Photographers often look at each others processes to learn and every lightpainter has it's own personal preferences which are often tailored to their situation. This is my Lightroom workflow and edit process.
What you need to know is that one thing that always sucks in Lightroom is the performance. It tried to setup Lightroom to work as fast as possible but also make it easy to save and share files including their edits. I assume that you should RAW only (if not, you should!).
How I shoot and the workflow basics
I always have my camera with me and I document my work and private life. After a day of shooting I edit my photos straight away. You do not want an edit backlog and be reluctant to start the process. It takes the fun out of it.
After selection of the photos I like to keep, I delete all the ones that are “out” straight away. No remorse here.
When I am done editing I share the files with the people that need or want the photos. The best photos are backed up as a JPG in the cloud which is often the way I share them (shared cloud folder).
Once a month I rate all the photos and tag them. I then backup the RAW files in the cloud and on an external drive. I then delete everything that is < 3 stars and I copy the >= star RAWS to my laptop to have them available anytime anywhere, but I notice I hardly use the files after they served their purpose. After 3 years of shooting it’s about 5000 files which the laptop and laptop storage can still handle.
Because I want to be able to share and backup files including their edits all files are converted to DNG on import and edits are stored in the files. I also set Lightroom up so edit is fast after the import.
Furthermore JPG compression of Lightroom itself is not great and the performance of the Library part especially when you are selecting the files to keep or to remove from your lib is under par to put it mildly. A lot of photographers use separate tools to select files before they are imported to Lightroom and separate tools to minify the JPG files. Because I have build a beast of an editing machine I don’t use the separate selection tool (I still should I know). For minification I use SpaceSaver (not JPEG mini). If you have any suggestions to improve my workflow please let me know. 🙂
Let’s look at the basics Lightroom setup first.
Let’s go to Preferences first which is found under the edit tab and then go to the File Handling tab. It’s setup to do DNG files, which are compatible with Camera Raw 11.2 and later and the JPEG Preview is Medium Size.
I enable both Fast Load Data and the Original Raw File.
Now let’s go to the Performance tab.
The Use of the Grapics Processor is set to Auto (make sure your card is in there and if it’s not, Google how to get it in there, it’s usually a driver update). The Cache size is 25 GB and all other checkboxes are on.
Next up are the Catalog Settings which are found under the edit tab. The most important tab is Metadata under which the “Automatically write changes to XMP” is on. This makes sure edits are saved in the DNG file. Face detection is off on my laptop, and on on my edit machine.
Next we go to the import of files and the settings I use there.
- Sort: Capture time, newest photo’s first.
- Copy as DNG
- Build previews: 1:1
- Don’t import suspected duplicated
- Rename files to a format I created myself, which has the date (YYYYMMDD), the name of the shoot and the name of the file.
And that is it.
This process takes way more time on the import (especially the DNG conversion and the 1:1 previews), but when this is done, the Lightroom performance is simply better.
You can use Smart previews if you store your files on an external device an not on your edit device. The smart preview is smaller so you van edit files on the go and be “lightweight” and as soon as you reconnect the external drive the edits will be synced to the original RAW files.
If you want to optimize performance even more you can make the size of the previews smaller and keep the 1:1 versions longer. But that does not suit my workflow.
I don’t apply any edits on import because that slows down the edit process itself.
Selecting files (Library)
Next up it’s time to run trough all the photos and see which ones I want to keep. I use the Library view for this (it’s faster then develop), I make the photo roll as small as possible and by clicking the tab key I hide all the tasks bars. Next I switch on caps lock (auto jump to next image after p or x) and using the P (pick) and X (discard) keys I run trough the photos ending up with tags for the photos I want to keep and delete.
Once I’m done I select all the flagged images (via a default filter) and switch to develop mode by pressing the D key.
Now it’s time to straighten the images. I hate horizons which are not straight or environments that are tilted except when you do it on purpose. There is no way to “batch” straighten images (transform is not what I mean here), so with Caps Lock stil on I press on the R button to activate the Crop overlay. I click on the Auto button to let Lightroom determine the horizon and if it does it’s job right I again press the P button which takes me to the next image. I run trough the entire series and manually correct after clicking Auto if is does not suit the image.
Next up is the crop of the images. The crop might be one of the most important tools you have in you toolbox. You now determine what you want to show of the image you shot. Feel free to unlock the aspect ratio if that suits your image better. I usually keep the aspect ratio on. I again go trough all the images and determine the crop. When I’m done it’s time for presets.
A few things that are nice to know
- If you press the R you go straight to the crop tool.
