A "Happy Snap" Lightroom Workflow

A “Happy Snap” Lightroom Workflow


At Halloween last year I was asked to photograph some kids I’ve shot from time to time since they were born. Basically their mum likes to have some up to date photos of the kids and Halloween seemed like as good a time as any to get some shots.

When I’m shooting like this, my aim is to get some good shots but nothing formal and I prefer not to use a flash because I get a better response from the kids without one. I captured the images in raw and I chewed through three small size camera cards in about an hour and a half.

My deal with their mum is that I get to use the photos for my work and she gets a disk of pictures. To keep this fun – so it doesn’t feel like work for me – I need a fast and effective processing workflow. I need to get the images off my camera, sorted, processed, burned to a DVD and delivered to mum in time for her to enjoy them.

Thanks to Lightroom the process was simple and, in all, I reckon I spent less than 2 hours getting the photos from the camera cards to a DVD. Here is what I call my Happy Snap Lightroom workflow – it’s what I do to quickly process casual snapshots:

Step 1 – Determine a plan of attack

To begin with I have some criteria I work by. I never give away substandard photos so anything blurry, out of focus or over exposed gets permanently deleted. Then I sort out the best of the images intending to give mum around 50-60 photos of the kids – it’s a nice range of images for her to use to scrapbook and post to Facebook and it doesn’t over burden her with too many photos to choose from.

Step 2 – Download the images


To begin, I download all the images from all three cards into a single folder on my hard drive (if there were only one card I would omit this step).

From there I import the images into Lightroom at the same time copying them to their permanent storage on my external photo drive and making a backup to a second drive. Copying rather than adding images to the Lightroom catalog lets me make backups and also add my metadata to the images so, when they popup on Facebook my copyright details are embedded in them.

Importing all the images in one step also means that when I’ve started the import process – which includes rendering standard previews – I can start working through the images and I don’t have to do it multiple times or switch out cards as I work – (the process works for me – your mileage may vary).

Step 3 – Eliminating the duds


The first time I run through the images I am looking for images to delete as well as getting a general look at what I shot.

As I work through the images I’ll press X for images to delete and use the right arrow key to move past everything else. I’ll select to delete all out of focus images, anything where someone has their eyes closed or similar, and anything I don’t want to put my name to!

Once I’m done I choose Photo > Delete Rejected Photos to delete the images from my primary external photo drive. There are still copies on the backup drive and my hard disk but not on my main photo drive.

Step 4 – Sorting the usable images


On the second run through the images I pick those I want to use. By now I have a rough idea as to what I have and what I might want to give mum. So this time I run through the images pressing P to pick an image and using the right arrow key to move past those she won’t be getting.

Step 5 – Create a Collection


Once done, I isolate the picked images by clicking the first of the filter flag icons above the filmstrip. Then with only the picks visible I press Ctrl + A to select all of them and then click New Collection > Create Collection and type a name for it. Because the images are already selected, I leave the Include Selected Photos checkbox enabled and click Create.

Step 6 – Apply initial processing to the images


Now I have a collection of the picks and it’s time to process them. I start out by selecting all the images in Grid View in the Library and from the Quick Develop panel I select Auto Tone. This gives me a head start on fixing them but, because of the lighting, pretty much all of them needed a white balance adjustment.

Step 7 – Process in the Develop module


Switching to Develop module with the filmstrip visible I selected the White Balance Selector and then made sure that Auto Dismiss was disabled. This allows me to adjust the white balance on one image and then click on the next one in the filmstrip and continue to adjust the white balance from one image to the next without having to reselect anything. Basically all that most of these images needed was some white balance adjustment.

For those that needed cropping, I cropped as I finished with white balance adjustment and then moved on to the next image. This ensured that each image was dealt with only once as I progressed across the filmstrip.

Step 8 – Make one off fixes


So, having fixed the worst of the problems I work backwards through the filmstrip to see if any of the images warrant special attention. If so, I make a call to fix them or simply remove them from the collection. To remove the image, right click it and choose Remove from Collection .

Here I had one issue with a couple of images where one child’s face was in shadow. For this, I used the Adjustment Brush tool at a small size with a large feather radius. I brushed over the areas where her face was in shadow and then adjusted the Brightness and Exposure to lighten to her face. In the same images other faces were overexposed so I added a second Adjustment Brush adjustment with the opposite settings to attempt to deal with this. The final result wouldn’t stand up to close scrutiny but is just fine for the web and 6 x 4 printing.

Step 9 – Export and burn


Once this was done it was time to export the images. Because they’re all in a collection, Ctrl + A selects all the images. I chose File > Export and then exported them as JPG images, 80 percent quality at the largest size and I added sharpening to them in the process. I made sure these images all went to a new folder so that they would be isolated from everything else and easy to find.

