Creative Photo Editing: A Funky Style Emerges in Lockdown

May 27, 2021

By Mel Rey

Prior to COVID-19, I was fully booked for 2020 and knew that my business model was working. I was all caught up in photographing what I knew, and I felt comfortable with my editing style—clean and vibrant. I loved my job, but it always felt like something was missing. A couple of years ago, I had started what I called the “Around the Block” series, which was inspired by walks with my daughter where she’d point out the most seemingly ordinary things and find magic in them. What if I did a shoot using different models around the block to show how there is magic just outside our front doors, without having to travel to exquisite destinations? I would then do some creative photo editing to make the photos look vintage and funky. This led to a whole new realm of excitement in my photography, and it inspired me more than ever to be creative.

[Read: The Rule of Thirds—How to Use It and When to Break It]

I began experimenting with different editing software like Alien Skin Exposure and Photoshop to bring my visions to life beyond what Lightroom could do. I had created a whole separate Instagram account just to share these images, and often I would get comments like, “I feel like you have found yourself with this style.” I truly believed comments like that myself. However, I was filled with a fear that should I fully embrace this editing style and no longer edit in a clean, natural way, I would no longer be considered in demand to wedding and portrait clients, thus leading to me losing business, which was something I could not afford.

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At the beginning of the lockdown, a lot of my couples had either postponed or cancelled their weddings entirely. I took this time of uncertainty to experiment with past weddings by re-editing them in funky or artful ways. What did I have to lose? I wasn’t getting booked anyways.

I began sharing these artfully edited images on my primary Instagram account, and the feedback I received caught me by surprise. I had past couples reaching out, wanting their galleries edited with this vintage feel. Others wanted to pay me for the more artful edits. I had also just recently paid for an entire web design based on my previous editing style with designer Kat Cosma. However, with my new style of editing out there and catching fire, Kat noticed and said, “Mel, I love this new direction you’re going in, it feels like you, and I think it’s time for another rebrand.”

[Read: What Does It Really Take to Create and Sell Your Own Photo Presets?]

Around this time, I was also contacted by Rangefinder to say that I had been nominated to submit to its 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography competition. I was speechless that I was nominated but also torn with how I would go about picking my top 30 images. I knew that I wanted to choose 30 images that represented the artist that I was evolving into, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous that the judges wouldn’t understand my edits and think I was a joke.

[Read: How to Become One of Rangefinder’s 30 Rising Stars of Wedding Photography]

I swallowed my fear, picked my top 30 favorite edits, crossed my fingers and hit send. I will forever remember the feeling I had when I received the email that said I had become one of the Rising Stars in 2020. I did it. I did it while being true to myself—something I hope to inspire other artists to follow as well.

Through my journey, I’ve learned that change is an inevitable occurrence. With change comes feelings of intimidation and self-doubt. I have learned to channel those nerves and use them as fuel to prove myself wrong.

[Read: How Creative Minds Manifest Good Vibes Only]

People are attracted to passion and as long as you fully own who you are unapologetically, you will find true happiness, and that is my definition of being successful. I never anticipated getting Rangefinder’s 30 Rising Stars designation while being so different in the wedding industry. I am so thankful for this opportunity to inspire other photographers to not be afraid to go against what’s trending. You are in demand as long as you demand it.

[Read: The Potential Traps of Following Wedding and Portrait Photography Trends]

Creative Photo Editing Techniques: A Breakdown of Four Processes

1. Double Exposure Tattoo

I took this shot of the couple during their first dance. It was a very dim room and they had a light shining only on them, making them the focal point. When I began editing the image, I wanted to include some creative photo editing techniques to make the image more interesting.

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Earlier on in the day, I had taken a picture of their favorite movie cover, Casablanca, and decided to try and overlay that in Photoshop somehow. It took me some playing around until I realized I loved that it almost looked like a tattoo on her back, symbolizing their love for each other in that moment while sharing something they both love as well. I then decided to overlay a glass light leak into the image around her waist to draw the focus even more on the moment. 

2. Surrounded by Stars

For this shot, I was obsessed with how the couple was walking into the harsh sunlight, casually enjoying ice cream, looking like rock stars. When I began editing the image, I wanted it to feel exactly that way and decided to do something new that I hadn’t really done. I purchased these star overlays on, and it became one of my favorite images in the gallery—along with the couple’s as well!

3. Minimalist Moment

This shot was definitely more of a time-consuming and challenging creative photo editing technique, only because the original image was of her on a rooftop with several buildings all around her. I was determined to make art out of it, though, because I loved the way her movement told a story to me.

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I first edited the image in Lightroom to get the coloring that I wanted, and then I pulled it into Photoshop to begin editing it even more. I took out all distractions of the buildings and the floor she was standing on. I then used the liquify tool to almost give her dress a painterly feel and blend it into the background. Once I was satisfied with the overall look, I then pulled the image into Alien Skin Exposure and added the orange light flare on the side, along with adding some bokeh to the image to make her blend more seamlessly into the background.

It’s one of my all-time favorite bridal portraits I have ever taken, and it’s one I am most proud of the photo editing because I made art out of a normal image that I had taken on a wedding day. I hadn’t originally intended that shot to become art later, and that’s what makes it so fun for me in post-processing: every gallery ends up having a surprise piece of art that I didn’t originally anticipate. 

4. Ring of Fire

It was the end of this couple’s yard wedding and right before I was about to leave, I asked them if they would be willing to climb on top of their roof to make some last-minute art. They were so excited to do so since the rooftop was special to them.

I brought two of my flashes with me and placed one off-camera flash behind the couple, mounted on the ground and pointing directly at the couple, and the other was acting as a trigger on my camera. I turned the flash firing off on the flash on my camera but allowed it to still trigger the off-camera flash to fire. I then, in post-processing, brought the image into Photoshop to add in the Ring of Fire overlay. I then pulled the image into Alien Skin Exposure to add some bokeh and star dust as well to give the image some more dimension and texture. 

Mel Rey is a wedding photographer based in Long Beach, California, who was designated a Rangefinder 30 Rising Star of Wedding Photography in 2020. Rey is a Canon photographer who edits these one-of-a-kind photos in Photoshop and with Alien Skin Exposure, which she presents to clients alongside a gallery “chock-full of fuzzy feelings and good times that they might have missed.”