How to Reduce Editing Time by Automating Your Lightroom Workflow

How to Reduce Editing Time by Automating Your Lightroom Workflow

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Don’t you hate when you realize that you spend more time in front of the computer than actually taking photographs? The realization is even more depressing when you are a travel and landscape photographer and, by definition, you are supposed to travel and discover the world’s beauty.

Sunset Ride (San Francisco)

The Crisis

This is how I felt about 12 months ago during my second ever processing crisis as a photographer.

The first crisis happened about 10 years ago when I became more serious about photography, and started taking more photos. This was a time when 100% of my editing was done in Photoshop, which quickly led me to feel like I was drowning in gigabytes of digital images. What I did not realize at the time was that a majority of photographers who had switched to the digital realm, shared my pain.

This is when Adobe saved us all by releasing Lightroom, an application designed specifically for digital photographers. Lightroom not only offered non-destructive photo editing but a complete digital photography workflow with streamlined digital asset management as well.

I immediately embraced Lightroom by starting with the beta version, which allowed me to cut my photo editing time in half. With every new version, Lightroom became more sophisticated and versatile, almost completely replacing Photoshop in my workflow. After Adobe released Lightroom 6, I recognized that I could complete 90% of my processing in Lightroom, and my need for Photoshop was minimal (10%).

But, sophistication and versatility had its own price. Lightroom became much slower and its complexity skyrocketed.

Another factor that contributed to my second processing crisis was my switch from a Canon DSLR, to a Sony mirrorless. The new Sony camera (A6000) had a bigger sensor and produced much bigger file sizes, which slowed my editing down even more.

After a long trip to Hawaii, California, and the Southwest, I brought back more than 5,000 brand new photos. The process of Lightroom editing was slow and painful, making it obvious that I had to come up with the completely new workflow to reflect a higher volume of larger files.

Swallowtail Light (New Brunswick)

The Solution

I started by analyzing my Lightroom editing habits, and soon enough, I made a discovery that became the foundation for my new workflow. Perhaps less of a discovery and more like a simple realization, I noticed that 80% of my edits are identical for every single photo I process, with only 20% varying from photo to photo.

The solution was obvious. By automating the 80%, I could radically reduce the time I spend in front of the computer. The use of preset functionality in Lightroom was an obvious choice.

I dove into my Lightroom Portfolio Collection and selected the images that best reflected my personal style and artistic vision. I then created presets based on those selected photos.

At that point, I faced a challenge. As you have probably noticed, LR presets usually do not work out of the box; their settings are too specific for a particular photo to work with every image. Depending on the lighting condition of the scene, contrast level, shadow depth, and color saturation, the same preset can produce a completely different result across different images.

I managed to overcome this challenge by separating my presets into two categories, and using a two-level editing approach.

  • Level One: I use presets from a STYLE category, to define an artistic style or the “LOOK” in a photograph. For example: cool or warm, cross processed or natural, contrasted or soft.
  • Level Two: I use ADJUSTMENT presets to fine-tune a photo, compensating for the lighting of the scene, without changing the STYLE that I defined in the previous step.

Okay, enough theory, let’s get to the practical demonstration – here’s my new Lightroom editing workflow in action:

Here is a photo I took in Hawaii at sunrise. This is a typical landscape photo featuring the open sky and water, mountains, and foreground vegetation. In order to preserve the details in the highlights, I set the exposure for the sky area, as I normally do for the majority of landscapes. It resulted in an underexposed capture.

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The goal here is to correct the exposure, recover the shadows, and bring back the rich colors of the tropical sunrise.

STEP ONE

I always start my landscape editing by trying to achieve a natural look first by applying the NATURAL preset from my STYLE collection.

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Even though I managed to boost the colors and define the sky, the result is far from exciting, as the photo is much too dark.

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STEP TWO

This is when my ADJUSTMENT collection, which I call the TOOLKIT, comes into play.

The TOOLKIT is a selection of 40 presets where each is responsible for changing only one specific parameter, without changing the style of the image. Together, they help to fine-tune different aspects of the photo.

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The TOOLKIT presets are stackable, which means that you can apply multiple presets to the image without the presets overwriting each other.

  • To make the image brighter, I apply preset 02. Exposure ++
  • To open up the shadows, I apply preset 10. Open Shadows +++
  • To increase the local contrast, I apply preset 17. Clarity ++

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This is all I had to do. As you can see, I managed to complete 80% of my entire editing in five clicks, without touching the right panel of Lightroom where all of the editing tools are housed.

STEP THREE

The last step is to record the editing steps. I use the Snapshot functionality of Lightroom to save my editing steps as a new Snapshot. For the name, I use “Lightroom Editing Formula”.

