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My Photographic Workflow:

A Real World Workflow from Capture Through Final Backups.

A photographic workflow will be different for almost every single person you speak with on the subject. It begins the second a person takes a photo and ends…well it ends somewhere near the time the image is stored and backed up. In almost all cases, there are a few steps in between, like printing and publishing. And, I suppose you could make a good case the workflow doesn’t end there, but continues through sales and promotion.

Everyone has a workflow, even if they don’t know it!   I’ve seen a few “clunky” workflows—and that’s being generous! It helps me to read or see other people’s workflows, as it can occasionally help me streamline or refine mine.  I received a couple of requests for articles for this blog, including one explaining my workflow, so here goes!

Reflections May8

Introduction to My Workflow:

First, let me give a condensed overview of my workflow. If I were to attempt to condense my workflow to a few key topics and sequences, mine might look like this :

Flow Chart

Simple, right? There might be a few optional steps, but essentially my workflow stays about the same from month to month and year to year. In all likelihood, most simplified workflow diagrams look very similar to the one above. I could have easily added another Backup box after the Process box, but I am always most concerned about my RAW images. I could rework a processed image at any time. But, how and why a person does a step exposes endless variables.  The goal in my workflow is to get to the “end” as smoothly, seamlessly, and quickly as I can—plus maintain adequate backups during the process. Again, I am not attempting to tell you how to set up or handle your workflow, only to define mine if case it might help you. Even if you are a “point and shooter”, I have a feeling there will be a few tidbits you can glean from the rest of the Feature Post. Of course, I am always open to making changes when I see something better.

Adobe Lightroom is in the center almost every aspect and step of my workflow. Once the camera captures the image to a card and I get the card to a card reader, Lightroom is integral in almost all steps afterwards. There are plenty of Data Asset Management (D.A.M.) programs out there, but I like Lightroom above the rest because of its integration with Photoshop and its ability to do high end image processing on files it recognizes within an open catalog. It is not a particularly easy program to learn well, but it is extremely powerful once you do.

If you’ve read many of my earlier posts, you’d know I am a “heavy” shooter. I take a lot of photos and keep only my best ones. See: The Secret to Becoming a Good Photographer: But even when I keep only around 10%, I still end up with a lot of files over eight or nine years of heavy shooting. Throw in the fact the files are getting bigger and it is easy to see how hard drives fill much faster than ever! As a result, I have a lot of hard drives connected to my system.  You don’t need a lot of drives. You need “just enough”. If you shoot only JPGs, your hard drive needs will be much less and your post processing will likely be much less intense. You may not need to cull your images as aggressively as I do.

As you read the rest of this Feature Post, don’t get bogged down with the actual folder names and hard drive names. You’ll come up with your own terminology and folder names that make sense to you and your workflow.

USB3USB 3 vs. USB 2: My computer has a couple of add-on USB 3 ports. They are standard on many of the newer computers now. USB 3 data transfers will be roughly 4 times faster than USB 2. That’s huge when moving lots of large photo files around, so all of my external hard drives and card readers and cables are USB 3. Note: USB3 is backwards compatible with USB2, so if you are planning for the future, but still using USB2 equipment, go ahead and buy everything USB3. The image on the right is a USB3 thumb drive. They now make USB3 hubs, similar to the older USB2 hubs.

The purpose of this Feature post is to try to explain the steps I go through in the workflow and include some information about why I chose to work that way. Instead of trying to teach every little feature I use in Lightroom, the scope of this article is more limited to showing readers the features exist and how they help me work through my workflow. If you want to learn Lightroom from the ground up, I suggest logging into and look for Lightroom courses taught by Chris Orwig. He is very methodical in his teaching approach. You’ll be well on your way to knowing how to use Lightroom after watching his video tutorials.

Thumbnails: I loaded many of the screen grabs in this post as thumbnails. Click any of them to see a much larger version in a new screen.

Here’s my workflow:

Capture: I normally take photos with a Nikon D4 or D800. I had Nikon D300 bodies before that. Between the two cameras, I end up with Compact Flash cards, XQD cards, and SD cards. I buy the fastest cards I can afford. They write faster in the camera and are also faster on uploads to the computer.

