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How to Develop a Photography Workflow that Preserves Your Images

“I love spending time in front of a computer working on my images – sorting them, cataloging them and editing them,” said no photographer ever!

Well, maybe a few of us like to be sitting in front of our desk pouring over image after image, shoot after shoot. But let’s face it, as photographers, we would much rather get out there and photograph in the field than be chained to our desk and computers indoors.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

This is where having a good solid workflow that can help you ease the post-shoot process is very important. Workflows are not just for the editing portion of your life as a photographer. In fact, a workflow is something that can help you before, during and even after your photo shoot.

Whether you are a busy professional photographer or an active hobbyist, having a good solid workflow and method of organizing images is crucial.

Having a workflow is even beneficial if you just photograph on your smartphone.

We have all been in situations where your phone runs out of space because you have images from three years ago that you have done nothing with. Sorting through three years worth of data to find images to delete under pressure of missing a key moment is no joke!

I wear many different photography hats as a wedding, lifestyle and travel photographer. So my workflow is slightly different based on the type of session I am photographing. But for the most part, I follow the same series of steps.

Here is my process. Hopefully, you may be able to replicate some or all of these steps to create a process that works for you in your photography.

1. Choice of Gear

Camera

My camera of choice is a Canon 5D MKIII. At this point, I only have one digital camera. I used to have a Canon 5D MKII as my backup, but ever since I starting working with a second shooter for my weddings, I didn’t find the need for my Canon 5D MK II. So I sold it.

For commercial shoots or bigger gigs that require multiple cameras and lenses, I just rent what I need. I am lucky in that I have a big camera store close to home that has all the gear I could need. They even have a studio that I can rent out should I need more space.

Batteries and Cards

I purchased two extra batteries when I was a full-time wedding photographer, and because I sold my backup gear, I am now left with extra camera batteries for my primary camera.

This works really well because I carry all my batteries with me when I am traveling or going to a multi-day event. That way I don’t have to worry about finding a plug point or charging my camera battery in the field.

This was a lifesaver earlier in the year when I traveled to Portugal and lost my power converter/adaptor. Try figuring out how to say power adaptor in a part of the world where you don’t speak the language! I drained out my batteries to the very last percent of battery juice during that trip!

Side tip: try shaking the battery to squeeze out every last bit of battery juice if you are running out of battery life. I’m not joking. I have tried this successfully many times in Portugal to get that last shot before the battery died!

I have 5 x 32GB CF cards, 3 x 16GB CF cards and a handful of 8 GB CF cards. For the most part, all these cards travel with me for a multi-day shoot or a personal travel trip that is several days long.

Part of my pre-shoot workflow includes downloading all my cards, charging my batteries and packing my bag with everything I need the night before.

Camera bag

My camera bag is a backpack that I used not just my photography but also for excursions and trips around town. I ditched the proverbial camera bag many years ago when I started traveling with my family of young kids. Carrying a camera bag, diaper bag, and a purse was just not practical. Also, once I got used to carrying a day pack that held all my treasures, it just seems second nature to me to pick that bag up no matter what the occasion.

Since I have just one camera/day pack, part of my workflow is to make sure the bag is empty and ready for the next adventure as soon as I come back home from a shoot/trip or even just going around town.

Luckily, it has enough pockets to store batteries, CF cards and other things like filters, and flashes.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

At a recent class I taught, I loved seeing the diversity in terms of camera bags that everyone was using!

2. During the shoot

There is nothing quite like learning the importance of having a workflow than losing data or content in the absence of one. I learned the hard way when I lost all my images from a shoot on a card that failed. Luckily it was for a family shoot that I could reschedule.

So from that point onwards, I change my camera data card with each logical break in the event I am photographing.

For example, if I am photographing a wedding, I have the getting ready activities on one card, the ceremony on another card and the reception on a third card.

Even though the cards are not full, this gives me the security of losing only a part of the day should anything go wrong.

Of course, my backup for weddings is my second photographer who does the same thing.

For non-wedding related client work, I use a backup SD card in my camera. The Canon 5D MkIII has a dual card slot, so I take full advantage of the technology at my fingertips. If I am on a personal assignment, I change out my cards every night and download the photos onto an external drive.

