This lesson is part of the How To Photograph Life - FREE Course. To see the full list of lessons, and learn more about the course, click here for the index.


Workflow & Organization

When it comes to capturing your life, taking the photos is half the battle. Now we move onto the other half – getting them onto your computer and actually doing something with them.

I’ll tell you right now, I’m not only lazy, I’m also pretty disorganized (yep, Rob’s a lucky, lucky man). The only reason I can find any of the hundreds of thousands of photos we’ve taken over the years is because he's put in a superhuman amount of time figuring out the best workflow for keeping our library of images nice and organized.

Now I’m going to take all those many many hours of hard work he did and give it to you in 10 minutes.

He doesn’t mind, though, he’s a nice guy.

Ok so we’re going to talk about two things today: a general workflow to follow when getting your photos onto the computer, and a simple way of organizing them so that you can, y’know, actually find them down the road. Super duper important stuff, so let’s get into it!

General Workflow

The point of having a workflow is to make sure that you don't miss anything. It's a series of steps that you perform, the same way, each and every time.

Now, the workflow I'm going to share with you is just how we go about things. You are free to create your own workflow that best suits your needs. But whatever you do, figure one out. The last thing you want is to accidentally mess up, and delete hundreds of important photos because you skipped a step. That will leave you crying onto your laptop, and shelling out big bucks to try to get those images back. Step one to keeping them safe is a good workflow (steps two through ten are proper backup techniques, but that’s for another lesson. Stay tuned).

So the basic workflow is simple: import, start, edit and export. ​

Step 1: Import

Importing means bringing the photos from your camera, onto your computer. One of the handiest, and cheapest, little gadgets to help make this easier and speed it up is a memory card reader. You could plug your camera right into the computer, but that’s super slow. Pop the memory card out, plug it into the reader, and it’s way faster.

When importing, you’ll want to choose a folder to put all these images into. Don’t just dump everything on your Desktop. Which folder? Hold tight, we’ll lay that all out very soon.

Step 2: Star

Now, you have all the photos on your computer. Here’s a step that is going to make your life way, way easier, and help immensely in actually using those photos down the road.

You star them.

Or heart them, or select them, or flag them, or whatever. Essentially you take a quick spin through the images, and mark which ones are your favourites.

A huge barrier to actually doing something with all these photos is the time it takes to pick out which ones you want to use. No longer do we print every photo we take, and slip each and every one into an album and call it a day. Now you have hundreds of shots from one event, and you need to whittle that down to a dozen or so for a blog post or to put into a book.

Starring will make this possible. A couple tips:

  1. Do it as soon as you can after import. You’ll have more interest and energy to actually get through the process.
  2. Sort inclusively, not exclusively. That means pick the good photos. It’s much faster than trying to figure out which are the bad ones to get rid of.

We like to use Adobe Lightroom to organize all of our photos. It has some really powerful tools to keep things organized. I like to use the Survey mode (shortcut N) to help make the process of narrowing down my choices much easier. 

Survey Mode in Adobe Lightroom

Select the images you're trying to decide between, then hit the shortcut N, and you'll jump into survey mode. From here you can give images star ratings, flag them, or click the X to remove them from the view. Try using this mode when sorting, and you may find it helps you narrow down your choices much faster!

Step 3: Edit

Digital photos generally need some editing to make them look their best. They’re often a bit flat (lacking in contrast and color), and the exposure is sometimes not perfect. A little bit of editing, using a program like Adobe Lightroom, can really bring the photos to life. (And we’re going to go over editing in a later lesson, hooray!)

For now, just note that it’s a good practice to edit your photos. When? I usually don’t edit unless I’m about to use a photo: sharing it online, or printing it. Starring is something to do right away, you can save editing for later.

Note: To get the most out of the editing process, you’ll want to shoot in the raw format. All DSLRs, and many point and shoots can do this. It gives you the most image data out of your camera, so you can do more editing without reducing the quality of the photo. Check out these articles for more info: 10 Reasons Why You Should Be Shooting Raw and 12 Answers to your Burning Questions about Raw

Step 4: Export

If you shoot in raw (which you should), you’ll need to export the files in a different file format for printing or web sharing. Here’s the quick skinny on that:


Web photos are saved as JPEGs. You’ll want to choose the sRBG color space in your Export settings for them to look their best on the web. I usually pick a web size of 1000px on the long edge, which works well for my blog. Then I select 72dpi, which is the maximum resolution a computer monitor can display (although retina devices like iPhones, iPads, or the Retina iMac can display much higher dpi).


To print photos, you’ll also want to export as a JPEG. Choose the Adobe 1998 color space, because it is wider (has more colours), and is the better one for printing with. Unless you’re uploading to a site with specific size requirements, you’ll generally leave it at the full size, and export at 300dpi (which has more quality for better prints).

And that’s it! The general workflow is pretty simple: import, star, edit, export. But, as you can see, there are quite a few things to keep in mind at each step. Try this workflow out, adapt it, make it your own, but follow your workflow each time to ensure you’re taking the best care of your images!

(Tip: You can write out your workflow to help you remember it, especially if it has a lot of steps! We had a Workflow Chart we used when shooting weddings that was a total lifesaver!)

The Workflow Chart

This Workflow Chart we made on a whiteboard saved our sanity during the busy season. You can sign up to download a free template we made here!

File Organization

Oooh boy, file organization! How thrilling!!!!!!!

