What You Need to Know

Explore the pros and cons of outsourcing editing as a freelance creative or small production house, as well as valuable tips on improving your workflow.

“Delegation is a delicate, but useful, skill,” photographer Evgeny Atamanenko tells us. Today, he has nearly 15,000 images in his Shutterstock portfolio. Throughout his career, he’s outsourced photo editing a few times. “Employing photo editors can be handy and save you time, but I’ve always made it a point to double-check everything myself.”

Double-Check Outsourced Work
When hiring out photo editors, make sure to double-check their work. Image by Evgeny Atamanenko.

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Photographers are artists, but they’re also entrepreneurs and business owners, and one of the most important decisions they can make is whether or not to edit their photos themselves. Some swear by outsourcing to professional retouchers, while others prefer to incorporate editing into their own workflow. The truth is, there are benefits and drawbacks to each approach, and what makes sense for one business might not work for another.

Online Resources
Online resources make outsourcing that much easier. Image by Rawpixel.com.

These days, outsourcing is a hot topic. As online services crop up — making the process easy and painless — more photographers are taking the leap. Below, we’ll cover the pros and cons of outsourcing editing as a freelance creative or small production house, while also sharing tips along the way.


Outsourcing Pros and Cons

Saving Time
Paying someone to edit saves time. Image by Gorodenkoff.

Pro: You’ll Save Time

Most photographers spend more time editing than they do shooting, and that’s the appeal of paying someone else to do it. Outsourcing is popular among wedding photographers for this reason. When you factor in the volume of photos and the quick turnaround times, efficiency is everything.

For many, $200-$300 is a small price to pay in exchange for several days of work you could spend earning more money. Before making a decision, calculate how much time you spend on editing and ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Con: You Have to Pay for It

The idea is to earn more than you spend. So, if you’re not bringing in enough income to justify the cost of outsourcing, that’s something to take into account. Luckily, most photo editing services are affordable, so unless you’re asking for complex, difficult edits, you’re unlikely to pay a fortune. At the same time, beware of scams. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Quick Tip: Find someone you trust. If you do plan to outsource, the most important factor is working with someone who understands your needs and vision. You might have to do a little research to find the retoucher who’s right for you, but in the long run it’ll save you time, money, and disappointment.

Do some digging on the best professionals in your area, or ask colleagues for references. If you’re using a service, do your homework, read reviews, and ask around. ShootDotEdit is a popular online option, and there are other similar services available.

Pro: You’re Hiring a Professional

A Professional Touch
Photo editors can perform this work in a professional, timely manner. Image by Rawpixel.com.

If editing isn’t something you’re passionate about or it isn’t where your strengths lie, you might benefit from another pair of eyes. Photo editors do this for a living, so chances are they know some advanced tricks you haven’t learned yet. Plus, they can do it quickly and painlessly.

Con: You’re Giving up Some Control

This is the biggest reason photographers put off outsourcing — they don’t want to give up their creative freedom. “I always edit my pictures myself, as editing is part of my creative process,” Aleksandra Suzi tells us. “Post-production is a time when I can change my mind as much as I want and create totally different moods and styles.”

If, like Suzi, editing is a strong suit of yours, it might be something you’d like to keep as part of your workflow.

Editing Your Own Work
Editing your own work allows you to be in complete control of the end product. Image by Aleksandra Suzi.

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Quick Tip: Give feedback. When outsourcing, keep the lines of communication open with your editors. If you have a style you’d like them to use, or an edit you’d prefer, let them know about it. Retouchers are experienced, but they aren’t mind readers — it might take a few times to get it perfect.  

Send references and explain exactly what you want. The more guidance you can provide, the better. You can also send them a package with your presets as a starting point. If your editor or service isn’t willing to communicate with you and listen to you, they probably aren’t right for you. Take it as a sign to move on to someone else.

Don't Over-Edit
Avoid over-editing your images. Image by Rawpixel.com.

One thing to keep in mind? Avoid over-editing. A good editor will make your photos shine — not change them beyond recognition. The days of retouched bodies and skin are in the past, as they should be.

“If you do outsource, it’s important that your editor values authenticity, rather than perfection, in photos,” the photographer Eric Kunau stresses. “I think it’s more important to show wrinkles, moles, imperfect teeth, etc., than having ‘perfectly’ Photoshopped people.”

Be Authentic
Make sure your editor values authenticity. Image by Eric Kunau.

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Plus, no matter what you decide — outsourcing or not — it helps to have your own retouching style and a solid understanding of different techniques you can use to make your images “pop.” Learning how to process your images helps you to identify your mistakes and solve them, making you a better photographer. A unique editing style can also make outsourcing more rewarding, since you can have the retoucher mimic your aesthetic and match it in their work.

Aesthetic Style
The photo editor your choose needs to understand your aesthetic style. Image by speakingtomato.

Ultimately, the number of photos you produce can help you decide whether outsourcing is worth the cost. If you work in small batches of images, you might prefer to do it yourself. If you’re creating thousands of images per week, however, you might spend so much time editing that you miss out on valuable shooting time. In that case, it might be time to outsource — or delegate — some of those responsibilities.

Of course, you always have the option of doing some edits yourself, and then outsourcing the rest. While some edits — like boosting contrast or playing with saturation — might take you seconds, others are more time-consuming. For instance, if it takes you hours to erase a logo or copyrighted detail from your stock photos, you could be wasting your time.

Some photographers even outsource during the busy season, then switch to doing the editing themselves when things slow down. If you’re a stock photographer, chances are you want to get your images processed and uploaded as quickly as possible. With tight turnaround times and timely topics, it makes sense to outsource.

Marketing Your Business
Hire a professional to assist you with the marketing side of your business. Image by wavebreakmedia.

Finally, editing isn’t the only business task you can outsource to professionals. You can also hire someone to take care of your marketing, email, and social media posting, helping you to reach more clients while also saving you time.

For stock photographers, keywording is another job to consider outsourcing. SEO experts understand how to craft metadata that’ll get your work found faster. For the emerging photographer and business person, accounting is non-negotiable, and hiring someone to do this for you can make all the difference.

It can be hard to let go of control over your business, but with the right team, it can also be a game-changer. Focus your time and energy on what fuels you creatively (and brings you income). And, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, delegate the rest as you see fit.


Cover image via Rawpixel.com.

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