Each series of photographs typically includes individual portraits of each child, photographs of the parents and children interacting, siblings playing together, some gently posed group portraits, and with newborns I’ll also include lots of details and close-ups. I typically take around 200-250 photographs per session, from which I select 40-50 photographs for the final set of images.
My Lightroom workflow
Over the years, I’ve tried different Lightroom workflow set-ups and now have one that works well for me. Every photographer has their own workflow and methodology, and it’s worth spending some time trying different approaches to find the one that works. Don’t feel you have to be stuck with a system that doesn’t quite work for you.
Here are the steps that I take, using Lightroom, that help me cull images quickly and edit the images from portrait sessions efficiently.
1. Backup before opening Lightroom.
a. I use two memory cards in each camera body, and keep one of the memory cards aside after each shoot. I don’t use that card again until the client has received their order – at which point I format the memory card, and put it back into circulation for future shoots.
b. Cloud storage. When I connect my card reader to the computer, Dropbox is set to automatically upload the files as an immediate backup.
c. Computer storage. I import the photographs to a separate folder on my computer – using the date and client name in the folder name so I can easily locate them later on if I need to.
2. I create a new Lightroom Catalog each year, and keep each client’s photographs in a separate Collection.
3. Import the photographs to Lightroom. Many photographers recommend using a culling program first like Photo Mechanic – it’s worth considering, and seeing if it improves your own workflow. I prefer to import the full set into Lightroom, and edit them down within Lightroom.
4. Create a Collection of images for each portrait session.
5. I add all the photographs from that portrait session into this new Collection. Admittedly this leads to a large number of photographs in the Lightroom library, but that seems a small trade-off to me compared with how quickly I can then cull the selection. You can see here how it starts to build up.
I’ve imported 4,615 photographs so far this year. The previous import (a family portrait session) was 228 photographs, and the last set of photographs I exported had 43 edited photographs in it.
6. I click through each image, and immediately remove any photograph from the Collection that doesn’t jump out at me. Even if it’s a lovely moment, if the photograph isn’t as strong as I’d like, I remove it from the Collection.
I previously used the Lightroom rating system or color flags, but I’ve found little point in keeping anything that’s less than a 5-star rating. Deciding whether a photograph should have a 3 or a 4 rating is time-consuming, and ultimately if I’m not going to show it to the client, what does it matter where it falls on the rating scale?
Using a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ system means I can cull the images from a portrait session in around ten minutes – usually from 200 images to 45.
Caveat: I keep all the Raw files on my computer and in Dropbox, just in case, until the client has received their order.
7. I leave the photographs for a few days. Editing them fresh from the shoot slows me down. I find it much easier to work through them a little later on, when there’s a little distance between the experience of the portrait session and I’m less emotionally connected to the images.
8. I apply the same starting presets to all my photographs. For example, I add a little vibrance and saturation and some clarity. Everyone’s recipe here is different, but once you find yourself making the same changes over and over, you can add that to your own user preset in Lightroom. You might find you need a different starting preset for different situations, such as indoor or outdoor shots – set up whichever presets work for you.
9. I then work through each image in sequence, fine tuning the crop, adjusting the exposure if necessary, and applying adjustment brushes where needed. Working from the same starting preset and only applying micro adjustments means I that can typically edit 45-60 photographs in under an hour.
10. I export the photographs at this stage to share them with my client. I have specific export settings saved, either for high resolution export or low resolution for screen use. Again, having these export settings saved as presets saves valuable time each time I go through this process.
11. If clients request additional retouching work, such as minimizing wrinkles or roots, I provide that as an additional service. It’s easy to spend hour retouching to a level that your client might not appreciate – and may not even want.
So those are the steps that work for me, and have made my Lightroom workflow more streamlined and efficient. Keeping in mind steps which could be automated or saved as presets will help you limit the hours you spend editing photographs – time which you could be using building your photography business, or finessing your photography skills.
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