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Behind The Lens: My Photography Workflow

June 15, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Some things are changing around here. I have gone and got myself a new camera! I've made the jump from compact system camera all the way to full frame in one fell swoop and I am now the proud owner of a Nikon D610. I got the camera body at a discounted price, as it was classed as 'refurbished', but only had 13 actuations, and still even had the plastic film on the LCD monitor, so it was pretty much brand new. Optics-wise, my budget would only stretch to one lens, and I've opted for the Nikkor 50mm F/1.4 AF-S as it will suit most of my photography needs... for now!

I've also decided to jump ship from the sinking Aperture, since Apple announced it is no longer developing this software. Like so many others in my position, I'm making the move over to Lightroom, and I'm currently two-thirds through a 30 day free trial. I'm using this time to really get to grips with my workflow, and for my sake as much as anyone else's, I thought I would make some notes here about the steps I follow.

Behind The LensBehind The LensGetting ready for post-processing

Workflow Summary

I am using Lightroom CC to archive and catalogue my images, and I make use of the colour labels to tag images according to which stage of the workflow process they are at. This way, if I only get part-way through the post-processing and need to come back later, I know exactly which step of the process I am up and can pick back up again easily. 

I like to have as much data as possible tagged to each image as I process the photos. I use the GPS tags and face recognition, as well as keywords, ratings, captions and titles. This means that each image has a full set of information applied to it as soon as possible after it was taken, before I forget where or who. Even if I don't intend to use all of this data straight away, I would much rather have it included now, than try to remember five years down the line.

I did quite a bit of reading around while I was deciding on a workflow to use, and I found the tip on using colour labels to define workflow steps in this article. Although the article was written for Aperture users, the same principles can be applied to Lightroom. I have taken inspiration from this and adapted the labels to fit my own workflow. And I don't mind if anybody wants to follow the same steps!

My workflow

Step

Label Colour

Import photos from camera to photo management software  
Rate/reject and assign GPS metadata Red
Process images and review ratings Blue
Assign titles and captions Yellow
Assign keywords and face recognition Green
Prepare exports and publish Purple

 

Import Images to Photo Management Software

I import my images directly from my camera's memory card to Lightroom, using the Lightroom Import module. I usually convert my camera's raw files to the Adobe .dng file format to ensure continued compatibility with any of Adobe's future products. If there are any .jpeg files (e.g. from my phone), I leave those as .jpeg.

Rate/Reject and Assign GPS Metadata (Red Label)

My first step is to review all images one by one and make a quick 'yes/no' decision on whether or not to keep it. At this stage I am just trying to weed out the real chaff, so if there's an image I'm not sure about at this stage I keep it. I am only interested in getting rid of the images that are truly not worth spending any more time on (out of focus, bad facial expressions or otherwise just totally uninteresting). As I work through each image in the shoot, if I like it (or rather, if I don't hate it enough to rule it out right now) I give it 1 star (just press 1 on the keyboard), and if I want to reject it, I flag it as rejected (press x on the keyboard). When I've been through all images in the shoot, I choose Delete Rejected Photos... from the Photo menu, to get rid of all those rejected photos.

After the rate and reject step is done I assign GPS coordinates to all of the keepers. My camera doesn't capture GPS info automatically, so I do this myself using the Map module in Lightroom. Sometimes, if I'm in an unfamiliar place or deep in the countryside, I might remember to take a quick shot with my iPhone while I'm out, which does capture GPS coordinates, so that I have a reference for the images I took with my camera. But if I haven't done this, then I use the search facility within Lightroom, which seems to be pretty good.

Once I've finished GPS tagging for all photos, I select all of the images and change the colour label from red to blue, to show that they are ready for the next step.

Process Images (Blue Label)

At this point in the flow, I move over to the Develop module and begin to process my images. During this stage I will also further refine my selections. It may be the case that I have two or more shots of the same subject, with different camera settings. I may already have rejected some of the duplicates at the 'red flag' stage, but sometimes I leave the decision until I reach the 'blue flag' stage and start processing the images. Sometimes the act of adding contrast or clarity can transform an image so much that what I originally thought might have been one to reject becomes a keeper, or vice-versa. I won't go in to details of my work in the Develop module. That's for another blog post. Suffice it to say that I use this step to polish up my images and refine my selections.

