Lightroom Workflow

A couple of people have asked me how I manage tens of thousands of photos, so I decided to put my workflow here.

Lightroom import screen
Lightroom import screen

I use a program called Lightroom. It’s basically an image library cataloguing tool, but it also has some high end image editing functions. It’s got several modules, the first being Import. When you first import it asks you to choose your folder. My folder is simply called Pictures. However it’s then got sub-folders for England, Scotland and Wales. (There’s a different catalogue altogether for countries abroad) In each UK folder there are folders for each county, such as Cambridgeshire, and then each city/place within that county, such as Wisbech. Finally, Wisbech and all other folders like them have sub-folders named Wisbech March 2004, Wisbech December 2012, Wisbech May 2006, etc etc you get the picture. You can see this in the folder tree at the right of the screenshot here.

You can also set keywords here. Keywords are important, as not only will they help you to find your pictures later on, they are used when you upload them to other sites where you display/sell your images. My basic keywording is simple at this stage. Using the above example, I’d use ‘Cambridgeshire, Wisbech, fens, UK’. If they were all of one shoot, say…down by the quay, I might add ‘river, boat, vessel, water, sailing, transport’. The keywords at this stage are just generic and are added to every photo that you import in this session. I also add my copyright mark at this stage so every photo has it. There’s a load of other things you can do at this stage too such as renaming all the files, applying specific presets, making copies etc etc although I never use these options. I only ever shoot in RAW, so it’s only RAW images I import. I don’t work with jpg’s until I export one from the completed RAW file.


Library module

The next screen is the library mode. Here it is:

The library is where most of the work takes place. You can view the files you’ve just imported, or go to any folder you choose using the Explorer type tree at left. I go to the ones Ive just imported and do what I call my initial cull. This is the getting rid of images that are no good. There may be obvious ones which are over/under exposed, perhaps I shot 4 and only 1 is what I wanted. Maybe I moved and they’re blurred, so they go. As I flick through them I simply press 6 on those to go. 6 marks each image with a red label. When I’ve finished, I can select only those images with a red label, and delete the lot in one go. This makes for a quick and easy initial cull. I can then settle in and look carefully at the remainder with a closer eye, to determine which if any are worth working on to process. Sometimes the act of making a cuppa then coming back clears my mind and I can easily cull a third of the ones remaining. Those which I am really not sure about I type with a 9, which assigns a blue label. I can very quickly see later on which ones I thought were worth a second glance.

Once I’ve decided which ones I’m keeping and processing, I then work through the keywords. This can be time consuming, but it’s almost essential. An image of a car might have keywords such as ‘car, Vauxhall, Astra’, but you may also add ‘transport, personal, transportation, automobile, motor’. You can also add the colour, and if it’s moving fast then the keywords ‘speeding, moving, motion, driving, travelling, cornering’. Depending on the type if shot it is, you could even add ‘panning’ and ‘motion blur’ to say what type of technique you used, and also ‘exhilaration, fun, joy, excitement’ as emotionally descriptive words. The thing is you have no idea later on what you are going to search for. Someone may ask if you have a photo which shows exhilaration, or personal transport, or simply Red. If you can’t find the photos you’ve taken, you wasted your time taking them. Remember if you’re selling images, when you upload you will be required to fill out teh keywords. If you haven’t got them right, you could miss a sale. I know many who don’t dedicate much time to their keywording and I don’t get it. It’s really important if you’re going to manage a huge library and maybe try to sell your images later. You can select many images to keyword at the same time, and I do this, but I then look at each one individually and see if there is anything to add. Most often there is. The keywording is the heart of your library. Time spent here is well spent.

