My workflow, and how I organize my images

Post processing is a necessary step in creating a great photo. Back in the day, I had binders full of negatives, slides, and proof prints and I would spend hours in the darkroom burning, dodging and manipulating prints. Today, I use Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop1 to organize and to make my images come alive.

In this post, I will describe my typical workflow and how I organize my images. I have written (and will no doubt write more) posts on various retouching processes.

  1. Import images to Lightroom… I also add keywords associated with location, or anything else all the images from the shoot have in common. I have a preset that renames my raw files with the date, and then imports them into a year/month/day folder hierarchy2.
  2. Delete any obvious screw ups.
  3. Quick rating. I do a quick run through of the photos, ranking from 1 to 5 stars. One star means it is not a good photo, but I want to keep it for some reason, maybe an image I just want to keep for reference purposes. 3 stars is decent and I may want to come back to work on the image. 5 stars is an awesome portfolio quality image.
  4. next I review and mark any not worth keeping as a discard (x), and possibly mark others with one of several custom colour labels3 such as “Model Release”, “Do Not Publish” or “To Work On”.

Now the images are catalogued and rated. I may leave the files alone and come back to them later, or, if an image or two are inspiring, I will start tweaking them right away.

I usually do white balance, and maybe exposure compensation in Lightroom. I could do it in Photoshop, but I would have to transfer as a smart object, and I find that is more trouble than it is worth. I may do some other global adjustments in contrast, etc before opening the file in Photoshop.

If you right click on an image and select “Open in Photoshop” this will create a PSD copy with all the cataloguing of the original raw file. All changes made in Photoshop will be reflected on this copy. At this point, I will drop the original raw file to 2 stars, as the Photoshop file is the main version of this image, and I don’t want the unedited raw file to show up in searches or smart catalogues.

At the end of the day, I will have all my raw files with some keywording and a ranking. Some of them will have duplicate Photoshop files with the same keywording. I can also drag images to different catalogues, but that is another article.



Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. There are other programs and workflows that may work as well or better for some people, however I have been using Photoshop for a long time and it is what I am comfortable with…
  2. I also have a top level folder for “jobs”, i.e. commercial work, that is subdivided into year/month/day folders. I use keywords to describe the job and client.
  3. You can set custom label text for your colour labels to make it easier to categorize images. Some people use keywords instead, but I find this can mess up searching. For example, if you search for “publish” you will also get all the files keywords “Do not publish”.