Media Cards
SD, XQD, CF Cards (taken with my iPhone)

Transfer to the Desktop Computer:  I have three different readers on my desktop. The SD and CF USB3 readers are combined and take one USB3 cable and port. The Sony XQD reader takes up another USB3 port. You might be interested in the new Lexar® Professional Workflow HR1 (Four-Bay USB 3.0 Reader Hub) to save desk space and eliminate one cable and port. I like the look, but didn’t want to spend the money since I already had USB3 readers that worked. I use Adobe Lightroom to transfer the files using the Import command. I use the “copy” command when importing as it leaves the original files on the media cards. I import the images to a folder I created called NewShoots on a drive of my choosingI think of the NewShoots folder as nothing more than a temporary holding area for the most recent images. Images stay in the NewShoots folder only long enough for me to cull, keyword, organize, and back them up. I’ll come back to it in a minute.

PresetsLightroom lets me build and save an Import Preset, or a whole list of Import Presets. I use one of my presets anytime I import files off one of the card readers into Lightroom. Lightroom then assigns a new file name based on the date, and adds my copyright information to every file. That saves a couple of steps later. I sometimes add keywords during this step. Watch for more info on keywords later in the post. Presets are easy to create and can be edited at any time. Importing via a Lightroom Preset is simple.  Quite a bit of my homework is accomplished in the process. Oh yes, an Import Preset is not limited to just adding metadata, it can also make adjustments to photos as they are imported. Very powerful!

Temporary Backup: On some days I come home to my desktop computer and download the files from the cards. If I need to get back out in the field,  I copy all files in the NewShoots folder to a NewShoots folder on another drive. Why another drive? I’d hate to come home and learn the drive with the original images and a backup folder died on me—taking all of the mornings images with it. Having the files on two drives gives me some feeling of safety as I head out again. And, if for some reason I were to delete some files I don’t want to permanently delete while culling on the main drive, I know I still have all of them safe on the other drive. Once the files are copied to two hard drives, I feel fairly comfortable formatting the cards and capturing new images onto them. Another option is to purchase a couple of devices like this one Nexto Photo Storage Portable Backup Drive (500GB HDD). They wouldn’t work for me because of the missing XQD card support for images coming from my D4.

Addition March 9, 2014: When I am on the road, I take my old laptop with me for file transfers. I have Lightroom loaded on the computer, but use it mainly toreview some of the images. I import them normally to the Laptop, then copy all of the files to an external 1 TB drive. My laptop is fairly old now, so the ports are only USB 2. I bought a Seagate USB 3 portable external drive to do the transfers and backups on the road. When I get home, I hook up the USB3 portable drive to my USB3 port and import them from the portable to the hard drive as though they were coming from a CF card. I seldom delete any files while on the road. Once everything is copied to the desktop and backed up, I know I can clean the files from the laptop and portable drive. If you are looking for a good, compact portable drive, check out these WD My Passport Ultra 1TB Portable External Hard Drive USB 3.0

NewShoot Folder: (Click to see this image larger)

Culling is a method of deleting inferior images. I end up with a lot of images even after culling! Depending on how many images I have to deal with, I sometimes split them up into sub-folders under the NewShoots folder. I find it easier to compare similar subjects side by side than having them mixed up with other subjects. Lightroom makes this step fairly easy. I select one or more images and right mouse click on the NewShoots folder while in the grid view mode. I let Lightroom create a new folder with a name of my choice and it will copy the selected images into it. Afterwards, I can just drag additional images into that subfolder. If I shot a lot of variety that day, I might end up with half a dozen or more subfolders as seen in the larger red box in the screen grab above.

Lightroom Cull
Lightroom: Ready to Cull 642 images in the NewShoot folder

Culling with Lightroom or Photo Mechanic: In the past, I used Lightroom to go through the images—marking them with an X and later deleting them. Lately, I have been using Photo Mechanic for culling. It displays the images much faster, so I can cull the blurry or poorly composed images faster than in Lightroom. Whether using Lightroom or Photo Mechanic, I go through my first pass as quickly as possible and usually in Grid View with three across. I delete images that are obviously out of focus, or images where the bird or animal is looking away from me, or images where the legs are not in a position I like. Sometimes they blink, stick out their tongue, or pass behind any number of annoying distractions. They get culled quickly. On the first pass, I can usually delete around half of the images.  By the second or third pass, I am looking for unique shots and sharp shots. The others are candidates for deleting.  When the culling is complete, I have to resync the folder in Lightroom if I culled in Photo Mechanic, but that is a quick step.

Photo Mechanic Grab
Ready to cull in Photo Mechanic: Click the image to see it larger.

