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My Workflow From Start To Finish

June 22, 2018

watch this video or read the transcript below

One of the most important things in running an efficient photography studio is a strong workflow. As a wedding photographer I have to ingest and process thousands of images every wedding. I come away from a wedding with usually 3,500+ images & an extra 1,000+ from my assistant. Over the 24 weddings I have in 2018 alone that will equal roughly 100,000+ images and over 2tb of data. Combine that with the other shoots besides weddings and it is very easy to get overwhelmed.

An efficient workflow is the number one way that I stay on top of things and avoid getting burnt out.

There are a few things that a workflow SHOULD be:

  1. It should allow you to easily find images from any shoot you’ve done regardless of how long ago
  2. It should be easy to understand and to move around in
  3. It should handle small and large shoots just as effectively
  4. It should have multiple points of backup
  5. It should be consistent, but malleable (more on this later)

I want to take you through my photography workflow from start to finish. Hopefully after seeing my workflow you will be able to take bits an pieces to make your workflow more efficient! Note that not everything I do is necessary for every photographer, but the general concepts should be very useful!

Here is the list of steps I take the moment I return from a photoshoot:

  1. Create a folder system for all files to live in
  2. Use Photo Mechanic to dump files from memory cards onto 2 external hard drives
  3. Cull photos in Photo Mechanic
  4. Drag just the culled images into specific folder
  5. Create new Lightroom Catalog for that shoot
  6. Import & Create any necessary collections for that shoot
  7. Edit images
  8. Export images into specific folder
  9. *Optional* Run images through JPEGMini
  10. Upload images to Cloudspot delivery

Now before I break down each one of these points I want to address the point I made earlier about a workflow being malleable. Let’s face it, sometimes as photographers we take on too much work. This means that sometimes we have to outsource parts of our workflow. A malleable workflow simply means that it is not difficult to incorporate other outside services. Here’s an example. If I wanted to hire a second company to edit my images for me, it would not be hard at all to do since my workflow already separates my culled images from the rest and puts them in a specific place. I would simply replace the “Edit” step with “Send to editor”. With that being said, let’s talk about how each one of these points work together.

  1. Create a folder system for all files to live in.

This is one of the first places where you can improve your workflow. By folder system all I’m talking about are the folders that you create on your computer when you have a new photoshoot. Here is how mine is set up.

Every shoot gets its own individual folder regardless of how small. This keeps everything separated and easy to find. Each folder starts with the date. I format the date with Year-Month-Day. Then I put the name of the shoot after that. This could be “Jack and Jill Engaged” or “Mary and Bob Married” or “John Doe 2018 Senior” etc. The naming isn’t important as long as it’s something that you can quickly read and know what the shoot was.

Within this main folder are usually 3 sub folders.

  1. Raws
  2. Culled
  3. Output

Raws is where I put all of the images from the shoot, good & bad. If I shoot on multiple cameras or if I have an assistant also shooting say for a wedding, I will make sub folders for each camera used and dump the files accordingly.

Culled is where I bring just the images that I want to edit. If I don’t plan on editing all of the images at once, say a sneak peak for a wedding before the rest of the images are finished, I will make specific folders for each of those sets, each getting their own Lightroom catalog.

Output is where the finished JPEGS go. There could be 5 sub folders in here, or none. It really depends on the shoot. For example, a wedding might have 4 folders; “Sneak Peak, Delivery, Album & Blog” whereas an engagement session might only have 2; “Sneak Peak & Delivery”.

Pro tip: On macOS you have an application called “Automator” where you can make a one click button that makes all of these folders automatically

  1. Use Photo Mechanic to dump files from memory cards onto 2 external hard drives

I do not know where I would be without Photo Mechanic. For those that are unaware, Photo Mechanic is the fastest culling software that exists. This one piece of software will shorten your workflow by so much. If you aren’t using it, check out their 30 day trial.

Photo Mechanic has a function where I can send the images from the memory card to two places. I set one destination as my “Raws” folder and the other to a second ”Raws” folder on my backup hard drive!

This means that after ingesting my images they exist in 3 places. On my memory card, and on 2 different hard drives.

  1. Cull photos in Photo Mechanic

This is where the speed of Photo Mechanic really shines. I’m able to instantly view and tag the raw files that I want to edit. I used to do this in Lightroom and it was painfully slow. Photo Mechanic goes as fast as I can press buttons.

For culling, I try my best to do it all at once. Culling can be such a boring thing that if you take a break it might be difficult to get back into it. My advice is to put on some headphones and listen to some really fast music and grind out all of your culling in one sitting. Do not add time to this step. I cull 4000+ images in under an hour with Photo Mechanic.

Once I’ve tagged all of the images I will filter just the ones I’ve picked and drag them to the “Culled” folder. At this point I am done with Photo Mechanic.

You might think that $150 is really expensive for an application that only does one thing. And while I won’t argue with the price, I actually really appreciate that Photo Mechanic has no editing features. This forces me to just think about culling and not editing. It means that I won’t get distracted by wanting to edit an image that I’ve just marked. It forces me to finish the task I’m doing and then move on. That alone is worth the price for me.

I’m going to skip number 4 since it was covered in the last bit

  1. Create a new Lightroom Catalog for that shoot

I create a new Lightroom Catalog for every single shoot that I do. I don’t do it for speed (the performance benefits have been debated for a long time), I do it for organization. By creating a specific catalog for just that one shoot, it gives me an easy way to reopen Lightroom with just those images pulled up.

