Workflow 101 – Part 3: Lightroom Work

Hi there!  This is a continuation of my Workflow 101 Series.  :)


In Part 1 of the series, I talked about the importance of getting images correct in camera.  In Part 2, I talked about how I set up the bit-depth and color space to get consistent color throughout the editing process.  In Part 3 here, I’m finally going to talk about what I do with the photos I’ve taken!  I do shoot RAW, I should probably mention that!


If you’ve wondered, “I’ve taken some pictures… now what?!” I am going to address that here in Part 3.  Again, this is my personal workflow, and there is no right or wrong way to do things.  But if you’re still trying to establish your own workflow, perhaps this will help!


In this segment, I’m going to talk about my Lightroom workflow.  I use Lightroom for two things: 1) To organize my photos, and 2) To make adjustments to the RAW files.


Organizing My Photos

I have my personal photos organized separately from my client photos.  My client photos are further organized by Year.  Then each client session is in a separate folder labeled with the date and the client name.  So for instance, a recent session for Joe Smith will be in the folder Client Photos  ->  2012  ->  2012-02-25 Joe Smith.


Since sessions are broken down by year, organizing this way helps me find things quickly and easily.


Importing My Photos

Now that I know where on my hard drive I’m going to put my photos, I import them into Lightroom.  I import them as DNG files (digital negative), which saves a little space over my Canon’s CRW files (camera raw).  This process usually takes a bit to run, so I set it all up to import and then go do something else.  :)


Flagging My Picks

After all my images are imported, the next step is to flag my ‘Picks.’  In other words, I’m choosing the best images from the session to edit.  This process used to take me forever, but I’ve gotten better!  I usually do 3 passes to weed out images and choose the keepers:

1.  First pass:  I go through the images one by one and flag anything that looks like it might be a keeper by pressing the ‘P’ for ‘Pick’ – this will put a little Flag on the image so you can see it’s been chosen.


2.  After my first pass, I Filter by ‘Flagged’ so I can see everything that I’ve chosen so far.  Out of a session of 300, I might have 50 potential keepers at this point.  I do a second pass of my keepers and zoom in at 100% on each of them.  If I come across any that are out of focus or otherwise unworthy of keeping, I hit my ‘U’ key for ‘Unflag’ to remove them from my batch of keepers.


3.  I go through a 3rd and (hopefully!) final time, choosing the best 25-30 images from the bunch.  If there are several from the same series, I choose the best one.  I refine my Picks until I am down to the best of the bunch.


Editing the RAW files

Now that I have my top 25 or so images that I want to edit, I do any necessary Lightroom edits.  I may do all or none of the below edits, depending on the image:

  1. Cropping – It is much simpler to crop and rotate an image in Lightroom than in Photoshop, so if either of these are necessary, now is the time to do it.  If I have an image with any horizontal or vertical lines, I typically like to make sure these are straight (the back of a couch, a tree, a door or window frame, etc.).  If there would be a more pleasing crop, I do it now as well.
  2. Adjusting White Balance – If the white balance is off, I use the sliders to tweak it until it is correct.
  3. Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks – I don’t typically have to mess with these too much unless I’ve shot in a tricky lighting situation (extreme side-lighting, for example).  But again, if these settings need to be tweaked, now is the time.
  4. Noise Reduction (Lightroom 3 or 4 beta) – I’m still using Lightroom 2, where the noise-reduction capabilities are not fantastic.  So if I have noise that needs to be removed in a photo, I wait until I bring the images into Photoshop and use Noiseware.  But if you’re using LR 3 or 4 beta, the noise reduction capabilities are much better.  If I had an image where I needed to reduce the noise and was using 3 or 4, I would adjust it now.


Exporting the images as JPEGs

At this point, I have my top images selected, and they all have my desired crop, white balance, and tone.  Now I export them as JPEGs so I can work on them in Photoshop.  I select all my Flagged images (Ctrl/Cmd + A) and go to the File -> Export dialog.  Below are the settings I use:

  1. Export Location – I export the images to my Desktop, into a subfolder with the client’s last name
  2. File Settings – Format = JPEG, Color Space = sRGB, Quality = 100
  3. Image Sizing – Resolution = 300 pixels per inch

I don’t do any output sharpening because I am going to do further edits in Photoshop.