Another Feature I Like in Photo Mechanic is the loupe tool while in Grid View mode. I can set the Zoom level, then control-click anywhere on an image. It will zoom to that spot with little or no delay. I use the feature to check the sharpness of the eyes or face.

Thoughts on Culling:  First, you don’t have to cull any images! I do it because I simply can’t afford to keep them all—and I like the idea of keeping only my best images. Normally, I try to keep the best of the day, but even then, when all of the “best of the day” shots are side by side, some of those will be inferior to other shots of the same subject. Sometimes, I look at the issue of culling from another perspective. If, for example, a birding magazine called and wanted a few photos of Western Tanagers for an upcoming article, which images would I submit? I wouldn’t send them 500 images to choose from…just half a dozen of the better ones. Then why have the other 490? That’s a simplified way of looking at it. In reality, I usually keep a good version of the same bird looking left, looking right and looking generally towards me. Same for a moose in a spot in the sagebrush. And, I’d keep the best of the same bird if it moved to another perch or if the moose moved to the cottonwoods. In the end, I like to keep the best of a subject in different settings or even different lighting. If in doubt, I don’t delete.


Thoughts on NOT Culling: Remember, I said you don’t have to cull any images! There are photographers that never delete any of their images. Who knows, processing software may someday salvage even them most out of focus images or most overexposed images? For that group, the easy alternative is to tag images with any of the tools in Lightroom, then use the attribute tools in the search criteria to hide the rest. For example, Lightroom lets me assign an X for the ones I am going to delete, but it also lets me assign a P for the “Picks”. Lightroom also has a 1 thru 5 STAR rating system, and a COLOR rating system. In a most simple example, I could assign a Green color to the ones I know I want to keep and a Red color (or even no color) to the ones I might have deleted in my current workflow. When searching for images, I could turn “on” the Green Only color code and all of the Red (or no color) images would disappear from the grid of images. The Green ones could still be rated from 1 to 5, and if 5 is the top pick, it would be easy to see only the #5 (Green images). The images are still physically on the hard drive, you just wouldn’t see them until you took the “Show only Green” search attribute off. The Cedar Waxwing image above is still in my Lightroom catalog. Beats me why I kept it? The wings are clipped off the top, the eyes and entire bird is out of focus. The only part that is in focus is part of the branch. On many days, I get shots of just the tail of a Chickadee as it flies out of the picture, or I get an empty perch after it flies completely out of the frame. I suspect most people actually do delete those shots even if they say they never delete any of their images?

Culling Moose
Moose in Three Poses: Worth keeping one of each, but I might have deleted three others of each.

It is also possible to have some emotional ties to an image that no one else would understand. Maybe I had to wait five hours for the moose to stand. I might be proud of my efforts to capture the image, but when viewed a few weeks later, I might realize the shot is just an average shot. I might have dozens or hundreds of similar, but better images. Lastly, the degree of culling I do is based largely on how many images I have to compare against each other. For example, the first day I stumble across a Fox with kits, I’ll shoot a bunch and probably keep most of them. If I happen to be able to photograph them regularly for several weeks, I’ll likely build a fairly nice collection. Eventually some of the early shots will not be as strong. At some point, it becomes clear that I only need to keep the images that “jump off the page”. The rest will just be taking up disk space.

Optional or Alternative Approach:
I posted this page last night. Afterwards, it occurred to me I didn’t explain an important optional variation in a workflow. Above, I explain how I use Lightroom to import my images from the cards as one of my first steps. Another viable alternative is to simply copy images directly to a folder on a hard drive, then use a program like Photo Mechanic,  Nikon View NX2, or Nikon Capture to cull the images before bringing them into Lightroom. The author of the article I read in Photoshop User used Photo Mechanic in exactly that manner. Photo Mechanic can also import and modify file names as it imports them.  I tried it that way for a while with View NX2, but it created a little extra work due to my needs for the Daily Updates page of this blog. Photo Mechanic works better for me in several respects, but both of them keep me from easily using Lightroom’s Export Presets without quite a few extra steps. Both of these two programs can work perfectly as the lead-in step, but I still prefer the other option of starting in LR and using Photo Mechanic for the culling.

If you gave me a “magic wand” and let me fix an issue in LR, I’d like to add the “option” of using the embedded medium resolution JPG already in a RAW file for culling purposes. Going to Photo Mechanic right now is a variation of a “speed bump”, taking an extra step or two, but in the big picture, it appears to be making my workflow faster.


