Miami Wedding Photographer

Kayla + Kris Celebrate 5 Years | Leighton DaCosta Starke, FL Wedding Photographer

Kayla + Kris Celebrate 5 Years | Leighton DaCosta Starke, FL Wedding Photographer

Wow, five years flies by so fast. I remember this wedding in Starke, FL between Kayla and Kris Kadlec. Saturday, May 14th, 2011. Such a beautiful wedding and day.


3 Photography Outsourcing Editors Compared | Leighton DaCosta. Miami Portrait Photographer

The Beautiful Aquisha Gross (Fayetteville, NC). MUA Brittney Taylor (Fayetteville, NC). Retoucher Dwight Smalls (Jacksonville, FL). Photographer, Leighton DaCosta (Miami, FL/Atlanta, GA) Dress provided by: Kony Fashion Forward (Burlington, NC)

About 7 years ago, I began to outsource my photographs to external editors. While a more costly process, this proved to be a more efficient process, where the benefits were in the consistency of the edits, and the time saved by ME not having to do the editing.  For example, the first company I started with was PWD Labs out of Atlanta. The editing was consistent, communication great, and fast turnaround. I could literally photograph a wedding on Saturday and have the proofs ready for review by Thursday. What did that really mean for me? MORE TIME!

The average wedding takes about 20-40 hours of post work for most photographers to complete. Essentially working a second job of which you will not be additionally compensated for. By outsourcing, I could photograph a wedding on Saturday, cull and upload Sunday morning, enjoy the rest of the day with my family, and work on other projects come Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, then work on the wedding album on Thursday.  More time means, more money. This allows me to put additional value into the service and products that I offer to my clients. 

As a disclaimer, I am NOT sponsored by any particular retouching company...yet, but I am open to future sponsorship! Now that that is out of the way, I mentioned earlier that in 2009 I started with PWD Labs. Over the years, they grew into a company called POST. POST merged with Photographer's Edit, one of the companies used in this comparison. 

Save 20% at Photographer's Edit by using the referral code: RefW9x6m56j
You can give them a try for free for up to 10 images. 

You can also check out Picsera and give them a try as well. 

For this comparison, I've placed the images in the order that they were received back from the editor. 

The Original Image

The most crucial part of outsourcing, rarely has to do with the actual editor, but mostly with the image supplied TO the editor. The better the image quality, the better job the editor can do. I use Adobe Lightroom, which allows me to easily export and integrate retouched files. If you are using an alternative system, such as Capture One Pro, contact your editor and make sure they support your system. Most editors today allow for Dropbox transfer, where you can authorize access to a folder that is already synced with your images, which makes it fast and painless. Gone are the days of the FTP uplaod. 

The unedited capture before processing. Technical: Nikon D810, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 VR1 shot at 70mm f/4.5 1/500s ISO 64. Off camera lighting Profoto B1 in RFI 5' Octa Camera Left, Nikon SB800 Camera Left. Background Savage Universal collapsible backdrop. 


Retouched by Dwight Smalls (Jacksonville, FL). The benefits of a 1 on 1 retoucher. Proofing is part of the process. Often faster turnaround. More accurate the first times. The Cons, more expensive, less eyes during the QA Process. 

The individual editor is probably the most convenient in the world of outsourced retouching. I went to Dwight Smalls, a great photographer out of Jacksonville, FL. Working with an individual editor is probably the most expensive option, but it gives you the most control over the entire process. For low volume sessions, that require heavy and detailed retouching, the individual editor is probably the better option.

I sent out all images on Monday, received proof, and final edit within 24 hours. For the record, the image was promised by Thursday.  

Major changes. Softbox removed. Negative space added. Image warmed in the shadows along with  adding a texture to the image. Dress wrinkles smoothed out. Waistline slimmed.  Bra transparency removed. Skin retouched. 









Retouched By Photographer's Edit. Beautiful Skin tones. Wish the dress was retouched. 

