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Lightroom workflow

[Updated to include contact sheets]

I take far more photographs than I did before I started my OCA photography course and my workflow is creaking under the strain. My current folder structure is simply year/month, so without the use of tags (which I’m also not using consistently) it can be tricky to locate images – this is the first area for research. The second is to find an effective way of generating contact sheets using meta-data or flags in a selection work-flow that will automatically flow into printed contact sheets – so it becomes a seamless digital to analoguesque flow.

Nigel’s learning log (a fellow OCA student) provided a helpful starting point for me, where he explains a more professional structure for Lightroom, using shoot date (or first date of multi day shoot), shoot name, and sub-folders that contain images at different levels of progress. However, having watched the PHlearn video, which details the steps for manually creating a folder structure, I wondered whether there was an alternative approach using LRs in-built tools for organisation, including collections.

Anderson outlines some principles and tools built into LR:

  • Use folders with descriptive names
  • Flags: none, accept, reject
  • Colours: red, yellow, green, blue
  • Use Star ratings: 1 to 5
  • Keywords: general to specific
  • LR collections / smart collections / nested collections (eg full shoot, picks, selects)
  • Presets
  • Optimise catalogue
  • Importance of short-cuts for efficiency
  • Meta-data ‘cheat sheets’.

My final approach:

  1. File import stage:
    1. LR import setting – file by date: year/month & add to new collection (ie name of shoot). Apply any presets and general key words on import (eg Fuji raw settings and general location or subject). Uncheck any shots that are obvious disasters, so they are not imported.
    2. To add another level of organisation to the file structure – create subfolder within month/year for specific shoot: select all photos in ‘last import’ (ie those imported in step a. Right-click on month folder and specify ‘create folder inside’ and include selected images. This moves all selected images to the sub-folder.
    3. Eliminate any images that a clear failures, but not pickup up prior to import at step a. Use reject flag when scanning through (short-cut X). Then delete selected images, including removal from hard-drive (short-cut cmd-backspace).
  2. Organising and processing images within LR – remembering that collections do not create separate image files, just different views (a bit like iTunes play lists):
    1. Create a ‘collection set’ to hold sub-collections for shoot. Move the collection created on import (a.) to within the collection set (by dragging). Name appropriately (eg collection set – Moscow 9.15 / collection of all images – Moscow – all).
    2. Key-wording. Generally key-wording was added at the time of import (eg Moscow). To search for images of particular subjects later, I add further more specific key wording at this stage. If I don’t pick an image now, it may have a use later.  Example keywords include night, park, river, bridge etc – so generic enough to be useful in a search.
    3. For choosing ‘picks’ to work on further, use the P (pick flag). Then create a ‘smart collection’ so they are automatically placed in one folder (see screen shot). Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 13.11.54
    4. Use colour flags to indicate post-processing status. Green (7) – good to go. Yellow (6) – work in progress. Red (5) – problem / difficulty requiring attention. Blue (8) is for images edited outside of LR. The flags give a visual indicator in the matrix view of the library module and can also be used in LR’s filtering functions. In addition, in the metadata file menu the label names can be edited from colours to descriptive text.
    5. For review comments (for inclusion in contact sheets) – use workflow metadata field ‘instructions’ to record brief comment.
    6. For selects use workflow metadata fields – input  ‘SELECT’ into ‘job identifier’ field and set up smart collection to automatically group the selects.
  3. Organising images processed with Photoshop or add-ins:
    1. Right-click to use ‘process-in option’. The processed image file (a new file) is automatically included in the same collection as the original image file – change colour flag to blue to indicate processed outside of LR.
    2. To keep the different image files organised, I change the copy name (in exif data) to PS edit or another name if it was edited in Nik Efex for example. Then create a smart collection to automatically pull in the image. If you need to locate the image file in its original folder, you simply right-click and choose, ‘go to image in folder’.
  4. Files exported / converted for posting to the web. I know that some people keep copies of these files too on their hard-drives. I see no need for this since the original file can easily be re-exported using the export pre-sets. I simply export to my ‘downloads’ folder, upload to the web and then delete my files from the downloads folder.
  5. For contact sheets – I first looked at this during EYV in the post here, which shows how to use the LR print module to create contact sheets. I’ve updated the ‘photo info’ setting to use the workflow metadata fields used to indicate final selects (‘job identifier’) and provide image comments (‘instructions’). This information now also pulls-through to the contact sheets.

Screen Shot 2015-09-23 at 23.42.13

This produces a set of contact sheets that look like this:

contact test

I’ve arrived at an approach that doesn’t end up creating duplicate image files without reason and properly utilises LR’s file management tools, rather than manually creating folders on the hard-drive.  It also creates meaningful contacts sheets as part of workflow, without the need to create additional notes outside of LR.


Anderson A [online] (2013). General Light Room Workflow (12 September). Adobe.com [online]. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-general-workflow.html [accessed 20.9.15]

Nigel’s learning log for Photography 1 [blog] (7.9.15).  Lightroom Workflow. Available from: https://pexpix.wordpress.com/2015/09/07/lightroom-workflow/ [accessed 20.9.15]

PHlearn [online] (9.6.2014). Ultimate Lightroom Workflow Guide . Available from: http://phlearn.com/ultimate-guide-workflow-lightroom-photoshop [accessed 20.9.15]


Adobe.com [online] (nd). Create Efficient Lightroom Workflow. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-create-efficient-workflow.html [accessed 20.9.15]

Kloskowski M [online] (2013). Lightroom rate flag label  (12 October). Adobe.com [online]. Available from: https://helpx.adobe.com/lightroom/how-to/lightroom-rate-flag-label.html [accessed 20.9.15]



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