- If you want to change the aspect ratio from 16×9 to 9×16 for example your can press the X
- You can add your own default ratios (like the Instagram 5×4)
Preset en preset layering
Presets are a default set of settings you can add to an image. You can make them and buy them. Photography friends will sometimes share them amongst each other, but are often hesitant to share their “main” ones. The reason is that beside story, subject, composition and lens choice this is where you put you mark on your image. It’s where you make a photograph your photograph.
I bought a few presets from photographers and think the Kodachrome preset pack from Jamie Windsor was my best buy. Preset packs bought or found have formed the basis for me developing my own style and it’s in tweaking these presets that I learned most about photoshop.
That also means that non of the presets I bought (and still use) are still original. That’s also because I like to layer presets.
With layering I mean I add different parts of it as I go. This also makes editing less intensive because rendering all the settings you changed while editing takes process power from your computer.
A few of the presets I have:
0. Reset -> resets all parameters except crop.
1. Main presets (often themed to the season it’s shot in)
2. Effects added or removed (like adding or removing grain or vignette, adding noise reduction, sharpening the image etc).
3. Adding Radials
After testing a few main presets on a single photo I often add a main preset to an entire shoot so the shoot look similar and familiar. I than tweak each photo (which is usually on the basic tab, and maybe some HSL) and then add the 2. layer. Only some photos get a 3. radial or Graduated Filter after which then only some photos get and adjustment brush treatment and spot removal. Spot removal can be used to take out small elements you find distracting in a photo. Spot removal can also be used to take out small blemishes in portraits. I always try to remove temporal blemishes only.
Export & share
Next up is exporting. I have made a few default export format. I’ll run trough the list and explain the settings and the use case.
1400 – Web – 250Kb max
Export to Location: They are exported to the WEB subfolder.
File settings: Limit file size to 250k of the JPEG file
Image Sizing: Resized to fit the long edge on 1400 pixels and a 72 pixels per inch resolution
Output sharpening: For screen, High mount
This I used for web images for this website.
1920 – High – 100% quality – 72 DPI
Export to Location: They are exported to the WEB subfolder.
File settings: Quality 100% of the JPEG file
Image Sizing: Resized to fit the long edge on 1920 pixels and a 72 pixels per inch resolution
Output sharpening: For screen, High mount
This is used for Instagram. The images seem to remain sharper if the resolution is 1920 over the long edge.
DNG – Desktop
Export to the folder DNG on the Desktop in the file format DNG
Used for sharing images with other photographers.
Export to the folder IMG on the Desktop in the file format JPG without meta data with 100% quality.
Used for sharing images with others who want to use them.
JPG + Mini
This is an export setting I used to use. It minifies the JPG images after export. But after testing I found that it’s a lot slower then doing that manually. I also found that JPEG mini is slower and bigger then SpaceSaver and made a video comparing the two.
Rating and tagging the photos
Now for the boring part. Once a month I rate and tag all my images. In the Library view I have made filters to show unrated images. Once selected I go trough all the images and rate them on a 1-5 scale.
- Is a “could have been deleted but needed it for a story”
- Good enough to keep in a backup, not good enough to keep on this machine.
- Nice solid image. One to keep on my computer for future purposes.
- Shot I’m proud off.
- One of the best shots I’ve ever taken.
To give you a little bit of context. I’m not a machine gun shooter. And I am a conscious shooter since I don’t shoot commercial. Nowadays these are rough estimates of the percentages.
- Out of a shoot: 30-50% is deleted straight away.
- A few percent become 1 star images. They basically should have been deleted, for for some reason they had to stay for a while.
- 30-40% become 2 star images
- 20% become 3 star images
- 10% become 4 star images
- 0,5% become 5 star images
Now why do I do this once a month? Because I give better ratings when I view the photos fresh a few days after they have been shot, so the ratings are accurate.
After the rating of the images I select the Untagged filter and give every photo keyword tags so I can find them better later.
Backup & sharing
I backup my images to an external drive and to cloud storage. I do this after the rating and tagging and I do it once a month.
In Windows Lightroom saves the photos in date folders (one for each day of shooting containing all DNG files). These folders are backed up to a physical backup (Seagate expansion portable drive).
I also backup all the photos to the Voys Google Drive using the program Drive File Stream which I use as a Dropbox.
If I want to share photos of a shoot I upload the minified JPG files to my personal Stack storage after which a temporal sharing link can be used to download the files.
After backing up the images I copy the >= 3 star images to my laptop. Everything < 3 stars is deleted after backup on both my computer and my laptop.
If the backup and deletion is done I format my SD card.