I have always enjoyed working with Photographer's Edit (PE). The work is consistent and fast. 3-5 day turnaround. I used the flat rate retouching option which removed the softbox, worked the skin retouching, which I LOVED, and "brightened" the image. My only challenge is with the dress, left pretty much untouched, and the levels in the blacks, removing a lot of shadow detail. 

Major work. Softbox removed. Skin retouched. Image brightened. 










Retouched by Picsera. Very natural edit, The dress is retouched. Wish the black from the bra was retouched. 

I really enjoy the growing relationship I have with Picsera. Very straightforward pricing, good customer service, and a constantly evolving platform. I also used the flat rate option on this edit. The only drawback is that Picsera's turnaround is around 4-7 days on average.  I must say, that between the two companies, I loved this version more, because it is closer to my style. While the flat rate pricing for Picsera is more than PE's, the results show. 

Major work. Soft box removed, Shadows warmed, Skin Retouched, Dress smoothed, waistline accented. 









For near perfection, I would say that the individual editor would be my first choice. Both Photographer's Edit and Picsera do offer an individual editor option that is priced per hour. I do like Photographer's Edit's option to where you can let your editing fit your budget. You can "name your budget" and it gives them the opportunity to estimate and accept/reject your offer. Value is based on what you get for what you pay. While I won't go into specifics, Photographer's Edit was the lowest. Picsera was about 40% more, with Dwight being about 200% more than Picsera.  While I would love the turnaround to be as fast as the Photographer's Edit or Dwight's, the overall edit and experience is great.  For that reason, the winner for me is Picsera. 

Do you agree with me? 


Survey Question #18: Does my photographer really need to be insured?

If you asked me 10 years ago, does a photographer need to carry liability insurance, I would have probably looked at you crazy. Why? At that time, I knew of nobody that had been injured or killed while taking a photograph. I would have told another photographer, "Just cover your gear and you're good!" Today with photographers taking photographs on more and more railroad tracks (usually illegal), private property, and other places; placing clients in danger, I have done a total about face on this subject. 

One of the first weddings I've ever shot, I ended up booking, because the other photographers did not carry liability insurance. The venue required only $100,000 at the time, and I was covered for that. I didn't think anything of it though, until after the fact when I found out why I had won the booking, and started seeing more and more venues require liability coverage. These days, usually between $1 Million and $5 Million at some of the premium venues.  

Simply put, EVERY vendor you work with should be insured for the unforeseen. In most cases, the insurance is pretty affordable, and there are companies who specialize in photography studios and businesses. This is a legitimate question to ask your photographer, and the answer should always be, "YES!"

If you find a vendor who DOESN'T carry basic business liability insurance, be very concerned. This could be a signal that he doesn't have the other requisites in running a legitimate business in his state or city. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. 



My Push for Film While Staying Digitally Loyal

The Beautiful Taina photographed with 400ISO Superia Fujifilm. Pembroke Pines, FL.  Processed by Dale Laboratories, Hollywood, FL. 

The Beautiful Taina photographed with 400ISO Superia Fujifilm. Pembroke Pines, FL.  Processed by Dale Laboratories, Hollywood, FL. 

#FIND: Film Is NOT Dead. In the current day and age of digital cameras, with the convenience and consistency that comes with them, why would ANYONE continue to create photographs on film? I ask myself this all the time. Digital, while being the "way of the future," is simply put, "better" for the customer. 

Photographing digitally allows me to make focus, lighting, color temperature, perspective changes all on the fly to create a consistent product. Photographing digitally, allows me to proof images MUCH faster than when I photograph with film. This allows the client to make purchase decisions sooner and which accelerates the ordering process. 

The images to the right show the difference between film and digital capture. Can you tell the difference? I do not do my own film processing, so with the film, the white blouse is over exposed, whereas on the digital exposure, I was able to go in post and correct the exposure in less time than it took for me to drop my film off.   

