MY WORKFLOW WITH ADOBE LIGHTROOM

by james from Who shot the photographer

In this guide I’m going to give you a full run down of the way in which I edit photos from start to finish. Please note that this process works for me. I’ve written this so you can get a good idea of how this works for me, based upon the photos I produce. You’ll learn:

  1. How I store photos from my camera, and in what format.
  2. How I import photos from my camera card onto my PC, where I store them, and name them.
  3. The workflow I use to edit my photos from start to finish.

I’ve also given a complete video run down of the below here:

 


WHICH PATH TO TAKE?

One of the greatest struggles I had starting out in editing portrait photography was my workflow. That is, how do I go from start to finish with editing a photo? Whilst that may not seem that complex, consider this:

  • Do you import directly into Adobe Lightroom, or store your photos externally?
  • Do you do editing in Adobe Photoshop, like precise dodging and burning and other creative drawing over the top of your photos? Do I do this before or after editing in Adobe Lightroom?
  • Do you use several different presets on your work in Adobe Lightroom, or do you just manually edit the settings each time?

These are just a few basic questions which I’ve had before from other budding photographers. With so many different choices in how you can process photos, it can be a blessing and a curse.

I spent months riddling whether I should use Photoshop first and then Lightroom, or the other way round. I am not exaggerating when it took me months to come to a decision about this, based on generating shoot after shoot.

So I’m going to break down the exact process from start to finish, from taking the photos off of my camera to exporting the final product. I hope you’ll find this useful, and yet again just to reiterate, this is the way I found works for me. I’ll explain my rationale and you may disagree, but I hope this helps!

 

STEP 1 – WHICH FILE FORMAT DO I USE, & IMPORTING PHOTOS

Let’s get this out of the way. I shoot in RAW. I shoot in RAW because of the greater dynamic range captured in a RAW file. There has been a lot of commotion recently about whether to now use JPEG as opposed to RAW. I personally wouldn’t shoot JPEG at the moment but I love the idea of saving a shedload of file space, so it is something I want to investigate in the future. For the moment though, it is RAW.

So you’ve just come back home after being on set for two hours with an amazing model, perfect stylist, and even better location. What next? Getting the photos off of the camera of course!

I have a dedicated 2 TB external hard drive for all of my Who Shot The Photographer Photoshoots. Once I have done a shoot, I’ll immediately copy all photos, JPEG and RAW over to a New Folder on the Hard Drive, labelled with the name of the shoot and the date. For example ‘Laura’s Wedding Gown Shoot 030516’.

I cannot stress this enough but also make sure you back up all of your data. I can’t count the number of times people have lost photos, and when asked if they had a backup, said ‘I was going to get around to it but never did it’. There is no perfect time to get a backup except now. I also use Crash Plan, which is a background online backup service. I paid $69AUS a year for this service and it ensures that if my house burns down, then I will be able to go online and get all of these photos back. $69 a year is nothing for peace of mind if all of your work is lost. Bite the bullet and get it.

In terms of other storage I have a business Dropbox Account on which I keep all finished edits. Dropbox is the industry standard for online cloud storage, and the difference of this to Crash Plan is that Crash Plan is more of an overall carbon copy backup, so I couldn’t just pop on there and download one single file. Dropbox fills this gap in nicely, and is also perfect for sharing client photos and other information.

 

STEP 2 – IMPORTING PHOTOS IN ADOBE LIGHTROOM

I use Adobe Lightroom as the main editing program for my photos. Adobe Lightroom is the perfect way to curate a library of your photos, organising them, and then editing them.

Now that I have the photos on my external hard drive, I’ll simply go to the Library Tab in Adobe Lightroom, and click ‘Import’, before finding the new file location on the external hard drive. This will now pull all of the new photos into the library for me to organise and sort.

Whether you use Photoshop in your process or not, using Lightroom at the very least as a library will help you immensely.

 

STEP 3 – CHOOSING PHOTOS

This is a classic first world problem when it comes to photography. The aches and pains of choosing the 20 best photos from a set of over 300 I typically capture on a shoot. This task would be a nightmare if it wasn’t for the flagging and subsequent elimination features in Lightroom.

