My Lightroom Workflow

If you’re going to be taking photographs on a regular basis, it’s very important to have a workflow. After a few weeks or months of shooting, it will become apparent that some form of organisation is necessary. This will make it easier to track down specific images in the future and also make for a more efficient backup system.
In this post, I will document my workflow. This system works for me, but you may find it useful as a basis for your own workflow. This post only details the importing and organising of photos from a memory card to your Lightroom catalogue. Later on, I will give you an insight into my editing process.

The raw files imported from the camera into Lightroom.
The raw files imported from the camera into Lightroom.

First, I import the contents of the memory card into Lightroom. I used to convert the Nikon NEF files to DNG during the import process. However, since moving from the Nikon D7000 to the Nikon D800, I have decided to dispense with that part of the process. Converting to DNG downsizes the file size from an average of 75 Mb to about 20 Mb. It didn’t make sense to me to lose that much information from my raw files.

  • Edit 2015: I have since modified my workflow and now convert to DNG. This reduces the file size without any apparent loss of quality.

Lets Get Organised
After the images are imported, I set about organising them. Step One involves having a quick look through them and discarding any that may be blurred, underexposed or overexposed.

In Step Two I will delete any duplicates by examining each photograph at 100% magnification to determine the sharpest. Step Three involves renaming, key-wording and rating the images I want to keep.

For instance, the shot below is over exposed. In Lightroom you can show overexposed areas quite easily. Look at the histogram in the top right corner of the Develop module. Then click on the small grey triangle in the top right corner of the histogram. This will activate the highlight clipping warning. If you do not want to have this activated all the time, then hovering your cursor over the triangle will temporarily show the overexposed areas. Clicking on the triangle in the top left of the histogram will activate the shadow clipping warning and areas that are pure black or underexposed will show up in blue.

The red overlay show areas of the image that are blown out and have no detail.
The red overlay show areas of the image that are blown out and have no detail.

However, as seen in the second shot, you can recover some highlight detail by lowering the exposure slider and also the highlight slider. You can also pop a little light into the shadows by using the shadows slider. But there is still a lack of detail in the centre sky. It may be tempting to hit the X key and send this to the bin. However, for the moment this shot stays. That doesn’t mean to say that it won’t go in the next round of edits.

Some detail can be recovered by playing with the sliders in Lightroom.
Some detail can be recovered by playing with the sliders in Lightroom.

Now I know that photographers as a rule, are supposed to always slightly overexpose their photos. This is because it is easier to pull detail out an over exposed shot than to pull detail out from the shadows of an underexposed shot.
But I am a sucker for dark images and I often tend to hang onto some of these underexposed shots. I like how they hint at what is within the scene rather than make it glaringly obvious. So I’ll keep the shot below and see if I can make something from it later on.

An underexposed photograph
Although underexposed, detail could yet be recovered from the shadows

Some images, like this one will be underexposed and obviously blurred. So these shots definitely go in the bin. So after starting with 21 photographs and with the first two minute edit done, we are left with 19 photographs. Time for Step Two.

Underexposed and blurred photograph
This photograph is obviously underexposed and blurred.

Edit, Edit and Edit Again
In Step two, we will look for similar photographs and decide which ones to keep and which ones can be discarded.
Here, we have three images of the boat. They were all shot from the exact same position. They were the very first shots that I took and I was just trying to get a decent exposure. All were shot at F20, ISO 160 and 24mm focal length. The only difference was the exposure time. All were shot using a tripod and a wireless remote control.

Three different exposures of the same scene.
The same position, but some test shots to determine a proper exposure.

You can see that the image on the top left, shot at 1/40 of a second is a little dark. For the image on the top right I dropped the exposure to 1/10 of a second. This was a little better but just to be sure I shot one more frame. The image on the bottom has an exposure of 1/3 of a second.
Time to check for sharpness. You should view each image at 100% magnification and check. If you’re unsure, zoom them all to 200% and check more. Because the three were shot using a tripod and remote release, all of them are sharp. During this round I decided to get rid of the most underexposed of the images.

The same three images but with different exposure times
Three more photographs, but with different exposures.

Next up are these three images all taken from the same position. Again, all share the same details – ISO 160, 24mm, and f20. The only difference is the exposure. The image on the left are shot at 1/13 second. The top right is shot at 1/30 second while the bottom is shot at 1/125 second.
I decided that the image shot at 1/13 second offered the most scope for development so the other two were selected for deletion.

