In a previous post regarding the new Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, I said that I would share my personal workflow when importing photos into Lightroom. There are probably as many variations of workflow as there are photographers and I make no claim that this workflow is “the best.” However, I share it in the spirit that it is what works for me as developed over a period of time.
Feel free to copy or share any parts you feel are useful for you. The complete workflow outline as I use it may be downloaded here.
I also present this article with the caveat that it is not an instruction manual on all of the options available in Lightroom. To fully understand Lightroom, I would direct the reader to Scott Kelby’s excellent book, “The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC Book for Digital Photographers.”
For purposes of this article, I’m assuming that the reader already knows where their photos are stored on their particular camera. For most point-and-shoot cameras or DSLRs, photos are stored on a removable SD card. To read photos from these cards, you will need either an SD card slot built into your computer or an adapter which connects the card to a USB port.
If you are shooting with a mobile device, your photo will be stored on the device itself. The procedures to transfer photos from devices is varied, but I will assume you are able to get the photos from your mobile device onto your computer.
As an aside, Adobe makes a mobile app which is compatible with Lightroom on your computer. This app will directly transfer photos from your mobile device to your computer through the Adobe cloud.
What you have photos stored in a location that can be accessed directly from your computer, the next step is to import them. The import button in the Lightroom program is in the lower left of the screen. Click that button and select the location of the photos you wish to import. Keep in mind that photos can reside on your computer but not be visible in Lightroom. To be accessible to Lightroom any photo on the computer must first be imported into the Lightroom program.
Before importing your photos, defined which you want applied to all of your important photos. In my case, I use two presets — one which appends all of my copyright information to the metadata for each photo and another which makes slight lens corrections based on the anomalies of the Tamron lens that I use.
When you are ready to import, simply press the import button on the lower right.
Rename Your Photos
Straight out of the camera, photos are typically named with a combination of three alphabetic characters — usually DSC or IMG — followed by four numbers, sequentially assigned by the camera. The name is then followed by a period and a three or four character group indicating that type of photo. Suffice to say that a name like DSC4321.jpg does not tell you anything about the photo.
Under the ‘Library’ option on the menu bar, there is an option to ‘Rename Photos.’ You can rename the entire group of photos that you imported by pressing Cmd (or Crtl on a PC) and the letter A to select the whole group. You can also select smaller subgroups within your import group if you are naming the photos in different ways.
Lightroom also allows you to set up presets which will speed up the renaming process. In my case, I have several presets but they all follow one pattern: the name indicates the general subject of the photograph along with the four or five digit sequential number that was originally assigned by the camera. For example, if I have taken several pictures of buildings in downtown Louisville, I have a preset titled ‘Louisville Architecture.”
Perhaps one of my photos was named by the camera as DSC4321.jpg and it’s a photo of a downtown building. I use the ‘Rename Photo’ option and my preset to rename the photograph to “Louisville Architecture_4321.jpg.”
Lightroom has a map feature which is very useful for visually showing where photographs were taken. Points on the map are based on GPS data from each photograph. If the photos were taken with a mobile device or from DSLR camera with built-in GPS — a rarity — this step will automatically be completed and the photo’s location will be plotted in the map module.
If your camera does not have a GPS option, there are other ways to accomplish this. I discussed one option called ‘myTracks’ in a previous post. There are also some proprietary apps for mobile phones which connect directly to the camera and the import GPS data from the phone to photographs directly. One example of this for Nikon is the Snapbridge app available for newer Nikon cameras.
As a last resort, you can manually enter a location for your photographs by selecting the photo and then right clicking on the location on the map module. I sometimes use this option — even overwriting the information that was placed on the photo by the capture device — when I want to locate a group of photos in a general location. It may not be that important exactly where each photo was taken.
A good example of this are photos that I take of my grandson’s T-ball games. While I may take photos from all around the field, all I really need to know from a location standpoint is that they were taken at a particular field. So I geotag the group with the center of the field location.
Sorting and Flagging
This is one of the most important steps in the workflow. It will save you a great deal of time with future editing of photos. Go through each photo that you have imported. I bring them up in the Loupe view to see them more clearly and flag them according to a system that I have developed for myself.
Lightroom allows several methods of flagging photos, with the most common being star ratings and colors. I personally do not use colors at all although I know people who do.
In my case, I use the following star rating system to categorize photos for future editing. With each photo, I press either a number key 1-5 or the ‘X’ key as appropriate:
- X – delete the photo: blurry, poor composition, repetitive
*– Possible deletion later
**– Secondary photo — no immediate edits
***– Primary candidate for editing
****– Primary candidate for editing — top photo
*****– Favorite photo
Obviously, these are my definitions of the five star ratings. You can adopt these or set your own definitions if you use this system.
Once all of your important photos have been classified, delete any photos that you categorize with an ‘X’. There is no reason to keep a photo that meets this criteria. It just takes up space on your computer and you’ve already determined you won’t use it.
Keywords and Captions
These are two different methods of categorizing photos by content to allow you to find them later.
As with many social media sites, Lightroom allows you to set an unlimited number of keywords which describe your photo. I use a fairly limited number of keywords but they define the types of photos that I usually search for.
Most notably, I keyword the location of a photo. For example, through the use of keywords, I can find all of the photos that I took in East Louisville, Kentucky or in Boise, Idaho or in a favorite vacation spot. Since I take numerous street photos, I use keywords to categorize the subjects. Thus, I can find all street photos that I took depicting women, or men, or couples, or musicians.
When I started using Lightroom, I did not caption photos. Some of my friends who are professional media photographers told me I should do this. But I didn’t see how it would apply to me as an amateur photographer. I’ve since changed my thought.
I now take the time to write a small caption in the metadata section of most photos. This caption describes the photo more specifically. Since Lightroom can search photos by any word in the metadata, it’s very useful for finding a specific photo or class of photos.
For example, in a recent photo shoot I took several pictures of a man playing a guitar and harmonica on a street corner in downtown Louisville. The keywords of ‘Louisville downtown’ and ‘musician’ would get me pretty close to finding one of these photos. However, the caption on one of them is “close up of a man playing a harmonica.” That would help me search to locate just this group of pictures.
I should also note that not every picture needs to be captioned. A good example are the photos I take in my grandson’s T-ball games. There is no real need for me to caption those because I will probably view them as a group. Even if I want to isolate them between photos of him batting or fielding, that’s probably better done with keywords than with captions.
Finally, move the photos that you have imported to their final storage location within Lightroom. There is a debate among Lightroom users whether it’s best to use folders or collections as storage ‘boxes’. I favor folders and so I move photos from the import location to particular folders as appropriate.
From this point on, you can edit photos in Lightroom as you choose. However, when I begin the editing process, I first search for those photos that I have previously classified as three stars or higher. By my definition, those are the photos I felt had the best views that I wanted to preserve.
All this may sound complicated at first. But as with most processes, having a checklist or flow helps ease the process further on. If you have a Lightroom workflow that you like, feel free to post it in the comments of this article. Also, feel free to comment on how you may do things differently than I’ve outlined here.