Ok, I know this isn't very sexy, but this is the stuff that can get so off-course, so quickly, and cause you to actually loose important photos. While it might seem dry, this is going to be critical. Why put in all the work of taking beautiful photos if you can never find them??

Now file organization, like workflow, is a personal thing. We have a way of doing it that has worked really well for us for years. Others will have a totally different approach. But either way, you gotta think long and hard about this stuff, to make sure you’re giving it the attention it deserves. One of the biggest things to consider is how your system will handle growth. You’ll be shooting for many, many years, and soon your hard drives will fill up. Make sure you can handle that without things getting out of control!

Here’s a quick look at how we have things broken down.

1. Original Files vs. Finished Files

At the core of our system is a separation of original raw files and finished files. Raw files are the raw data – the original photo and video files. Finished files are the edited JPEGs, album designs, card designs, related documents and anything else. We keep these totally separate. Why? It’s much easier to manage the organization (and backup) of your original files when they’re all located together. 

One problem is that original files are often much larger, and take up a lot more room, compared to the finished files. If you’re mixing the original files with the finished files eventually you’ll find both types of files scattered over multiple hard drives (making it a nightmare to locate anything). Long story short: keep your original files (original raw files or original JPEGS) separate from your finished or working files. You’ll thank me later.

2. Organize at the File Folder Level

All of our raw files are organized using file folders. We start with the year, and then have a folder with the date in numbers, followed by a quick description of what the photos are of. For example, 2012 > 1013-max-birth.

So if we’re ever looking for something, we can navigate by year and date and then find the folder it lives in. We can do this even without opening up Lightroom, which is where we catalog everything. It will also make it much easier to look through in the future, in case we stop using Lightroom as our organization program. Definitely handy.

In creating this course, I had to find hundreds of photos of our life, all the way to over 10 years back. Many times I needed to find a specific photo, or a specific event. And it almost never took me more than a couple minutes to find it, all because of this very simple organizational system. I regularly turn to Rob and say, with tears in my eyes, "Thank you so much for setting this up". Ok, slight exaggeration but seriously, it's priceless.  

Now back to the details. So these magical folders: how and when do we make them? During the import process. Lightroom gives us the option to put the images we’ve importing in a folder. This is when we give it the date of import, and the short name that describes what we’re importing. Quick and easy, and now organized for life.

Lightroom Organization

I’ve been talking a lot about the organization in Lightroom, so I’ll touch on that quickly.

Lightroom is a database program, meaning your photos are NOT stored in Lightroom, they’re all stored on your computer in file folders, like I just mentioned. But Lightroom keeps track of all that, and can add more information to make photos even easier to find. There are two main ways it can do that.


Lightroom can add keywords to your photos, stored in their metadata. These are words or short phrases that identify the photo as containing something, or someone. So for instance I can tag a photo with: Max, birthday, and Rob. Then if I want to see all photos of Max, or Rob, or birthdays, I can search for those keywords, and the photo will pop up - extremely useful.

You can add keywords when you import photos, or later on when you’re sorting. Either way, it’s an extremely valuable practice. It’s not always easy to keep up with, since it does take some work, but even if you give them general keywords as you import, it can really save you time looking for photos in the future.


In Lightroom you can organize your photos into collections. That’s handy. But what’s even better are Smart Collections. These are collections that are automatically updated, and you can choose all sorts of ways that happens. A couple great ones are the 5 Star Collection: every photo you give 5 Stars to will automatically go into this collection. It’s a great way to keep all your best photos together in one spot.

You can also make Smart Collections based on your most recent images, or even all of your video files. Very handy, and well worth setting a few up.

Want to learn more about Smart Collections? Check out our article, 5 Essential Lightroom Collections.


So, there’s a quick peek at workflow and organization. Like I said, I know this stuff isn’t the most exciting and creative stuff ever, but I hope you see just how critical it is. It can make the difference between being able to actually find and use those photos you’ve invested so much time and energy into, and never seeing them again. Scary right? Take the time now to think about how your system is set up, and see if there are ways you can improve it. Good organization becomes more valuable as the years pass, so it’s well worth the time it takes to figure it out now.

Keep On Learning!

We use Lightroom to keep our files organized, and it saves us countless hours of searching. It can do more too! It can help you bring the best out of your images, and make them shine. 

We have a complete Lightroom course that will make you a master, even if you’ve never opened the program! With Super Photo Editing Skills, you'll gain powerful editing skills that you'll be using for the rest of your life – all in just a few hours! You'll learn:

  • ​Setup and organization
  • Advanced dodging and burning
  • Custom color toning
  • Stunning black and whites and sepias
  • How to sharpen photos
  • Tips for saving blurry and grainy images
  • Cropping and straightening
  • Dealing with tricky light and mistakes

Click here to check it out and get it with an instant download - keep on learning, you’re doing great!

The best money I have EVER spent for anything on my camera."

Diane Stender

I saw an immediate boost in the quality of my finished photos."

Diana Philpot

Coming Up Next...

In our next lesson we’re going to dig deeper into Lightroom and talk about post-processing! You have the photos on your computer, now let’s bring them to life with some editing. It can be so fast and easy, and make a world of difference. See you in the next lesson!



Get a crash course in how to use your camera to create videos and start documenting your life in an exciting new way!

Click here to check it out!

NEXT LESSON: (Available Now!)


Discover how to bring out the best in your digital photos with our crash-course on photo editing. 

Click here to check it out!

All contents copyright ©2015 RNL Media Inc.

Send this to a friend