Keywording Panel
Keywording Panel in Lightroom:

Keywording: Once the images from a shoot are culled down to about 10% or so, I add keywords in Lightroom using any of the various commands or techniques I choose. I know Keywords are essential in helping me find images later. Let me say this again: Keywords are essential in helping me find images later!

I can assign keywords to a single image or a whole group of selected images by entering text into the top circled field in the screen grab above. (click on it to view it much larger). It looks like I might have still had a Bighorn Keyword set loaded when I did the screen grab above, but I could also make one just for moose. Once a keyword set is loaded,  I just click from the list to automatically add that word to the keyword tags. The tags in the upper right would be typical for most of my moose shots. The +9AF refers to an Autofocus setting I was using at the time. I can get that info in Nikon View at any time, so I quit adding it in the tags. The odd numbers are US Copyright registration numbers for that image or group of submitted images. LR helps me keep up with all of the numbers and submissions, but that might be another article. Some people frown on giving a wild animal a name, but I do it! You can see “Custer” in the tags. Having that in the keywords let me search for all images of Custer later on. Without naming him, how would I find images of just that bull? I talked with a person at the Game and Fish and they have no numbering designation for each bull moose, as the Park Service does for the Grizzlies. Also, I try to be consistent when it comes to some keywords like Grand Teton National Park. It is easier to type GTNP, so I used it each time if the photo was taken in the park. Keywords can be added to or edited at any time.

Blog Write Metadata

March 8, 2014 Addition: Another reader pointed out an important omission. In the Catalog Settings preferences, there are two important check boxes. I set them long, long ago and forgot to mention them originally. Instead of storing keywords and adjustments in only the Lightroom Database, checking these boxes writes the information directly into the file. This also lets other software read and access the keywords, and if the Lightroom database ever corrupted, much of the information will still be embedded in the file. Also, if you were to work on images on your laptop in Lightroom, then transferred them to your desktop, the adjustments and keywords will show up in you desktop version of Lightroom. Editing on my laptop is not part of my workflow, but the two check boxes definitely are!

DVD Backup

Initial Backup to DVD: After culling and keywording, I copy the remaining files to a DVD or multiple DVDs and mark them with the date and general subject matter. I’ve always burned the DVDs, but it is hard to say if I might ever need to use them. I have some redundancy built into my workflow, but old habits are hard to break.

Back Ups:

At this point in my workflow, my best images are ready to archive. Occasionally, I’d process a few while they are still in the NewShoot folder or subfolders. It doesn’t matter at all. The odds are good I will be bringing in another set of cards soon, so I need to get the NewShoot folder emptied out for the next round.

Transfer to Archive Folders: One of my drives is dedicated to storing both Wildlife subjects and Landscapes. I take photos of a lot of subjects, but those two subjects go hand in hand with the area. I recently upgraded that drive from a 3 Terabyte USB3 drive to a 4 Terabyte USB3 drive. The 3 TB drive was beginning to fill up. I named the drive “WildlifeScenic_4TB”. I bought another drive of the same size and named it “WildlifeScenic_4TB_Bak” and lastly another drive of the same size labeled “OP_WildlifeScenic_4TB”.  OP stands for Off Premise in my workflow. I’ll get back to the reason for three drives in a minute.


When I plugged the WildlifeScenic_4TB drive into my computer initially, Windows assigned it the drive letter “M”. While in Lightroom, I pointed to drive M to let it become part of my MasterCatalog. That drive contains a long list of subfolders with names like: Moose, Deer, Bison, Elk, Mormon Row, Schwabacher Landing, Oxbow Bend, Winter Scenics, Textures, Grunge, and so forth. I know I can add new subfolders, rename them, combine them, or split them at any time, not to mention create additional subfolders under them. I only had to make the subfolders once long ago. At this point in the workflow, I simply drag images from the NewShoot folder or subfolders into an appropriate archival folder. For example, if there were any moose image in the NewShoot folders, I select all of them and drag them to the Moose folder on the archive drive. That step is very easy, too. Putting the images into the folders on my WildlifeScenic_4TB drive is a remnant of how I did my filing system before I adopted Lightroom.  I continue to move files out of the NewShoot folders until they are all archived, then remove any remnant subfolders.

