Editing weddings and portraits provides a unique challenge for photographers. After a few hours to a day of shooting you’re left with hundreds, sometimes thousands, of images to work through. Timelines are tight, and you’re juggling multiple sessions at once.
You want to provide awesome quality to your clients, on time, without being chained to the computer for eternity. What’s the solution??
One word: WORKFLOW.
A great workflow will keep you organized, save you time, increase your per hour profit, and allow you to deliver consistently high quality work. The key is simply planning your workflow, and then sticking to it!
Two things to keep in mind when you’re making your workflow are ease and completeness. You want to make sure the process isn’t complicated or inefficient, otherwise you won’t stick with it. You also need to plan for each and every step, otherwise things slip through the cracks, and then the system falls apart.
Over the years we’ve had the opportunity to experiment with several different workflow strategies, constantly revising and improving as we went along. Our main goal through the whole process was to develop a system that was fast, efficient and produced the highest quality results.
We’re going to share with you our own workflow that we use for every session! We hope it will save you some time in creating your own! It’s easy to follow, and takes into account every necessary step. Feel free to adapt it, tweak it, and experiment with it to find something that works perfectly for you and your business.
1. Import & Backup
The first step in editing is actually downloading the images from your memory card. Make sure you get yourself a good USB card reader. We’ve experimented with FireWire card readers, but the connectors aren’t as durable as USB and after a couple years we started to see errors on import when using the FireWire readers.
We use a program called Photo Mechanic to import our images. While you can use Lightroom to import your photos, we prefer Photo Mechanic because it allows us to import from multiple card readers simultaneously (a huge time saver when you have a ton of cards, like after a wedding!).
Photo Mechanic also automatically appends an alphabetical letter to duplicate file names (so if you’re shooting with two or more cameras at a wedding, you don’t need to worry that duplicate file names won’t be properly imported.)
When you’re importing your images, it’s also the perfect time to back them up. With both Lightroom and Photo Mechanic you can select a secondary import location (like an external hard drive). An important thing to keep in mind with any backup strategy is to keep multiple copies of data, as well as to store a version of the data offsite (in the event a disaster occurs where your files are stored locally).
Reviewing and selecting images is a big task. This is another area that we use Photo Mechanic instead of Lightroom. Here’s why:
1. While you can use Lightroom to sort and select images, Photo Mechanic is faster because it doesn’t have to load the large RAW file. You can move through images quicker, which adds up to major time saved.
2. It’s also a good idea to use a separate program to sort that isn’t capable of editing the images. It might seem counterintuitive, but it ensures that you aren’t tempted to see how one photo might look when edited, which would distract you and slow things down!
3. Finally by sorting your images before importing them into Lightroom, you ensure that you’re only importing the exact files you want to work on. This keeps your Lightroom catalog nice and tidy. You also won’t end up wasting time editing a file that you decide not to include!
Sorting is a skill every photographer should be continually developing. Reviewing your photos and making the decisions about which images should be delivered to the client is critical to your growth as a shooter.
It can be a painful process. It’s hard to look through images and identify what worked well, but more importantly what needs to be improved. But it’s worth the pain, because you improve by studying your own work.
A couple tips for getting through it:
- Sort inclusively. That means choose the images you want to keep, not the ones you want to remove. You’ll have far fewer keepers than deleters, so looking for ones to include takes less time.
- Go through all the images (full screen) once and make quick decisions based on instinct. Don’t try to save time by stopping to compare photos to one another. Comparing photos at this stage will do nothing but slow you down (until you’ve seen all the photos it’s impossible to make useful comparisons.)
- Once you’ve pre-sorted images, then go through them a second time with a much more critical eye. Since you’ve seen all the images once, you’ll have a much better idea of what should stay and what should go.
After completing a second sort of the images it’s time to import them them into Lightroom for editing.
Lightroom is the most powerful and most frequently used tool in our workflow. It basically takes care of all the major editing. You can quickly make adjustments to white balance, exposure, contrast, brightness, saturation—the basics. Then you can take it further and create awesome black and whites, apply creative colouring effects, crop, dodge/burn, add/remove vignettes, perform light retouching, reduce noise, sharpen images, and make tone curve adjustments.
The workflow here is simple. Start at the first image, make your editing adjustments, then move to the next one. If the photos are similar you can sync adjustments, saving you lots of time.
Alternatively, if you have a large group of very similar images, you can batch edit them all at once. That gives you a great starting point, and you’ll probably only have to make small adjustments, or black and white conversions/custom toning.
Ensuring that your photos are sorted by time captured helps here. When the lighting conditions are similar you can really take advantage of those speedy workflow features in Lightroom.
Once we’ve finished editing our images in Lightroom we use the handy export feature to export them as JPEGs. We export at full resolution (300dpi) in the Adobe RGB (1998) color space.
We also rename the files with the client name at this stage so that the numbering will be sequential.
When it comes to retouching we have two ways of handling things:
Weddings: For weddings we only retouch images that go into the album or are ordered as prints. There are simply far too many images to retouch them all!
Portraits: For our portrait sessions every image gets retouched. It’s extra work retouching images that might not be purchased, but we’ve found clients are less likely to purchase images if they haven’t been retouched. Luckily the num
ber of images to retouch is far less than with a wedding!
Our retouching is pretty simple. We reduce bags under eyes, whiten teeth, heal temporary blemishes, and remove distracting elements (exit signs, garbage on the ground, etc.). Our philosophy is that good retouching needs to be realistic, especially when you’re shooting “real” people (i.e. not models in a high fashion shoot). We’re very careful not to take an image too far (glowing eyes, plastic skin, etc.)
While nearly all of our image editing occurs in Lightroom, retouching is still faster to do in Photoshop. The clone, spot healing and patch tool all make quick work of retouching. To speed through the retouching part of our workflow we use the AutoLoader script for Photoshop.
6. Ordering Products
For products that are ordered (albums, prints) we review the images one final time. We make sure that no additional retouching is required and that the brightness, contrast and colour temperature are perfect. We also apply a bit of sharpening at this stage, to ensure a crisp print.
Tips for Improving Your Workflow
Outsourcing is very popular right now in the photography industry. It involves paying others to do your color correcting, creative editing and even your image sorting for you.
At first glance this seems like a good idea: pay someone else to edit your images so that you can spend more time shooting or more time with your family.
The problem is that you aren’t learning and improving your own skill set. In the long term you’re setting yourself up to be at a disadvantage compared to the photographers who spent years practicing and refining their workflow and technique. They’ll be able to edit images better, faster, and cheaper than you. You’ll be left behind in this rapidly evolving industry.
When it comes to accounting and law, those are parts of your business you’ll want to outsource to professionals, but when it comes to photography you are the professional.
Time how long each step takes. Challenge yourself to improve the speed you work through each step while maintaining a high level of quality. If certain areas are taking up a LOT of time, see if you can change something to improve your efficiency.
Perfect practice makes perfect.
The more you practice moving through your workflow, keeping efficiency and quality at the forefront of your mind, the faster you’ll be able to bring the best out of your images.
Do you have any workflow tips to share? Is your system similar, or do you have a totally different approach? Let us know in the comments!