Workflow refers to the entire imaging process—from the moment you get your equipment ready to when you share, upload, or print your finished images. It’s how you perform the entire process.
Your goal as a photographer should be to create a workflow that is consistent and efficient. Developing a clear process for imaging ultimately makes all aspects of your photography more reliable, consistent, and predictable. Basically, when you press the shutter release button, you want to be able to image exactly what your finished image will look like.
Beyond time saving consistency, developing your own workflow can become your personal photographic signature. One of my favorite photographers, Edward Weston, created beautiful photographs from contact prints of large 8×10 sheet film negatives. This specific element of his workflow was central to creating his style.
Another famous photographer, Diane Arbus, always printed the edges of her medium format negatives. When you see one of her photographs, this element of her process is immediately noticeable—you can tell who took the picture instantly.
Most experienced photographers develop a “look” that demonstrates their technical skill and makes a stylistic statement. Refining your workflow process can help you create a “style” that defines your photographs. Perhaps more importantly, it improves the constancy of your images so that you can create predictable results.
Step 1: Equipment Selection and Set Up
The decisions you make before you head out for a shoot are often vital to your success as a photographer.
You need to plan for the conditions you will experience and your subject. Consider what type of lens you need, how your camera will respond in different lighting conditions, and what settings you will use.
If you are shooting at night and planning for long exposures you’ll need a tripod. A remote shutter release might help as well. If it is night time and you are hand holding your camera, you’ll need a fast lens or a flash.
This is where you apply your photography knowledge before you need it.
Additionally, you might want to think about creating presets on your camera. Many DSLRs offer manual presets that you can switch to for different shooting conditions. When I shoot a wedding, for example, I set up three presets for different lighting and subject movement situations I expect to encounter.
Step 2: Import and Organization
You need to find a way to import, store, and catalog all of your images.
I can’t recommend an application like Adobe Lightroom enough. Lightroom allows you to organize, database, and edit your photos all in one application.
Create a clear labeling system for you shoots. Decide if you want to use place names, subjects or dates to organize your photographs on the macro level. Lightroom and other organization and edit applications can help you add tags to your photographs so you can search for them later.
You might not have many digital images right now, but if you get to the point of shooting several hundred photos per week, they will quickly add up.
Step 3: Lens Correction, Noise Reduction, Cropping
This is the first step of the editing process.
Generally, it’s best to work from large scale adjustments to small ones. To develop consistency, you should aim to keep your editing practices the same for every photograph.
At this point, many photographs adjust for lens distortion and light fall off. Every lens distorts your subject to some extent. Wide angle lenses create the most noticeable distortion, usually seen on the outside of photographs as the bending of lines and darkness in the corners. Vignetting, or light fall off in the corners of images can easily be corrected as well.
You can use presets in applications like Lightroom, which have a database of lens profiles included to correct for lens distortion, or you can use a secondary application.
Cropping and noise reduction are two of the first image editing steps I frequently take. I always crop first, especially if I plan to do a close crop on a subject. If high ISO noise is a problem at this point, you can use Lightroom to reduce noise or send the file to a secondary noise reduction specific application.
Step 4: All Other Edits
The final stage is to perform the remaining image edits.
This process involves correcting white balance, color temperature, and exposure.
Combining all of these steps into a single application like Lightroom or Apple’s app Aperture is often the easiest way to handle the digital darkroom process. Most photographers only use a single stand-alone application to handle the majority of their cropping, adjustment, and editing work. The advantage to Lightroom and Aperture is that they also store and organize your photos for you.
Step 5: Backup
Always backup your images.
Many database and edit applications allow you to create backup libraries on removable media.
A removable storage device is recommended, however, storing images on the web or “the cloud” is the most effective option. The standard for digital backup and file recovery is to have three copies…the original on your hard disk, a backup on a second disk, and a cloud copy. If you have a cloud backup, you can guarantee that your files will be safe even if something happens to your computer.