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The 5 Step Guide to a Professional Workflow7 min read

September 4, 2020 5 min read
Yvan Cohen

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The 5 Step Guide to a Professional Workflow7 min read

Reading Time: 5 minutes

From the moment you complete your shoot, these 5 steps will guide you through the key elements of a professional workflow to ensure your work is properly backed up, edited, annotated, processed and distributed.

If you shoot like a pro, you should have a workflow to match.

It’s the most basic of rules: back up your work and then back it up again.

1. Backup and backup again

As soon as you’ve finished a shoot, copy everything to a hard drive and then back up that hard drive to another. If it’s feasible, you should try and store each of your back up hard drives in separate locations. That way, if disaster strikes, all is not lost.

As we all know, hard drives can break and go wrong…and then what? If you have two drives, or if you have an ‘array’ drive that distributes data across more than one drive, the risk of losing work is greatly reduced.

When it comes to investing in hard drives. Don’t go cheap. You didn’t invest in your equipment and photographic talent just to have your work lost because of a cheap hard drive.

2. Edit – Be your harshest critic

With storage so cheap and easy, many of us are tempted to shoot and show too much. Beware, bad editing will dilute the impact of your work and overshadow your talent. At LightRocket, we’ve seen many a portfolio diminished by bad editing.

Just as it’s always important to shoot plenty (so you have choice when it comes time to edit), it’s equally important to edit your work tightly so only the best shots remain.

Key things to remember are:

  • Avoid similars. Ideally include just one, maybe two, versions of a shot in horizontal and vertical formats, even these should not be too similar. 
  • Be critical of quality. Check your files at 100% to make sure your images are in focus. Check histograms for clipping and adjust levels/curves to ensure your files aren’t under or over exposed.
  • Less is more. If in doubt, leave it out. The tighter your edit, the better it will be. Try and be as objective as you can about your work. No matter how hard it was to get a shot, or how much it means to you, try to evaluate each picture from the standpoint of an objective observer

3. Processing your images

Once you’ve completed your edit, the next task is to process your files. There are lots of tools for processing images, the most famous and popular of which are almost certainly Adobe’s Lightroom and Photoshop programs.

There’s plenty of debate among photographers about post processing. How far you take your post processing is a matter of preference. Our recommendation, however, would be to use post processing tools to enhance your pictures, without distorting them to a point where the post processing becomes noticeable.

High dynamic range (HDR) photography is a case in point. While the effects can be stunning, they also create an effect of hyper realism that can give an other-worldly look to your pictures.

When it comes to editorial photography – which means photojournalism – a good rule of thumb is to process your files in a way that is faithful to your image. Avoid moving or deleting any of the physical elements of your picture.

This means your post processing will be centered on adjusting basic elements like exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows and saturation, much in the same way pre-digital photographers worked on their prints in the dark room – darkening, lightening and heightening contrasts.

If you’re a purely creative photographer and your image is the starting point for a completely free form artistic process, then there really are no limits as to how you can re-work your original images. The realism that defines editorial photography and imposes ethical boundaries when it comes to manipulating images, don’t apply here.

4. Captions and tags – they are worth the effort

You could caption and tag your images before or after post processing your edit. Whatever order you do it in, this is a step in your workflow you shouldn’t skip – as tempting as that may be. LightRocket has some professional and easy-to-use tools that allow you to work on batches of images and to make sure you’ve got the basic information fields covered.

There are a few reasons why captioning and tagging should be part of your workflow.

First off, if you want to upload your selected pictures to an online sales platform, the basic file requirements will usually include captions and tags. More often than not, you’ll need to include a credit, a copyright string and location info too. In light of this, we’d recommend you add all of this data to your files (we identify these file information fields as ‘recommended’ in the LightRocket file organizer).

Second, captions add vital context to your pictures. A picture without a caption, leaves its interpretation entirely in the hands of the viewer. An image of a woman holding a child’s hand without a caption suggests motherhood, trust and perhaps security. But what if the caption explains the child is an orphan, or that the mother is afflicted by a disease? A caption can completely transform the meaning of an image by giving it context.

Last, captions and tags are essential tools in the classification of your work. Tags are what most search engines use to find pictures. So if you want your work to be found – and thus licensed/sold, you’ll need to include tags. The good news is that you don’t need to go crazy with your tags. Just include a few terms that are directly relevant to the meaning of your image. To test the relevance of your tags, imagine typing that term into a search engine and seeing your picture in the results.

5. Submit and back up your work again

Last but not least, we’d recommend uploading your work to a cloud storage solution like LightRocket. Your physical hard drives are a good place to store entire shoots, including all your edits and outtakes.

Once you’ve completed editing and processing your files, you should think about uploading those finalized jpeg images to the cloud. In the case of LightRocket, you can easily organize your work by creating folders and sub-folders, exactly as you would on your own computer.  You can create galleries and update your personal website. And if you get a request while on the road, it’s easy to send a download link to a potential client.

The LightRocket photo archive management interface.

While you’re backing up to the cloud, you should also submit your selected, processed and fully annotated (captions, tags etc) files to an online sales platform. Now that you’ve put in the effort and set up a professional workflow, it’s time to get some returns on your investment.


Written by Yvan Cohen

To read more helpful articles on photography, check out our blog page.

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