Having a strong Lightroom workflow will not only save you time, but 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 your images and export them too.
Knowing how your library works also saves confusion and missing files. Metadata and keywording are just a few other counterparts that are important in using Lightroom to its full capacity.
The first port of call, way before you even think about Lightroom, is having a clear idea on how you are going to store your images 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. This helps me, as I know when most of my travelling expeditions took place.
Other photographers may find a better solution, depending on the photography that they do. For events, maybe the name of the event is the name of the folder. For landscape photographers, perhaps the location would work best.
I have one folder for all my photography, even if they are portrait sessions, documentary projects or something more creative. I could separate them into folders depending on the field of photography.
My Organisation of my images is simple yet effective for my Lightroom workflow.
A Catalog is a great way to keep your images organised too. By rule, you need at least one Catalog for Lightroom to work. All the information regarding your pictures is stored there, and it needs to be backed up 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.
- Copy, Move or Add. When you first import images into Lightroom, you are presented with 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’re often importing. 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. If you have favourite presets that you want to apply instantly, this is a great way. In the metadata section, you can add embedded tags to the files. More on that later.
If you’re importing photos from a certain event or type of shoot, use the keywords part to tag them before importing. They are not stored in the files and will help with further organising in the Library module.
Metadata is the information behind the image. If you want to add information to tell others who the image 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.
This can be applied 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 image was taken, date and time.
Separating the Wheat From the Chaff
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.
Those extra clicks add up and take a lot of time. Auto Advance is your best way forward (puns aside) as it automatically goes to the next image after an action is completed.
Auto-advance is found under the top menu bar under Photo>Auto-Advance.
- Stars. Stars are a good way to rate your images. The very best images could receive a 5-star rating, and then the stars descend with the next appropriate images. You add starts 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 in total, and you add colours to your images by using numbers 6-9, but 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 images searchable using the Catalog tab on the lefthand side of the Library Module.
There are many ways to use these combinations in selecting images you want to keep, versus ones you may need to edit or delete.
I try not to delete any images unless they are technically bad, as you may never know when you may need those images.
Look at the options the above methods offer you. Flagging gives you two choices fast, colours give you five colours, where four of them are quickly usable. Stars also give you five fast selections, six if you count zero.
You will find that by quickly going through your images, you can quickly select and choose images for later use.
It isn’t uncommon to go through a whole session multiple times, adding different selection tools as you go.
I would suggest using flags or a quick selection to pull aside images you do not want to keep.
Then, going through the session again using colours, for either separating the fields of photography or distinguish between images that require heavy, light or no editing.
Then, go through them again to rate each image with the rating star system.
When I photograph a live band, I need to work on the images very fast due to the fast turn around required. So after importing the images, I go to the first image of the session and set Lightroom to Auto-Advance.
I quickly go through my images, keeping a finger very close to the X button. Any technically bad images 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 selected the rejected images and deleted them from my hard drive and Lightroom Catalog.
Next, I go through the images 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 over the photograph to ensure I have the image as chimping isn’t possible.
I use four colours, which will help me choose the final images 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 images 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 images I will convert to black and white.
File Structure & Organisation
- Creating Folders. Creating a folder in Lightroom is a handy way to separate images inside the program without having to go back to the desktop to do the same thing there. 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 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 images from the past year, a few actions would sort all of 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 of 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. It takes some time getting used to
Keywords are essential for mastering your Lightroom workflow. They are the sort of thing you want to use ASAP, as finding out the benefit from them after amassing a vast database can be a pain in the backside.
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 of the images taken with a particular lens, for example. Why might this be important? I hear you ask.
Well, when Lightroom finally gets round to adding my lens to their distortion fixing profile, I can change them all with a click of a button.
- Presets. Presets. Thank goodness for presets. These are pre-created settings from other photographers (or yourself when you get your head around them). They can be applied to images either singularly, or by batch processing. These presets add a filter look to your pictures. This saves time than having to change multiple settings for each image individually. These can be downloaded, then need to be added to Lightroom in a specific manner. See here how to add and use presets.
- Plugins. Plugins are a great way to make more effective use of your time. 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 therefore, the areas where the focus lies.
- Moving Back and Forth Between Photoshop. This action can be a game-changer. Yesterday I took some professional pictures of my fiance for her CV. I used Lightroom for all the small corrections but then sent the image to Photoshop so I could remove the background. Right-click on the image you want to move and go to Edit In…Find Photoshop (you need to have the program already installed), and it will open the image or images for you. Whatever editing you do, you need to click on Save rather than Save As, as Lightroom will not pick up the edited version otherwise.
- Copy and Pasting Settings. One tool I find helpful is the copy and paste settings method. If a session of mine, be it portrait or landscape, contains many images of the same orientation, same light settings and same white balance problems, I can copy all of the completed settings. This allows me then to select one or multiple images and then paste the settings across. This will enable me to work on one image but get many back without extra 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 (if you don’t care, this is good enough). Or, you can batch name the exported files with increasing numbers, date, time, 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 chose a lower quality, set low or standard. If you’re exporting for archival purposes or printing, disable this setting. You can always sharpen further, but removing digital sharpening is tricky.
- Metadata. This section lets you specify what metadata you want to keep in the exported files. 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.
You can also improve your workflow by using Lightroom stacking as a sorting function.