Thousands of images that you can never track down or find when you need them? Let me help you stay organized by teaching you a simply Lightroom workflow. How do I know it works? Because it’s my workflow that I use almost every day to help me stay organized, so images are always at my fingertips.
What is a Lightroom Workflow?
Before I show my workflow, let me help you understand what exactly a Lightroom workflow is, and how it can benefit you. Let me start with the benefits.
First and foremost, as a photographer you will deal with lots and lots of image files and keeping track of them is imperative. Have you ever lost a client’s images? If you have, then you know that there can be no worse feeling. If you haven’t and do not have a consistent workflow, then you are just begging for a problem.
So what is a Lightroom workflow?
Simply stated, a Lightroom workflow is a set of steps that you follow after every shoot that dictates how you get your images from your camera to your computer and into Lightroom.
Sounds simple enough, right?
It’s not. If you do not have a specific workflow that you follow, shoots from last year will be in different places and named differently from this year, and you are not going to remember what is what. Once that happens, frustration creeps in and the chance that you lose images increases dramatically.
Let me solve all of that for you and teach you the Lightroom workflow that I use. As a professional photographer, I shoot almost every day of my life, and this Lightroom workflow keeps me organized and efficient.
Whether you incorporate the entire workflow, or just pieces and parts of it, do something that can help you be more organized with your image files on your computer.
Lightroom Workflow step one: Downloading your memory cards
The first place to start is to get your images from your camera and onto your computer. I start by inserting my cards into a Lexar HR1 professional workflow hub that has space for 4 card readers. I use this because I often have multiple cards to download at once, and with this hub, I can download them all at the same time. It connects to my iMac through USB 3 for fast transfer.
If you’re interested in this card reader, take a look below. But be aware that the hub itself doesn’t come with the card readers. You can purchase them separately. If you have a different card reader, use it. It will work just fine.
card reader for Compact Flash cards
card reader for Micro SD cards
Once the cards are in the card reader, I do not import them straight into Lightroom. Instead, I copy the files over to a folder on my desktop called IMPORT.
There are two reasons I choose to copy the files into a folder on my desktop rather than allowing Lightroom to suck them in directly from the memory cards. The first reason is that by copying the images, I now have two copies of the pictures: one copy on my desktop in the Import folder, and one copy still on the memory cards.
Instant backup for the time being.
The second reason is that it is always best to erase or format your cards with your camera, not with your computer. This helps your cards file structure to stay intact. When you move the files from the memory card to Lightroom, the memory cards are erased by your computer afterward.
The image below shows two memory cards on my desktop. I open them and copy the images into the IMPORT folder, also on my desktop.
Lightroom Workflow step two: Getting the images into Lightroom.
Now that the images have been copied to the Images folder on my computer, I open Lightroom and use the Auto Import feature in Lightroom to create previews, add copyright information and MOVE the files to a folder called -Auto Import on a hard drive named for the current year. I have a hard drive for every year. The year 2016 I had a ton of shoots, so it actually took two hard drives. If you are unfamiliar with Auto Import or adding copyright info, follow the links for more info.
When you use Auto Import, it requires that Lightroom move the files from their original folder to new folder. The reason for this is because the original folder is called a “watched folder.” This means that when the Lightroom program is on, it will watch this folder and when any media files go into the folder, Lightroom will automatically import them.
I like that Lightroom moves the files because I can always check the Import folder and if it is empty, I know that my images are safely in Lightroom.
In the past, I used to keep separate Lightroom catalogs for each year, but with advancements in Lightroom, I now have one large catalog. Having an extensive catalog allows me to search for images over many years of shooting to find pictures with a specific look or feel that I am after.
As I mentioned before I am on an iMac, and I connect these drives to my computer with a Thunderbolt 2 case called a Thunderbay. This way a single cord connects the Thunderbay to my computer and all of those drives stay active on my desktop. Clutter gone. These Thunderbays can also be daisy-chained allowing you to have as many drives mounted on your desktop as you would like.
If your brain is glazing over with the geeky info here, just keep reading. I only want to be thorough for those that are interested.
Understanding folders in the folders panel of Lightroom
Before we move to step three, I want to help you understand the folders panel in Lightroom and how I use it to stay organized with my files.
