Lessons Learned from the Sepia Gate Drama

What is Sepia Gate?

Over the last week or so, Sepia Gate, also known as the Sepia Bride, has gone viral on social media. The bride recently posted her experience and discontent with her final wedding images and took to TikTok to discuss her issues. Discussion on this topic has blown up not only on TikTok, but also on Instagram, Threads, Facebook, YouTube…literally everywhere. She has some reasonable points. She also has some points that are not so reasonable. As a wedding photographer, I personally really feel for the photographer, and I can wholeheartedly say that the photographer handled this situation with grace and professionalism that not many would display. With that said, there are many lessons learned here, and I wanted to share my thoughts on this. This is going to be a multi-blog post because I do think there is a lot to unpack and many takeaways! 

I want to start by saying that I personally find the photographer’s style beautiful. It is incredibly golden and consistent. Many photographers spend countless hours trying to achieve that aesthetic. 

Why can’t she edit how the client wants?

OK – this is lesson 1 I want to address. The amount of comments saying she should just change her style for the client is alarming. Photographers spend years perfecting their style. Even once they get the style that suits their brand, they still tweak every photo. There have been many people who have said, well, she just slapped a filter on and called it a day. I do not know what the photographer’s turnaround time was, but if she just slapped a filter on and not reviewed and tweaked, those photos would be done within minutes. She delivered over 2,000 photos. I do not know this photographer or her work style, but whenever I see someone say ‘they just slapped a filter on’, man, that makes me feel some sort of way.

A preset is not a filter, like those you can get off social media. Presets are saved settings that act as a base. This includes color grading settings, tone curves, etc. Most of the time, some settings remain consistent so that the photos can be ‘on brand’. Other settings get adjusted to fit that specific photo. Think of these as like a recipe for a dish you would cook. You know that if you make tomato pasta sauce, you need tomatoes, right? But maybe you want to make spicy tomato sauce tonight. Or maybe you want to make it creamy. Then you change the ingredients, but the core ingredients stay the same. That is how a preset works. It is a base. Once applied, photographers go through and make all the adjustments needed. 


When a photographer goes out and shoots, they photograph is a way that matches their editing. For instance, I am a pretty true-to-life photographer, but I like to make things colorful and contrasty. What does that mean??? That means that I personally, like to keep colors authentic to how they were in real life. BUT I like to make them pop. I do not like altering the colors to not reflect how they were in real life. I also edit warm. I am drawn to warmer colors. Warmer colors are in the yellow, reds, etc spectrum. I love bringing out the blacks and shadows. I think it just gives the images a lot of depth. Some have said that I am true-to-life but moody. I don’t know if I agree but I also don’t disagree. I don’t particularly love labels. But I embrace my style! 

What are other styles? 

There is light and airy. This tends to draw in more blues and cooler tones. It very much brings out the whites and eliminates blacks and shadows typically. 

Dark and moody – the color grading here can be super variable. Some are more cool, others are more warm. But they really bring in the heavy shadows, the black blacks and exposure is usually quite dark. 

Film vibes – this can vary depending on the photographer themselves. Often they emulate one of the many types of film photography from back in the days when you had to mail off your film to see how the photos look! Or would have to develop in your own dark room. These usually embrace grain and other aesthetics that’d be found in the film era. 

Niche/stylistic – OK so this is where it can get tough. The photographer for sepia gate, I would argue had a very niche style. She is very golden and makes all of her images fit that vibe. The warmth is very high. There are other photographers who edit like this and they color grade with specific tones, like greens, blues, etc. You can usually expect the colors to not be true to how they were in real life. They are going to be color graded to fit that aesthetic! 

There are a lot of different styles out there! So it really is important to figure out what YOU are drawn to. More to come on this. 

PSA – Comparing style to iPhone

OK – one thing I saw in this discussion…comparing TO AN IPHONE PHOTO! You cannot compare to iPhone! Let me say this again for those in the back – DO NOT COMPARE YOUR PHOTOS TO IPHONE!! Why?? Well, they are not edited. Sure you can “slap a filter on them” but unless you are shooting in RAW (another post on this to come) within your phone, you won’t be able to make the same level of changes you can with camera photos. 

The settings in your phone impact how you see it. Many people have true tone and night shift turned on. Both of those impact the way the photos show on your phone. Night shift for instance automatically shifts colors warmer. True tone automatically changes colors based on the lighting around you.

Phone photos have come a long way – but they still are NOT professional cameras!! 

iPhone Settings

iPhone Settings.


Back to changing styles

OK back to just changing styles. You can see the SAME photo below. First is my normal colorful, contrasty edit. The one below it is cooler, desaturated, and a bit brighter. I removed the shadows and blacks to make the contrast less. Neither edit is better than the other. It is all about preferences. But I shoot in a way where I can bring out the bold colors. If I had a client, after their wedding photos were delivered, asking me to edit light and airy, I wouldn’t really be able to. I didn’t shoot that way. I wouldn’t know where to even start. This is why it is so important to figure out what YOU want from your wedding photos, and find a photographer in that genre! 


Newlyweds walking through Indiana Dunes

Newlywed couple walking through the Indiana Dunes beach

Newlywed couple walking through Indiana Dunes beach

Newlywed couple walking through Indiana Dunes beach – alternate edit

There is no 1 style fits all! It isn’t fair to a photographer who has spent years working on their style to be expected to edit their photos differently after the fact. Not to mention, they likely did not shoot in the way requested so it can’t be edited to fit that necessarily. Some shots may  be easily edited in that alternate style, but changes are not all, since the photographer shot in a way (meaning their in-camera settings, where the sun placement is, etc.) to easily change the style. 

Again, it is crucial that you find a photographer in your preferred style. My recommendation is to look through Pinterest and make a board that your eye is drawn to. Show this to your photographer you are interviewing and considering. Ask them if this is how they edit. Ask to see MULTIPLE, FULL galleries. That will give you an idea of how a day would look. Look through different environmental settings. Look at indoor, outdoor, inside barns, on cloudy days, on bright days, direct sun shots, shaded shots, etc. This will give you an idea of how your day would look. 

More posts to come on this topic! I have other thoughts and lessons learned from it all! Stay tuned for more!!! 

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