Insight Into Photography Processing Workflow

I don’t think an in-depth reminiscence of my workflow history would be valuable for this article, but we can safely say that it has changed. Through years of practice, modifying, and learning from other photographers and artists I have been led to my current workflow for processing photographs from a photoshoot which I will attempt to detail.

Type of Photoshoots

The general practices I outline here are what I do for nearly every photoshoot consisting of a single session where photographer and model(s) create magic. When considering landscapes or journeys, the collection of images from that event would be equivalent to a photoshoot and processed much the same. I will make slight notes when type creates a deviation.

Import All Photographs to Hard Drive

Backup backup backup. You’ve taken the photographs on your camera which are now stored onto a small SD card. Put them somewhere more reliable and stable.

I wish I could count only on one hand the number of times I’ve had to witness a friend of colleague who’s entire photography archives have been reduced to tears: hard drive dies or SD card dies or computer dies.

Get an external hard drive (or three) of 1TB (at least) in size and put the images onto it. A typical shoot of mine is around 10 – 15 GB. Add a little video in there, and it takes less than 100 shoots to fill up one hard drive (HD). I typically go for the best deal among the big hard drive makers: Seagate and WD, at the local big box store.

First thing I do after a shoot is stick my SD card into my computer and plug my external HD into my computer and transfer all the images to my external hard drive. Import, export, whatever. Get the images off of those little flimsy and comparatively small storage space devices (SD cards) and put them onto a more reliable hard drive. This is the final resting spot of the images. You don’t want to be moving the images from one hard drive location to another, for every time this is done, data or information within that image is lost (this means it becomes pixelated and sad to look at or might not even load at all). I use the Windows explorer window to do this transfer, where I select all photographs on the SD card, copy, and paste them onto the external HD. I do not use cut/paste, because I am deathly afraid that the paste wont work and my original images will all be lost because I cut them. Copy/paste and then put the SD card back into your camera and wait until your final edits have been done and exported to feel safe enough to reformat that SD card on your camera to await the next photoshoot.

Putting the photographs onto an external HD does not mean putting them onto your computer’s hard drive. The only time I would see that would be beneficial is if you are editing video and want the reduction in processing time by having local data that isn’t subjected to USB transfer rates, but this is an advanced topic and for you who’s reading this article and nothing you need concern yourself with for the time being. Some marketer somewhere will probably say something about SSD hard drives to justify the purchase of a computer, but the price tag in my mind doesn’t warrant this benefit one bit unless, as I have mentioned, you’re in an advanced workflow. On top of this, your computer hard drive will eventually fill up and then you’ll have to start moving the images around which, as noted above, will start causing your images to glitch up and become un-usable.

Import Photographs into Lightroom

You cannot begin to edit the photographs until you import them into your editing program. Lightroom is easily the industry standard, but there are others out there.

I choose to first copy the photographs from the SD card onto the external HD, and then import them into Lightroom so that there is no mistakes or errors. Lightroom does have the capacity to import photographs from an SD card (which you will see if you start Lightroom with your SD card connected to your computer) and also move photographs from one location (SD card) to another (HD). I have never been comfortable letting a program do something like this because programs consistently makes things messy in the backend (on the HD) for me.

Cull and Number/Star Photographs

So we’re in Lightroom. First off, I organize images by capture time. It is hard on my brain to look at images out of photographed sequence.

Organizing photographs by Capture Time in Lightroom

Within Lightroom there are a few very handy features that the photographer can use to organize their images within a shoot. The first one is their star feature ranging from 0 to 5. What I do is do a rather quick cull of the photographs from a shoot, which is usually somewhere in the range of 300 – 600 photographs. I’ll run through all the images and either mark the image for deletion (X key on Windows) or give it a 1. The images that get neither of these remain on the hard drive (as a 0 in Lightroom) but didn’t make the first cut. Usually after this first cull I’m down to less than 100 images.

Organizational Features, Attributes, in Lightroom

I then filter all the images by attribute rating >= 1 (greater than or equal to 1) and begin processing only these images, which is a much more manageable size. Of the 1s, I pick the best of those and number them 2. Usually I can stop here, as it is usually only about 20 images, but I could continue in this fashion until I have only 20 images or so left. I always aim for about that many photographs to be editing from a shoot, and more and it’s just an overwhelming amount of photographs to be looking at.

note here that if I’m doing landscape or journey photographs, the image is either a rejected photograph (X) or not, so no 1s or 2s. A typical journey for me will produce less than 50 as I’m definitely not as trigger happy as when I’ve the pressure of a photoshoot with a model! I will keep all of those 50 and export them.

Delete Culls

At this point I’d delete all the culls. Simply pressing X (Windows) on the keyboard doesn’t delete them, it just marks them as rejected. The editer actually has to go into the Photo menu item from the topbar and select ‘Delete rejected photographs from hard drive’. Don’t be afraid, you have 650 more images that have an opportunity to be artistically blurry.