I have these settings saved as a Preset so I don’t have to set them manually every time.  It makes things fast and easy.  :)  And that’s all for my Lightroom work!  One quick note… when I look at the computer too long, my eyes start popping out of my head!  So after my photos are in Lightroom, I usually spend one work session choosing my Picks, and then at another work session I do any necessary tweaking to the individual images.  If I try to do it all at once, it’s usually too much, and I start getting antsy! 


It took me a really long time to figure out a process and get in my groove.  But this seems to work well for me.  If your needs are different or you just want more in-depth info on how Lightroom works in your workflow, I would highly recommend Scott Kelby’s Lightroom books.  I finally felt like I had some good direction after I read it (I read The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers, but he has an updated one for LR 3 as well).


I hope this has helped someone a bit.  In Part 4, I’ll be talking about Photoshop work!

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10 Responses to Workflow 101 – Part 3: Lightroom Work

  1. Gary Smith says:

    Hi Angie,
    I found this blog entry whilst researching a problem I was having with editing images from a whole day’s wedding shoot, and ensuring my exposure results are consistent. It is great to find that barring a few minor differences, our Lightroom workflow is the same.

    I particularly like the fact that you too use the “Flag” method of selecting the good images. I often read blogs when I was teaching myself Lightroom and the best workflow of the photographer rating each photo with stars, and then filtering for all the images that got 4 or 5 stars. When I read one photographer say “It’s either good enough or not, so why rate it between 1 and 5?” I decided to adopt his “flagging” method. It makes life so much easier.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Angie says:

    Hi Gary, thanks for the note. :) I agree, once I switched over to ‘flagging’ instead of rating 1-5, my workflow seemed to go much quicker. I agree 100%… why spend time rating when you can just grab the ‘keepers’! Thanks for visiting!

  3. Mary says:

    Fantastic. Another reason why I have nearly given up shooting and editing is this. I have missed the memo on how to organize my photos, especially since moving to a Mac. I don’t know where my photos are half the time and when I want to view one it opens right up in PS. I’m still not quite sure where I should be viewing them. I have ACR not Lightroom. Is there a certain place I should have all my downloads be automated to? ( feeling so stupid asking, but I’m gonna do it) when I open them and they automatically open inPS, I can’t compare them to my other shots and pick and choose. This small thing is a HUGE problem for me.
    Cropping…how do you know what size to crop your photos to in Lightroom if you don’t know what your final print size would be. Cropping them immediately makes such great sense but to what size?
    When you export them to PS, don’t they automatically go to jpegs if you’ve shot in RAW? Maybe not because when I have edited and saved a photo, sometimes I can’t see the image, only see a number and I have to open it up just to look at it.
    I’m a mess, please help! I feel like if I can’t figure out how to organize and view my photos, I will continue to feel sick whenever I even THINK about editing!
    I would LOVE a step by step recipe that literally takes me from compact flash (canon 30D) to downloading them….somewhere correct….to where you are here. I am doing something wrong!

    • Angie says:


      I would start with making a folder to store all your images in. From there you can create the folders that make sense for you. My clients are stored as Year and then Date and Name (as this post shows). Make sure when you bring your images off your camera that you put them into this directory you’ve created.

      I use Lightroom, which does allow you to compare photos. I don’t think ACR has any way of allowing you to compare images. This feature alone makes Lightroom worth its cost to me. :)

      I don’t crop to print size, I just crop for composition. In other words, I don’t crop to make an 8×10 (or whatever), I just crop if it improves the composition of the photo. So I actually don’t crop too much, just when the image requires it.

      When you open a RAW file in PS, no… it does not automatically covert it to a jpeg. You can save it as a jpeg from there, but merely opening the file doesn’t convert it. If you want them saved as jpegs, you have to manually save them that way.

      Sorry you’re feeling so lost! If I could sum it up, I would say 1) Create a directory (new folder) for all your images. 2) When you import your photos from your camera, make sure to put them in that directory 3) If you are doing a lot of shooting, consider getting Lightroom… it helps you easily organize your photos and compare them 4) If you are opening your RAW images into Photoshop, you will need to save them as jpegs manually

      I hope that helps a bit!

