Develop A Photography Workflow

Most people are not aware of everything that goes into digital photography. Taking pictures is only one step in the process… albeit the most important step. Sure you can whip out your phone, take a snapshot and share it on Facebook, but this is photography. It’s an art form, and one you work to improve. 

A few people have asked how I process my photos after I take them. There are a number of methods out there, but this is my workflow. I use Adobe's Lightroom, but this process is software agnostic. Though some of the software details may differ from what you use, everything here can be done the same.

 Photo Information

Import Images To Image Editor

After a day of shooting I import my photos into Adobe's Lightroom. It is currently on version 6.6.1. Other image editors are DxO, Apple Photos, Capture One to name a few.

Import Settings

A quick aside on editing software. You want to be sure that whatever software you choose it is non-destructive to your original files. The last you thing you want is to correct an image and have it permanently change the original.

Non-destructive software does not touch the original photo. It tags each one with a sidecar file with information about the adjustments you made.  When you export a photograph from RAW to .jpg it stamps the export with your settings leaving the original untouched.

Now back to our story - My camera has two SD cards that are mirrored. During import I leave one in the camera and place the other in the SD card reader. If something happens to the working SD card during import the second one is still in the camera untouched and safe. 

I open Lightroom and click import. On the import screen I add a custom name, I add tags that will help me find the image(s) later, and the file is organized chronologically by date into year, month, day folders. When the import is complete I backup to my external hard drive using Apple TimeMachine. Now I have four local copies of my photos (2 SD cards, and both the internal and external hard drives).  

Sort the wheat from the chaff

After importing and backing up I go through the images and flag anything that might be a keeper while ignoring the missed shots. I don't delete anything at this point. My picks are generous because you never know what picture might work or is salvageable. Once I have the flagged keepers I set Lightroom to only show me those.

Go to Library then Refine Photos.

Star your images

1 star* means it has documentary value, but I won't edit it or share it.  

2 stars** means the picture needs work. It may be crooked, over or under exposed, it needs some cropping, or whatever else may be wrong with it.  

3 stars*** are the definite keepers. They may need a little work, but they're mostly ready to go with minimal edits.

While working through the staring process if I come across a picture I don't like I hit the X key and Lightroom rejects it. It's at this point I filter out the one and two star images with the attributes bar by selecting three stars.  Now that Lightroom is showing us the best of the best from what we started with it's time to color correct our three stars.

Image Processing

Image Processing Screen

Below is the typical order in which I process each image.

  1. Determine if the image should be color or monochrome
  2. Exposure
  3. White balance (Temperature & Tint)
  4. Set the tonal curve to linear, medium, or strong contrast depending on what works.
  5. Set the exposure contrast.
  6. Highlights
  7. Blacks
  8. Whites
  9. Shadows
  10. Saturation
  11. Vibrancy - Both saturation and vibrancy should be adjusted with caution. These can be overdone.

I go through each step a few times as one setting may affect another. Once complete I move on to the next image.

A time saver for when the lighting conditions are constant is to copy the settings from one image and apply them to every other image. After doing this I go through each image again to make sure the adjustments work for each picture.

Before                                                                                                     After

When I'm finally finished editing I change the three star ratings to either 4 stars**** or 5 stars*****.  

4 star images are those images I share to various photo sites like Flickr or Instagram, or I may include them in an end of year photo book.

5 stars are reserved for my portfolio, prints, or a photo that I would show a prospective client if I ever decide to go that route.

Backup to External Hard Drive Again

When everything is complete and I am satisfied with the results I make another backup to the external hard drive. I also have Time Machine running throughout this process, so if the computer crashes in the middle of my work the worst case scenario will only cost an hour’s worth of work.

The final backup is off site. I used Carbonite for a few years, but the upload speeds were so slow that I was adding files at a rate faster than Carbonite could save them, and I don't like leaving my computer running all the time waiting for backups to finish. I cancelled my Carbonite account and purchased a hard drive docking station with two internal 5TB hard drives that I swap each week.

I keep one drive off site at the office and every Friday I swap them. If the house burns down I would only lose a weeks worth of photos... and a closet full of prints, negatives, and slides. But that's a whole other topic for another day.

Lastly, about once a month I back up my entire photo library to Amazon. As a Prime member they give you unlimited storage for your pictures in any format, to include RAW files.

Sharing Photos With the World

When it's all said and done I share a photo or two each day to Flickr, Facebook, and Instagram. What's the point in all this photography if no one sees your pictures. 

Digital photography is a process, but with a little practice it's one that you can get through fast. It takes time to set things up, to learn the software, and a little patience, but what are your photographs worth?