My Lightroom Workflow for Project Life & Scrapbooking

This past year I finally feel like I’ve gotten into a really good groove with my photo workflow. I take a ton of pictures. I shoot in RAW so every photo needs a little oompf before it’s ready to be printed or used in a photobook. I thought I’d share my workflow.

My File / Folder Structure:
PICTURES (Main Folder on Hard Drive)
PHOTO-ARCHIVES (folder on External Drive)
>>etc… all years past

My Workflow (using Lightroom 4):
Import all (import and convert to DNG) to: PICTURES\PHOTO-LIBRARY\2013-UNORGANIZED
Notes: Before I get into my workflow of deleting, rating, etc. I just have to say that I teetered for a long time on whether or not to keep photos of extended family and friends. In the end I use the same criteria below on ALL my photos imported, not just my immediate family. I use it for random shots of playdates, friends, BBQ’s, landscape, etc. I feel good about this.

Round 1: Culling (I’m in the “Previous Import” Folder in Lightroom – check Left Panel or you can work from your Unorganized folder)
1. Quickly go through all photos (I view 1-3 images at a time) and choose to keep or delete. This is a one second per image quick fly through. I hit the “X” key to reject and do not hit or flag anything to choose to keep.
2. View in grid mode (hit “g”) and choose to see only the photos flagged rejected. Do a quick scan to make sure there isn’t something in there by accident. Then go up and choose to delete photos from disk (now they’re gone for good).

Round 2: Multiples / Another Round of Culling
1. Go back through images in grid mode (I like to see about 3 in each row). Mark reject if I see any I want to delete. Pay attention to multiples. Click them and hit “N” to see them all together. Mark the ones I don’t want as rejected. I usually keep no more than 4 of the same shot and sometimes not any. Watch the difference though in multiple vs series. I like to have a series so if there is something slightly off I usually keep it. If the photos are truly the exact same shot, I choose the one I like the most and usually delete the others. I don’t like having two of a totally identical shot.
2. Again,view in grid mode (hit “g”) and choose to see only the photos flagged rejected. Do a quick scan to make sure there isn’t something in there by accident. Then go up and choose to delete photos from disk (now they’re gone for good).

OPTION: If I have a ton of photos from one event then sometimes rather than sorting and deleting as I described above, I’ll go through and choose all my keepers first. Using the pick flag (shortcut P) I quickly go through all the images and hit P for any that I am certain I want to keep. When finished I view only the picked photos and see if I have enough. If I feel like I have a good selection that captures the event then I’m all set. I view the non-picked images, select them all and delete them. Then I go back to my picked images, remove the flag and start organizing with keywords, etc.

Assign Star Rating
Quickly go through all photos (I like to see one image at a time) and rate either 2 Star or 4 Star or leave as is without a rating. Here’s how I determine my ratings (and it takes literally one second to quickly assess and assign).
0 Stars = I like it enough to keep it AND/OR I’m not comfortable deleting the photo for good.
2 Stars = I might want to use it in a photobook OR It’s just a great shot. I like it enough that I want it in my rated album. OR It shows a relationship OR It shows character or a signature expression OR I like the photo enough to take the time to edit it
4 Stars = I really love this picture. Like really, really love it OR I want this to show up in my “best of” album. OR I will most definitely want to include this in a photobook

Note: I often find images that I end up wanting to delete at this point too. If I happen to see an image that just isn’t working for me I go ahead and hit X to reject then at the end of my rating session go back up to the top choose to delete rejected photos from disk.

All my rated images (2 star & above) get keywords. You can read up on how Lightroom lets you sync metadata which can help if you’re doing a bunch of photos taken at the same event. I keyword by the following and in this order (which seems to help me when syncing):
• WHAT (I have a huge list of “whats”. I like to get super descriptive, but that’s just me).
• WHO (I keyword everyone in the photo – even friends)
• CAPTIONS – In the metadata area (right panel) if you scroll down there’s a spot for captions. If a picture tells a specific story I can quickly jot it down here (a condensed version). Or if my kiddo said something funny that I want to remember I might jot it down on one of the images taken of her around that same time. I only use captions to tell what keywording cannot and I really don’t caption that often.