  4. mary says:

    Thanks so much for your response. I actually installed a trial of LR4 today so now I get to play and be on the same page as you so to speak. Watching some tutorials on organizing with it. So far, so much easier, though I have a lot to learn! Okay, so for cropping for composition, while not committing to a size…how does that work? How do you crop there, by not picking a size? Is that what constrain crop is? So you are eliminating unwanted elimination but not changing the size? How exactly is that done?
    Do you find that you slightly tweak many of your pictures by cropping this way?
    Thanks, you’re instruction is so terrific. It’s just that Im starting with nothing and need lots of help! You are a natural born teacher!

  5. mary says:

    gosh, sorry, a few more questions…You convert to jpeg here from RAW, just wondering why because I always hear how it is best to shoot in RAW for more editing power. Do you lose any ability to edit at this point by converting at this point?
    Sounds like I can complete editing in LR on one picture and then edit more and move them all at once into a folder. How do I have more than one picture in LR at a time?
    Thanks, she says sheepishly (;

    • Angie says:

      Hello again! No problem. :) Yes, RAW is definitely preferable because it allows you to recover details in the shadows and highlights that would otherwise be unrecoverable in jpeg. In other words, if there are really bright areas in your photo, you could recover some details from the RAW file that the jpeg might not allow you to do (think clouds in a bright sky, for instance). But I do this recovering in LR (you could also do it in ACR), so after I’ve recovered anything I’ve needed to, only THEN do I convert it to a jpeg.

      The nature of LR is that it’s a catalog, so that’s how you have more than one picture in there at a time. You should see a ‘filmstrip’ at the bottom with all your images in whatever directory you are working with at the moment.

      Hope that helps!

  6. Mary says:

    Again thank you. After playing a bit more, I have a few more questions…
    White balance…I don’t know that I have a great eye yet for correct white balance unless its glaringly obvious and I can adjust with sliders. But using the eye dropper tool seems unreliable and I am not always sure what to choose. If a white is too bright it won’t allow, click another area, it all looks green. Best way to get accurate WB?
    Opening in PS…rt click > edit in PS> edit a copy with lightroom a adjustments. I assume this is correct. But after all is said and done i must be saving incorrectly. I don’t know where the heck the edited pictures went! They are not back in Lightroom tucked next to the original. Gone! Literally can’t find them….. What is the exact way to save? Save? Save as? What’s the difference? It says psd when i save (apparently incorrectly since they are disappearing) How do you name the edited shot for efficiency and ease. Do you put edits right back in original folder or do you make a separate sub folder for all of those? Do you always do 2 saves, one for save for web and devices and just a regular save.

    Do you always flatten image before saving? Once flattened, it can’t be edited right? What if its a work in progress?

    About converting to jpeg before opening in PS…scares me because what if I need to tweak even more but can’t because its no longer in RAW? Probably 3/4 of my current photos are shot in jpeg, not raw, so I guess for most it’s a moot point. But of the RAW ones I will then be a little more limited in some editing once I open in PS after converting to jpeg, correct? But if I learn to save CORRECTLY, then I guess I wil always have the original in RAW.

    I am on the cusp…thank you for your kind patience.

    • Angie says:

      Sometimes it takes time for your eye to be trained on proper white balance. When I am in question, I often pull up a photographer’s website that I know has ‘got it’ and compare their images to the one I’m working on. I tweak as necessary. :)

      If you’re having trouble finding where your images are saved, simply choose the ‘Save As’ option so you can put them where you want.

      When I’m working on a session, I keep a folder on my desktop called ‘Finals’ and put all of my finished images in there, saved as jpgs. If I want to use them for my blog, I create another folder called ‘For Blog’, and then I save smaller, resized versions of my images in there.

      If you have a work in progress, save it as a .psd so you have all your layers. Once you are done, flatten it and save it as a .jpg. Once it is flattened, you cannot edit the layers anymore.

      You are right on your last point, once you convert from RAW to jpg, you lose some of the capabilities that come along with the RAW file. You will just have to find the best workflow for yourself on this one. I only utilize RAW data in LR, so it is unnecessary for me in Photoshop. Your flow might be different. :)

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