Digital Workflow

Here is an outline of my current workflow. The idea here is to share with you the underlying principles so you can tailor them to your specific needs.


#1 Plan for a scalable database of images that can grow to accommodate  your image collection over the course of your photographic life.

#2 Keep things as simple as possible so you or others can make sense of the system and make use of it. Have simple strategies for processing your images, backing them up to multiple hard drives and cloud based solutions.

#3 Use the 3,2,1 principle of having: 3 copies of every photo, 2 of them on different media and 1 of them offsite.

#4 Set up and name your folders, files, captions, and keywords with a ‘controlled vocabulary’ so the collection is searchable locally and when uploaded to image sharing applications online.

My workflow:

  • Camera setup:¬†Check the date and time is accurate in each of your cameras. This is important to check when traveling so that you are set to the correct time-zone. The date and time is great automatic way to add information to the photos without having to think about it each time.
  • Camera setup #2: Set the copyright information to add your name and contact information. I use my website as main contact info. This information is also automatically added to each photo, even if you are passing on the photos directly from the memory card!
  • Camera setup #3:Set the cameras to record RAW + JPEG. In my case, I like to set the JPEGs to Medium size, Medium compression. The JPEGs are handy as reference files, and also are great to be able to load into an IOS device like an iPad or iPhone and play with adding filters via the various camera apps that are available. Also great is the ability to share to social media through these methods.
  • Camera setup #4: In camera adjustments – as we are capturing RAW files, the JPEGs can have some tone curve adjustments, saturation and sharpening applied to make the RAW previews and reference JPEGs pop right out of the camera. The cameras today are amazing with what they can produce right out of the box, so it makes sense to make the most of it. I use the following basic adjustments in my Nikon cameras: Picture control standard: Sharpening +1, Contrast +1, Brightness 0, Saturation +1, Hue 0.
  • Shooting: Another crucial workflow time! Generally, I am shooting in aperture priority (with exposure compensation applied) or Manual. I try and make sure my exposures are as accurate as possible, especially at higher ISOs. I also check for highlight clipping while making sure my histogram is loaded as much as possible to the right to get the best read from the digital sensor, avoiding shadow noise issues from excessive underexposure.
  • Download: I use Photo Mechanic to handle my downloading and on site backups with a high degree of automation. The reason for using this software over an all in one solution like Lightroom (which I use later in my workflow) has to do with the speed of previewing this application can provide. It’s also the best solution I have found for comparing images and finding the best shots out of large takes.

A screenshot of the Ingest Dialog box. Date variables can be extracted automatically from the dates set in the cameras to create folders and file names. These are great “set and forget” scenarios that save a lot of time and headaches later in the workflow and cataloging procedures.

  • At this point, a backup drive can be chosen (an exact mirror of the primary drive) so that there are now 3 copies of each photo (one on the memory card, and one each on the hard drives). This is perfect for “on the road” downloads. As soon as I get home or to the studio, I back up the primary drive to another external before formatting the memory cards.

I go through the images and ‘tag’ the select images using the ‘t’ key. This is a first pass, which provides a quick way to identify the images I think will be the ones that I’ll use + show the client.

  • I then filter out all the ‘outtakes’ and apply a 1 star rating to all the tagged images.
  • From there, depending on the number of images that make the first pass and how many I intend to process and deliver, I may filter down even further.
  • A great way to do this is using the comparison tool:

The compare tool, lets me rank the images further than 1 star. From here, I can do side by side comparisons and filter the images down to 2, 3 and even 4 stars. The higher ratings mean better images and they get progressively fewer in number. A subjective decision making process that improves with practice. The key is to try and be consistent.

  • Depending on time available and how many images I need to cull, this iterative process can be painstaking and tedious. It is also one of the most valuable and important parts of any workflow. Ideally, you should spend at least as much time as you took to shoot the photos viewing and ranking them in terms of quality. It also helps improve your photography as you spend time critically evaluating the images for content, composition, timing, lighting, focus and overall how you feel about the images. This provides a feedback loop so you can find out what worked and what didn’t in your shoot. Another tool I use is to remove the star ratings entirely to get rid of those images on second and third viewing just don’t stack up to the others. The tags remain (as a handy reference if I ever need to go back, I have not lost the work done in the first pass)
  • If captions are to be included with the images, I then use the captioning tool in Photo Mechanic. Its great as it provides a preview and writes the caption into the raw file which gets passed on through the workflow to all derivative files rendered.
  • I then filter down to just the star rating images and use the keyboard shortcut Apple + E to send them to lightroom.
  • I only import the images I intend to process. This is a huge time saver as Lightroom can be very slow to import and render previews when I’m on deadline. The images are imported using ‘add’ so that the original files stay on the external hard drive. Lightroom just points to the files.
  • At this point, I do advanced keywording on the selects. Lightroom has a great keywording tool.
  • The selects are then processed to taste, there are plenty of LR tutorials online – the specific adjustments are outside the scope of this post.
  • A really important step is to save this keywording and image adjustment work to the files. Apple +S saves all this work to sidecar files which live with the RAW files in addition to the Lightroom catalog.
  • I then export the processed files as TIFF or JPEG depending on the application, and post the delivery files on PhotoShelter. This forms the offsite component of my backup strategy + the images are searchable online.

Chronosync interface showing the backup routine from my primary working drive to my secondary backup drive…

  • My final end of day routine is to use Chronosync to update all the work from my primary to my secondary drive (and tertiary drives if they are on site). This usually runs overnight and backs up my Lightroom Catalog, XMP files saved to the RAW directory and all rendered derivative files (the TIFF and JPEG photos saved out of Lightroom). Chronosync is great, because it’s totally automatic. Since I am syncing one external drive to another, I just set and forget. Great piece of mind and the end of hard days work!

Handy references:

I would recommend anyone interested in workflow to check out Peter Krogh’s The DAM Book, Digital Asset Management for Photographers.

An online resource Peter Contributed to can be found here:

Another I really like called BestFlow:

Another good discussion I heard recently was through the This Week in Photography Podcast:

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