From there, it was a matter of launching Ashampoo Burning Studio, grabbing all the images and burning them to a DVD.

This workflow is one giant step better than simply burning the images direct to a DVD. It takes only a little more time with Lightroom to sort and apply some basic fixes to the images and it also means that only the best of the images get circulated and those that do have my copyright information embedded in them.

So now it’s over to you. What’s your “happy snap” workflow? Do you capture snapshots in raw? Do you process using Lightroom? And how do you get your images processed quickly so you’re not spending hours on images that are really just family snapshots?h3

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Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

Some Older Comments

  • Jen March 24, 2013 07:16 am

    This is great!
    I was shooting in jpg. Should I switch to raw ?
    Also, how do you physically get the images to a external hd while downloading to LR?

    I have been struggling with a new workflow. I have been plugging the camera into my MacBook and it puts the images on iPhoto automatically. Not sure why. Then I manually review all in my finder window, and when the client reviews them the I edit their picks by hand in photoshop. Seems so time consuming. Plus my laptop is sluggish bc all my photo files are on it. Can anyone assist? Would be so grateful!

  • Mei Teng July 25, 2012 03:34 pm

    Really helpful and easy-to-understand workflow. I have just recently purchased a copy of Lightroom 3 and this has served as a very useful guide to my understanding of the software. Thanks for sharing.

  • Helen Bradley February 17, 2012 03:00 am


    Check out my post on adding metadata on importing your images here: https://digital-photography-school.com/lightroom-add-your-iptc-metadata-on-import

  • Helen Bradley February 17, 2012 02:59 am


    Can I let you into a secret, just between you and me? - don't share this with anyone - I don't keyword, practically never - I don't generally have trouble finding the images I want so I don't waste time on doing something I will seldom use.


  • Shotslot February 15, 2012 09:15 pm

    Nice article Helen, always interesting to see how others make use of LRs features. I was surprised you didn't keyword, though I appreciate this is about keeping it simple. I also tend to go back to the flagged images post processing and rate them, so that I can grab the best for portfolios etc later. I never use the auto tone button (always feels like cheating somehow) so I've give this a go and see if it speeds me up some more.

  • sammz February 12, 2012 01:29 am

    Thank you very much Helen. I have just downloaded a beta copy of LR4 and was clueless on what to do with it or how to go about it. I really appreciates your very timely article, now I can try my hand on it with a couple of my shots and compare it with ACR.

    Thank you again !

  • FG February 11, 2012 04:29 am

    Great tutorial! I have been a bit resistant to using Lightroom, mostly because I couldn't find my own workflow that would be faster than my previous Photoshop method.
    This tutorial made feel that maybe I should give Lightroom another shot. I have one question about the importing procedure and metadata filling...
    Could you please create a post about that? You know... the most correct way of filling all our metadata info ...

    Thank you!

  • David Lloyd February 7, 2012 01:03 am

    Very comprehensive... I do 2 things differently -
    1) generate 1:1 previews after import
    2) use the refine function

    I find I'm always wanting to see the 100% view to check for sharpness etc and my PC takes a relatively long time to generate the full size preview on the fly so I normally
    -- import,
    -- mark as rejected the obvious rubbish using the X or P (rather than x or p) keys - this applies the flag and moves to the next image in 1 step.
    -- delete rejected photos
    -- generate 1:1 previews (under the Library menu from memory)
    -- go and make a cup of tea whilst the computer is doing this
    Once the first pass pick / reject is complete I use the Refine Images tool (http://blogs.oreilly.com/lightroom/2009/01/refine-photos.html (sorry to reference off-site DPS)) to reject all non-picked and reset all pick flags.

    Many ways to do things obviously - this method works for me with my slow PC.

  • Brianna Danylle February 3, 2012 10:04 am

    This is WONDERFUL! I've been looking for a Lightroom workflow for a while now, this is very helpful. I bought Lightroom and have been teaching myself and watching videos are such to learn how to best use it, but this is THE most helpful thing I've come across. Thanks for sharing!

  • Anurag Sharma February 3, 2012 08:12 am

    Great to read your workflow. Mine has the precursor of using PhotoMechanic.

  • Alex Mogollon February 3, 2012 07:24 am

    Extremely helpful. As a nightlife photographer for Paparazzinj.com and my Facebook page EpicShotzz a use a similar approach to do the work on Lightroom but I also need to star deleting all the pictures that I won't use to save space on the external drive.

  • Mlu @ S.A. January 30, 2012 06:30 pm

    Brilliant solution (s)! just what I am looking for. Thanks Helen.

  • spispi January 29, 2012 11:27 pm

    I never actually learned how to use lightroom, I just played with it and eventually figured out all this. I suggest deleting the pics from the drive instead of just rejecting them. Reject only those that you don't want to show but want to keep eventually.

