As many new photographers quickly find out, there’s a whole lot that needs to happen after you take your pictures. Unless you have a good system that allows you to efficiently edit, process, archive and output your photos, it’s easy to get bogged down and become trapped beneath the weight of your image library. Add more images to your collection and you’ll have trouble finding any of them. You’ll waste hours of your life looking for a particular photo that could be found in about two seconds if you’d properly, captioned, tagged and archived it.
That’s why in today’s digital photography world, it’s all about the workflow. Programs like Adobe Lightroom offer a powerful, yet streamlined options for photographers to manage their entire photo library. In addition, Lightroom has powerful tools that let you process your images so that you can refine your shots and make them look as good as possible.
There are many resources out there that can help you learn the detailed ins and outs of Lightroom, but here are seven things that you should learn to do right away. These steps are the backbone of any photography workflow and knowing them will let you get on top of your image collection right away so that it doesn’t get out of control.
This is where you actually get your photos from your camera or memory card onto your computer. Open up the program, connect your card or camera and you’ll see a button in the lower left corner that says IMPORT. Click this button and select the appropriate source where your images live underneath the FROM sign.
Then go across the top of the screen and select either COPY, MOVE, or ADD. I recommend COPY, just in case you have any problems. This way the original image files still live on your memory card and if any thing happens you can always go back and retrieve them during the process.
Moving to the right side of the top bar, under TO, select the destination folder where you want your photos to live on your hard drive. It doesn’t matter if you do them by date, location, shoot or category, just come up with a system that works for you.
Drop down the right side to the KEYWORD box. If there are any specific keywords that apply to all of the photo that you’re about to import, type them in here. Think locations, people, seasons, activities, colors, etc….
Finally, select the actual photos you want to import and hit IMPORT on the lower right side of the screen. The images will now be brought into your image catalog.
Once your photos are imported, it’s time to cull through them and get rid of the bad ones and mark the good ones. Make sure you’re in LIBRARY mode on the top right. Select the appropriate folder on the left Navigator panel and start scrolling through your images. If you want to see them full size, double click on them, or (easier) hit the SPACE bar or E key. Hit SPACE again to zoom in and out. If you want to get back to your main catalog, hit the G key.
As you go through, hit the X key for any photo that you want to delete, i.e., bad exposures, out of focus shots, and anything that isn’t worth keeping. This marks them for deletion. Hit P for the keepers and any really good shots in your series. This marks them as a “Pick.” You can compare multiple photos by hitting the C (Compare) or S (Survey). All of these commands are under VIEW on the main menu bar.
When you’re done, hit Command + Delete (Mac) or CTRL + Backspace (Windows) to delete your rejected shots. This will remove those X-ed out images from your system.
Once you’re done your main editing, it’s time to caption your photos. Select all similar photos (Shift or Command + Click for Mac, and Shift or Control Click for Windows) and type the appropriate caption and image info into the CAPTION box on the right panel and hit return. Repeat as desired with the rest of your images. This will help you find your images later.
Now it’s time to add even more metadata, which will help you in your images searches. You’re still in LIBRARY mode. Select photos and add star ratings, color labels, locations, additional keywords and any other pertinent info that you feel is necessary to be attached to your photos. Don’t make it too complicated and don’t go overboard. Think about what words or tags would make it easier to locate a particular shot out of thousands.
This is also the step where you might want to rename your images. It often helps to give each images a unique identifier rather than just keeping all the files with their camera file names. Think about it. Would it be easier to find and identify an image called AK-AVI-02054 or _DSC5248? You can find the RENAME PHOTO under LIBRARY on the main menu bar.
Now we move into the DEVELOP mode on the top right bar. This is where you refine your shots and process them using Lightroom’s powerful tools. In DEVELOP mode, (you can also get there by selecting an image and hitting the D key) you have many options for adjusting color, contrast, tone, hue, detail, noise, crop, alignment, etc… You don’t need to process all of your images, though, just the good ones- the shots you want to save and share.
Note that you can undo any step you make and view your processing history on the left HISTORY panel. Play around with the different tools and tweak your images until you can get them looking as good as possible. Most images need at least a little adjustment to make them pop. When you’re done, go back to the LIBRARY mode, or just select an image and hit G (for Grid)
Make this step go more quickly by selecting multiple images that need similar adjustments and then batch process all of them at once.
Once you’ve got your images looking the way you want, They’re ready. This is where you get your final images back out, say if you want to email them, print, post them to the web or send them to a client.
Select the image(s) you want and hit the EXPORT button on the lower left. This will bring up a menu box where you can select where you want them to be saved and in what size and format. For printing, save at 300dpi. For web and email use, 72dpi is fine, and they’ll take up less space on your hard drive. You can even make presets so you don’t have to keep selecting the same things every time. Again, efficiency.
When you’re done, hit the EXPORT button and your photos will be saved to whatever folder you selected, or sent to your email program, if you chose that option.
This is how you find your images. When you’re photo library fills up with a few thousand shots, it’s going to be much harder to locate anything. Much better than just scrolling through your entire catalog, or even through individual folders, you can use the LIBRARY FILTER at the top of the center panel in LIBRARY mode.
You can search for an image by entering keywords or captions in the Text panel, search by Attribute (color, star ratings & picks), or filter by Metadata including camera and lens used, date shot, etc… You can even narrow down by using all three methods to search for your images.
Of course, there’s a lot more to Lightroom than just these seven steps, but this simple workflow will get you started. As you use the program, you’ll discover just how powerful the software is and how it can help make you a much more efficient photographer. `
About the author: Dan Bailey is a professional Alaska based photographer. He’s been shooting for over twenty years and has had photos published by a wide variety of editorial and commercial clients. Check out his latest eBook, Zen Photographer: Turning Your Passion Into Focus. You can also read his blog and follow him on Facebook.