In this series of tutorials I guide you through how to create a rock-solid workflow for working with your pictures in Adobe Lightroom. This series covers every step, from downloading images off the your memory cards to delivering images to clients and creating your photographic archive.
In this tutorial we'll focus on setting up your image folders and the import process. The goal is to set up your workflow so that your collection is always well organized and safe from data loss. Although our series will focus on my favorite workflow tool - Adobe Lightroom - the principles can apply regardless of your software choice.
Photographers tend to focus on the image-making part of their workflow, neglecting a crucial step: the data setup stage. This is the most overlooked part of the photographer's workflow in Adobe Lightroom.
Data Setup Best Practices
Our digital images are precious to us, but the setup of our computers often doesn't reflect that. By the end of this tutorial your data management pipeline will be clear and secure.
Designing solid data schemes comes down to three "S" words: structure, storage, and safety. These three principles will ensure our images are stored in a way that keeps them safe and organized.
When I think about the structure of the image collection, I think of the way that they are organized on the computer's hard drive.
Before re-organizing, my image collection was a mess. I had image files strewn about the folders of my computer, located all over the hard drive. The problem with this is simple: when it comes time to backup or move my images the chance of overlooking some is very high. When you've left your images are all throughout your digital home you're almost certain to forget about some of them.
I firmly believe that the best structure is to name your image folders according to the date. Organizing the folders into a series of Year / Month / Date folders is my preferred system.
One issue that some photographers raise related to this structure is that the images aren't meaningfully named or organized. In fact, I understand this completely because it's how my collection used to appear; I wanted to name my folders according to the event of the images inside of them.
An alternate method would be to add the shoot name on import. With the Lightroom import options, you can easily create custom naming templates to include text you set. If you're looking for more meaning in your filenames, this is an easy way to set it up. In the past, I've added this naming method to wedding photography clients, including the bride & groom's name in the file.
It's true that organizing your images by the capture date could bypass "meaningful" naming, but I don't find this to be a problem; instead I add the event data when I add images to Lightroom. In terms of naming and storing, I simply record the capture date in the filename. For weddings - which are my primary type of client - I might add in the client name to the filename, but I largely stick to the date naming scheme.
Lightroom's import options, one of the most powerful panels is the File Renaming panel that allows for custom filenames to be applied
while images are being copied. To tap into Lightroom's powerful renaming
template builder, choose Edit from the Template dropdown in this
When it comes to naming your files, there are a number of systems that you can apply. As mentioned above, you can apply a simple naming scheme based on the day and time that the image is captured, leaving information about the shoot to be added via metadata.
The storage of images is also key to protecting their safety. In a perfect world, we practice "data separation" by keeping the operating system separate from our data. In my primary editing computer I have two drives: an SSD, or solid state disk, houses my computer operating system, and another hard drive stores my data, including photos.
I realize, however, that many photographers have moved to an entirely mobile setup and use a laptop as their primary computer. This makes data separation a little more impractical, given that you can't add another drive easily.
Lightroom does, however, work with images stored on an external hard drive just fine. USB 3 drives are more than fast enough for editing pictures. If you are a road warrior, a tough, speedy external drive is a viable option for short-term storage of your work.
If you do use an external drive be extra careful to back up your portable drive when you get back to base. I try not to delete the images from my memory cards until I know the files are stored safely. An external drive does not count as safe: it can get lost, damaged, or corrupted way too easily. Your computer laptop and external drive are temporary storage only.
Protecting the integrity of your image collection is essential. We've all been preached to about the essence of backups, but so many of us sidestep them. Don't. We've already consolidated our data: backups are easier than ever.
Ultimately, I think that backups aren't about the software you use to make them; they're about circling dates on your calendar and committing to making them. Set them to start before you go for bed or starting other chores and the backup process will be completely natural.
Ultimately, I think that backups aren't about the software you use to make them; they're about circling dates on your calendar and committing to making them.
My favorite way to backup is probably the simplest system imaginable: once a month, I plug in an external hard drive and drag and drop the entire "Pictures" folder to the external hard drive. It's that simple. I spend time after verifying that all images copied, and that satisfies my need to ensure a safe backup. I keep a calendar reminder on my phone to remember to make it the copies.
My favorite external target for backups is a RAID 1 type hard drive setup. This is a "mirrored" hard drive setup in which two physical drives are used with each drive containing the same data. If one drive dies or encounters issues, the data remains safe and intact on the other drive.
If you use a desktop you could do backup hourly or nightly to a connected drive, automatically, and then you don't even have to remember, it's just done. You can learn more about scheduling and automating your backups in this article for Tuts+ as well.
Furthermore, consider keeping a hard drive offsite for an additional layer of data safety. I moved my collection to Dropbox when they began selling 1 terabyte (1000 gigabytes) for the same price I had been paying 100 gigabytes. My images are stored in two places: the hard drives on-site and with Dropbox.
There are also several competing services worth considering, including and Amazon Glacier, Google Drive, Backblaze and newcomer BitTorrent Sync, which uses your own network of person computers instead of the corporate servers.
Don't neglect backing up the Lightroom catalog either. You've probably been nagged plenty of times about backing up your catalog when exiting Lightroom, but you've also probably skipped it most of the time.
Getting images from your memory card to the computer can be done in a variety of ways, but I advocate using Lightroom, and only Lightroom. There are several key reasons for this: renaming, sorting, and applying image profiles.
Remember the organization system that we discussed earlier? We can automate the renaming process with Lightroom so that all our imported files automatically follow our structure.
This method is superior because it's fully integrated in Lightroom. Using as few applications as possible for the entire image process helps create a smoother workflow.
When we begin to pull images into Lightroom, the program will apply camera profiles to images. These camera profiles are sets of settings designed to impact the way that the RAW images are processed from the camera. With several different choices, there are profiles that fit different workflows depending on your needs. I've divided these into two categories of workflows: an expedited workflow, and a best-possible image workflow.
In an expedited workflow approach, our goal is simple: improving our images with speed of workflow in mind. We're focused on processing tons of images and getting them to a client quickly. Lightroom excels at this.
In fact, Lightroom is configured out of the box with this type of workflow favored. By default, Lightroom will apply the Adobe Standard profile, which is great for the expedited workflow.
Whereas the expedited workflow will favor quick processing and rapid delivery of finished images, the best-possible image style workflow will favor precision and perfection of a finished image suitable for enlargement printing. This workflow is geared toward eventually leaving Lightroom to do fine-adjustment in a program, like Photoshop, that offers even more control.
In the best-possible image workflow, choose a different camera profile on import. The available profiles will vary from camera to camera, but there is typically a neutral or faithful profile that will keep your image neutral and with lower contrast. Choose one profile of these profiles, and stick to it.
Faithful of neutral profiles will make your pictures look a bit flat, but this is actually useful. Looking at a more linear, unprocessed image allows you to clearly evaluate your work from a technical, image-quality point of view. Once you've made corrections to your neutral pictures you can decide how to make them look good. Ultimately, this workflow is about doing basic corrections, like white balance and highlight recovery, by the numbers before sending the image for detailed adjustment and processing in Photoshop or other applications.
Whether your approach is to push images to clients quickly and in batches or perfect images for print, there is a workflow in Lightroom that fits our needs. Much of this is tied to the profile that we select, so choose according to your workflow's needs.
The first part of our digital workflow series focuses on the least exciting - but perhaps most important - part of creating a system. You may not feel like we've accomplished much by talking about file setup and data storage, but it's so essential to the workflow. Ultimately, setting up this part of the process properly ensures the safety and usefulness of our data is top priority.