Lightroom and Photoshop – Workflow

It’s coming up to a year since I decided to switch to using the Adobe Creative Cloud and really get my teeth into learning Lightroom and Photoshop. Some of my learnings are gathered into an ongoing series of blog posts you can find here. For the start of 2016 I’ve decided to review my workflow as what I captured here really only discussed the cataloguing of images and was done after only just having moved off Aperture so was probably more based around where I was coming from rather than going to. Here then is my six step guide to Lightroom and Photoshop workflow based on what I’ve developed during 2015. I do all of these on a 13″ Macbook Pro so if you’re using a Windows machine there will be a few minor differences when talking about files and directories.

Step 1: Copy Images

The first step does not involve Lightroom or Photoshop at all but is probably the most important step because it ensures I don’t ever lose any of my images.

  1. On my Macbook I store all images in the folder Pictures/Images/yyyy where yyyy is the current year. For each shoot I do I create a folder in the form yyyy-mm-dd name where name is an informative summary of what the shoot was about (name of place, client’s name etc). For each shoot I keep all raw files in a folder called Camera Raw.  The first step is therefore to create the folder structure for the new shoot on my Macbook. As an example for a shoot in London done on New Year’s eve on 31st December 2015 I would create: Pictures/Images/2015/2015-12-31 London New Years Eve/Camera Raw. I realise that having a folder named as the year and also keeping the year name in each folder under that has a bit of redundancy but it makes for easier end of year file moving (see step 6).
  2. Next I copy all the raw files from my SD care into the Camera Raw folder. Note that if I’m on a client shoot and it is convenient to do so I do this step at various times during the shoot as a backup. I also use a couple of different SD cards so if one fails I’ve not lost everything.
  3. Before I do anything else I create two copies on separate portable hard drives (currently 1Tb each from different manufacturers) using the same folder structure. Only then do I breathe a sigh of relief that all my images are safe and it does not matter if I lose or corrupt the SD card (though I still don’t delete any images of that yet). I know there are more efficient ways of organising backing up using RAID or various clouds but for now and with my workload this works for me. As an extra precaution I keep the two backup drives in separate rooms so the only danger of losing everything is if the house burns down. Although this is a very small risk it’s something I am reviewing this year looking to either keep a copy in a separate location or to have another backup using cloud storage.

Step 2: Import Images

Having got all images from a shoot on my laptop and also backed up (twice) it’s then time to import into Lightroom.

  1. I create a new catalog each year and import each folder (that is the folder of the form yyyy-dd-mm name) into this. This works for me given the number of images I create each year but I can see that for some this would result in too many folders per catalog so a different catalog naming scheme would be better.
  2. I use my own metadata presets when importing images to add basic copyright information and some other fields. Check out this tutorial for how to create a presets file.
  3. Having confirmed I’m importing into the correct catalog and have the right metadata presets it’s just a case of hitting the Import… button and selecting the right folder on my hard drive.
  4. Once all images are imported I then go through them all and rate the ones I want to keep with a ‘*’. Once I’m happy with that I remove the images I don’t want to keep from Lightroom (but crucially don’t delete the images from my hard drive). I’m then ready to start processing. At this point it’s probably worth the current scheme I have for rating images overall. I rate them accordingly as I go through the development and processing stages.
Rating Classification
* Keep image
** Image worthy of development in Lightroom and/or processing in Photoshop.
*** Image worthy of being published on social media.
**** Image selected for client.
***** Highest quality image, suitable for wall art and sale.

Step 3: Develop Images

By develop images I mean all the activities that take place in Lightroom’s Develop tab. It’s possible, indeed highly likely, that using Lightroom to develop images is all I need to do in which case the next step of processing images using Photoshop can be skipped. I reckon that 80% of my images from a given shoot only need treatment in Lightroom. Once I’ve decided to develop an image (or in the rare cases it needs no development whatsoever) I give it a ‘**’ rating. When processing in Lightroom I basically step down the options in the development panel adjusting setting appropriately. Obviously what happens here depends very much on what’s wrong with the image in the first place (over/under exposure, wrong crop, wrong white balance etc) and what style of image I want to create (grain, clarity, black and white etc). Here then are some of the changes I typically make in Lightroom.

  1. White balance
  2. Exposure
  3. Clarity, vibrance and saturation
  4. Crop and straighten
  5. Dodge and burn and other selective adjustments
  6. Spot removal
  7. Grain and vignetting
  8. Convert to black and white

With regard to converting to black and white I only do this once I’m happy with the overall image including any processing in photoshop. If there is processing to do I either drop into Photoshop, do the processing then come back into Lightroom to convert or do the conversion in Photoshop. If doing the conversion in Lightroom my favoured approach is to use the HSL / Color / B & W option and adjust the black and white mix using the sliders. Having converted to black and white I may go back and tweak some of the other adjustments, especially contrast and grain.

Step 4 (Optional): Process Images

Like I said, I don’t always use Photoshop finding that much of what I want to do I can accomplish in Lightroom. The range of things you can do with an image in Photoshop are pretty much infinite of course and as such there is no standard set of changes I do. I am also very much still learning and find that sometimes when I come across a new technique I go back to a previous image to play around with it using that approach (which is one reason why I never throw away anything but a completely crap image). Here then is a list of things I find myself doing most regularly when I do use Photoshop.

Having decided an image could do with some further processing in Photoshop I first of all create another folder underneath yyyy-mm-dd name called Processed as detailed here. Into this I export from Lightroom a PSD version of the raw file.

Here is a list of things I find myself doing most regularly when I do use Photoshop.

  1. Use the Content-Aware tool to remove or move more complex shapes.
  2. Apply some background blurring to give some depth of field to an image.
  3. I do a lot of portraits so do basic retouching as described here and here.
  4. Change colours of objects.
  5. Remove people from a background (so new backgrounds can be added).
  6. Use curves to adjust midtone contrast.
  7. Sharpen images.
  8. Convert to black and white.

Like I said, this is a tiny, tiny set of adjustments that can be done in Photoshop and no doubt I’ll be adding to this list over time. For now though the above does most of what I need to do.

Having finished working in Photoshop I flatten the image, if I’ve been working in layers, and save the PSD file back to the Processed folder. I’m then ready to export the image for sending to clients, outputting to social media, turning into photo books etc.

Step 5: Output Images

Choosing the right resolution for the type of output you are going to be using, whilst not complicated, does need a bit of planning as described in this tutorial. Once I’ve finished all development (in Lightroom) and processing (in Photoshop) I export the images rated at ‘***’ and above into a folder named Output which is created underneath yyyy-mm-dd name. The size and resolution will depend on what I intend to do with the images. For output to social media I generally use a size of 1024 x 1024 or 2048 x 2048 and use full size for anything I am going to print in any way.

Once I’ve finished editing the images in a folder (or during, if it’s taking me a number of days) I make sure I have all the work I’ve done backed up by ensuring the new folders I’ve created (Processed and Output) are copied to both my backup drives as well as copies of the Lightroom catalog to make sure all of the edits are backed up as well.

Step 6: Start of Year Activities

At the start of a new year I perform the following activities:

  1. Create a new catalog for the coming year and use that for all work done during that year.
  2. Once I’m happy I have all the work on my laptop backed up on two hard drives I generally delete the files from my laptop and make sure Lightroom points to files on the backup drives. You can use Lightroom itself to move folders but as I already have a copy on a hard drive all I need do is use the Lightroom Find Missing Folder… option to point Lightroom at the folder on the backup drive rather than the location on my laptop.
  3. If I need to do any further work on a previous years images I generally do this directly on one of my backup hard disks ensuring I copy to the other one once completed.

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