long period of time.