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The Lightroom Editing Formula starts with the name of the preset and follows with the numbers inside the brackets, where each number represents a specific ADJUSTMENT preset from the TOOLKIT collection.

If I edit a photo for my blog, I might stop here and export it as a JPEG; but, if I am working on a portfolio piece, I try to explore a variety of artistic styles. I follow a similar approach by going through the three steps of my workflow, but each time select a different STYLE preset.

Every time I achieve a result I like, I save it as another Snapshot.

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By the time I am done, I might have anywhere from four to five different editing versions for the same image.

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Here is the most exciting part; I get to select the most interesting version for my portfolio and perhaps another one for Instagram.

From here, I normally jump to Photoshop and perform the remaining 20% or so of the editing process. In Photoshop, I mostly clean up the image with the help of the Stamp Tool, and do noise reduction using Topaz DeNoise plugin.

Conclusion

The entire process of producing five different versions of the featured photo took me less than 10 minutes, and all without having to touch the main editing tools in Lightroom. I call it Lightroom Rapid Editing.

By streamlining and automating my Lightroom workflow, I managed to reduce the total editing time by more than half.

How can you use these tips to reduce your editing time? Do you have any other time savers you’d like to share? Please do so in the comments below.

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Viktor Elizarov is a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada. He travels around the world and shares his experiences on his popular travel photography blog. Visit Tutorials section of his blog for free tutorials (including original raw files) and free Lightroom presets.

  • Jim Gilbert

    fantastic article, Viktor. I use home-made presets but not to this level. Great idea!


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  • Mario

    I like the idea of separating “style” and “technical adjustments”. Unfortunately I don’t see it being more useful then retouching each photo individually. You seem to have a huge amount of presets for each slider. Hence you have to try which one works best for the given photo and still you end up with multiple versions of one photo after 10 minutes! Sticking to your example of 5000 images you would end up with 25000 images and a total editing time of 35 days! My mean time of doing adjustments to a photo slider by slider is 30sec – 1min.
    The main key of cutting down your editing time is to keep your settings consistent (e.g. manual whittebalance and ISO). Like this, you can edit per scene and not per image. Oh, and delete the mediocre pictures…just get rid of them and don’t look back!!!

    Cheers,
    Mario

  • Mario,
    in the article I demonstrated how I edit the portfolio piece not the process of culling. When I have 5000 image and I need to select the “keepers” I use 2 step culling process I outlined in one of my tutorials here: http://www.phototraces.com/photography-tips/lightroom-organization-in-3-simple-steps/

  • Phil Shaw

    Enjoyed th article. Could you elaborate on how you create the last 10 Toolkit presets (vignetting and skys) as these would seem to be inherently dependent on the composition of the image.

  • for vignetting I use Post-Crop Vignetting sliders in Effects panel and for sky Graduated Filters. ToolKit adjustments override corresponding Style adjustments. I am not sure if it was clear.

  • Still too much editing job, too many presets means far more complex than those sliders. How about shoot less, cull ruthlessly, editing handful of photos in Capture one, only a few special effect we may need photoshop.

  • Hello victor,
    You have shared the best thought i really enjoyed the full article.

  • NJP

    Assuming you are creating this for a portfolio, wouldn’t you want more precise control over the adjustments?

    I could see this being effective for a wedding or portfolio shoots with batches of photos having similar/same light conditions, but for a single landscape shot it just seems like giving it short shrift.

  • like I said the goal was to streamline 80% of my editing and the rest 20% I might do in Lightroom manually adjusting sliders or most often I in Photoshop

  • thanks, I am glad you found it useful

  • I just checked your website. It looks if it took you more than 2 sliders in Capture One to create “hair on fire” photo 🙂 Great work.

  • Thank you. After I decided to reduce my editing time, I only edit less than 5 for a studio shot or landscape , maybe 1-2 of them I need use photoshop. For an event, I may need to edit 20-40, all will be finished in Capture One.

  • By the way, I switched to Sony A6000 because of your article. It’s a fantastic camera, not only because of the size, the dynamic range and advanced focus system are essential.

  • It comes with the experience; you know what you want and as the result you shoot less.

  • The focus for me is the secondary but dynamic range blew me away. I hardly do HDR theses days because of the extended DR of the sensor. Can not wait for A7000. I need weather sealing.

  • Christina

    How do you make the presets stackable for the micro adjustments? It seems like when I try to adjust, say by increasing exposure +.25, it goes to the exposure setting on the original file, not the increase whatever it is right now by .25

  • Hello Viktor Elizarov,

    It is exceptionally helpful for me to know more about LightRoom.

    Thank You….

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