Develop module
Develop module

The next main screen is the editing module, which is called Develop. This is where you carry out the major alterations to your image. The first thing I do is check that lens corrections have been applied. This happens automatically when you open an image if you have it set up. If there’s any alterations to make to the image due to lens distortion, that’s the first thing I do. Once that’s done, I go to the crop tool and ensure that the image is level and vertical, and crop the image down to the size I want. I’ll check it for noise to see how much there is, but I won’t adjust it yet, I just want to know if there is much, to assess what impact it’s going to have.
The next stage is checking for dust bunnies. Sensor dust, little particles of dust that enter the camera when you’re changing lenses, are the bane of all modern DSLR’s. It’s OK if you can afford a camera body for each lens, but most people obviously can’t, and it’s impractical carrying that amount of kit around anyway. Dust bunnies show sometimes more than others, and can vary from tiny spots, to faint smudgy circles, to quite dark ‘scrapes’. I view the image at 100% and use the spot removal tool set to heal to get rid of these. Visualize spots is a fabulous method of seeing them too and if ┬áthere are several images of the same subject, you can copy the settings out of this image, and apply them to other ones too, so you don’t have to take out the same dust bunnies from every photo, it’s done automatically. I should point out at this stage that you are not altering the image here. Whenever you make a change, the information is saved to an .xmp or sidecar file. It’s applied to the image whenever you view it in supporting software, but the image itself is not altered in any way. Only when I have an image that I really like do I export a jpg.

So, images are imported, keywords are set, the initial and second cull has been done. Lens corrections have been applied, the image cropped and dust bunnies masked. I’ve now got a clean image to work on. In some cases, there is nothing left to do. In others, I alter the white balance first, then the exposure and contrast. There are many, many controls in Lightroom to use: some images need none, some need a lot of work. I won’t go into the operation of every tool here, that’s not what this is for. But I can spend anywhere from 3 minutes to a full hour working on an image to get it right. On very rare occasions I may export the image to Photoshop if I need to use a tool that isn’t in Lightroom.

Map module
Map module

Once the image is complete, in Lightroom 5 you have the option to go to the map screen. Here you can take 1 or more images, search a place which will appear on the map, then drop the images to points on the map where you took them. This adds GPS co-ordinates to the images metadata. I’m sure in the future some programs will be able to take advantage of the information that is embedded into the picture file, however I’ve got about 40,000 to map retrospectively, so until there is a case to justify it I use this facility on new images only. And then, only when I remember.

It’s time for another cup of Tetleys green tea., then it’s back to the Library module to complete the last part of the workflow. Import, tag, edit, map, then caption and export. Captioning again is quite important and takes the form of two sections: the title and description. The title might be simple, such as “Vauxhall Astra”. The description may also be relatively simple, “an image of a Vauxhall Astra being driven around Croft circuit at speed”. Some images require more than this, perhaps a story that puts it into context, or if it’s a monument, some detail about who built it and why. Location is always good here as this also helps both in searching, and for people who view it when you’ve uploaded and don’t know where the scene is. Giving a little story is quite useful and helps the viewer connect with the image. You could also give some extended information about the technical aspects of getting the image. Check your spelling!! Then, export. Lightroom has a reasonably good export screen but you will never really need many options. Simply export your jpg to do with what you require.
With my camera even jpg’s can be quite large at 18 mb, so I only export those that I will be using straight away, such as those I’m uploading or sending to someone.I should point out that I have a fast external hard drive where the images are kept, and the Lightroom catalogue is also held. Each time I work in Lightroom, and I mean ‘every’ single time I work in Lightroom, I get an identical external hard drive, and I sync them both, so that all changes on one, are backed up to the second one. I can spend weeks waiting for the right light to take one image, and hours working on some. I’m not about to let a bad hard drive lose me my stuff. I’m getting a new computer built this month as Lightroom isn’t very efficient, and demands a high spec machine. I will be having a second hard drive built into it, and still use the back up drives. Even if you’re not a pro but you take many shots of your kids, family, the dog, you must value them and if you don’t back up then at some point you will, not might, you will lose a lot of photos.

Final workflow is Import, Cull, Keyword, Edit, Map, Title, Export, backup.

And that’s it. I’ll add later anything I can think of that I’ve missed off, but hopefully that’s proved useful to someone. If it has, please like and share with anyone else you think might also like it.

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