All Organized!
So now I consider my photos organized. Here are my next steps:
1. Still in the previous import file (see left panel in Lightroom). View your images in grid mode (g). Go to Attributes at the top and select to view images with 2 Stars or Greater than 2 Stars. Now you’ll have all your rated images. Select all these rated images and drag them to a collection called “NEED TO EDIT”. (this is a collection you’ll need to create).
2. Now, click on the folder called 2012-UNORGANIZED. Select all these images you just organized (make sure all are selected and not just the rated images) and drag them to the folder called 2012-PHOTO-LIBRARY. Here is where the images will reside for good. You’ll know that ALL the images in your 2012-PHOTO-LIBRARY have been rated, keyworded and totally organized. And your “Unorganized” folder is empty waiting for the next time you download your pics from your camera.

1. In the last step I added all my Rated images to the “NEED TO EDIT” collection. When I’m in the mood to edit I choose a few images from this collection (highlight the images from within the Need to Edit collection) and I drag them to another collection called “EDITING NOW”. Then I click back to the NEED TO EDIT and hit delete to remove those images from Need to Edit.
2. I edit images from the EDITING NOW collection. Once editing is complete I delete the image from the Editing Now collection.
3. This is how I work on my editing. I typically drag 4-12 pictures into the Editing Now folder at a time. It makes me feel less overwhelmed.

I share to facebook from within Lightroom. You can create a publish service (really easy to do as facebook is already set up in Lightroom). If I’m sharing to facebook I usually go in and add a title to each photo within the Metadata panel of Lightroom. The title will carry over when you publish to facebook. Lightroom has some export settings it uses when you share to facebook and LR goes ahead and resizes accordingly. I always choose to sharpen for screen upon export here and my facebook shares always look really good.

I also publish to smugmug from within LR. I used to keep a blog, but I don’t blog anymore. I still like to participate and share in forums though so I use smugmug as an online photo back up and they make it really easy to grab the right size image to embed/share in a forum.

JPGS for Apple TV, Scrapbooking, Etc.
I use a mac and I love Apple TV. After editing I export all my 2star and above images as 12×16 JPG images into a folder on my hard drive called “JPG PICTURES”. Within that folder I have a folder for each year. So all my edited pictures get exported here as JPG images.

I then import these pictures into iPhoto and keep them organized by event. The keywords I added in LR carry over into iPhoto which is nice.

I use these JPGS for…
1) Sharing pictures w/ friends & family. If my sister is over and wants to see pictures I let her browse through iPhoto. I think the iPhoto interface is easier to navigate for her. I let my kiddo look at all our pics through iphoto too. This gives me piece of mind. I never have to worry that someone is going to accidentally delete my images or erase an edit or somehow corrupt my Lightroom library. I just prefer that I’m the only one accessing the images via Lightroom.

2) Blurb Photobooks. It’s nice to see just my edited pictures, already re-sized and in JPG format. This makes it really easy when I’m working on a blurb photobook.

3) Apple TV. I love that I can view my pictures on the big screen using Apple TV. I just navigate to iPhoto and can quickly play a slideshow on the TV just by choosing an album or event.

I’m pretty OCD about backups. Here’s what I do.

RAW Images
Current Year is on my hard drive, backed up to my apple time capsule and backed up online to backblaze.
Past year RAW files are on an external drive at home and on a separate EHD I keep in my office.
My backup plan will be changing slightly as I intend to switch to crashplan and backup both my hard drive and external hard drives to crashplan (using their initial backup seed option). I’ll get around to doing that this winter.

JPG Images
All rated/edited JPG images (for all years) are on my hard drive, backed up to time machine, backed up online to smugmug and backed up online to backblaze.


I started this workflow in 2012 and it works really well for me. This is the first time I’ve been able to say that I am current in my photo organizing from 2012 through the present day. I’m in the process of going through years of older photos and organizing them in this same way. I have about 3 more years of pictures to go through and then I’ll be totally caught up from 2003 (when I started taking digital pictures) to current. I can’t wait!