In another example, I have used a digital image to simulate the look of film. Were you able to tell the difference? This is another example of why I REALLY enjoy shooting film. The (x)=f/n factor. What does that mean? Simply put, the additional variables to photographing with film. No two rolls are the same. The age of the film, storage methods, and other things can change the final look of the exposure. 

In the images to the left, the image with her arms below her waist, is the film image. The giveaway is the color of the background in relation to the actual color temperature of the subject. In the digital image, the background is more of a neutral color, while the film exposure shows the green tones. 

Another reason why I enjoy using film, is when I am photographing boudoir and fine art nudes for clients. While all images can be digitally scanned, using film does add a certain level of security. There is a very finite origin of the image. The Negative. There is a sense of immortality with a digital file, which is not there with a negative. Let me explain. The digital file, can be lost, deleted, manipulated; but it also can be reproduced, and live forever in the cloud. It is very hard to put back in the jar once released. The film negative, once gone, is gone. The negative can be in possession by only ONE entity, usually either the photographer, or the client. It is hard for that negative to be "accidentally" released. While I have many safeguards in place for my clients and models who I have photographed nude, hacking, theft, and even clients who have separation/divorce are always a threat to discretion. 

The lovely Martha photographed with Fujifilm 400ISO Superia. Salt Lake City, UT. Processed by Dale Laboratories, Hollywood, FL. 

The lovely Martha photographed with Fujifilm 400ISO Superia. Salt Lake City, UT. Processed by Dale Laboratories, Hollywood, FL. 

Film photography is growing more and more everyday. Is it fad or trend? I don't know. I do know that many professionals have added the use of film to their offerings to better serve the clients who demand the more artistic medium. 

Some things to keep in mind when requesting film photography:

  1. FILM IS EXPENSIVE. The average roll of professional film can range from $8-40 a roll depending on size. A 36 exposure black and white roll of film may be $8, while a 12 exposure color roll of Medium format film, may be close to $35. When hiring a photographer who captures with film, expect a premium for the service. 
  2. Film requires PATIENCE. Remember when we had the one hour Fotomat? This is not really the case with professional processing. The average lab turnaround could be as much as 72 hours not including transit time, longer for special services. 
  3. Film is AESTHETIC. In the 21st century, film is used for the process and the "look." The look is unique and random, and so may be the results from frame to frame. Think of a high end steakhouse. Medium Rare should ALWAYS be Medium Rare, but the degree of rare will vary between cuts. The size and weight of the cuts will also vary. But the consistency is in the experience and the flavor. The same as the style and look should be consistent to the artist/photographer capturing the images. 

Film photography is still fun. It is relaxing and sometimes frustrating, all at the same time. Sometimes not having to look at the back of the camera, allows for more interaction with the subject, which often leads to great images with character. I would offer for any photographer looking for a new challenge, to pick up a film camera, and take some time during a session to do a little film photography. You may be in for a pleasant experience... for you AND your subject. 


Survey Question #19: When do I have to pay?

With weddings and photography sessions getting more and more expensive, many photographers are offering flexible payment solutions it's always nice to know when the money is due. 

With weddings and events, most photographers will charge a retainer and reservation fee. This can range from a fixed amount to the full amount, but on average, what I have  seen is that the retainer is usually in the neighborhood of 50%. The reservation fee/retainer is usually nonrefundable and locks you in, as well as your photographer in for that date. The balances can be due before, day of, or after the event. I have a policy of 60 days prior to the wedding/event. The reason why, is because there are so many things going on in the last two months of wedding planning, I want to minimize the financial stress during that time as much as possible. 

The payoff date may change for portrait and corporate sessions, or on a case by case basis. 

The thing that clients should keep in mind is to KNOW the installment schedule if your photographer offers one, and to pay on time, or early if possible. Ask your photographer if they have an automatic payment plan, and if there are any incentives for using one.


