Photography Workflow

Posted: December 12, 2013 23:03:57 • 1226 words

I tend to get a lot of questions about my post-processing workflow, which usually come up when I mention presets I've created to speed things up in Lightroom. Additionally, I've been seriously considering bringing in an assistant to help with my processing when I go to conventions and events, especially if I'm a staff photographer for the event. So, I've written up my processing workflow in detail, both for the curious who might benefit from my techniques, and for anyone who's interested in helping me out at conventions.

  1. Import contents of memory card. I have an import preset called "5D Import", for my current camera body, which applies the following settings:
    • Adds a tag called "Camera:My 5D mk2", used for my own sorting purposes. Other tags can be added at import if they're relevant to all photos on the card. This can be a time-saver later.
    • Applies a develop preset called "Enable Lens Profile", which does exactly what it says, enables the use of lens correction profiles. In doing this, Lightroom automatically selects the most appropriate profile, if one exists. On a full-frame camera, this is vital.
    • Selects the import destination, which should be "X:Photography5Dmk2 02". Important: If the camera's filename counter has rolled over (9999 >> 0000), start a new folder called 5Dmk2 03 and put all images starting at 0000 there. I prefer not to have every shot in the same folder, it gets a bit unwieldy if anything ever needs to be done in that directory, so I split them up by number series, ensuring there can never be more than 10,000 files in each directory.
  2. Tag all photos. This can be done in batches, thankfully, so for each set of tags, select all appropriate photos. For example, if the card contains photos taken in Arlington, VA and Richmond, VA, select all of them to apply "Virginia" and "VA", then work downward. A few notes specific to the way I tag photos, which can be different from other people:
    • I have tags for each of my lenses, so to apply these, use Lightroom's metadata filtering to select photos based on lens used.
    • I have tags that do not export, for determining which photos have already been uploaded, or should not be uploaded. They start with "g2:". Do not apply these to any photos, if you're working with my Lightroom catalog, because they determine what's in the Photos To Process queue.
  3. Switch to Map view in Lightroom to geotag all photos. I don't have anything to automate this, so it's typically completely manual, which is mostly fine. The granularity of my geotagging varies greatly, but is typically accurate at least to a specific building or area. So, for photos of a hike or walk, I usually try to pinpoint exactly where on my route I was. But for a convention or event, I'm not going to bother figuring out precisely where in the building/park I was, I'll just put them all on the same building/park/area. If you're processing my photos, and not sure, err on the side of greater precision, or skip this step.
  4. Probably the most "magical" step: Batch processing. I've automated this using Lightroom presets, and the main thing is applying noise reduction and sharpening settings, which are generally the same for each ISO settings. Thus, I've created a set of Lightroom presets to improve workflow, one preset per ISO setting. I urge everyone to do this, but don't copy mine unless you have a Canon 5D mk2; every camera has a different noise profile, so these settings for one camera will not be applicable to a different model. Also, I recommend shooting raw for this, because there's very little you can do about noise once a JPEG has been created. For example, my ISO 1600 preset is:
    • Sharpening: 65
    • Radius: 0.5
    • Masking: 20
    • Luminance Noise Reduction: 30
    The workflow for applying these is:
    1. Switch to Develop mode, and use Lightroom's metadata filter to filter photos by camera and ISO.
    2. Select all photos of the same ISO setting.
    3. Apply preset for that ISO setting. If one does not exist, use the closest higher one. For example, if there's no setting for ISO 125, use the one for ISO 200.
    4. Click the "Sync" button, and synchronize the Sharpening and Noise Reduction settings only.
    5. Repeat for every ISO setting in the current batch of imported photos.
  5. I often skip this next step, or do it while I'm doing other processing, but if you're working with my Lightroom catalog on my behalf, this is vital. Flip through photos individually, and:
    • Flag any unrecoverably out-of-focus shots as "Rejected" (X key). This makes it easier to delete them later. If you're working on my photos, do not actually delete anything, and do not mark things Rejected for being super-overexposed or super-underexposed. I rarely do anything with shots like these, but occasionally I pull something cool out of an otherwise-ruined photo (like this shot, or this one).
    • Flag any photos that could potentially be upload-worthy as "Yellow" (7 key). I use Green to indicate that a photo has been processed and is ready to have a title and description written, so Yellow indicates that a photo might be worth further processing, but hasn't been through it yet.
  6. Sort photos into Lightroom collections. This is the last step so that if this process is interrupted, and I import more photos before it's complete, it's easier to find the previous batch. The way I organize my photos varies greatly, but I have top-level sets for Fandom Events (conventions and meetups, pony or furry), Major Events (concerts, campaign rallies), and Minor Events (weddings, prom/homecoming photoshoots, large parties). Within those sets, each photoshoot gets its own collection. Additionally, I have sets for Urban Scenic and Rural/Nature Scenic, where every locality gets its own collection, which are divided in a vague and arbitrary way; photos within a major metro area are "urban", most everything else is "rural", regardless of the actual subject material, because I don't want to have multiple collections for the same city. So, photos of Central Park would go in Urban, while photos of downtown buildings in a small town would go in Rural. There are additional top-level sets, such as Cars, which are seldom used nowadays, but can be relevant in some cases. If you're working on my photos, just leave them uncategorized if you're not sure.

Those are the steps in what I call the pre-processing phase, which typically happens immediately after a photoshoot. From this point on, all that's left to do is process the keepers to optimize them, which can't really be automated beyond what I've already done, and I tend to really take my time on it, which is where my backlog comes from. I'll pre-process the entire batch the day after they're taken, but I rarely optimize more than a small handful of images per session, with processing sessions only happening once or twice a week. Additionally, I always write a title and description for the final keepers, as the last step before upload. It's vital to do this to get the most exposure from your uploads, but it's a waste of time to do it earlier in the process, since you might write about a photo that doesn't get uploaded anywhere.