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A Guide to Building your Lightroom Workflow

Organizing a Lightroom catalog can be a deceptively difficult undertaking.

And, with constant updates (get the latest LR version) being made and applied to the program, it can be difficult for some people to keep up.

Lightroom workflow classes and workshops can cost upwards of hundreds of dollars, but Adobe’s all-in-one organizing and editing wunderkind, many feel that understanding the software is a necessity to getting a foot in the door as a photographer.

We aren’t arguing the importance of grasping Lightroom as a working professional. However, mastering it doesn’t have to come at the sacrifice of your time or money. Here, we’ve listed some of the major focal points keys to forming an efficient workflow of your own.

Finding the Workflow Strategy that’s Right for You

So, what are the best ways to chop down your time spent in post-processing?

The answer’s not as clear cut as one might expect.

What makes Lightroom so difficult to grasp is that there’s no one right or wrong way to approach it. Different Lightroom workflow styles work more or less effectively for different individuals.

What’s most important in planning a course of action is ensuring that the plan itself makes sense to YOU, personally. Identify what you’re trying to accomplish and where you most commonly get tripped up in the editing process.

Here are a few points to take into consideration when formulating a plan of attack:

1. The Key to Organization

One of the most advantageous features of Lightroom is its ability to sort, categorize, and otherwise keep track of files in a number of different ways. Though it may not seem all that glamorous, keeping a tightly organized image catalog can save you some serious time in the long run and make files infinitely easier to access on a moment’s notice.

Again, the way in which you choose to organize is entirely up to you and is in part dependent on what your photographic intentions may be.

A fast-paced sports photographer might opt to organize images chronologically, while a traveling landscape artist might want to divide their shots by location.

Neither of those strategies are inherently wrong – it’s just a matter of what makes the most sense to the individual in question.

That being said, there are a few tips that just about anyone can pick up that are easy to incorporate into your Lightroom workflow.

  • Develop a naming convention across all of your files. That way, you can gather information about your file without even having to open it up. You can base your names off of aspects such as:
    • The year/month/date that the photograph was made
    • The camera you used to take the photograph
    • The photographer that made the image
  • Lightroom gives you the opportunity to alter and add metadata directly into your files. Use it to your advantage. Add whatever information you can to your image while it’s fresh in your mind. Incorporate tags describing the subject and style of the image for so that you can easily sift through your catalog later.
  • Quickly cull through your images before diving into a big editing session. If there’s something obviously wrong with your photo (i.e. incorrect exposure, it’s not in focus), flag it and remove it from your batch. Do not waste your time on shots that you’re never going to use.

2. Don’t be Afraid to Outsource

Lightroom is capable of pulling off a lot. However, just because it can do something doesn’t always mean that it’s the best tool for the job at hand. It may seem like common sense, but if you’re struggling to accomplish something in Lightroom that would take half the time in another program, don’t be afraid to switch out to get your image exactly the way you want it in as little time possible.

For instance, over the past several years Lightroom has put a lot of its local, fine-tuned editing tools. Nevertheless, the program doesn’t have the intricate masking or brush options that Photoshop some seamlessly incorporates into its interface. Despite the improvements, Lightroom is still quite clumsy compared to its older brother on that particular front.

In this scenario, it’s important to recognize the software’s strengths and weaknesses. Rather than trying to accomplish all of your edits in Lightroom, a more effective strategy might involve syncing some baseline edits to a batch of images, then outsourcing the strongest shots into a program like Photoshop for some additional fine-tuning.

3. Streamline Your Edits

This may seem obvious, but when a shortcut presents itself, take advantage of it. Although Lightroom can be intimidating at first, there are countless ways in which it can speed up your edits.

  • Utilize presets whenever possible. There are hundreds of available presets online to download at little to no cost. Alternatively, it’s possible to customize and save your own personal presets. Whichever you prefer, using them can get editing basics out of the way in a matter of seconds rather than minutes.
  • If you have a certain set of adjustments that you’d like to apply to a large group of photographs, it’s possible to sync edits. This provides a consistent look between images from a single shooting or setting.
  • Certain adjustments, such as white balance, can be extremely difficult to eyeball. Luckily, there are tons of little tools scattered throughout that can automate the process. In the case of WB, the eyedropper tool on the side console can a provide an approximate measure with just one click.

4. Back Everything Up. Always.

Last (but certainly not least), be sure to backup your images no matter what. Keeping your catalog up to date and your RAW files secure on a drive is the single best thing you can do to cut down your editing time.

Backing up may seem like an extra step that will only add time to your Lightroom workflow. However, a surefire way to slow down your editing process is by losing your progress. It may take a few minutes to back everything up, but it’s always better than the alternative of starting from scratch later down the road.

5. Perfecting your Workflow

Forming a Lightroom workflow of your own doesn’t happen overnight. No matter how you slice it, it’s complex software that takes time to fully master. But with a little bit of reflection on your post-processing strengths and weaknesses, it can really bring the most out of your photographs.

If Lightroom still seems intimidating, take some time out of your day to practice and explore. Look into what others do to save time with the program. See for yourself exactly what Lightroom can or cannot accomplish. Before long, you’ll discover what it can do to help you save time and get back behind the camera.

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