Another thing that is important to note is how you store used and unused data cards. Figure out a system that works for you in how you separate the two. For me, used CF cards from a photoshoot are placed in a separate pouch from unused CF cards. I place those in another pouch in my camera bag.

In terms of the actual shoot, try and come up with a game plan for what you are photographing. As a wedding photographer, one of the key things I make sure to discuss with my wedding couples is a shot list. A shot list is a list of all the key moments and images that the couple absolutely wants to have taken. Typically these are around photos with family members.

With client and commercial shoots, the clients typically have a list of images they want to get from you. Use this concept of a shot list to list down all the ‘must have’ images you want to get out of a photographic excursion.

Shot lists save you effort, and they help you become more efficient with your time in the field.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta 2

Wedding photography can be quite stressful. There isn’t really a do-over option if you mess up. Having a workflow is critical and life-saving for a wedding photographer.

3. After the shoot

When I am back home from a wedding or a lifestyle shoot, the first thing I do is pack away my gear. I separate my camera body from my lenses and pack them away separately. All batteries are removed, including those from my flash. I have heard horror stories where batteries, especially AAAs, have leaked into the flash socket, so I don’t want to have to deal with that mess! Plus I use rechargeable batteries for all my flashes and external lights. Once they are out, I put them back in the case ready to be recharged for the next photography gig.

If I am at a multi-day shoot, all batteries are plugged into the charger slots right away.

These are the steps I take with my images:

  1. I download all the images from my CF cards onto TWO external hard drives, that act as a storage for my RAW images. 
  2. Once the RAW images are successfully transferred to my external hard drive, I go through and spot check the images and the total image count to make sure all the images are moved over.
  3. Images are moved over based on the shoot, location or event. For example a wedding will be downloaded as follows on the primary storage drive:

20190101_ClientNameWedding_GettingReady

20100101_FamilyName_LifestyleShoot

20100101_Personal_VacationLocation_Day01

  1. The secondary drive is less formal and has images just based on the event. For example:

2019

WeddingClientCard01

WeddingClientCard02

FamilyLifestyelShoot

Personal_TripCard01

Personal_TripCard02

  1. I then format the cards in camera. This is done on the camera rather than the computer. The reason for this is because I have found that sometimes all the images are not cleaned out and the card still retains some data that occupies unnecessary space.
How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

Treating every client shoot like it was a wedding really helped me nail down a process and workflow that works for me. Now it is second nature and something I don’t even have to think about.

4. After the shoot (remote)

When I am traveling for work or pleasure, I carry one WD My Passport Ultra external hard drive and all my camera data cards. Earlier in my career, I would carry two external hard drives and create primary and secondary backups in the field. Now I have found that I don’t photograph as much because I am more thoughtful about what I photograph.

So now I just carry all my cards, and one external hard drive to back them up in the field. I avoid taking an external hard drive when I am just traveling for pleasure or personal work to reduce my load.

When I get home, the RAW files from the CF cards used during the trip are copied over to both external hard drives (primary and secondary) that house all my raw images. They are deleted from the WD Ultra so that it is ready for my next trip.

Early in my photography career, there were times where I would travel with almost every lens I owned, a laptop, two external hard drives, and many camera cards to be safe. Perhaps it is age, or perhaps it is maturity (I like to think it is a little bit of both), but now I try to travel light and take only what is absolutely needed to get the job done.

If I need something along the way, I either borrow, rent or figure out creative solutions to make things work.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

I would argue that personal photos are more important than professional ones – especially as the dedicated photographer of the family. I love documenting our journey for no-one but me!

5. Editing workflow

Eighty percent of my editing happens in Lightroom (LR). Photoshop is used sparingly if I have to make any advanced editing. I have invested in the Adobe Creative Cloud for LR and Photoshop. I’ve installed them on my iMac (my primary editing device), as well as my MacBook Pro (my travel companion).