File Management: Lightroom creates a database of all the files it is supposed to keep track of within a catalog. You can actually create a lot of different catalogs, but Lightroom will only open and work with one of them at a time. Lightroom has the necessary tools to make folders, rename folders, move folders, delete files, rename files, and most normal file management chores. It is usually best to perform them while still in Lightroom. Doing the same steps outside Lightroom can cause problems, but most are easily fixed. Earlier, I mentioned using Photo Mechanic to cull images quicker than in Lightroom. The Lightroom database is still trying to keep track of the missing images until I tell Lightroom to sync the folder.

Incremental Backup of Hard Drives using AllwaySync:

Hard Drive Backups: Normally, I buy hard drives in groups of three. One is the main drive, one is a connected backup, and the third is disconnected and stored in a fireproof box (off premise). The connected backup drive is regularly incrementally backed up using AlwaySync. I connect the Off Premise drives once in a while and do an incremental backup to it using AlwaySync, then disconnect the drive again and store it away from the other two. I know it is safe, even if a virus somehow ruins the other two. At one point, I looked at adding RAID drives or Drobo drives. In the end, I opted for the old school method.

Still Looking for a Good Off-Premise Option: I am not 100% happy with my Off-Premise storage options. The two problems right now are upload speeds and the size of my data files. If I owned a guest house or cabin on the property, I’d run an Ethernet cable to the unit and keep a backup for each drive there. Short of a major disaster like a valley wide flash flood, a huge avalanche, Yellowstone erupting, and so forth, at least one copy of each hard drive could be safe. Cloud storage would be slow and expensive when I am dealing with 2-4 terabytes on each of several hard drives. Maybe a better solution will open up soon?

Removing the Temporary Backup: Back at the very beginning of my workflow, I made a full copy of all imported images to folder on another drive. Right? I don’t need those files anymore because the culled and keyworded images are duplicated at least three times. Once the NewShoot folder is cleaned out, I can go to the NewShoot folder on the backup drive and delete all the files there. It is not critical when I clean that folder out, only that I do it after all the files are backed up a couple of times on other drives. Note: When AllwaySync analyzes my source drive and sees files are missing there (because they were moved to the other drive), it would automatically delete the files in the backup folder for that paired drive. I delete them manually on most occasions just to save time for AllwaySync.

Finding Images to Process: If I did everything correctly, all of my recent image files are neatly stored away in folders and backed up.  Lightroom gives me a long list of options for finding keyworded images to process or view.

Lightroom’s Powerful Search Tools taking advantage of Keywords
: Lightroom searched through over 196,000 files in my master catalog and found 439 images of waterfalls taken in Yellowstone. It took only seconds!

Past 60 Days Smart Collection: This is a default Smart Collection in Lightroom. I use this feature all the time!

Currently, my Lightroom Master Catalog has just under 200,000 images. Lightroom allows me to view all of them or just individual folders…like Moose.  I can also do a search for Moose which will likely find every moose image in the Moose folder and possibly a few moose that might have been in a larger landscape view, such as a moose at Schwabacher Landing. Similarly, I could limit the search to just moose captured in Yellowstone, or just GTNP moose captured during the month of August 2013. Very powerful! As you can see, keywords are the important tool in being able to find files on demand. Lightroom keeps track of camera serial numbers and lenses. It is also possible to limit the search to a specific lens, along with any other parameters. How about all Moose in GTNP taken in 2013 with my 70-200mm lens? It’d be easy to do in Lightroom. Lightroom also includes some default search tools such as a Smart Collection called “Past 60 days”. I often use that tool to check out recent images and select some of them for processing. I could write a Feature Post about Smart Collections and fill the page with no problem! It is an extremely powerful search tool in Lightroom!

Processing Images:

Most of the preceding steps happen in what Lightroom calls the Library Module. Much of the Library Module has been essentially intact since the beginning of the program. The Develop Module allows users to manipulate and process images in an unlimited list of creative ways. The Develop Module has been improving drastically since the early days. For many, Lightroom now possesses the tools to do everything they require for their post processing work. I don’t buy into it that far yet, but it can do all I need it to do on many images.