    Beware, auto-tone can screw up sometimes, the punch tone is safer and gives some..punch to the image.

    Adjustment brush is bad, you go from developing the picture to modifying it at the pixel level. Do it only to compensate for different expositions or hide some critical details (names/brands).

  • Jeff January 29, 2012 03:59 am

    I will ad... in my workflow when I pick out the good one, I usually start from the last photo and work backward. The reason is that if I take several pictures of the same subject, the last one is probably the one I'm satisfied with. So I start from the last photo. I "pick" it and as I work backward if I change my mind, then I pick my new one and can quickly reject the previous pick. This of course is after I first go through my entire set and reject the obvious bad ones.

  • Jeff January 29, 2012 03:56 am

    I'd say this is, if not exactly, the workflow that I use, which I adopted from Scott Kelby and evolved into my own. There's a guh-zillion ways to do something, but what this article tells me is that I'm doing something pretty darn good already! ;-)

  • J January 29, 2012 12:03 am

    Thanks for sharing your info. However for myself, there is no such thing as a 'Quick Workflow'. Whether im shooting for a major project or the kids next door, each photo will receive equal scrutiny and won't be released until I cannot make it any better. If I am exporting to JPEG, and if there are no obvious storage issues, images are always exported 100% quality setting. JPEG is a lossy format so it's imperative this is set to highest possible value.

  • MikeC366 January 28, 2012 05:54 pm

    I not too new to Lightroom, having used it since the off. I must admit though I do not use it properly. I have always tended to just copy my cards to folders with dates, them import. Job done. The problem is I'm now doing shots nearly every day therefore my previous thinking of "When did we go to London? ah yes August. It must be this folder then"... really has to go. I was only thinking this yesterday and this morning, and lo and behold this post appears in my reader. I'm going to print it out, and stick it on the wall next to me, until I get into some better habits.
    Thank you.


    PS: I'm even sat here, waking up with my morning coffee, starting to tag my shots on my blog...lol...

  • David January 28, 2012 07:59 am

    I have a little copyright meta preset I apply on import. I had planned to use Collections more but despite every effort my photo management is still sloppy both in terms of folder structure and meta. I have a photo in my head I want to find and it can taken 15-20mins to locate.

  • Jen January 28, 2012 05:48 am

    Wow, this was great! I'm new to lightroom, and I'd love to hear ore about batch processing (I often find myself adjusting the white balance on every photo) and tools like that adjustment brush - I don't even know how to use that!

    Thanks for the great post!

  • Eric Schoneker January 28, 2012 02:59 am

    My Lightroom workflow is very similar with a few slight variations.
    1) Right from the start when the images from my memory card are displayed in the grid, I scan for obvious rejects and UNCHECK them so they are never imported to my hard drive in the first place.
    2) I then do a more thorough run-through and assign "X" to the rejects and "P" to my picks.
    3) Delete the rejects from hard drive
    4) Do another pass and assign a RED flag (#6 key) to the ones I really like and want to work with.
    5) Do individual adjustments only on the ones flagged RED and then export as JPG's.
    6) I have an attached external hard drive that everything gets backed up to each night, then each week I attach and backup to second hard drive that is stored in a safe location.

  • Chris January 28, 2012 02:47 am

    Thank you for this article. I really need to work to improve my Lightroom workflow, it's not consistent or efficient and I have 1000's of photos I should have taken the time to delete when I uploaded them.

  • Claudio January 28, 2012 02:36 am

    Excellent article, full of very interesting tips. It is really a pleasure to be able to "get in the mind of someone else" like in this article. I could catch many a suggestion for my own workflow. Thanks for sharing!

  • THE aSTIG @ CustomPinoyRides.com January 28, 2012 02:10 am

    I use Lightroom a lot on my workflow especially after covering shows and motorsports events.

    I do Car and Motorsports Photography for http://CustomPinoyRides.com

    I always thought I was already proficient in utilizing Lightroom in my workflow but I always keep my doors open to new insights. But what you have shown me should save my time even more! Thank you for sharing I really appreciate it.

  • cass January 28, 2012 02:05 am

    "Photo > Delete Rejected Photos" - brilliant! Thank you! Saves so much time compared to deleting one by one! Helen - you make my world easier once again with the simple tip.

  • Malcolm Sales January 28, 2012 01:55 am

    Hi Helen, My Lightroom workflow is similar top yours except I miss out the Collection. Since all the files are in the same folder on the hard drive all the work can be done on the Picks in the folder. Makes it even quicker.
    Oh and I do shoot RAW all the time:)

  • cristiano007 January 28, 2012 01:37 am

    Really helpful and unpretentious article. We need more like this, practical and insightful. Thanks.