My Photo Editing Process in Lightroom
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Since making the leap to being a full-time professional photographer, I’ve spent a lot of time refining my workflow so I don’t get stuck because of any hiccups or crazy backlogs. Time, I’ve discovered gets sucked up really fast by administrative and by photo editing.
Most weeks, I have between 3 and 7 shoots that range from an hour or two to full day shoots with required pre and post production. I like to maintain a wide range of shoots from travel photography to portrait sessions but around 50% of my work focuses on food.
Having a wide ranging and constant flow of work has taught me to be very systematic about my post processing work flow. I try never to fall behind on my photo editing but the few times I have, it has resulted in me having to stay up late for several nights in a row to get caught back up so I could deliver all of my projects on time. These days I’m really disciplined and systematic about my workflow so I’m always staying ahead of deadlines.
Here’s my current workflow and thoughts on photo editing
Photo Editing Starts in Camera
Whenever I’m shooting, I try to keep my editing process in mind. So usually for my first shot or two, I switch into the live view mode to dial in my initial camera settings. If I don’t like my first test shot, I delete it right away so I don’t have the file floating around later. Usually when I deliver a shoot, I don’t have many out takes because I try to be strategic and efficient with my shots.
Once I’m in the flow of shooting, I try to think of my photos in chunks. For example, if I’m shooting a restaurant for a review I’ll focus on the interiors first, the single food photos second and the range of tabletop photos third. If I’m shooting interiors, I go room by room. This way I can edit in chunks.
Travel, personal projects and photography for my blog posts are where I tend to tinker and experiment with my process the most because I have the most flexibility on deadlines.
I use Lightroom for cataloguing and editing my work. Currently, I have my images catalogued by year and segmented by month and project. Also, I have a few separate catalogues for large projects and retainer clients. This I've found to be the best way to organize all my digital photos.
Most of my photo editing happens in Lightroom. These days, if I’m traveling I use Lightroom CC because it allows me to quickly sync photos across all of my devices. At home, I use Lightroom Classic. For a full guide on how to use Lightroom to edit photos check out my no nonsense guide to Lightroom. Anyway, I’m currently tinkering with Lightroom CC it keeps improving at a very rapid rate but Lightroom Classic is my usual go to. There are 2 or 3 more features I’d like to see Lightroom CC implement but once that happens, I’ll probably switch over completely. Since Lightroom CC has cloud backup for photos, I’ll have to rethink how I organize and archive my work at that time.
Occasionally, if I have to quickly post something to social media I transfer directly to my phone with the built in wifi on the 5d mk iv and use a photo editing app (usually vsco) but 99% of my editing happens in Lightroom.
When I started out as a photographer, I shot a lot! When I would start editing photos from a shoot, I first had to go through a culling process. These days, I try to shoot much more purposefully so I can move into editing quickly without a long culling process.
When I do have to cull, I go through and rate each of the photos I want to edit and then switch my library filtering to sort by rating so that all the photos I want to edit are all in one area.
Sorting is always the hardest for me with travel images and projects. Generally, after a 1 to 2 hour shoot, I have around 150 to 250 images and I can get those sorted and edited within half an hour. For a full day shoot, I might walk away with 800 to 1,200 images but I’m usually shooting for a client and have a good sense of what they’re looking for so sorting and editing ends up taking me 2 to 3 hours. On trips, even when I try to be choosy about when I take photos, I get home with 2,000 to 3,000 images. I’ll edit and use about 60% of those images so it often ends up taking me a week or two to get through everything.
My editing varies somewhat from project to project. Occasionally for long term projects or larger scale photo shoots, I come up with an edited final look ahead of time. I love when I have the time, budget and open collaborative partners for that because everyone has a good idea of what the final look will be and there isn’t a lot of back and forth at the end. It also makes the shoot run smoothly because everyone has the same end goal.
It can be challenging to have everything aligned perfectly enough to all have the same vision and for me to have the time to come up with an edit or a final look ahead of time. One thing that I’ve found immensely helpful is to ask for inspiration images or a mood board so there’s no miscommunication about what “moody” or “clean” means.
Anyway, most of the time, I like to start an edit with a preset. I have 4 or 5 that I tend to use frequently as a jump off point that I then tweak. Once I’m happy with my edit, I sync my settings across all the photos that fit in that chunk (this is why I try to think about my edit when I’m shooting and why I try to structure my work in chunks). With everything synced, I go through and take a quick look at each image and make any necessary adjustments.
Before jumping into professional photography, I was freelancing as a photographer on the side but working at a restaurant group as a Digital Media Manager. In that previous role, I occasionally worked with photographers and it was always fascinating to see how they tackled shoots. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do. Do push for your vision. Don’t scream at publicists and restaurant staff. Really, just don't scream at people. It's weird and unnecessary.
Anyway, one thing I always found baffling was how often I would get photos that would be exported with the default name. I always rename my photos so that they're named after the project, location, restaurant, person, etc. and my name.
As a photographer, you don't always get to control where your photos end up. Sometimes with brands or PR companies, I have a general sense of what my images are being purchased for but I don't all of the places they'll end up. Adding my name to the end of each file name makes it tiny bit easier for me to keep track and for each image to get photo credit.
My photo editing is a relatively smooth process these days. Currently, I'm trying to figure out how to slowly shift more of my work over to Lightroom CC but aside from that everything works pretty well.
I haven’t entirely figured out how to streamline my administrative work so if you have any suggestions, send them my way.