Should You Outsource Your Photography Post-Production For $3.89/Hour?

I’ve spent the last few months toying with the idea of hiring someone to do my post-processing. It usually takes me 8 hours to edit a full shoot. When I did a dozen or so of them back to back, I realised that it’s not sustainable – I felt like I was burning out from staring at a computer screen for so long.

The summer season is just a few months away, which means that if I continue to try and do everything myself, I won’t have much fun.

What’s worse, I’ll have to make my customers wait 2 months for their photos.

The Debate.

I began to look for solution the same way we all do – by searching on the Internet to see what other photographers think.

I quickly realised that finding a useful answer this way would be just as difficult as, say, finding out whether Democrats or Republicans are better. Everyone is polarised. Everyone has an opinion.

Here’s the debate in a nutshell: some embrace and love the idea. Others flatly reject it – sometimes out of principle, more rarely out of experience.

The Test.

I decided that the only way to settle this was with a good ol’ real-world experiment. So, I put up a job on oDesk which called for a “Photography & Post-Production (Lightroom & Photoshop) Specialist.”

About 100 people from about 10 countries applied. Countries included everywhere from USA and Canada, Ukraine and Philippines. Applicants’ fees ranged from $3.89 to $22.22 per hour.

From that pool of applicants I selected 15 finalists, based on experience, English skills and feedback on their profiles.

I sent each contestant 5 RAW files from my past photoshoots. I specifically chose images which had subtle issues, or which could not be edited well with Lightroom presets or obvious adjustments.

I gave each contestants guidelines on my style and told them to refer to my website to get a feel for what I want the photos to look like.

I requested that they send me back the edited JPEGs when they’re happy with their results.

The Images.

I’m going to share with you 3 out of the 5 images, so that I don’t use up all of Nate’s bandwidth with just this one post.

Here are the RAW files I sent them (JPEG previews of how they appeared, unedited, out of the camera) on the top. For your reference, my own edited “answers” to them on the bottom. Obviously the contestants didn’t see the edited versions.

I wanted to see how close the contestants would get to these “answers” – and I was hoping some would do better.

outsource post processing

This one is tricky because the subjects have dark skin and the day is quite bright. There’s also a very black dog that needs to be lifted out of the shadows.

outsource post processing

This one is lit from the front with a reflector, and obviously from the back with the sun. I wanted to see how they would use selective adjustments to balance those light sources.

outsource post processing

There is a lot of colour here in the green/yellow range – I wanted to see how they would deal with getting skin tones right. Would they focus on making the grass look pretty and forget about the skin?

The Contestants.

The 15 finalists could be, broadly, split into 2 categories:

  • Photographers / Professional Retouchers: $11-$22.22/hr

Most of these guys and gals were freelance togs who were making money on the side by doing editing. They had portfolio websites and clearly had an eye for colour and exposure. There were also a few applicants who weren’t togs, but specialised in editing/retouching – and it was clear that they’ve been doing it for a while.

  • People With Lightroom Experience: $3.89-$20/hr

Many of them tried to come off as being bigger than they were by calling themselves “Image Editing Specialists” or similar. They did not come from strong shooting/editing background. They happily offered photography adjustments as part of their services, though their experience revolved more around Photoshop trickery than manipulating the look & feel of a photo – e.g., cutting people from backgrounds, smoothing skin, cloning out distractions.

The rest were people who were jacks of all trades, selling everything from their accounting to data entry to photo editing skills. I didn’t include them in this test.

The Results.

This is what you’ve been waiting for, eh?

Let me give you some of the submissions and give you some context around each one.

outsource photography post-processing

This gentleman’s fee was $5/hr and he was a “Special Effects Artist”. As you can see, there are some significant over-saturation issues. I don’t like how he exposed skin across the board and that he paid no attention to alignment and removal of distractions.

outsource photography post-processing

This was a submission from a working stock photographer who has a good amount of experience shooting and editing. He quoted $14/hr. Although I don’t like his colour adjustments, I think he has a good eye for exposure. He also removed background distractions better than I did.

outsource photography post-processing

Another submission from a photographer quoting $10/hr. To me, these images look flat, colourless and boring.

outsource photography post-processing

This gentleman had the lowest rate at $3.89/hr and cast himself as “Expert Of Photo Editing”. ‘Nuff said.

outsource photography post-processing

This is a submission from a “Photoshop Expert”, who quoted $6/hr. An abundance of artefacts (is this due to extreme sharpening?) and obvious colour issues.

outsource photography post-processing

A studio photographer quoting $11/hr. Although he doesn’t solve the problems in a way that I like, he does it in a way which demonstrates a very good understanding of exposure. I like his sharpening, too. I’d consider him, with training, to handle a part of the editing process.

outsource photography post-processing

I really thought she would do a lot better than she did, as she runs a busy editing business and has a lot of positive feedback on her profile. To me, this is an example of someone following rules, rather than paying attention to look/feel – she made sure that none of the highlights and shadows are clipped, but made the images lifeless in the process. She quoted $14/hr.

outsource photography post-processing

A freelance photographer quoting $10/hr. I think he provides a nice, safe, uncreative and yet useful set of adjustments which can be used as a departure point for a final set of adjustments. I’d consider training him to take care a part of the post-production process.

The Surprise Winner.

For me, the clear winner was an ex-photographer who sent me this PDF as part of her submission.

She was more expensive than the others and her editing was above par as well, but what got me was her demonstrated ability to engage problems on a deeper level and spot problems which I didn’t see.