 Develop ModuleLightroom Adjustments: I use many of the Lightroom Develop commands to adjust images “globally”— such as lightness, darkness, hue, saturation, white balance, sharpening, and so forth. I sometimes use it for local adjustments like gradients and spot removal. Lightroom now has very good noise reduction and sharpening features. Each revision of Lightroom makes the program even more powerful. How far I go in Lightroom depends on what I need from the file and where I am going to use it. For most web shots, I can do all of it in LR. For a small sporting event, like a Freestyle Ski event, or a birthday party, I’d try to do all of the adjustments in Lightroom and take advantage of the Sync Settings commands to speed it up. For example, if my kid is skiing down a half pipe and I shot a few dozen images at roughly the same time and roughly the same lighting, all I have to do is process or adjust one, then hold the shift or control key to select additional images and hit the Sync Settings button. Lightroom applies the same adjustments to all of them.

For any image I know I will print, I take the image into Photoshop and squeeze the best I can from the image. I usually take the image as far as I can in Lightroom, then finish it off in Photoshop. I use Photoshop to create the Artistic Images at Lightroom isn’t designed (yet) for working with layered images. You can’t composite two images. It’s not really designed to add text or graphics. I can remove distractions and fix problem areas much better in Photoshop. Creative filters like adding paint daubs or textures are still lagging in Lightroom, yet are very good in Photoshop. With all the caveats outlined, Lightroom might still be all many photographers will ever need. Personally, I can’t imagine ever fully pulling the plug on Photoshop.

Notes on RAW and JPG files: I normally shoot in the RAW format and then process them afterwards in Lightroom. When I take photos in RAW+JPG or even just  JPG, I can still use all of the creative adjustment tools to either format. Normally, JPG users consider their JPGs as the final file, but LR allows people to edit them in the same manner. Worth noting, but this is not really a part of my workflow!

Edit In

Options for Processing Outside Lightroom: At any point, I know I can take an image to Photoshop for additional adjustments. Most people seem to use the “Edit In” command in Lightroom as seen in the Screen Grab above. Many of the third party filter companies now let users work within Lightroom, however, it seems the majority actually create a TIF file from the RAW file, then apply the filter commands to the TIF file. When that’s the case, I’d much prefer to go ahead and work in Photoshop with the same filter.

ExportProcessedImagesI prefer to use the Export command found under the File drop down menu. I feel it gives me more control. (Click the thumbnail to the left to see all the settings for my ProcessedImages export preset. You can also see the list of additional export presets I use on a fairly regular basis.) For example, I have an export preset called “Processed Images” that always puts the exported image in a specific folder called Processed Images on one of my drives. It always uses Adobe RBG in 16 bit TIF and it allows me to assign a new name for the file. Plus, I have the option to add the resulting image to the Lightroom catalog (or not). I always know where to find my processed images. Similarly, I have a different export preset for my blog images. I set a destination folder “WebBlogImages” and adjust the export to 750 pixels, sRBG, slight sharpen, and add a watermark signature. I also created an export preset to put selected images into a folder for US Copyright Submissions, which maintains the copyright info, but strips out the keywords. Those are just a few examples of how I use the Export command. I still use the Edit In command for Stitched Panoramics and HDR composites.


Lightroom’s Output Options: To be honest, I seldom use the Map, Book, Slideshow, Print, and Web features in Lightroom. Normally, if I need to print something, I do it from Photoshop where I apply color profiles at the time of printing for the printer and paper. With my artistic images site ( at Photoshelter, I typically don’t need the Slideshow or Web options anymore.

Hard Drive ComparisonComments on Organizing and Sorting in Lightroom: Some photographers dump an entire year of images into a single folder, then find the files by using keywords. That works! Others organize by different trips, such as Yellowstone2013, Africa, Maine, TexasHillCountry, and so forth. That works! Wedding photographers probably organize by the last name. That works! Sports photographers might organize by teams or specific games. Okay, you get it. They all work! Everyone comes up with something that makes sense to them.

Recap of My Hybrid Approach in Lightroom’s Develop Module:

Old Way vs New Way: At one time, I had a Yellowstone2010 folder and a Yellowstone2011 folder, etc. With proper keywords, I could have found images in them. Eventually, I broke them apart the various Yellowstone trips and put all of the geysers in a geysers folder, all of the elk from those trips into the Elk folder with Elk from every other place I photographed them, waterfalls from those trips and others went into the Waterfalls folder. When keywording, I originally added the name of the waterfall like Udine, Virginia Cascades, Lewis, Upper, Lower, Gibbon and so forth. As I look back at some of those decisions, I can say it probably didn’t matter one way or the other as long as I could use Lightroom’s search features.