Sometimes I will even create more than one catalog per shoot. For a wedding I will usually create a separate Lightroom catalog JUST for the sneak peaks. Again, this allows me to focus on the 5 or 6 images I’ve selected to preview and not get distracted by the rest of the set.

Another reason why this is so awesome is because if I want to edit on another computer all I have to do is drag the entire shoot folder onto a portable hard drive and as long as the computer I’m using has Lightroom, I can open that shoot on the other computer right where I left off. This is huge.

  1. Import images into Lightroom and create any necessary collections for that shoot

Now that I’ve created the catalog I can bring in the images from the culled folder. One huge thing to do while you’re importing is to check the box titled “Create smart previews”. I won’t go too in depth with smart previews but they basically allow you to edit your images without having the image files with you. This is great if you want to edit on the go.

As far as creating collections, if I want to split up the files I’ve imported into categories, collections are a great way to do that. For a wedding you could create collections for “Getting Ready”, “First Look”, “Ceremony” etc.

  1. Edit images

This is another huge area where you can cut a lot of time off of your workflow. By using a solid set of presets and with tons of practice you can process images incredibly quickly and know that you are getting amazing results every time.

Obviously this takes a lot of time to develop and there is no shortcut to this. In order to edit images quickly you simply have to do it a lot to know what looks good. Having solid presets (I recommend making your own and not buying) really helps this situation as well.

I’ve had a lot of practice and am very confident with my presets and therefore I can edit a wedding start to finish in under 3 hours.

For certain shoots it makes sense to take more time per image. For example if you are doing a fashion shoot for a clothing company and need to retouch certain elements out and retouch the model’s face, this will take much longer than just editing photos from an engagement shoot. Sometimes on a wedding there are distracting elements that need to come out. These images will take longer but shouldn’t drag down the rest of the edits.

There’s no hard and fast rule to how long you should spend editing a single image but my general thought is this. Edit once and MOVE ON. If I keep second guessing the edits I’ve made there’s a good chance I will change things and make it worse.

However, something I will do for weddings is edit all of the images and step away for some amount of time. Sometimes a day sometimes a week. After that I will come back to those images (made very easy by my separate catalog!) and look at the edits with fresh eyes. Sometimes we do make poor decisions when we edit, but it has nothing to do with how fast you are going, but more with your eye fatigue. This is especially important on big projects that involve a lot of skin retouching.

  1. Export images into specific folders

After I’m happy with all of my edits I will simply select all of the images and export out of Lightroom. Now let’s talk about export settings really quickly.

It’s important to understand how your images will be used so that you can export them at the proper sizing. For example, when I deliver images for paid shoots like weddings and portraits, I deliver high-resolution Digital images. These are images that are suitable for printing. These images are not sized down at all and are exported at 300dpi. On my camera these images are about 11 – 14mb depending on content.

For images that I want to post on Instagram, I export at 72 dpi which cuts down the file size a ton and makes the image load much faster.

For images that I want to put on my website I will export them at 2048px on the long edge and 72dpi. This takes the images from 12mb average to 600kb average. These images load incredibly quickly which is really important for good user experience! These images also are great to upload to Facebook as they have already been compressed from Lightroom and won’t get hit as hard by Facebook’s compression algorithm.

  1. Optionally run images through JPEGMini

JPEGMini is a wonderful program that will reduce the size of your JPEGS without affecting image quality at all. It’s fast and is also an effective way to batch rename all of your image files.  I typically don’t use JPEGMini for files exported for the Web but it is very useful on print images.

  1. Upload images to Cloudspot

Cloudspot is another huge piece of my workflow. Before cloudspot I was uploading photos to Flickr, Google Drive & Dropbox and didn’t have any good way to manage all of my delivered shoots. Not to mention I was missing out on income from not having an easy way to sell prints.

I could talk about Cloudspot for such a long time but long story short it is the main way that I deliver photos. Each shoot gets its own custom website which makes it super easy for my clients to view and download images. It also has a wonderful Auto Fulfill function that connects with the amazing WHCC print lab to allow your clients to buy prints! The best part is that they take 0% of your sales and they handle all of the packaging and shipping for you! You literally don’t have to do anything. All you see is the profit go into your bank account.

Once I’ve delivered my cloudspot gallery I consider a shoot finished. At this point is when my Archive hard drive comes In. My Archiving hard drive is a Drobo with 5 10tb hard drives in it. After setting the Drobo up for 2 disk protection, meaning two hard drives can fail with no data loss, I get about 30tb of usable space.

Once the shoot is finished I make a copy of the entire shoot folder onto this massive drive. If I haven’t cleared my memory card from that shoot yet it means the files exist in 4 places. After I’ve formatted the card it drops to 3 places. I also use a service called BackBlaze to make a cloud backup of my archive drive.

And that is basically it! Different shoots sometimes have slightly different requirements but again this workflow is very adaptable and can change easily depending on what is needed.

Looking back at the 5 points on what a workflow should be, we can see that this workflow satisfies all 5. It allows me to find images from any shoot and is very easy to navigate. It works just as well for big and small shoots and has multiple points of backup! Finally, it is consistent but is able to be modified without losing all of its effectiveness.

I hope that seeing how I designed my workflow will make it easier for you to design one for yourself! Thanks for watching!

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