Auto Import has moved my image files from the IMPORT folder on my desktop into a folder called -Auto Import (which is located on my hard drive named 2017 for the current year), previews have been created, and copyright info embedded into the images.
Take a look at the folders panel in Lightroom in the image below and see how I organize things. I want you to notice a couple of things:
- The number to the right of the folder name shows how many images are in that specific folder. -Auto Import has 396 images inside.
- Images are organized by client name and shoot type
- Three main folders contain session: -Auto Import, -Blog and then the folders below that are in the main 2017 folder.
The different primary folders keep me organized with my workflow. For example, the folders inside the -Auto Import folder (Adair, Lisa family; Christensen, Emily Family, etc.) are the sessions that I still need to edit. Those images have been imported, previews created, and copyright info added, but they are un-edited images. You can tell I have a lot of editing work to do; there are a lot of session folders in the -Auto Import folder!
Once I have finished editing a session, I export the finished JPEG files and move the session folder from the -Auto Import folder to the -Blog folder by dragging and dropping it within the folders panel of Lightroom.
The -Blog folder are the sessions I still need to blog about and get onto my website. These sessions are fully edited, and have been delivered to the client but still need to go on my website in a blog post. Once I have blogged them, I drag them to the 2017 folder where they will remain as finished images.
There is one thing I haven’t shown you about the folders panel. Let me show you again, the image of the folders panel that I posted above. Here it is.
Notice, to the right of -Auto Import there is the number 396. These are the images that I have just imported into Lightroom. I need to get them into their own session folder so they are not simply ‘loose’ inside the -Auto Import folder. If I leave them there, as more images are imported those images currently there will get mixed up, lost, or even worse, over-written by other image files. Let me show you how to get them into their own session folder.
Lightroom Workflow step three: Creating session folders for each session
To move the images from the -Auto Import folder, first select the -Auto Import folder and select all of the images that belong to the session for which you want to create a session folder. Some days I have several shoots in one day, so as I download my cards into the IMPORT folder, many different sessions are brought into the -Auto Import folder by Lightroom.
After I click on the -Auto Import folder, I select only the images to the specific session I want to create a session folder for. I will go back after and create session folders for the other shoots as well.
To create a session folder, right-click or option or alt-click, on the -Auto Import folder in the folders panel. This will bring up a drop-down menu with an option for, ‘Create Folder Inside “-Auto Import”…’
Select this option.
Once selected, enter the name of the session, which I did in the image below, “Beal, Sarah Family.” Make sure you have the ‘Include Selected Photos’ checkbox checked and hit create.
Lightroom will begin moving the images to the folder it created called “Johnson, Amy Engagements” inside of the -Auto Import folder. The process can take a few minutes.
With those image files no longer loose inside the -Auto Import folder, I am ready to import more images from tomorrows sessions.
This process of moving images around from within Lightroom is so important to learn; I can’t stress this enough! If you do not learn this process, and instead start to move your images around on your computer instead of from within Lightroom, your images will get lost or deleted. So take the time to learn and understand these important steps.
The only time you should manually move your images files is during the first step of copying them from your memory cards to the IMPORT folder on the desktop. After that, you need to move the files around from within the folders panel of Lightroom. If you don’t, lost files, sleepless nights and angry customers will consume your life, and no one wants that.
Lightroom Workflow step four: Creating a backup
Backing up your files is essential. If you don’t, you are just asking for trouble. There are many different ways to back up your image files, some are onsite, and some are offsite. I am not a computer pro, so figuring out what works best for you may take a little research.
I can tell you what I do. I create a back-up both on site, to an external hard drive connected to my computer, as well as off-site -uploading to a cloud service. By doing both, I am guaranteed not to lose my client’s images.
For onsite backup, I use a software program called Sync Folders Pro. It is software for Apple computers that allows me to copy my -Auto Import folder to another hard drive.
For offsite backup, I use BackBlaze.com. For $5 a month or $50 a year, all of my files, software, images, etc… gets backed up online. This software works in the background, so I don’t even notice it working. The best part is if I ever have computer problems everything is backed up. Everything. All for the same price. If you are not using this service, you need to check them out.
