Revisiting Workflow for Lightroom again (2018)

As you get more familiar and experienced in using a piece of software, and as (I’m tempted to say) you become better at using the technology at your disposal – your camera in this case – so it’s good to review the workflow that takes your image from the sensor in the camera to the finished photograph in your catalog, ready for publishing on the web, or in print.

I’ve done this before …

In 2012 – Photography Capture Workflow

In 2014 – Photography, Technology and Workflow – a further update

In 2015 – Workflow, workflow every photographer needs a workflow and Image Portfolios, iPads, field triage and Lightroom

… and recently I’ve been troubled by Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model and more particularly I’ve spent an awful lot of time pondering their decision to stop providing a perpetual licence for a desktop version of Lightroom …

In 2017 – “Alas poor Lightroom …” apologies to Hamlet

In 2018 – Decisions, decisions … Adobe Lightroom

and then – You know how I love posting about Workflow?

… so you may well think – is there anything else I can write about Workflow and Lightroom, but I’m afraid there is, and a training course on using Lightroom for Cardiff U3A members has prompted me to document now exactly what I do … currently 🙂

This post will focus is on what you can do with Lightroom using the Library module and how you get images into it’s catalog. This is safe ground for me because whatever happens to Lightroom Classic (or whatever it’s called next year) I will continue to use Lightroom as a Digital Asset Manager (DAM) … until a better one comes along, at least!

If I should chose to drop out of Adobe’s Creative Cloud subscription model later this year in June, I will only lose access to the Develop and Map modules. I will still be able to use every feature in the Library module, every preset that I’ve setup for use in the Library module, and my catalog(s) will continue to work. Although of course I won’t be able to do any Parametric Image Editing (PIE – non-destructive editing) on my RAW files of ANY images in my Classic catalog(s) as I won’t have the Develop module. However I will be able to either go back to my desktop Lr v.6 catalog(s) which will still have a Develop module and retro-edit images from 2018 onwards which of course I will have to re-import into that catalog (using presets of course), or I can use an External Editor (eg Affinity, Capture One Express for Sony, or Luminar 2018) or I can use External “Edit In …” Plugins (including my Nik collection plugins – now taken over by DxO) that should hopefully continue to work in the Library module, but I will have to save the edits made in these programs back to the Classic catalog(s) as TIFF files, which will be stored and catalogued alongside the existing RAW files that I will continue to import into Lightroom using the Workflow that I’m just about ready to get round to describing!!

Step 1 – It starts with the image. These will either be in the camera – connected by a USB cable to your computer (Copy), already on the hard drive of the computer (Add – as long as they’re in the right place on the disk already), or in my case most probably on a SD-card that I’ve taken out of the camera. Apart from when I’m transferring photos from my iPhone – this will be the way I transfer (Copy) images into Lightroom.

Step 2 – Remember the Library module is a Catalog not a Repository of Images. This is actually one of the hardest things people seem to remember. They are used to programs grabbing photos and putting them into a database from which it’s difficult to extract them. They are also used to programs offering to scan their discs for images and then either creating a copy somewhere else, or just recording where they are. Neither of these approaches improve the organisation of your photo library in any way and at worst leads to duplicates of images across disk(s) and difficulty (and needing to resort to operating system functions) to sort out which was the original image.

Step 3 – Work out for yourself where you want to store your master images. For some (like me, for reasons I’ll explain later) that’ll be on an external Hard Disk, for others that’ll be in the “Pictures” folder of their native operating system. Whichever location you chose, work out for yourself the structure of the folder system that you want to employ to store the images. I can’t stress how important this is – once you’ve decided on it you should be thinking that you’ll stick with it for ever, as changes in structures at a later stage are a tedious and time-consuming task. So you might have a top-folder structure based on Place (not recommended as you’ll always be adding new top-level places), or on Date.

You might then decide to have a new top-level folder for every year (this is what I do), and then have sub-folders based on Place – that is logical, but can lead to duplication of sub-folder names, so I use sub-folder names based on Year, Month and Date. Using this sequence will always ensure that the newest images will be at the bottom of the list of folders.

But what about Place, Location or Event – I want to be able to find images by these rather than by Date – which I often forget anyway. That’s where Lightroom’s Keywords and Collections come-in – which I’ll come to later.

Step 4 – Automate your Import of images into the Catalog as much as you can. This is where we need to look at Settings in Lightroom, and the possibility of creating Presets to apply the same settings at every import.

