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How to Master Your Lightroom Workflow for Faster Editing

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Setting up a Lightroom workflow will not only save you time. It will also ensure your images aren’t all over the place.

Editing your images is just half the battle. You will need to import, select and export your photos. Metadata and key-wording are other important counterparts to be able to use Lightroom to its full capacity.

But first, let’s get familiar with the concept.

A laptop and desktop pc with Lightroom editing on the screen
Photo by Tranmautritam from Pexels

What Is a Workflow in Photography?

A workflow is a sequence of tasks that you need to complete to reach your goal. In photography, this sequence starts with setting up your camera before shooting and ends with publishing your images.

What happens in between is what will determine how efficient you are during your workflow.

Lightroom is one of the most popular photo editing programs. This is why we are gonna go through sections of your Lightroom workflow step-by-step. By the end of the article, you will have a better idea of how to create your editing process.

To learn more about Lightroom, don’t miss out on our course – Effortless Editing with Lightroom!

A screenshot of the opening page of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 6

How to Organise Pictures After Importing

The first port of call is having a clear idea of how you are going to store your image files on your computer or hard drive.

For me, I find it best to have folders set up according to date. This allows me to show a progression from day to day, month to month, year to year.

Other photographers may find a better solution, depending on the photography that they do. For events, the name of the event could be the name of the folder. For landscape photographers, perhaps the location would work best.

You can also separate your work into folders depending on the field of photography. Whether they are portrait, documentary or creative projects, it makes your folders easier to navigate.

You should find a way of organisation that is simple, yet effective for your Lightroom workflow.

A laptop opened on a desk for editing photos

Get Started by Creating a Catalog

A Catalog is a great way to keep your images organised. By rule, you need at least one Catalog for Lightroom to work. All the information of your pictures is stored there, so you need to back it up on your hard drive periodically.

You could make more Catalogs based on location, event, year, or even field of photography. This can lead to confusion but will allow Lightroom to work faster and more efficiently.

Useful Tools When Creating a Catalog

  • Copy, Move or Add. When you first import images into Lightroom, you have three options. Copy will let you copy from your memory card in the format you shot them in. Move will move your image folder to a new location and they will no longer exist at the previous location. Add will add the photos you select to the database in their original location.
  • File Handling. Here are the tools that can highly improve your efficiency and speed in organising your photos. In the Build Preview pop-down menu, there are four options. Embedded and Sidecar mode is the best if you often import. 1:1 mode allows for quick magnification in the previews, as it stores them in full resolution. They are slower to build and require more disk space, though.
  • Apply During Import. This panel allows you to apply presets and keywords during the import phase of your workflow. If you have a favourite preset that you want to use in an instant, this is a great way. In the metadata section, you can add embedded tags to the files. More on that later.
  • Keywords. If you’re importing photos from a certain event or type of shoot, use the keywords to tag them before importing. They are not stored in the files and will help with further organising in the Library.

Overhead close up of a laptop on a desk

Add Metadata to Protect Your Images

Metadata is the information behind the image. If you want to add information to tell others who the photo belongs to, this is the area in which to do it.

For copyright assurances, add your name and email address, so that there is no mistaking who the image belongs to.

You can apply this during the import, as long as you create a preset by saving entered data. This area is also great for information on when exactly the photo was taken.

Use Auto-Advance to Go Through Your Images

Going through your images can take time. The best way to start is not by using the mouse or keyboard arrows to scroll through them. Believe me, those extra clicks add up and take a lot of time of your workflow.

Auto-Advance is your best way forward. It automatically goes to the next image after an action is complete.

You can find Auto-Advance under the top menu bar under Photo>Auto-Advance.

Use Selection Tools to Choose the Best Images

You will find that by going through your pictures with selection tools, you can quickly select images for later use.

It isn’t uncommon to go through a whole session multiple times, adding different selection tools as you go.

There are many ways to use selection tool combinations in selecting files you want to keep. Try not to delete any pictures unless they are technically bad, as you never know when you may need those images.

I would suggest using flags or a quick selection to pull aside pictures you do not want to keep. After this, go through the session again using colours. You can either separate the types of photography or distinguish between images that require heavy, light or no editing.

Then go through them again to rate each photo with the star rating system.

Stars

Stars are a good way to rate your images in Lightroom. The very best pictures could receive a 5-star rating, and then the stars descend with the next appropriate images. You add stars by using the numbers on your keyboard, where a 0 will bring it back to zero.

Colours

Colours allow you to differentiate between images, creating a flagged collection of sorts. There are five colours in total, and you add colours to your photos by using numbers 6-9. The last label, purple doesn’t have a shortcut.

Flagging

Another great way to select images for later uses is flagging. You press P for picking, or X for rejecting.

Quick Selection

Each image offers you a quick selection to make particular photos searchable. You can find Quick Selection in the Catalog tab on the lefthand side of the Library Module.

Man sitting by a computer with images on the screen
Photo by cottonbro from Pexels

What Are the Tools for File Structure & Organisation?