My Lightroom catalog lives on an external HD. I understand some people have concerns over running a LR Catalog on an external HD, because of potential LR speed issues. So far, I have not experienced any issues with LR in terms of speed by having the catalog on an external HD. However, if you are concerned about speed, then your LR catalog can be put on your computer’s hard drive, and keep a backup on the external HD. A backup of my LR catalog lives on a cloud service that is updated every six weeks.

I used to use iPhoto on my iMac to store all my images and only upload selected images to Lightroom. I tried to use Bridge for a few years to select images that I want to import into Lightroom. Now I use Photos on my Mac to select images that I want to edit and upload them into Lightroom.

I know it is probably easier to just upload all images to Lightroom and sort them via the software to save an extra step. I have one Lightroom catalog that houses all my work since 2012, and so there are quite a few images in the catalog. I had found that when I used Lightroom to sort and select images, it takes forever to load.

My Lightroom catalog is sorted by year, and I use the following naming convention for my Lightroom. I am less worried about the naming convention in Lightroom than I am with my primary and second storage units. This is just my personal preference.

YYYYMMDD_ClientName_TypeoftheShoot.

After editing is complete, I export my client images onto the same WD Ultra external hard drive as my Lightroom catalog.

The client folders get arranged by the date of the session.

This time the naming standard is as follows:

CompanyName_ClientNameEvent_Date

All images have the same naming convention as the folder, along with an image sequence number.

Every few years I go through and delete edited galleries from the external hard drive. I don’t delete client RAW files – just the edited files. I have found myself going back to many client galleries and re-editing images as my style evolves and changes. There is no point in keep multiple copies of the same image.

I use a mix of presets and hand edits for my images. It took me many years to finally come up with a style and method of how I want my images to look. Ninety percent of my edits follow that same process. Every once in a while I drastically change my “look” to keep things fresh.

As a rule, I spend no more than a minute on each image. I would much rather be outside photographing than indoors editing.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

Exact same image – two different looks. And I love them both.

6. Editing Remotely

I really avoid extensive editing of images in the field. I prefer to focus on documenting and photographing rather than same day edits. I would much rather take a quick snapshot on my iPhone and edit using phone apps for a quick social media preview than spend time and effort in editing in the field.

A couple of years ago, I traveled out of the country for three months over the summer. This was before Lightroom came up with their cloud version. Because I was gone for so long, I took my Lightroom catalog with me on an external drive and used that for 3 months.

Recently, I started using Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC for my workflow. I primarily used them for working when traveling. When I know I need access to my files for a particular project or a particular job, I upload those files to my Lightroom CC and work on them while on the road. Once back home, I ‘sync’ Lightroom CC as a collection in my Lightroom Classic and have all those edits readily available.

7. Client workflow

I use an external portfolio service to host my images for client work. These client galleries are only online for three weeks, and then they are deleted. My wedding photography packages all include edited images on a personalized flash drive whereas my family portraiture clients have the option of purchasing digital images if they want them for future use.

Every few years I go through and update client galleries and delete old ones. Keep in mind these are just the edited files. My client RAW files are stored indefinitely in case a client comes back after a few years for the images. If you don’t want to delete client images, you can invest in an external cloud storage system.

How to setup a workflow to protect your images Karthika Gupta

In Conclusion

While it might seem like a lot, my workflow has simplified over time. Just as I limit the gear I own and use, I also try and limit the images I capture – for both client and personal work. Having 100 photos of a spectacular sunset no longer make sense to me. I also stick to my workflow because it saves time in the long run.

One of my favorite things to stock up on are external hard drives. Every so often they fail, and I have to replace them. As cloud storage gets more accessible and less expensive, I can see myself moving things over to the cloud and simplifying my process and workflow even more.

I encourage you to use this, or some variation of this workflow and tweak it to make it your own. If you do it consistently and often enough, it becomes second nature and saves you time so you can do what you enjoy doing – photographing.

 

How to Develop a Photography Workflow that Preserves Your Images

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Karthika Gupta

Karthika Gupta is a culture, people and travel photographer, based in the Chicago area. Her images are fun, fresh and natural, and her love for nature makes it way into most of her images. She also has a Free Travel Photography Demystified E-Course, a 5-Day video series to help you improve your travel photography.