Editing photos is time-consuming! The rule of thumb that it takes an hour of editing for every hour of shooting is not an exaggeration. You may find that sorting and grading your photos right after a shoot is one of the most tedious parts of your entire workflow – I know I do. Whether you are coming in from a long weekend of shooting wildlife or a busy day shooting a wedding, it is no small task to determine which photos to keep, edit, and store for later from a batch of a 1000 or more. Adobe Lightroom has several tools allowing you to sort, grade, and attribute your work to help you efficiently edit and store a photo. I will walk you through how I use the star-rating system to sort images for my editing workflow and long term archival storage.
Hot key stars
If you are thinking of stars as those little icons you click under an image to set the rating, let me change your world! Each star rating of 1-5 you can assign directly from your keypad! These “hot keys” are what makes the star rating system so convenient.
Your first assignment:
Open up Lightroom and select an image in your catalog. Now hit the “1” key on your keyboard. Lightroom tells you the image has now been assigned a rating of 1. With values ranging from 1-5, you can assign each value to an image for different things. Below, I’ll provide examples of how you may use these different values.
As a side note, Lightroom has hotkeys for everything. Learning them speeds up your workflow significantly; no matter which set of tools you are using to develop or print.
Sorting files for deletion and advancing images to editing
Whether you are shooting wildlife, weddings, sports, or portraits the most important question you have after your import is: what photos do I keep? When shooting wildlife, you may have dozens of the same subject in slightly different settings or poses. At a wedding, you have many of the dance, but only a select few are going to make the cut to show your client, friends, or family.
You can use the star rating system to assign images for deletion. Why I prefer this over the “rejection” flag system is you can simultaneously start choosing what files to edit and which to delete using the range of values from 1-5 rather than the binary “yes” and “no” of the flag system.
Using Lightroom Stars to sort your work is easy and efficient.
Here’s a hypothetical situation: you import your photos and determine that a value of “0” (i.e., no rating) as photos to delete. You then decide that images assigned “1” are saved, but are a low priority for editing – perhaps these are b-roll images for applying general presets. You determine images set to “2” are developed immediately and images set to “4” are your best images. This multiple tier system ensures you only have to go through the images once and ideally not more than twice. That’s a huge time saver when dealing with large quantities of images!
I would recommend you avoid using “5” in your workflow. Reserve this for only your very highest quality images (more on that in the “Archiving content/ creating smart collections” section below.)
Once you’ve assigned ratings to all of the images, you can filter the image using the “attributes” filter while in grid view. Filter for all images = 0 stars to delete the images you no longer want and filter all images = 2 to start developing your shots.
Separating image content for keywording
If you are a wildlife photographer, and in particular if you are a bird photographer, it is very typical to change subjects (species) throughout the day. This may occur as much as every other shot. Once you’ve imported those images, it can be daunting to go about keywording your work so you can find them later. The star rating system can help you sort through them quickly!
Assign each star to a species and use your hotkeys to assign the star rating to that species. Once you’ve finished coding the species with stars, filter them using the attributes filter in Grid View and complete your keywording. You can then remove the star rating by highlighting the images and pressing the “0” key. There are many photography scenarios where you can apply this!
Archiving Content / Creating Smart Collections
Undoubtedly, you will create images you are proud of and want to save for future reference, printing, or portfolio work. As I eluded to above, these images should be assigned a value of 5 in your collection. Only a small percentage of your shots should achieve a rating of 5.
You can compile a portfolio of your best shots by establishing a smart collection in Lightroom. The smart collection automatically compiles all images in your catalog with a given attribute.
To create a smart collection right click on “Smart Collections” in Lightroom. Select create a new smart collection and then add the criteria for your collection. You can create a collection set from any attribute you can assign in Lightroom (e.g., stars, flags, keywords, etc.). As you go through the years, your 5-star collection set will continue to grow and document your progress and story.
That is it! I hope you see the value in using Lightroom’s star rating system in your workflow.
I’ll end by saying these steps are what work for me, but what works for you? Leave your thoughts on workflows in the comments below so we can learn together.
As I always say, “pixels are cheap!”. Be sure to make lots of them and then sort through them using Lightroom Stars.