With so many photos, I have to cull around 95% of them for a final set. A typical TFP (time for print – free) photoshoot tends to have around 10-20 images in it. The reason I have this amount is because I like to sew a basic story arc in the selection, which I find captures people’s attention a bit longer and keep them engaged. This is opposed to having 50 photos where people will inevitably get bored or turned off after the first 20, or just 5 photos, which seems too short to weave a narrative. Yet again, just my choice.

I select photos by firstly going through the whole set, pressing ‘P’ on any photos I like. This flags them with a little white flag icon. Once I’ve gone through the whole set, I’ll then just filter by ‘flagged’, before selecting three photos at a time, and using the multiple view viewing mode in the selection section. I’ll then click on the flag icon of a photo I don’t like (bear with me) so that it gets removed from the flagged pool.

Having these three photos up at once helps you get a great way to compare three very similar photos. I will usually end up with multiple photos which looks similar but which all look great. So I do this to help make the decision of which one is better. Once I’ve done a whole stage of culling, I’ll also take the time to bring up all of the photos remaining on the screen so that I can look for similar facial expressions or poses; this then helps me eliminate any photos that look far too similar, to make sure that enough variety is in the set.

I’ll keep doing this until the final number of around 20 photos or less are left. Phew.

STEP 4 – EDITING PHOTOS

I’m constantly creating videos on YouTube which showcase how I edit my photos. Below is a  videos which showcase how I usually do process the photos I capture:

As per the above, I usually will use one main preset. This is the H400+1 from the VSCO Pack 6. The reason for this is that I love the base that this preset provides; the most notable elements of this preset is the fact that it has beautiful tone curves, and the colour grading really gets the old vintage film look.

Briefly the adjustments I typically make after applying this preset are:

  • Remove the grain;
  • Increase exposure slightly;
  • Reduce contrast slightly;
  • Decrease highlights;
  • Increase blacks;
  • Reduce orange colour saturation;
  • Decrease yellow colour saturation and swing it slightly towards the red spectrum;
  • Decrease green colour saturation, and swing it slightly towards the yellow spectrum;
  • Enable profile correction, with a reduction in the vignette;
  • Carry out minor detail sharpening using the retouch brush.

These can vary between edits, but these are the most frequent adjustments I will make.

STEP 5 – EXPORTING PHOTOS

Now that I’ve got the final photos all ready, I’ll need to export these. There are two considerations.

The first is whether you are sending these as drafts to models and creatives before uploading. As per my previous post about crib sheets, I have a rule that I’ll send across the finished photos, but with a nice big ‘DRAFT’ watermark across them. This ensures that if I do change my mind and want to edit something, then different copies of the same image won’t appear, and also it allows you to ensure that content is shared directly from your page instead of others (at least in the first release). When doing this, I simply apply the ‘Watermark’ feature in the export dialogue box.

The second consideration is file sizing, format, and other specifics. Typically the photos that I produce will go on my website, and on Facebook. When it comes to Website management, Search Engine Optimisation plays an extremely important role when it comes to getting found in search results. One of the key factors in a page ranking highly is how fast it loads. If you have 20 photos each of which are around 20mb, then you’re going to have a very slow loading page which will make it harder to keep people’s attention.

To deal with this I have a file size limitation of 2mb per image, with no resizing. This allows a high quality image, whilst not eating up too much file space on the page. This can be especially useful if you are submitting your work to a magazine for submission, as chances are in the initial look, they won’t want to download files that are 30mb each!

However, I take the file size limitation off when it comes to full sized professional printing and final editorial submissions once the magazine has confirmed they want the photos!


FINAL WORDS

So in summary, you’ve now been able to see how I work from start to finish. The simplest way I can put this is:

  1. Copy photos from SD Card to external hard drive that is synched to backup online via Crash Plan;
  2. Rename above folder with the shoot name and date;
  3. Import photos in Adobe Lightroom;
  4. Select the photos you’ll want for the final set using the flagging feature (‘P’) and repeated culls;
  5. Finally export the photo in a resized format for web and Facebook uploads, with a draft watermark to send to models and creatives. Take the file size limitation off when submitting for final print with editorial magazines, or if you want to print your photos off.

I hope you’ve found this useful, and if you have any element you want me to expand on, you can always email me at hello@whoshoots.com and leave a message below!

About James

I’m a Fashion and Portrait Photographer originally from the UK, and now living in Canberra Australia. I believe in a strong communinty spirit, helping others grow, and creating beautiful art with incredible people. My background is in ornithology, and I have a huge passion for all feathered birds.
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