  • Creating Folders. Creating a folder in Lightroom is a handy way to separate photos inside the program. Adding a folder here adds it on your computer automatically. In the Library Module, click on the + symbol in the corner. To add a folder to an already existing one, right-click on the left-hand area and click on Create Folder Inside.
  • Moving Images. Moving images is a grey area in Lightroom. Some people prefer to do it inside the program, but others consider this heresy. Basically, you drag the folder from its location in the right-hand area to another folder. You will be prompted that what you are doing cannot be undone. Of course, you can move it back. This process will move the folder on your computer desktop too.
  • Collections and Assigning to Them. Collections are my favourite tool in Lightroom. They are perfect for organising all types of images, even ones that wouldn’t necessarily go together. If I wanted to collate all of my best live music photos from the past year, a few actions would sort all these into a folder for me.
  • Smart Collections are even better. This idea of folder creation has no limits. You could create parameters to find and add all your images over the past decade that you wanted to convert to B&W but never had time. This would look across dates, colour flags, ratings and much more.

A screenshot showing file structure & organisation during Lightroom workflow

How and Why to Use Keywords

Keywords are essential for mastering your Lightroom workflow. They are the sort of tool you want to use as soon as possible. The change they make is shocking, which you can test yourself on a mass database.

For live music, I always add the band name, the month and year in which I shot them, the venue, the city and even the camera.

This way, after photographing hundreds of bands, I can find all images taken with a particular lens. Why might this be important? When Lightroom adds my lens to their distortion fixing profile, I can change them all with one click.

Tools in the Develop Module to Help Your Workflow

Apart from the well-known Lightroom sliders, there are several other tools to help you with your workflow.

  • Presets. These are pre-created settings from other photographers or yourself. Presets add a filter-look to your pictures. This saves time during your Lightroom workflow. Instead of having to change multiple settings individually, you can apply them to photos in the develop module with one click. You can download and add these to Lightroom in a specific manner. See here how to add and use presets.
  • Plugins. Plugins are a great way to make your workflow more effective. You need to download and install these, and there are many to choose from. One that I like is called Focus Mask. This shows you the parts of the image with the most amount of detail, and thus the areas where the focus lies.
  • Moving Back and Forth Between Photoshop. This action can be a game-changer in your photo editing workflow. Right-click on the image you want to move and go to Edit In… Find Photoshop (you need to have the program already installed on your computer), and it will open the image for you. Whatever editing you do, click on Save rather than Save As. Lightroom will not pick up the edited version otherwise.
  • Copying and Pasting Settings. If a session of mine contains many photos of the same orientation, light settings and white balance, I can copy all completed settings. This allows me then to select one or multiple images and then paste the settings across. It will enable me to work on one image but get many back without extra work.

A screenshot showing editing a photo within Lightroom workflow

How to Export Your Images

Once you are done with editing in the develop module, you can move on to the final step and export your work.

  • Export Location. Choose the location on your computer where you want to save the final photos.
  • File Naming. This section lets you either keep the original file name. You can also batch name the exported files with increasing numbers, date, or anything that you specify.
  • File Settings. Sets the file format and the quality (compression) of the exports.
  • Image Sizing. If you want your images to have the same dimensions, you can set it here. There’s a bunch of options to choose from, including size in megapixels, length of the longer edge, and more.
  • Output Sharpening. Lets you add extra sharpening, should you need it. If you’re exporting for web and choose a lower quality, set low or standard. If you’re exporting for archival purposes or printing, disable this setting.
  • Metadata. This section lets you specify what metadata you want to keep in the files you export. For web, it’s ideal only to include your copyright info. That way, your settings and camera type will not show up in the published files.

A screenshot showing how to export photos in Lightroom

Example of a Lightroom Workflow

When I photograph a live band, I need to work on the images very fast due to the fast turn around required. So after I import the photos, I go to the first image of the session and set Lightroom to Auto-Advance.

I scan through my images, keeping a finger very close to the X button. Any technically bad pictures are met with a ‘rejection flag’ until I reach the end.

Then, by using the filter section at the bottom of the Library Module, I select the rejected images and delete them from my hard drive and Lightroom Catalog.

Next, I go through the photos using colours. I may use a colour per member of the band, or down to the angles I photographed them in.

Live music photography requires different images of the band, some closeups, some wider shots. I go over the photographs to ensure I have the photos.

I use four colours, which will help me choose the final photos later. If I know the band needs ten images from four band members, I will take two red, two blue, two yellow and two green.

This leaves me with two images to find from somewhere else.

As I may have 20-40 pictures in red, I use the stars to shorten my selection further. In the end, I am left with eight coloured images with five (or four) stars.

From these, I may use B (quick collection) for photos I will convert to black and white.

A screenshot showing file structure & organisation within Lightroom CC workflow

Conclusion

Knowing how your Lightroom library works saves you from confusion and missing files.

Workflow is highly personal for everyone. If you are a Lightroom beginner, it might take some time to develop your own workflow. Take time to explore the different options of Lightroom to save time during editing!

You can also improve your Photoshop Lightroom workflow by using Lightroom stacking as a sorting function.

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