Simpler Photo Workflow

My guess is you’d rather be out shooting than sitting behind a computer editing your images. But the fact is, post production is a part of the process, so you might as well make it as simple as possible.

It can take a lot of time, practice and experimentation to find out what works for you. But to help get you started, I put together a simplified, but effective, version of my own workflow below. Feel free to try it out and tweak it to your own needs. The most important thing to remember is to be consistent in whatever workflow you choose that you’ll be sure you never miss an important step.

Here’s a snapshot of the photo workflow using Lightroom:

Simpler Photography Workflow Example

And here are some additional details that go with the above outline.

1. Create Your Photographs

Create your image(s) like you normally would using whatever your camera of choice is.

2. Transfer Your Photos

Now that you’ve actually taken your photos, you need to copy all of them from your camera’s memory card to your computer’s hard drive (and without going into it in too much detail here, it’s a good idea to have a standard place where you save all your photos so they’re not scattered all around your computer).

There are a few different ways you can transfer your photos, but my preferred method is to use a dedicated card reader connected by a USB cable to my computer. One benefit to using a card reader is that the transfer speeds are typically faster. And if you’ve been out shooting all day and your camera battery’s charge is low, you don’t have to worry about it crapping out on you mid-transfer (which could corrupt your images).

If you don’t have a card reader, you can also connect your computer directly to your computer with a USB cable or, if your computer has a memory card slot like mine does for SD cards, insert it directly.

3. Back Up Your Photos Locally

After all your images have been transferred to your computer and before you do any editing or renaming of your images, I highly recommend copying all of your images to an external back up hard drive.

I’ve heard countless stories of people who have lost images for one reason or other and it’s mainly because they didn’t have a backup.

The quickest and easiest way to make sure you have at least one backup of your images is to copy them to an external hard drive connected to your computer.

What I do is basically create an identical folder structure to my photo folders on my regular computer on my backup drive, too.

4. Import Your Images to Lightroom

Depending on what you’ve already read on this site, you may or may not know that I love Lightroom. Love it. It’s my #1 photo-recommended tool for photography (apart from the camera itself, of course) and use it for basically my entire photo workflow.

So, the next step is to import your photos into your Lightroom Catalog. During this process, you have the option to also add metadata like your name and contact information, and doing this at this stage saves you a step later.

5. Rename Your Images

Now that your images are imported into your catalog, you can use Lightroom’s tool in the Library module to select all your photos and rename them all at one time.

To make it easier on yourself, I recommend going into “Custom Settings” and using the Filename Template Editor to create a File Naming Preset. With a preset, you simply create a template using your standard file-naming convention and then you can later use this preset to quickly rename all your files each time you’re ingesting your images.

For example, you could create a template that’s based on your name, the date the photo was taken and the original numerical suffix:

fname_lname_YYYYMMDD_9999.ext

6. Rate Your Images

Finally we get to the part where you actually get to look at your photos. Yay!

Using one (or more) of Lightroom’s many tools for rating (stars, flags, colors…), go through all of your images and rate them.

At a very basic level, my system is based on these ratings:

  • Delete
  • Average
  • Good
  • Excellent
  • All-time Favorite

You’re probably gonna have a different structure, and that’s totally fine. Some people use all of the tools and have colors, stars and flags on their images, while others only use 2 categories: Keep or Delete.

Whatever you decide to do is totally fine if it works for you, though I would say that once you choose a way to rate your images, it’s usually easier to leave it alone.

7. Edit Your Images

Using Lightroom’s Develop module, you can now begin to finesse your photos. I probably do 95-100% of my image edits within Lightroom.

If you’re like me and prefer to do only light editing, you probably won’t take advantage of Lightroom’s comprehensive toolset. But even if you like to take your post-processing a bit further, I think you’ll still find that Lightroom’s editing tools are quite powerful, easy to use and comprehensive.

8. Keyword Your Images

Back in Lightroom’s Library module, it’s now time to add a few keywords to your photos.

I know it’s a pain in the ass to keyword, and this is probably my least favorite step. But believe me. If you take a little time now to add even the most basic keywords, you’ll thank yourself later when you’re trying to look for a particular image – or set of images – since keywording makes it a gazillion times easier to find what you’re looking for.

At the very least, I recommend adding these keywords:

  • Location (i.e. landmark, city, country)
  • People (i.e. a specific name or Category like family or friends)
  • Subject (i.e. dog, sunset, birthday)

9. Export Your Final Images

When using Lightroom, any edits you make do not affect your images until you export them using Lightroom.

So if you want to have a finalized copy of the images you’ve worked on, you’ll need to use Lightroom’s Export feature to export and save your final images.

Since I typically shoot my images as RAW files, I like to export my final images as JPEGs since this is a universal file format that’s more likely to be around in the future.

10. Back Up Your Images Offsite

Now that you’ve gone through the entire workflow and spent all this time, you definitely don’t want your hard work going to waste so you’ll want to back up your images.

While I think it’s a great idea to copy your work to an external hard drive in addition to where all of your main photos are stored, ideally you will also have a copy of your work stored online “in the cloud.”

So after you’ve created your final images, you’ll want to upload your work to whatever online service you prefer. Some people use photo-specific services like SmugMug and some people use regular backup services like CrashPlan, Mozy, Amazon or Carbonite.

This way if anything ever happened to your computer (your hard drive crashes, the laptop gets stolen, etc.), you can rest easy knowing that your images are safely stored online and you can simply go retrieve them from there, if needed.

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And there you go! That’s a quick overview of my 10-Step Photo Workflow. I hope it helps!