If you’re also on a hunt for a good post-processing specialist, I’m happy to put you in touch with her, touch bases either via my Twitter (@togentrepreneur) or Google Plus.

Avoid Cheap Wannabes.

Based on this experience, my own take on outsourcing of post-production is that it’s something worth looking into.

However, there’s a big “BUT”.

The results show clearly that hiring a wannabe photo editor at a cheap rate is not going to solve many problems. I think at the bare minimum, you need to find another freelance photographer with a considerable amount of shooting experience, so that they have an eye for exposure and colour and can speak your language.

It will take time to find the right people, test them and then working closely with them to make sure they know what you want from them.

And before all that happens, you have to know yourself what you want from them – which means  you need to be doing your own editing for some time.

There’s also the workflow side of things that needs to be thought about; you’ll need to redesign, test and then troubleshoot your image handling and backup processes.

Invest In People.

I think it would be a mistake to view outsourcing of post-production as a quick, transactional process which allows a photographer to “get rid of that headache”. Doing that will surely lead to disappointment and problems.

I think the best way to approach it is by viewing this as an investment into your photography business and other people. This would lead to choosing the right people based on their skill and your ability to pay them accordingly.

I also think that all of your post-processing shouldn’t be outsourced.

In other words, you still need to be the one doing the initial culling round (because it teaches you what you’re not doing well during the shoot) and the final creative round (because you’re the only one who can sign off on your images).

Leave a Reply

20 Comments on "Should You Outsource Your Photography Post-Production For $3.89/Hour?"

newest oldest most voted
Notify of
sergey sus

I get emails asking me to outsource my post processing all the time and I’ve never considered it.

I am also curious as to how long it took each of these guys/gals to retouch?

Well written Steven and very clever of you to take on this task. Thanks for posting.



So the answer is “no.”

tiffany feger

so how many hours does catherine spend per session? i get backed up and dream of outsourcing too. i followed you and added you on twitter and google+ but am not savvy on those platforms.

Eric Heymans

Very interesting exercice indeed.
I’m wondering how another editor will be able to transcript the “spirit” of the photographer.
I guess the training you spoke about is a way to …
If I had to train someone to develop as I do .. I just do not know where to start with .. 🙂

Tim Harrison

Your processed images seem a bit too bright. I’d’ve left the trees and the beach sky, and the harbour in the original colours. It’s an interesting concept outsourcing production, but in the end it comes down to personal preferences, and no two people are alike, no matter how much training you give. Catherine did a good job – how many others supplied a written explanation?

Lorenzo Photography

Very interesting article Steven. It’s something I’ve been thinking about over the last year and you’ve answered a lot of questions I had. I also tested out a couple of image editors (one a photographer and the other a graphic artist). It was interesting to see how they both perceived the final image. In the end though I’ve decided to continue post processing myself. It’s a huge part of the creative process and I’m not ready to let go yet.

Alvin Gachie

It is amazing to see work from different people to see how they treat the same photo and still come out with different results! It’s true that you get what you pay for. I always think it’s better to pay a little more and get better quality.


As a beginner I would prefer post processing myself as I’m a graphic designer myself but I think at your level, it’s best to invest more time in taking the perfect shots and outsourcing the post processing.

I took a look at all the examples. First of all, it seems that the retouchers who were asking for more money were producing better results, even though they were considered rather dull. I think that when retouching weddings, retouchers have a lot to take into consideration. It is about an important event and a lot of people involved and photographed at the wedding. This means that they rather have different tastes as colours, contrast, the way colors appeal to each person. This is a very important aspect to consider. Producing rather dull colors (?), but being properly color corrected… Read more »
Ken Jones
Hello Steve, I have also run tests on outsourcing companies as well as individuals in several countries. When I have very simple but very large jobs. I’ll farm them out for consistency and tweak problems when I get the job back or sometime add personal touches to enhance my feel of the images. But the way I really workaround the issue of not having enough time for post production is using in-house interns, they either have a graphics design background or photography background and they are sent from the art colleges in my area, I even get them from Paris,… Read more »
Ronald Johnson
I had never even considered outsourcing post-processing and honestly it just had never entered my mind. I don’t think I would ever do it because I see no way that the processor has any idea what the scene really looked like in that “moment in time.” I have what I consider a pretty good work flow, but it still takes me hours to process a shoot, but I feel it is time well spent, and it makes a difference since my photos are not a source of income for me.It’s an interesting hypothesis however and thanks for posting. RJ
Photo post-processing marketplace

Steve, thanks for the great article! I’ve been working on a website to help photographers outsource photo edits by connecting them to a community of independent editors. Would be great to get your feedback on it, if you are interested contact me.
Ben Novoselsky

Hi Steven, I was surprised to see a whole article about outsourcing editing for professional photographers with no mention of the various editing companies that exist. For example, Editouch, which focuses on wedding photographers and ongoing partnerships to relieve them of their post-production burden. There are many others too. As a freelancer myself, I know that oDesk is quite a mixed bag in terms of quality, but I know many photographers have had happy partnerships with Editouch and other similar services, and consider us to be their “back room staff”, albeit a remote back room. 🙂 You basically came to… Read more »

You can try, they are professional photo retouching services at reasonable price, you can check their website, hope this helps.


Maybe I’ll take their price beside the understanding my incremental costs, first. Here the another guideline we may consider it to make the right charge.

Back To Top