Next up was these five photos taken from another position. A quick view at 100% tells me that they are all sharp. Three of them were shot at 1/13 second so I could immediately discard two. The under exposed shot was also discarded. I opted to keep the image shot at 1/10 second.

Five photographs from the same position but with different exposure times.
Five photographs from the same position but with different exposure times.

My Reason For Being Here – Long Exposure
Next up were these three images, again all shot from the same position. This is when I was getting into the longer exposures – the reason I came to shoot here tonight. For these images, I used a Lee ND110 filter (Big stopper). I also used a Lee .9 ND Soft Graduated Filter in front of the ND110.
The image on the top left was shot at F10, 27mm, ISO 160 and 188 seconds – just over three minutes (without the ND Grad). I like it but as you can see, some of the sky is burned out and is unrecoverable. However, as I mentioned earlier, I may be able to blend this image with another to make a better photograph.

Three more images from the same position. However this time the exposures are a lot longer.
Three more images from the same position. However this time the exposures are a lot longer.

The photo on the top right is shot at F22, 27mm, ISO 160 and 16 seconds. Again I won’t dump this just yet as I think it has potential for a nice silhouette.
The image on the bottom is the type of shot I wanted. It’s shot at F22, 27mm, ISO 160 and 199 seconds – just over three and a half minutes. I like the movement in the clouds and this is my favourite of the three here. But for now, I’m keeping them all.

The two images below were also shot from the same position. The light was fading very fast now and we had to keep pushing out the exposure times to capture as much of it as possible. The photo on the left was shot at F22, 24mm, ISO 160 and 406 seconds – just short of seven minutes.

Two photographs from the same position but with two different exposure times.
Two photographs from the same position but with two different exposure times.

The photo on the right has the same details except the exposure was 815 seconds which is over 13 and a half minutes. I like these two shots and I’m not ready to get rid of them in this round.

These last two shots are taken from different positions. The shot on the left is taken at F22, 24mm, ISO 160 and 327 deconds – five and three quarter minutes.
The image on the right is the last shot of the evening. The light was all but gone now. Details are F11, 24mm, ISO 160 and exposure time of 1382 seconds – just over 23 minutes. Again, these two images are staying for now.

The two final images shot that evening. Both are very long exposures.
The two final images shot that evening. Both are very long exposures.

So after Step Two that has taken about three minutes, we have deleted eight images and have eleven left.

Edit Ruthlessly – One Last Time
Lastly, one last quick scan has thrown up three more images that need to be deleted, so now we are down to eight images. It’s not too many to keep so now I will go to Step Three – naming, rating and key wording the photographs. All of the images left will get a three star rating. I may upgrade a few to four star – these will be the images that I will come back to edit in Photoshop.
The important thing to remember is to edit, edit and edit ruthlessly again. This way you are left with what you deem to be the very best images.

All images are imported in their own dated folder in Lightroom – in this instance 2014-09-03. I then rename all the images within to the same date – 2014-09-03.

Keywords are added to all the images. In this case, all will get the word, “belmullet” and “boat”. while the long exposure shots will also be keyworded with “long exposure”.

Some, like these two will be colour coded. This is because I may blend these two shots together to give me an image that I like. For instance, the detail in the boat in the brighter image could be added to the darker sky in the image on the right. I won’t know for certain until I get them into Photoshop.

Two images ready to be blended together to make a better photograph
The two photographs could be blended together to make a better photograph

So basically, that’s my current workflow … or at least, part of it.  After this comes the editing of the photographs. I will cover more about this in a future post. For a little taste of my editing process, you can see here.
Thanks for reading this far. If you have any questions, just ask in the comments.

  1. John Ivory says

    I found this very useful, John. I like that you have explained in each step your reasons for keeping or discarding shots. I’m a hoarder by nature and I need to become far more ruthless when it comes to keeping my Lightroom library of shots under control. There are so many (thousands at this stage) shots in my library where I thought they had some potential if I came back to them later. All wishful thinking – in the vast majority of cases, I never come back to them. I’m a big fan of Lightroom and do most of my edits directly in it. However, I would really like to see a post from you regarding your use of Photoshop within the workflow.

    1. jmee says

      Thanks for your comments John. I will be following this up with more info on my workflow.

  2. Piotr Socha says

    Nice one! I am gonna organize my workflow the same way as You do. In fact it’s hard to find the images im looking for when You aren’t using any organizing software.
    Keep it up!

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