I’m not going to describe the Library and Import screens, that is well done elsewhere …


… what I’m going to do is describe what I do. It’s not the right way, there are an infinite number of right ways, it’s just the one I’ve developed over 8 years to be the best one for me.

As I indicated in Step 1, I will always be doing a Copy of the image onto my hard disk – I described how I now use an external SSD device to store my images (and catalogs) in a post earlier this week, and this is what the top-level structure looks like …

… you can see all my images are in one top-level folder on the External Disk – Photos. There are two more catalog folders for my standalone desktop version of Lightroom (Lr6) which I stopped using at the end of 2017, and the new Classic (Lr7) version which was a copy of Lr6 when I decided to upgrade to Classic at the beginning of the year, plus everything since then.

This is an important topic in its own right – where do you store your Catalog? It’s so well covered in this article that I’m not going to try and replicate it and this in turn leads to a decision you need to make on changing the default location of where your Presets are stored which is described in this article. In my case I’ve decided to store my Catalog on the same external disk as I store the Images, and the Presets with the Catalog so that I can have the same desktop as I move between computers. Magic and Amazingly Powerful!

Open the Images folder, and you’ll see this …

… these folders stretch way-back to 1967 and are populated as I scan images in from transparencies and negatives as well. [The stars against a few folders indicates that I have to retro-fit my keywording and collections methodology to some of the images in these folders – I can remove these as and when I complete the task WITHIN Lightroom, not the operating system!]. Look in a year and you’ll see this …

… not very informative, but extremely accurate! Open a folder and that’s where the images will be …

… this is the only part of my Workflow that I’m likely to change. I think I may start re-naming the files to make them a bit more meaningful and recognisable. A decision I came to whilst preparing the Course!!

So now looking at Lightroom. I will select Copy …

… and make sure that They’re going to be copied to the correct location, and that I’m not importing duplicates. I won’t be doing a backup of them as I’ll leave that to my automatic backup on the computer, I won’t be adding them to a Collection (as I’ll do that later) and I won’t be building Smart Previews as I won’t be using Lightroom Mobile, and I want the import to be as quick as possible so I’ve chosen Minimal for the Previews that will appear in the Library module …

As I’ve already said, I’m currently not renaming the files – this will probably change to a renaming based on Location or Event, but the destination will be determined by the file structure I defined for the Photos external disk (and described above).

However you will notice that you do have the chance to apply some changes to your images at the time of import and this is where the first of the Presets come into play. I apply a Lens Correction for my camera and I’m applying some Metadata – I’ll come to how you set these up in a later post.

But how can I make sure I do the same thing every time? That is where the most important, and probably the first Preset you’ll ever create comes in. At the bottom of the Lightroom panel you’ll see Import Preset and a pull-down menu which says None. Click on it and in my Lightroom you’ll see this …

… I would normally select (this year) – Import (iMac) 2018 – and this would be determined by how I’d set the parameters above. The only major change each year being the change in the Copyright Date in the Metadata. So you do any changes to settings and either Save them as a New Preset or Update the current setting – that’s how easy it is to set this Preset up.

Step 5 – Import your images. The shortest section of the lot, you just sit back and watch the images appear in the Library module.

Step 6 – Preview and rate your images, select some for deletion. Again this is a very personal decision how you approach this task. I tend to go through them all, marking ‘X’ for deletion, 3 for an image worth processing, 2 for an image worth at least keeping and 1 for an image that I don’t want to delete but I just want to keep it for some reason or other. Later on I will use 4 and 5 ratings after post-processing in the Develop module. I will also use Colour Labels – 6, 7, 8, 9 and 0 to indicate what I want to do with them after processing. But these are details beyond this post on Workflow.

Step 7 – Closing down Lightroom and taking a rest! You’ve earned it if you’ve got this far. After you’ve done your Import your card/device will have been ejected from either the Card Reader, or from the USB port. It is safe to remove it from your computer. This is when I add a new USB-stick drive to the vacant USB port, because this is where I will store (temporarily) the Backup to my Catalog as I exit Lightroom. It’s only temporary storage, I will copy them off the stick onto a location on my Google Drive after a while so they’ll be backed-up there to the cloud, and then I’ll clean the USB-stick off.

As you sit back thinking of all that work, and has it been worthwhile, just remember to clean your SD-card connections with an alcohol (lens cleaner will do) wipe and Format it when you re-insert it back into the camera. It’s so much better to format the card, rather than just delete the old images.

PS Why the image at the top? It’s the first image that I took which I considered to be better than a “snap”. Taken a few years ago now, my photography journey has proceeded from this image. I always come back to it.

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