For today’s Friday Foto Talk let’s continue with post-processing. Rather than going into a lot of detail on specific techniques (there are plenty of books & online resources for that), this series covers the things that are together called “workflow”. I don’t include the capture phase of photography in workflow, only the stuff you do after that. Workflow involves a process, or steps you follow in order to be more efficient and organized. I don’t recommend anything close to a step-by-step process while capturing images.
Although I encourage you to learn from other photographers, picking up and incorporating this or that time-saving device, in the end your particular process should be uniquely your own. Just like your photography itself, post-processing workflow is a very personal thing that evolves to match not only the ultimate uses to which you put your images, but your personality and style as well.
I already did a post on this: how to comb through your images and pick your selects. So check that out. After each shoot, you will need to go through and decide which images are keepers and which you will delete…forever. Most pictures you take will never be used for anything – they’re out of focus, horribly exposed or composed, represent useless duplication, etc. No matter how cheap digital storage space seems to you, you don’t want these photos taking up space in your life. I actually go through images while they are still on the camera and get rid of the true junkers before I even import onto my computer.
If permanently deleting images makes you nervous, you can set up a system where you initially keep everything, but split your pictures into selects and rejects early on. In this system you put rejects into a separate category (subfolder or collection), then export them out of Lightroom and transfer to a separate hard drive, labeled as to month.
After 6 months, if a reason has not emerged to revisit any of these photos (which is most likely), you simply reformat that drive, erasing everything. Then put the drive back into use for the next batch of rejects. If you find you have put any useful images on that reject drive, you can always plug it back in and re-import them back into your Lightroom catalog.
Lightroom allows you to give each image you keep a designation (star, flag, or color). If you go with star rating, give each initial select one star. After a little time goes by, say a day or two, you can revisit the shoot and refine your ranking, giving this image 3 stars, that one 2, trashing that one after all, and so on. Also, don’t work on your images from a file folder. Instead, put them in appropriate collections.
Lastly, and before doing much editing, you need to fill out all the metadata fields you think are important. I’ve actually blogged on metadata in the past too. For those posts, just type “metadata” into that little blue search box to the left. I’ll give a couple examples of my workflow in this regard. Although I was initially quite lazy about adding keywords, now I put keywording near the top of my to-do list. Their power in helping to find images in a large catalog is just too great to ignore. Use the paint can tool to add keywords quickly.
I also re-name photos after deleting the rejects. You may or may not choose to do this. Any good book, video or online tutorial on Lightroom will cover all the important metadata/organization tasks. Just remember, as always while learning, to adapt the advice to your way of doing things, and feel free to ignore those (few) things that don’t make much sense to you.
Learn how to edit in Lightroom using the Develop Module. Learn how to use presets. You can purchase presets from innumerable places online. But it’s most instructive to set up your own as you go. The idea is to apply a preset, synching that treatment to any similar images in the batch you’re working on, and only then move on to edit individual images.
For example, you may set up a preset that gives a low-key (dark) and soft look, or one that imparts a vibrant look with higher contrast and clarity (for some landscapes). Then after applying that preset to a number of images, you would tweak each one, moving white balance from the auto setting, or applying a graduated filter. You may increase or decrease that contrast or clarity. You’re doing very image-specific things.
Also note that Lightroom can apply presets on import, thus automating editing even further. That’s good for when you’re importing a bunch of similar images, shot under the same kind of lighting and which you want to share a similar look or style.
But don’t become an automaton. Feel very free to change your mind on a specific image. You may start by making a virtual copy, just so you can experiment with true abandon, knowing you can always go back to where you were. To create a virtual copy in LR just press “ctrl/cmd comma” . Then go ahead and press that reset button (lower right in LR). You’re back to what you originally imported, but because it’s a virtual copy, you are now on your way to creating an alternative vision for that photo. See what black and white looks like, or try negative clarity plus high key, or…?
Carefully balance sharpening and noise reduction in LR so that things are as sharp and noise-free as possible. These are both very powerful tools in LR, and it will take some time to get the hang of applying them without overdoing it. The same goes for shadow fill and highlight recovery, which are also quite powerful. I mentioned “synching” above. Learn how to use the various types of synching in LR. It will make editing batches of similar photos a breeze.
The idea with all of this is to get batches of selects to the point where you can view them and decide on the very few that are worth serious time. It’s a way of doing things that is definitely worth learning and using when necessary. How important “batch editing” becomes in your workflow depends on how many images you typically generate. If you’re doing weddings, where you may end up with 5000+ images to process, you’ll want to truly master presets, synching and other time-savers in Lightroom. If you’re doing a few landscapes here, or a few portraits there, it’s not nearly as important. But because most of us lie between these two extremes, and because different shoots can yield widely varying numbers of shots, it’s important to at least learn the time-saving techniques of batch editing. Then your workflow may vary depending on how many images you have to process.
Next time we’ll go beyond Lightroom, into the galaxy of other programs (including Photoshop) that are just waiting to make your images look that much more special. I’m using that word special in the following way: special for me is not when the photo gets a ton of likes or comments; special is when the image matches my objectives for it. It looks the way I remember the scene, or it elicits the emotion I think it should, or it illuminates the true essence of a person, animal or other subject. Or it combines all of the above.
Have a great weekend and don’t forget to comment if you have questions or something to add.