Still, I like the way I have my folders set up! Why? Heaven forbid my Lightroom Master Catalog gets corrupted! But if it did, and if the backups also failed, I could rebuild my Catalog by re-importing by folders. It might take a while.  In the interim, I could still find a large chunk of my Moose images, barn images and so forth by falling back to my old folder naming conventions. Click the image above and you can see how the computer’s hard drive matches up with what Lightroom is seeing. In a pinch, I could still find most of my files by navigating the folder system I clung onto when I made the move to Lightroom. Overkill? Maybe!

Web Rock Springs Ranch 2008In closing of this article, let me throw out one more story. Back in 2008, I made a trip out to Oregon to photograph cowboys and horses kicking up dust. That workshop happened to be Rock Springs Ranch’s farewell year—so I just had to go. The ranch hired a professional photographer to coach and advise the paying photographers. One afternoon, the pro gave a short presentation on Lightroom. I was quite interested, but still skeptical if it’d solve my upcoming needs. I was able to talk with the pro one-on-one  later that day. I threw out scenarios I might want or need. He kept saying, “Yes it will do that.” Finally, after a whole laundry list of questions, he said something like this: “I believe you will find the programmers at Adobe have been working on Lightroom a long time and have worked with hundreds of photographers with various needs. You will be hard pressed to come up with something this program can’t already do regarding file management.” That was about six years ago.  I believe his statement was spot-on.

Earlier in the Article, I added a link The Secret to Becoming a Good Photographer:  If you haven’t read it already, please check it out! There is a little overlap from this article regarding culling.  The underlying message of the article was inspired by a National Geographic photographer, Jim Richardson. > MJ

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Comments (6)

  1. Mike, thanks for spending the time to share your workflow with us. For some time now, I’ve had some concerns regarding my back-up process. You’ve given me a few new ideas on how to streamline it and make it easier and better. I’m going to look into Allway Sync. I hope it’s better than the Acronis system that I currently using. You’re right Lightroom is a great tool. I probably do 90% of my post processing with it and most of the rest in Photoshop. Both are terrific. Great Post as usual. Thanks again!.

  2. Hi Bill, if readers come away with only one or two tidbits of information that can help them, all the effort to write this post will have been worth it. I didn’t mention it in the body of the article, but you can get AlwaySync for free as a casual user. If you use it a lot, or use it for large transfers as I do, the program will eventually ask you to pay for it. The screen grab for Alwaysync shows my data going exclusively from the M drive to the U drive, but the program can work in both directions. It analyzes both drives first, allowing you to decide whether to bring files back from the second drive to the main drive. It finds deleted files or changed files on either drive. By using it, you can end up with two identical drive without a lot of orphan clutter.

  3. Lowell Schechter

    Hi Mike
    The one thing that I do know is that having a photo program has made a big difference in my images and without it a lot of my images what have
    been deleted. Years ago I shot slide film and regular film and if you good enough to get it right in the camera you had good images which were not too many. I had taken a bunch of images at a reenactment in 2005 and because my on board flash failed to work I thought I have
    deleted the images right away but for some reason I saved them when I go into postprocessing I was able to save 10 out 12 images . I was so glad I did not delete what turned out to be great images. Thanks for this .

  4. Yes Lowell, you highlighted an important point. There is one line in the post above suggesting, “when in doubt, don’t delete”. Images taken at an event that can’t be re-shot are exactly the point. Processing software is constantly getting better, so some images might be salvaged in future years. For the most part, I am seeing 20 shots of the same moose taken at about the same time. One or two are always better than the other 18. I don’t have much long term need for a shot of a moose with his eyes closed, or with his tongue out, or with his head turned from me. If I have a photo of a bird taken only split seconds apart, one might have some catch light and the other without. I delete the one without and never lose any sleep over it!

    The workflow above is MY workflow and I definitely am not trying to tell ANYONE they should do it the same. There are people that NEVER delete a photo. They’d rather pay for hard drive space and know they have everything if they need it. That group tags essentially the shots I keep, then using the attribute commands in LR, they never have to look at them again, but still have them. I’ll add a paragraph. Thanks! MJ

  5. Carl Gandolfo

    Great article, Mike!! Well thought out, both in practical and written terms!! This took a lot of time to do so it’s much appreciated that you did!!

  6. Hi Carl,
    Thanks for commenting! Spring is still a little ways off, but there is a definite shift towards it. Robins are all over, so that means a new crop of wildflowers to follow. I know you are always interested in them. Take care, Mike Jackson

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