Don’t get caught without a backup. It is so important and cheap; you’d be crazy if you didn’t keep backups.
Lightroom Workflow step five: Narrowing down the images and editing
I do not give my client every image that I shoot. Nor do I edit every image that I shoot. I narrow them down to my favorites using the picks, color labels and star ratings in Lightroom and then edit only the ones I choose. Those are the only RAW files I keep as well. Once the client has their images, I delete all the unpicked RAW files.
I won’t go over how I narrow down and cull through my images in this article, but will in a later article, so start tuned.
Once they are narrowed down and edited, I rename them from within Lightroom.
To rename your images, first, go to the Library module and select them all by going to the edit menu -> select all. With all the images selected, go to the Library menu and select the option to Rename Photos…
I rename my images, image-0001, image-0002, etc… This makes it easy for a client to place an order of a particular image rather than trying to remember the name my camera initially gave the photos, DSC_3790, etc…
Lightroom Workflow step six: Exporting JPEGs from Lightroom for the client
Once the images are renamed, they are ready to be exported into a file format that the client can use. This is most often JPEG. In the image below, you can see my settings. In the ‘Export Location,’ they go to a separate hard drive called ‘Volume 2’ that holds all of my exported JPEGs.
On this drive, sessions are organized by year, client’s name and the type of session. The only other setting that is used is the ‘File Setting’ that shows the image format as JPEG, the quality as 100 and the color space as sRGB. I also strip out some of the metadata. That’s it. I hit export, and away they go.
You may choose not to keep the exported JPEG files on a separate hard drive. It is simply a matter of personal preference. You can also export additional JPEGs directly from Lightroom if you need them again, so it is not imperative.
Exporting them from Lightroom is important, as those exported files will be uploaded to online galleries, used from printing or given to the client. It all depends on how you run your business.
Lightroom Workflow step seven: Moving the edited RAW files out of the -Auto Import folder
I already spoke about this above, but it is worth mentioning here, this is when I finally move the finished folder of editing RAW files out of the -Auto Import folder and into the -Blog folder, ready for me to post on my website. Once I am finished posting the images on my site, I move the folder in the same manor from the -Blog folder to the 2017 folder.
Conclusion: Let’s review my workflow
There you have it, my complete image editing workflow.
- Download the memory cards by dragging the image files from the memory cards to a folder on the desktop named IMPORT.
- Using the Auto Import feature of Lightroom, the images are moved automatically from the IMPORT folder on the desktop to the -Auto Import folder on the hard drive designated for this year. Auto import will create previews, and add copyright information to the images automatically. Remember, Lightroom must be open for Auto Import to work.
- It is important that the images files that were just imported with auto import do not stay loose in that folder. These image files need to be placed into their own specific folder. After selecting the images from the session, right click on the name -Auto Import and select ‘Create Folder Inside “-Auto Import”…’ Add a name for the session using the clients name followed by the type of session, make sure the ‘Include Selected Photos’ checkbox is checked and hit create.
- Create a backup of the images with Backblaze.com
- Next, narrow down and edit the images.
- Once they are edited, rename them and export them as JPEGs to place online, order prints or give to the client.
- Move the folder of edited RAW files out of the -Auto Import folder into the -Blog folder. Once the images are blogged and on your website, move the folder from the -Blog folder to the 2017 folder. There they will stay.
There you have it, my image editing workflow. If you don’t already have an editing workflow, then give mine a try. It works for me. And as a full-time photographer, it keeps me organized and keeps my images safe and sound. If you have questions, leave me a comment below.
Hey there, excellent write up of your workflow and there are certainly some great tips there for staying organized in lightroom. Also, Backblaze is a must have for the cost of $5 per computer per month. I don’t believe the drag and drop then auto import portion of the workflow is absolutely necessary when LR has a number of features that will get those images in their working folders for you right away plus write a copy to a backup location whether an external drive or temporary local folder for you in one move if you wish. My only other comment is that adding JPEGmini to your workflow should also be standard practice when you are writing full res JPEGs both for your clients and storage for your online use.
Thanks again for this.
Great thoughts, thanks for sharing! The reason I do the drag and drop is because I rarely import one card at a time. In my experience, LR import only allows one card to be imported at a time. Have you found that to be incorrect?