Once all of my processing is completed, I work through the set again to check the ratings. This time, as I work through each image, if I still like it, I give it 2 stars (by pressing 2 on the keyboard), and if I don't, I flag it as rejected (press x). I'm pretty ruthless about my selections. If I don't like it now, the chances are I never will, and therefore there is no point in keeping it. When I've been through all images in the shoot, I choose Delete Rejected Photos... from the Photo menu, to get rid of all those rejected photos.

After all the processing is done, I select all of the images and change the colour label from blue to yellow, to show that they are ready for the next step.

Assign Titles and Captions (Yellow Label)

I give every image a title and a caption, which can be viewed in the galleries on this website. The title is short and snappy and simply sums up the main subject of the image (e.g. "Reservoir at Caesar's Camp"). I use the caption field to keep more detailed notes about an image, anything which I would like to remember in the future. It could be details about the location or subject, or why I shot that particular image. Sometimes I use the same title for multiple image, if the subject is the same, but I try to use a different caption for each one.

Once all of the images have a title and a caption, I select all of the images and change the colour label from yellow to green, to show that they are ready for the next step.

Assign Keywords and Face Recognition (Green Label)

This is possibly the most time consuming part of the process, aside from the developing. But, I think that taking the time here to add keywords to all of my photos really helps later on when hunting for specific images. All of the keywords I apply to my images get uploaded to this website as well, which drives the search engine capabilities that are available here. Type 'tree' in to the search box on this website, and you'll find all of my public images of trees. Immense! 

I use a hierarchical structure to my keywords, which helps me to remember what types of keywords to apply to each image. I have six broad categories of keywords:

  1. Collection. I add a keyword to designate which collection the image belongs to (e.g. National Trust).
  2. Place. This is the geographical location, and within this category I define the country, state/region, city and place (e.g. UK > Surrey > Farnham > Caesar's Camp).
  3. Event. This can be a generic event (e.g. wedding, bike ride) or a specific event (e.g. Wellington Triathlon, Mathew Street Festival)
  4. People. This could be a generic tag (e.g. cyclist, fisherman) or a specific person's name.
  5. Technical Description. This covers any specific processing techniques I have applied (e.g. monochrome) or specific photography techniques (e.g. still life, silhouette)
  6. Subjective Description. This covers a large range of keywords to describe the subject of the image. I further divide this category in to several sub-categories:
    1. Action. What is happening? (E.g. cycling, dancing, picnic)
    2. Animal. (E.g. cat, dog, monkey)
    3. Architecture. Any terms to describe buildings or architecture (e.g. airport, cafe, door)
    4. Emotion. If the emotion is the central subject of the image I tag this (e.g. fear, friendship, tired)
    5. Food & Drink. (E.g. cake, lemonade)
    6. Indoor Object. (E.g. camera, candle, glass)
    7. Nature. (E.g. tree, flower, lake)
    8. Outdoor Object. (E.g. bench, flag, railing)
    9. Season. (I.e. spring, summer, autumn, winter)
    10. Time of Day. (E.g. sunset, night)
    11. Transport. (E.g. car, boat, scooter)
    12. Weather. (E.g. sunny, cloudy, rainy)

When all of the keywording is complete, I then use Lightroom's People module to locate and name any known faces in my images. This really helps when looking for images to print into a yearbook or photo gift for a specific person.

Once I've finished keywording and face-tagging all photos, I select all of the images and change the colour label from green to purple, to show that they are ready for the next step.

Prepare Exports and Publish (Purple Label)

So now, I have all of my final selections, all processed and ready to go. The final step is to prepare the images for export. In my workflow this means firstly editing the filenames to match my own naming conventions. I use a consistent naming convention for all of my images which follows the format:

Format: YYYY-MM-DD_(3 letter code for the shoot name)_Index Number
Example: 2015-05-27_GDN_1

I assign a 3 letter abbreviation to each shoot, which I define in the folder name and collection name where the images are stored. In the example above, I used the abbreviation GDN for 'In The Garden'. This format keeps the filenames short (which is good for Twitter posts) and consistent, yet more descriptive than the default filename applied by my camera. I don't need any greater description than this in the filename, since this is already included in the Title and Caption that I added earlier.

All of my images that reach this stage are published on to my website, so the next step is simply to use the publishing tool to get them out of Lightroom and on to the website. A few more minutes spent adding gallery descriptions and a quick blog post, and my publishing is complete! At this stage I remove the colour-label from all of the images, to show that they have been fully processed and published.


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