  1. Always ask for an installment plan if it will make it easier for you to hire the photographer. You might be surprised at the flexibility.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time. The longer the period between booking and the event or session, the more manageable the installments can be. 
  3. Consider alternative funding lines. If your photographer accepts Paypal, you can use a program such as the "Buy Now, Pay Later" program which pays your photographer immediately, but offers you up to 6 months, interest free. 
  4. When possible pay as much, as early as possible. 

What are some tips that you have to share? 




The Survey Questions: #20. When will the photos be ready?

This is the first of a series of questions that I want to answer for brides, grooms, and all interested. This blog deals with the age old question regarding when will the pictures be delivered. 

Almost a hundred years ago, the "instant" camera was invented. It would take almost 50 years before instant film and cameras would be popular with the mainstream and accessible. With the advent of digital photography and cameras on our phones, the push to get images faster and faster grows stronger. I know many of us wish we had the photos even BEFORE they are taken, but that whole space-time thing.... 

Depending on the nature of the photography AND photographer, images can be ready moments after the event, or months. There is no right or wrong answer, but only that of expressed expectations. Keep in mind, your photographer wants to put his or her best images out there, and deliver to you the very best. 

When editing and retouching is involved, a good rule of thumb is 30-90 days. Do some photographers deliver in 24-96 hours, yes, but not all are created equal, and when dealing with single person studios, that photographer not only has to photograph sessions, but meet with new clients, deliver photos to current clients, edit images, and still run the other aspects of the business. 

I have a 60 day clause in my contracts, but depending on time of year, my goal is within 30 days for most jobs, and often within 10 days for proofs. When albums are ordered, or other large prints, I ask for 90-180 days. The goal is always to underpromise and overdeliver. 

Sometimes we hear horror stories of clients waiting years to get photos or albums. We'll hear of how they spent thousands on their wedding, but what is often not told, is that they still OWE thousands on that wedding photography. I'll address the importance of a reasonable payment schedule in another post. 

In summary, make sure you ask your wedding photographer clearly when the photos will be ready. Have a reasonable turnover date in mind. Do not be afraid to place incentives and penalties in the contract as well. This may end up being a win win for both parties. Also, if the photographer has any deadlines, such as proofing or premier dates, be sure to keep them. This will allow the process to run smoother. Stay tuned for #19 where we discuss the pay schedule. 


DISCLAIMER: These questions come from several online surveys that are given to brides and grooms on websites such as The Knot, Wedding Wire, Wedding and Wedding Flowers, Martha Stewart Wedding and others. This series are an attempt to assist the customer with general answers to help his search and experience


January 6th 2015, Jessica + Maigan

After so many years together, finally able to say "I do."

After so many years together, finally able to say "I do."

When I got up this morning, I really had another blog scheduled for today. Normally I never place the date in the title, unless there is a significant reason. Today is a very special and significant day in Florida history. For the first time, statewide, same sex couples are allowed to legally get married. I have many friends who have had commitment ceremonies, but now they are able to be protected by the laws and rights that were never available before. 

Normally, I go down to a local courthouse once a week, to offer complimentary services to random couples, as a way of "giving back." People get married at the courthouse or other municipal center for different reasons. They could be financial, simplicity, speed, or maybe even a shotgun to the head. The courthouse wedding has always provided an effective remedy. My hope is that those counties in Florida who have chosen to NO LONGER PERFORM WEDDINGS at the courthouse for both same sex and heterosexual couples will re consider for the benefit of the public. But I digress... I believe that everyone should have great wedding photos. It is YOUR day. THIS will always be your anniversary, and as such, you should have something great to remember it by. 

While I was in the parking lot waiting to go in, I happened to see a group of people walking out and two beautiful young ladies just GLOWING! There I met Jessica and Maigan. I explained to the newlyweds, what it was that I was doing, and they were all too happy to participate.  

Jessica and Maigan with close loved ones on their wedding day!

Jessica and Maigan with close loved ones on their wedding day!

I hope you enjoy these photos of Jessica and Maigan. To see more of these images and other sessions, visit the Client Photos section and go to 'Sidewalk Sessions.' Thank you!