Over the past two months, many people have asked about my super-fast workflow. I have to process a minimum of 100 images per hour to make money, and I like to be doing about 300 an hour, which is kinda easy once you practice and perfect my five-step workflow. Of course, if you have a different system that you think works better or more efficiently, by all means, DO IT. Try my ideas or incorporate them into your current workflow. It's not "my way or the highway" (don't tell my kids) but rather I'm here to give you ideas you just might find useful.
Next week, I will list my five-step super-fast Lightroom workflow for both Lightroom 3 and 4. For this week's post, I'll list the steps leading up to the five-step workflow, since many students find this part of the editing process the most difficult. Importing, naming, backing up, organizing and culling is actually the easiest part, and here's my take on it, along with a review of what you'll find in Lightroom 4:
Once you learn Lightroom, a typical job—wedding or portrait; seniors, headshots, maternity, boudoir, baby, or family session—will be a snap to edit to proof and even print stage. Remember--SHOOT RAW~! Don’t waste your time shooting jpgs--that’s like letting someone else choose where you live and what you wear.
What’s New With the just-released LR4, besides the increased dynamic range, the new processing engine offers more targeted post-processing adjustments, so you'll see tons more details in your images. Shadows that were muddy will now have detail. Highlights that were blasted away will also have detail. And that's just when you first open it!
What’s New There are two new modules (Map and Book) and other changes, especially to video file handling, that make this software a must-have. But the main improvements are in the new and enhanced Develop module. The results you achieve in 4 will be so superior, you won’t have to go into Photoshop or use third-party plug-ins. Adjustments will be faster and better due to the improved algorithms. Even the sliders with the same names from LR3 are improved (Clarity and Vibrance, for example). Content aware algorithms were built to find and retain detail in the shadows and highlights, taking advantage of the entire dynamic range of your image. And you can adjust them separately. Another huge change in 4 is that the sliders have “0” in the middle instead of at the left. Now we can make negative adjustments as well as positive adjustments on each control. Remember, darker to the left; brighter to the right. You’ll have to keep the old slider behaviors in mind when you play with the new ones, but soon you’ll be flipping them like a pro.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Even if your image was processed in Lightoom 3 and you open it in Lightroom 4, it will have all the controls from 3! Don't update the image unless you really want to--you can leave it as is.
And the workflow remains the same. Here’s my suggestion for a fast and easy process:
IMPORT into Lightroom from a card reader, your hard drive or external hard drive. You can also apply copyright, contact info and keywords at this point. If you have time to wait, ask for 1:1 previews—that way it won’t have to resample the image if you zoom in. Otherwise, minimal or standard previews are quick and take up less space. You can always change to a larger preview later in your editing process. Make sure to pre-set your preferences so that those memory-hogging previews don’t stick around for too long. To set, go to Edit>Catalog Settings>File Handling>Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews (after 30 days is ideal for me).
NAMING TEMPLATES: I use the year-month-day (reverse-date) bride-groom naming structure, i.e. 2012-04-05-Smith-Jones. Whatever you decide to use, stay consistent so you can always find your precious images. Use dates and names, not casual phrases that are easily forgotten.
BACK UP images! Always make a second copy of the imported files. If you’re on the road, copy them to an external hard drive and keep them far away from your laptop. At home, copy them not only to a logical folder hierarchy, then into LR, but also to at least one external hard drive that can be taken offsite or traded with a friend once a month or so. Only when you have the second copy should you clear your CF card. I only reformat when I really need to just in case I’ve lost the original files. Whatever system you end up devising and using, it will only be effective if you maintain it. Online backup services like Carbonite are good, but super slow on the upload and download, at least for photographers. Best backup practices: store data locally AND offsite.
ORGANIZE: Keep it simple. One catalog is just fine. Once you’ve imported a job, select all images (Ctl/Cmd + A), click on the + sign next to “Collections”, choose “Create Collection,” name it (I recommend using the same name as the folder or the client’s last name, maybe the month and date of the wedding or shoot, something that will be easy for you to find later), then click on CREATE.
Adobe.com says that unless you're working with thousands of photos and performance is a concern, try not to use multiple catalogs. Multiple catalogs can become complicated to manage. Lightroom offers many ways to sort, filter, and otherwise organize and find photos within one catalog. You can use folders, collections, keywords, labels, and ratings. With a little thought and practice, you can probably find ways to organize and manage all of your photos successfully in one catalog.
CULLING: How to do this easily: Turn on CAPS LOCK key for Auto Advance, go through images with fingers over number keys to get star ratings, sit back and work without thinking too hard. Be spontaneous, and it will go faster. I use the number 3 and 4 keys to rank:
*** = not that great, don’t want to see it again
**** = good enough to consider keeping
Then I filter to catch only the images with four stars. Keeping the final number of images desired in mind, I go through one more time, finger over the 3 key. The instant you give an image a 3 rating, it will fall out of your filtered collection, and to keep track, the total number of images in the collection is on the breadcrumb bar above the filmstrip on the bottom. To undo, use Ctl/Cmd + Z.
SEPARATE BY SERIAL NUMBER: Most wedding togs use more than one camera, and may even have more than one second shooter. There could be five or more cameras covering a wedding, each one with its own color and exposure quirks.
I find that my image-by-image editing technique goes even faster if I separate the cameras during the editing process. This is because I can much more easily COPY and PASTE settings from image to image if they were shot with the same camera and not mixed in with images from other cameras.
Here's how to separate cameras by serial number: Get into the Library module (G key). Make sure the Filter bar at the top is visible (if it isn’t, press the backslash key or go to the View > Show Filter Bar). You will see four labels: Text, Attribute, Metadata and None. Go to Metadata. Four columns will open up. Mine by default show date, camera, lens and label. You can change the criteria to anything on the drop down list, which is a really useful thing to know. Press on the title of any column and select Camera Serial Number. (You can also save your choices as a preset—click on “Custom Filter” to the top right, and on the drop down, select “Save Current Settings as a New Preset”. Name it, then you’ll always have that group of metadata available.
Click on a serial number, and only the images shot with that specific camera will show. I color code each serial number group for ease of use (and even editing capture time—see my previous blog post on how to do that). To assign colors, select all in that group (Ctl/Cmd + A) and press a color number (6=Red, 7=Yellow, 8=Green, 9=Blue…for Purple you’ll have to go to the menu bar to Photo>Set Color Label>Purple). Then to edit this group, press D to go into the Develop module. It's actually easier than it sounds, and will save you hours of time. You can easily remove the color labels later.