My Digital Workflow

Posted by on Dec 29, 2010 in Articles | One Comment

Before we get to the actual workflow I need to emphasize one important, actually very important, point. It is something I always say when I am presenting my workflow but I’m not sure the importance is ever fully appreciated.

Digital photographers have the most questions and concerns about the digital processing side of things and not the digital capture side of things. This is because most photographers (okay, all photographers) think that all sins can be corrected in the computer. While this may be true if you are a master processor, for most of us it is not true.  And even if you are a digital guru why bother to go through all the work and aggravation of extensive processing when it could be unnecessary?

You see, there shouldn’t be any sins to begin with. You don’t have to be a master mechanic if your motor never breaks down and you don’t have to be a master digital processor if you have very little to fix.

By far the most important part of my or any workflow is what happens before you get to your computer. If you eliminate the photographic errors and sins when you are taking the photo you won’t have to correct them later in your computer. (Now, if you don’t mind, take a moment and reread that last sentence. It is by far the most important part of the digital photography processes.) Optimizing capture will make your editing much easier and faster and your processing much, much more efficient and simpler.

If your picture is exposed properly in nice light, has a strong composition and solid technique there is not much you will have to do to it in your computer. Conversely, if you are always fiddling around with your images in your computer, tweaking every possible variable perhaps you should think about working your photography skills more and your computer skills less. And instead of getting a faster, newer computer with all the bells and whistles maybe you should practice taking a picture more or take a workshop for some serious instruction. Just a thought.

So let’s start with optimizing capture or taking the best photo you can. Do this right and the rest of your workflow will be a snap. I’ll do this cookbook style.


1. Evaluate the ambient photography potential

Is the light good? Would a flash or diffuser help? Is it the best/prettiest subject? Is the background distracting? Is there a better angle and/or perspective? Are the conditions the best they can be? Are you distracted or in a rush?

Is your composition the best it can be? Are you photographing a phrase rather than an entire paragraph? Are you filling frame? Getting low enough?

Is your technique good, your tripod steady, your sensor clean, your mind clear?

Never settle and say “I can fix it later in the computer.” Fix it in the field!!

2. Take the picture:

Shoot in RAW, use a tripod when you can, matrix/evaluative metering most of the time, spot metering for precision, aperture priority, -.7 auto compensation, lowest ISO possible, appropriate filtering, autofocus if possible.

3. Check blown out white areas (blinkies) & histogram before shooting more pictures

Adjust settings (especially auto compensation value) as needed and as light and subject changes.

Are the blinkies truly bad or are they just inconsequential?

4. Adjust composition to correct the flaws

Remove blank sky, garden out sticks, etc, change angle to improve background

5. Blast away as you continue to refine composition

6. Rough edit in camera as time permits

Get rid of the really obvious bad images. Let all the rest go.


1. Open Lightroom

Select proper catalog (library) if you have more than one. (I happen to)

2. Download card into catalog

Add broad keywords to pics on import.

i.e. autumn, Vermont, lobstering, etc.

[Usually a card will be all similiars but sometimes I may have two groups, say ‘lobstering’ and ‘lighthouses’ on one card. In that case I would download all the lobstering pics on the card with their broad keywords and then all the lighthouse pics with their broad keywords. This assures that every image in my Lightroom catalog always has at least some broad keywords attached to them]

3. Edit in Lightroom (Don’t edit and process together. Process after editing is finished)

Get rid of all the flawed, failed or inferior images.

a. Move through the images in Grid view using the <- -> arrows keys b. Mark every bad one as rejected by hitting the letter X key.

c. Use X or Reject filter (X flag) to group all the rejects

d. Select all of the rejected images

e. Delete all of them (do not just Remove them!)

Go through all the images again and repeat above process and then again as you continue to refine your selections.

Use the Comparison or Survey views to judge similar images.

Keep only your best!!!! Don’t keep ‘sort of good’ images if you have better ones.

4. Organize your keepers in Lightroom

Drag into folders and/or

Use filters or ratings and/or

Make or move to collections and/or

Use keywords


1. Choose favorites or the ones you are going to use to work on

For 99% of pics I use the Lightroom Develop module for my processing.

I often tweak exposure, blacks, clarity, vibrance, crop

I rarely tweak recovery, color temp,  fill light, HSL/Color, use TAT button, noise reduction, sharpness

My 3-minute processing rule:

If any image needs more than 3 min. work something is fatally wrong.

For a serious/troublesome processing (bad blemishes, scratches, to add words, merges) I go to Photoshop for text, move, patch tool, pano stitching, etc.

2. Save as TIFF (or .psd )


1. Use other Lightroom modules for Prints, send to Web or show as a Slide Show.


Remember, this is just the way I do things.  I like progressively getting rid of inferior images until I am left with just the best ones. Others like to identify the best first and then get rid of all the rest. Either way works, it’s up to you. It is your workflow!

1 Comment

  1. Chuck Murphy (the guy who shouted "Fisher!"
    January 29, 2011

    Brilliant! Thanks much for these LR workflow tips, and for your great presentation at GNPA today. I’m going to consciously follow your suggestion about “telling a story” from now on, and I think it’s going to lead to a big improvement in the way I approach a project.


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