Delete Rejected Photos from Lightroom

Edit Photographs

I’m not going to teach you how to edit photographs today. Needless to say, they should all receive some love if you are (learning to be) a professional.

What I will tell you is to edit all of your photos using sidecar files. This means that instead of editing the actual original image, you’re applying edits to a rather small file that runs parallel to the photograph, the original stays untouched. Search the internet for how to edit this for your version of Lightroom. It will create an image folder that looks like this:

ARW Sidecar Files in Lightroom

Rename Photographs

The reasons for properly naming your photographs are plentiful, if not just to appease the obsessive nature the craft requires of you.

Search engine optimization necessitates accurately titled images.

Ease of identifying Copyright owner is a reason to effectively title images.

Clearly label subject matter is a benefit of titling images.

I will usually only rename the edits from the shoot, this is my ~20 best images. It sometimes throws me off when I’m sharing images with a client and it shows up as 20 images, but they’re all numbered like: 1, 56, 99, 106, 107, 108, 230, 231, 250, etc. I like them to be 1,2,3,4,5,6,7…

So, to rename only the edits, with the filter still applied, I select all the images and rename them. While I have all the 2s selected, I also throw on a few tags to the image that are appropriate. This is a trick for social media, some apps or websites will recognize these tags and make uploading so much easier for you then.

What format do I use to name my photographs?

<date> – <related title like model’s name> – Ned Tobin – <numbered sequence>

The dialog box in Lightroom performs differently if you have one or more images selected. You will find the option to rename the photographs within the Library tab in Lightroom.

Single Image Rename File Dialog Box Location in Lightroom
Multiple Image Rename File Dialog Box Location in Lightroom

Once you click on that little button circled in red above, it will pop up a window where you will have the option to rename it according to certain templates you have created. Within that dropdown menu, you can edit these saved templates. If you’re looking to create a new template, edit the existing one, and save it under a new name.

Filename Template Editor within Lightroom

Export Images From Lightroom

Still with only my 2s selects highlighted, I right click and say: export.

I place the new exports into the same folder as original, in a subfolder called jpgs.

Export Photograph Options in Lightroom

I export the photographs as JPEGs at 1200 pixels by the long edge, with a resolution of 92dpi in the sRGB color space at 100% quality.

I have spent hours trying to figure out the best resolution to export images for the internet, and it seems like every day one or all of the social media platforms are changing their optimal image sizes. Further, the image will only be as large as the viewer’s screen size. Further, almost every social media app out there will resize and distort and blur your photographs, free of charge. At some point I decided I would export 1200 (instead of 1024) to optimize viewing pleasure on my own website, and hope that it has enough resolution to look good on social media. If 1200 looks funny to you, try a few other sizes and find one that works for you. I would advise not doing anything less than 1024. Too big, and it will be slow to upload to a website or social media, and take up much more room on your HD.

note here that if you’re exporting for printing, it is advised to use the AdobeRGB colorspace instead of sRGB. A friend of mine who worked in a print shop did extensive testing and concluded that AdobeRGB provided the best results. Professional printers will usually have suggested settings that the photographer would be wise to adhere to. Each printer may have slightly different suggested settings.

note 2 that sometimes I will be editing or culling the photographs and it is fun for me and the model to share in the process, so I’ll make special exports in the middle of my 1,2,X culling of great images I like and usually put them into a folder called jpgs-sneaks.

Editing Photograph Folder Structure

Share the Photographs

At this point, I consider the photo set complete. It’s been edited, sorted, exported and stored away accurately, ready to be pulled from as desired for sharing with the world.

I often try to strategize this bit for enhanced dramatic effect.

First off, I make a fotoblog and I get the model to review the fotoblog to make sure they love all the images and delete any they don’t like (I try to do this without questions, but sometimes it’s such a beautiful photograph they don’t like!).

Once the model approves the fotoblog, I share it on social medias. For ease sake, I upload all of my final jpgs (remember only about 20 images) to Dropbox and share them with the model who can easily download and share in their own way.

I will ask the model to refrain from posting the photographs until I make my fotoblog live on the internet, which is usually right at that exact moment so this becomes not necessary. I will often not even share the Dropbox folder with the model until I’ve put together the fotoblog of the set we did together, this way there’s no mistakes or pleas to post just one photo pretty please, as flattering as it always is, while they wait for me to put together a photoblog..

It is also at this time any packages that have been sold to the model, like some prints or a photobook, should be ordered. This might require you to go back to the chosen images and export them as a special size for proper printing. You will NEVER want to print with 92dpi images, you will want to print with 300dpi images, or the maximum resolution your camera was able to capture at and the printer is capable of printing at (this is where different printers come in).


At this point, you can open that rare vintage of wine and celebrate in the glory that is the magical photographs you and the model have created.

Hope this helps!

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