I’m always looking for new and better tools and techniques to get the best out of the images I take. When I find a new way of doing things I then need to work out how to best incorporate it into my image editing workflow.
So, let’s take a look at how I do things as of the start of 2023
Just a quick note: My workflow works for me, it may or may not work for you. I don’t generally have huge numbers of files that I am working on at a time. After a Landscape shoot I’ll have anywhere from a couple of files to a couple of dozen. Wildlife & Bird outings tend to produce more files due to often using high frame rates to capture any action, but I still generally am working with under 1000 files at a time.
Event, wedding or other photography that requires moving huge numbers of files really quickly might need a different approach.
So let’s get into it…
Software I Use
I try to keep my workflow as simple as possible (you might not agree after reading this article). There may be times when I seek out a special tool for a specific task, but most of my general editing needs are covered by the following software:
- Adobe Lightroom Classic – for organising my catalog and basic editing
- Adobe Photoshop – for complex editing and finishing
- DxO PhotoLab – for noise reduction and optical corrections
- Topaz Photo AI – for final sharpening
So… without further ado, lets take a look at how each application fits into my workflow and how I use it…
Import Into Lightroom
I’ve used Lightroom since version 1 came out way back in 2006. I am yet to find a better application for managing my growing collection of images. Lightroom makes it very easy to import, keyword, organise and importantly find my images.
So the first thing I always do after getting home from a photo shoot is to use Lightroom to move my files from my SD cards to my hard drive and into my Lightroom catalog.
If you’re new to Lightroom you might want to check out my detailed article on how to import photos into Lightroom
Things that happen in this step
- Move my files off my SD Card onto my PC Hard drive into my image folder based on Subject and Date (Photography -> shoot name, place or description -> YYYY -> YYYY-MM-DD)
- Rename the files to a consistent and unique naming scheme (‘YYMMDDHHMMSS.nef’)
- Add basic keywords that apply to all images in the set (eg, ‘Landscape’, ‘Wildlife’, location, etc)
- Create 1:1 previews of each image – this makes the next couple of stages of the workflow much quicker.
Cull and Rate Images
Next go through each image as a quick review. I generally only spend a second or two for each image here. Using the left and right arrows to flip through each image and keyboard shortcuts to rate/review each images makes this very easy:
- Mark any obviously bad image as ‘rejected’ by pressing the ‘x’ key on my keyboard
- Mark any ‘wow’ images as a ‘pick’ by pressing the ‘p’ key on my keyboard
Next I go through and apply bulk keywords to groups of images. I’ve already applied any keywords that apply to all of the photos during the import process. Now I will focus on keywords that apply to smaller groups of images.
To make things easier I work with keywords that apply to the biggest batch of images first, then get more specific as I go.
To do this I usually work in Lightroom’s Library module, using grid view. I will select a group of images by using shift-click (for continuous groups) or ctrl-click (for non-continuous groups) methods to select images and then use both the ‘Keywording’ and ‘Keyword List’ panels to apply the keywords
Start Editing Images
Now I am generally ready to start editing my images. This is (for me) the fun bit. I tend to take a look at the grid view, choose an image I like the look of and go from there.
My shooting and editing style tends to mean I am only working on a single image at a time. Rarely will I ever make bulk adjustments to a group of images.
Noise Reduction & Optical Corrections in DxO PhotoLab
In my opinion, DxO PhotoLab does the best job of noise reduction, initial sharpening and optical corrections on my raw files (sharpening and optical corrections apply to supported cameras and lenses).
It will also do a great job of tone, colour, etc editing – but I find the Lightroom interface much easier to use for that job so I only do noise reduction and optical corrections in PhotoLab and do the rest in Lightroom afterwards.
I send the raw file from Lightroom to DxO PhotoLab, apply the settings I need and send it back to Lightroom. You could also do this with DxO PureRaw for the same result.
I’ve written detailed articles on how to easily do this step
- Using DxO PhotoLab with Lightroom (note, this is for an older version of PhotoLab, but the process hasn’t changed)
Basic colour, tone, cropping, etc in Lightroom
With DxO PhotoLab having produced a high quality demosaiced file, I now jump into the Develop module in Lightroom to apply any cropping, colour, tone, etc
Things I do in Lightroom
- Cropping & Rotating
- Setting white balance
- Adjusting Exposure and tone via the ‘basic’ panel sliders
- Adjusting the tone using curves
- Adjusting Hue, saturation, vibrance
- Local adjustments to any of the above using the masking tools
- Image Transforms (rarely required)
Things I don’t do in Lightroom
- Noise Reduction (covered in PhotoLab earlier)
- Lens Corrections (covered in PhotoLab earlier)
Complex adjustments in Photoshop
I don’t usually need to do much in Photoshop, but I will generally send the raw file across once I’ve finished with it in Lightroom.
I will use Photoshop for anything that Lightroom can’t handle such as:
- Complex masking, and local adjustments
- Complex object removal
Finally I will apply sharpening in Photoshop. I usually do this in Topaz Labs Sharpen AI. I usually find I only need to use the ‘standard’ sharpening model and don’t need to rescue the image with the motion blur or out of focus models – but I’ll play around and find whatever works best for the image I’m working on.
I usually apply sharpening on a duplicate layer so I can mask out any bits that shouldn’t be sharpened (eg, the sky or a blurry background).
Export, Upload, etc
Now I have a fully finished photo in Lightroom. I’ll repeat the image editing process until I’ve edited all of my ‘keeper’ images. This leaves my with a collection of tiff files that are ready to be uploaded, exported as jpegs, printed… or whatever else I might want to do with them
Using Publish Services
One of the more powerful Lightroom features that I use quite a bit is the Publish Services. I have set up a couple of services that will prepare and upload images to a couple of different places.
How I use these services are far beyond the scope of this article, but I have them setup to automatically upload images based on keywords to the following places:
- My PhotoDeck website
- My Hard drive, ready for sharing to other people, places
That’s it – the workflow above is accurate for 99% of my image editing.
Workflows are a very personal thing and are very much subject to both personal preferences and specific editing needs. Hopefully you will be able to get some inspiration from how I do it and adapt it to your own needs.
Do something completely different? Why don’t you leave some details in a comment below so we can all learn something new.