Having an efficient Lightroom Workflow makes the difference between wasting a lot of time and editing images like a pro.
In addition to saving you a great deal of effort and time, having a proper Lightroom workflow will also help you stay organized and find the post-processing phase much more fun and as a consequence, you’ll be able to create better images. As the name suggests, a workflow is a series of steps you must take when you import and edit photos.
Photographers often find themselves looking around in their catalog for that certain photo they took a few months ago, or they spend hours trying to figure out what’s the best way to start editing an image. All this time can be spared if you develop a consistent and effective Lightroom workflow that you apply time and again to your photos. This will make you become a true master of post-processing.
This article will delve into the importance of having a Lightroom workflow and how you can create one in no time!
The Importance of Having a Lightroom Workflow
Getting your Lightroom Workflow up and running may take quite some effort and time. I developed mine through mistakes and experiments, it took me a few years to get to a point where now I feel my post-processing workflow is effortless and enjoyable.
Knowing the steps to take before, during, and after editing your photos is key to deliver high-quality images for yourself, friends, or your clients. An efficient Lightroom workflow is a series of steps you take to achieve a certain result when performing a photo editing task that will give you the following benefits:
Eliminates Redundancy: with a workflow, you’ll take full control over your collection of photos. Organizing your photos is a key step if you want to edit as professional photographers do. All your files will be in the same location and have the same naming structure. This eliminates the chances of storing redundant files and reduces dramatically the time spent looking for your photographs in a catalog.
Back-Up: having an efficient backup system in place, is another fundamental aspect of developing a proper workflow. With a backup system, there is no chance of you losing files, and trust me, accidentally deleting folders and losing an entire catalog of photos happens all the time to many photographers!
Find Images Quickly: since your images are better organized, you will be able to find specific photos much faster. Having a detailed labeling system in Lightroom, to identify photos by category, quality, rating, and so on, will allow you to find things quickly and jump on images captured even years ago with a simple click.
Save Time: have I said saving a lot of time yet? Perhaps one of the most important advantages of perfecting a Lightroom workflow is that you will save a great deal of time. A structured and tested approach to post-processing will allow you to spend more time taking photos and perfecting your skills as a photographer rather than wasting hours in front of your computer trying to figure out how to tackle the editing task. You’ll improve as a photographer.
Consistency: The ultimate goal for me when I edit my photos is to have a consistent style. It’s probably one of the hardest things to achieve as a photographer. Potential clients get really confused when they see different editing styles in your portfolio. They don’t know what they’re going to get if they hire you. Create a well-tested workflow and your photos will look consistent since they will have the same exact editing steps rather than random adjustments.
Lightroom Workflow Step-by-Step
Lightroom has been around for a while now and although every photographer has her own unique Lightroom workflow, the main steps to create one are nearly the same for everyone.
Here is a breakdown of the basic steps I follow when editing in Lightroom. You can start from here to develop your own workflow.
1. Import Photos in Lightroom
The first step in your Lightroom workflow is to import all the photos from the memory card or your camera, to your computer or hard drive. You can either copy the files to your PC/Mac and then import them into Lightroom or choose the quicker way and directly import the photos from your memory card using Lightroom.
By doing so you’ve already eliminated the unnecessary step of having to first copy/paste and then import. But that’s not all I want to share this video I found for you where you can see a few extra tips to import your photos and build your previews in a correct way. Here’s the video from the official Adobe channel:
2. Keep Your Photos Organized
After all the photos have been imported into Lightroom, it is time to organize them. Some photographers delete photos they don’t like, I don’t do it, since I might go back to my catalog one day and change my mind on a photo that I didn’t like in the beginning. But in any case, go through the entire list of photos you’ve imported and see which ones you want to flag as good and that you want to edit.
When you go over your photos in the library panel, you can simply hit ‘1’ on your keyboard to add a start to the photo. This is the method I use to decide which photos I think are the ones I want to edit. This makes it easier when I want to start editing since I can filter out the photographs that didn’t receive any stars.
You can also use keywords, to lable your photos. Keywords are metadata that describe a photo to help you find it more easily.
I also want to make a step back here since to organize your photo doesn’t mean only adding keywords or flags to your Lightroom catalog. It’s first of all about deciding where you store your files. I recommend to use an external hard drive so that you leave your laptop or desktop computer disk as empty as possible to increase performance. Lightroom is perfectly capable of working with images that are store in a separate device.
And if you are anything like me and sometimes you want to edit your photos without connecting to your external hard disk you can use smart previews which are smaller or compressed versions of your files that you can store on your computer as described in my article Lightroom Tricks Every Photographer Should Know.
Related: Lightroom Catalog
3. Editing Your Photos
The next step in your Lightroom workflow after the basic organization of your photos is done, is to move to the Develop module and finally start editing. The Develop module gives you a plethora of tools to edit your images. In my article Edit Photos in Lightroom Like a Pro you can see how powerful it is with a step-by-step practical example.
From the Develop module you can decide to use Lightroom presets to use as a starting point for your edits or you can start from scratch and edit your images directly. Use presets if you have a set of photos that require to look consistent and you want to save a bit of time.
The main tools in the develop panel that you need to master first are:
- the Basic menu
- Tone Curve
Once you are confident with those three you are already a step ahead and you’ll be able to deliver great images. Then you can move to:
- Split Toning
In the basic menu, you’ll find fundamental options such as exposure, contrast, saturation, and white balance. Some of the finer adjustments you can make are blacks, whites, noise reduction, straightening, cropping, and highlights.
Even though it’s located underneath the basic menu, this it where I start in my workflow. I use the tone curve to add contrast to my photos, adjust highlights and shadows, blacks and whites.
Related: How to use Curves in Lightroom
Once you have made the global adjustments, you can move onto some of the more artistic modifications. These include color enhancements, background blurring, vignettes, sun flares, color toning, and so on.
You can enhance certain specific colors, or change them to obtain various effects. These local edits can make your image go from looking great to fantastic, but my advice especially if you are starting right now is to go easy on the HSL/Color and not overdo it!
Although all these editing tools may look scary to a beginner, once you’ve grasped why and how to use them effectively, you’ll enjoy the process and move quickly through it.
Related: Edit Photos in Lightroom Like a Pro
4. Export Your Photos
Lastly, exporting your photos is a central part of your Lightroom workflow. Since all your changes have only been made in the Develop module, none of these edits have been really applied to your image.
Lightroom is a non-destructive program, which means your edits can easily be reverted and you can go back to your original file easily. If you’ve been following me, you might know that I always repeat that you have to shoot your photos in RAW.
A RAW file is an uncompressed file format generated by your camera to retain the maximum amount of color and light information. This makes it easier to edit your photos and obtain great quality images. But a RAW file is not something you send to a printer or that you can upload to your social media or website.
You must export it in order for the changes to be reflected and create a .JPEG file.
Once the file has been exported, you can use it as you wish.
Related: How to Export Photos in Lightroom
Now that you have a better understanding of how useful a Lightroom workflow is, go ahead and create your own! You will soon find yourself better organized, and consequently, producing photos quicker and at a higher quality.
Your turn now.
What are the steps you’ll follow when editing your photos? Will you adjust the general exposure or you’ll jump on the Tone Curve first? Will you use presets or start from zero? Let me know in the comments right now and as always to support this blog, share this article on social media!
Stefano Caioni is a photographer from Sydney, Australia. Founder and editor of Pixinfocus, his passion for photography helps him explore new places and live new adventures. Thanks to photography he reconnected with the outdoors and was able to travel the world and take photos of some of the most beautiful places on Earth.