Photo Tips: Creating Your Personalized Workflow

There are lots of books and articles out there on workflow (or digital asset management as it can sometimes be called). Most often, they’re giving you a recipe for a workflow that you might adopt. This is all well and good, but that workflow may not work as well for you as it did for the person that scripted it. With that in mind, I wanted to give some tips on creating your own photo workflow.

There are definitely some major necessities in a workflow, so here’s a breakdown of problems with potential starting points for the solutions. My recommendation is to take it slow and draw out how you do things now, bit-by-bit. Go from step-to-step within the process and sketch it out on paper how you might like to do it. Then experiment by doing test sessions/catalogs on your computer. Enjoy!

1. Backup, backup, backup

It’s not if a harddrive will fail, it’s when a harddrive will fail… because it is inevitable.

I often hear about the golden rule for backups. Have two copies at least. One of which is off-site in case your house burns down or something. I have also heard people suggest that you have a backup on alternative media like DVD’s. There’s lots of complexities that exist in the world of backups. Lots of expenses too. RAID arrays, Drobo, Cloud Storage, Personal Servers, the list goes on.

I’m not going to get into that, because I think the most common problem among beginner photographers is that they’re either overwhelmed by the number of options out there, or they’re waiting to accumulate and set up this complicated perfect system. In the mean-time they have little to no backup process. If all you can manage right now is a simple copy and paste backup of your files to a second drive every week – do that! The perfect system will never come along, and a good system doesn’t happen overnight, so get started with what you can. It’ll develop and change from there. It can be good to read lots of those books and blogs about workflow, because you’ll discover good technical systems that you can look into and see if they’re right for you.

2. Having a Home For Those Files

Whether you use Lightroom, Capture One,  Aperture, or even Photomechanic in your workflow, it doesn’t matter. They all need a spot on your harddrive to import the photos to.

The folder naming and structure you create is important because it helps you stay organized and find things when you need to go back to a previous shoot. Because of that purpose, the way you set up these various folders is very much determined best by personal preference.

Are you the kind of person who searches for photos based on the date that you took them? Or can you barely remember what month it was when you did that shoot, but you’ll remember the person’s name?

For example, Lightroom can automatically create folders based on date, which sounds like it will save you time in writing the custom folder name every time. However, even if you’re going to remember something by the date you took them, you still might have several shoots around the same time. Might as well name them with the date and a description (ex. 2013-06-25-Jimmy-Headshots).

My good friend and mentor Shaun Scade of Scade Photography starts his session folder with a description of the type of shoot, followed by the person’s name or a description. (ex. Wedding-Cooper, Baby-Levi, Portrait-WayneGretzky). These folders also reside within a folder for all the work of that month. He’s got his bases covered by appealing to those two ways of remembering the shoot. Most importantly because he took the time to think out this workflow for himself, he understands it 100% front to back. He’s not borrowing someone else’s system and trying to make it fit for him. That’s the point I’m trying to drive home here.

Another suggestion: because you might decide to change your folder naming/structure later on, it can be a good idea to work within a calendar year. That way you can transition into the new system without things becoming messy. Not that you should wait till the new year to do any changes, but I’ve found that it keeps things nice and separated so you can change things up over time. There are probably lots of ways you could divide up your work so that you can transition to a new system over time. Try now to think of some ways that make sense with how you work.

3. A Process to Cull The Images

Nobody is perfect. You’re going to have lots of photos from a shoot, some not so great. Before you start editing aimlessly you’ll want to look through every photo and decide if it’s one of your “selects.” Meaning: is it worth your time doing the edit? 

Software like Lightroom, Aperture, and Capture One all have a variety of labels you can apply to help sort your photos this way. You can flag or reject, have a star rating from 1 to 5, or use different coloured labels. You can get creative with your system. Remember, the important thing is that it makes sense to you, and it remains consistent.

If will offer a bit of advice:it can be better for have a yes or no system for picking, that way you have to be decisive and don’t waste time waffling about it. If you’re not sure, chances are it’s not a winning photo. Other situations you may want to hold onto those extra photos, but that means you should just pick it and move on.

You can use star ratings or coloured labels creatively to mean something else, like a 2-star rating or a yellow label might mean “convert this to black-and-white later”. I still regularly use a blue-label as a reminder that something needs to be done in photoshop. That makes sense to me, because the photoshop logo is blue. Make it your own for the best results.

4. Consistent Editing

As you go through the editing of your selects it can be good to have a consistent process or train-of-thought. As in, “first I’ll adjust exposure/contrast, then the white balance, then cuves/levels, then sharpening, etc, etc.” The point is that developing this routine will make you work much faster, but also you’ll tend to have a more consistent look across the photos in your session.

When I worked at a photo printing shop nothing would irk me more than seeing a series of photos taken of a wedding or engagement session, and every other photo would look like it was taken on a completely different day (or sometimes a different planet) because the treatment was so different. Especially when it’s in a professional capacity and it’s a series of images, you should try really really hard to match the colour balance, etc. because you’ll otherwise be detracting from the story and the moments within the photos. Try to batch edit as much as you can so that you’ll save time and get that consistent look by eliminating the human error component. I edit one very important image to the way I like, and then copy those adjustments to the rest, and tweak to match.



I hope you found this post helpful in your journey to workflow nirvana! I’m in the final processes of sorting out the new system for Cooper & O’Hara, my commercial photography partnership. There’s an extra problem there, where we both have to be able to both do post work and stay organized. For the time being we don’t have a shared workspace, so that can be problematic. Also, we also have different preferences sometimes. There will be an update post soon on a sketched out workflow once we have it all settled, so stay tuned!

Any questions or comments, leave them in the section below. Much appreciated.


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Bryan can most often be found taking photographs for his commercial studio Cooper & O'Hara, but he also has a passion for cooking, zoology, travel, science, entertainment, design, and creativity in general. Email Me