With digital cameras and smart phones, it’s easy to take loads of photos every day. When I shoot an event, I easily end up with hundreds of photos. Getting a good workflow in place for organizing and archiving these photos will save your sanity — and your hard drives. It will also make it easier to share and publish your beautiful images.
Before we start, one very strong recommendation: Buy Lightroom. I love this program. It’s not free, but well worth the money if you’re processing photos with any regularity. Buy Lightroom with a Creative Cloud subscription ($10/mo) or as a standalone app ($150) on either Mac or PC. You might think, “Wait, I have Photo on my Mac. That’s free and does the same thing.” Save yourself. Buy Lightroom. It works like a library, so you import your images to the system, make your edits, then export your desired file types.
Ok!, now — This is the workflow I’ve established.
1. Rate Your Images
After importing your photos, do a quick look at each one. Give photos that you want to keep one star. Give photos that really stand out two stars. When you finish, turn on the filter and delete all those photos with zero stars. I usually delete about a third to a half of my images at the very beginning, so I don’t have to deal with metadata or toning on bad photos.
2. Tone Your Images
I usually go easy on the toning. I like my photos to look natural and not overly stylized. They should look like how you remember the scene. Here are my usual adjustments:
- Crop: I do my best to frame my images as I make them with the camera, but sometimes a little cropping can hone the focus on your subject, or get rid of a distracting object on the edge. I also straighten the horizon for landscape shots if needed.
- White balance: the color temperature of your image. For example, if you shoot in a room with florescent lighting, the people might look green. You can easily warm them up by increasing the light temperature. Likewise, sometimes a flash will turn people orange. You can cool them down with white balance. This makes a huge difference.
- Exposure: I tend to shoot slightly underexposed, so I usually bump up exposure in Lightroom. It’s easier to increase exposure after the fact, than to save blown out images!
- Contrast: I usually bump up contrast slightly. Makes the colors pop.
- Clarity, vibrance, saturation: this depends on the images, but I’ll often bump all of these up just a bit; maybe +15. I think it displays better on screens.
There is a beautiful button in Lightroom called sync. It lets you apply all the settings from one image to others with two clicks. So once I get my first image to a place where I’m happy, then I’ll sync the others in the same scenario and do a quick skim for any detailed adjustments. Total time-saver.
- Adjustment brush tool to adjust specific regions of the photo. For example, if a person’s face is in shadow, I’ll increase the exposure and/or shadows on the face only. Or if the sky is too bright compared to the foreground, I’ll bring down the exposure and maybe increase the saturation to bring out those lovely sky blues.
- Spot removal tool to fix little things like pimples, stray hair, and the like.
Dr. Tuohy, a favorite professor in grad school, always said to treat fieldwork like it would be handled by a stranger — because that stranger will be you in five years. Photos without a title, description, and keywords are pretty useless. Thankfully, in Lightroom, you can add metadata to the IPTC on multiple photos at once. Then when you export or share the photos, that information will stay with the file. Some platforms, like Flickr and Facebook, will even read your caption and publish it when you upload the file. I always try to add as much information as I can, including names, locations, and keywords that will help with searches.
Many people either skip directly to this step, or never get here because the rest is too overwhelming. This is where I, again, celebrate Lightroom. I have set up a few export presets that get my photos to the places I need:
- Archive: exports at the highest possible quality. I usually export JPGs or TIFs and delete my original RAW files, since I already fixed the white balance, exposure, etc. I set up a custom title, so that it follows my archive schema: YYYYMMDD_Event_01.
- Web 500 and Web 1000: exports JPGs at a slightly reduced quality, with the image resized as either 500px wide or 1000px wide. This gets me close enough to upload a smaller image to my website. Pro tip: NEVER ever upload full resolution images to your website; it will make people even on phones download your huge images and slow your site to molasses.
- Facebook: exports as 500px with a little watermark in the corner. If I wanted, I could publish directly to my Facebook profile, but I mostly post photos on Facebook pages, and Lightroom can’t publish directly there.
- Flickr: exports directly to my Flickr account.
- Email: sends email directly from Lightroom, with the size image you select.
At home, I archive my photos on an external drive that is backed up. At work, we use an awesome open-source digital asset management system called Resource Space, which enables us to share our database internally and externally, search using keywords, connect directly with WordPress, and much more.
For me, the key to effective photo management was taking the time to set up my workflow, customize presets, and organize my metadata. Now, processing hundreds of photos goes pretty quickly, and I can get those images published and shared efficiently.
I’d love to hear feedback from others — what program do you use? Any tips to make the workflow faster and smoother?