Lightroom: A Street Photography workflow


Inspired by our Lightroom Workflow podcast episode, Giovanni Maggiora sent me his Lightroom Workflow philosophy that makes clever uses of Smart Collections and leaves folders alone.

I am happy to share the workflow concept I have adopted and seems to be working for me. “Working” means: keeps me reasonably tidy in the process. It can be perfected, especially in forcing greater discipling in the metadata tags addition, titling etc., but by and large, it does the job.


I am trying to spend as little time as possible in Folders, which I treat as good old three-ring binders for filmstrip holders! I use, instead, quite heavily, nested Collection Sets and Smart Collections. Treated right, they are really… smart!

Folder Structure

Simple. Inside my LR Master folder, several Subfolders by year “M 20yy” and inside those, twelve “M 20yy-mm” Subfolders by month. All images get imported there and not initially renamed nor sorted in any other way. On import (via Lightroom, converting RAW to DNG) I also backup to a parallel backup folders structure, essentially the same “B 20yy” and “B 20yy-mm” structure for the original RAW files. You never know when you might need them again.


Collections Structure

Less simple, but seems to be working! First, the heavy use of nested Collections Sets. I start the system with a master Collection Set for each year again, “Work 20yy”. Inside, rather than going on a month-by-month structure, I create several Collection Sets, by subject or location. For example, a set called “2013 Paris” and one called “2013 Provence”. Each Collection Set will contain a Collection which will contain all copies and virtual copies of images on that subject (say, “2013 Paris All”), plus a few smart collections. More on these in a second.


Most important, though, is another master Collection Set called “Work in Progress”. Nothing goes to other Sets before it's handled end-to-end here. The WIP set contains a set called “WiP All”, where all copies and virtual copies of the images that need processing reside. It also contains four Smart Collections, which are set to automatically catch all copies of images in the Wip All set, plus sorted by Copy Name, which can be “Original”, “BW Basic”, “BW Processed” and “BW in Process”.

If you do color, they'd probably be called “Color Processed” and “Color in Process”. The “in Process” Smart Collection will select from Copy Name = “Processed” plus Color Flag = Purple. More on how I use them in a second.


Import: Import first, of course. First I copy the card images to the backup folder of the month, so “B 20yy-mm”. Then I import via Lightroom to the current “M 20yy-mm” Folder, no renaming but converting the proprietary RAWs to DNG. So I end up with the original originals in the backup tree and DNGs in the Lightroom master tree. Upon import, I normally assign very basic metadata tags, normally camera name and location data (this can be done later too, but get it out of the way now). No work will ever be done in folders!


Move to Work in Progress

Take the last import and do two things:

– Rename using a sequential structure such as “M-20yy-mm-xxxx”. Renaming post import preserves the original filename in the library which can be useful for ‘reconciling' to backups which are never renamed.

– Move the whole series to the “WiP All” collection, and apply to all images the Copy Name : “Original”. You should immediately see them populate the “WiP Original” smart folder.


Ideally, you should not touch Originals at all, but I confess to cheating occasionally and running through them to spot immediate rejects and/or correct blatant exposure issues using the quick develop cursors. This can save otherwise good images from rejection later. Editing has to wait for now!

Create Virtual Copies

So, now, stay within your WiP All set and do yourself a favor. Immediately:

– Create Virtual copies of all images and as soon as they are created and are all selected, type in a new copy name, either “Color Basic” or in my case normally, “BW Basic”.

– For BW images, also immediately apply your favorite standard BW processing preset At this stage you should see your “BW Basic” folder nicely populated with your first set of BW images. Never look at color originals again! and get to the real work!


First edit

The BW Basic folder is not yet a postprocessing area. You don't want to invest time in postprocessing everything. It's more like a first editing area. You are allowed to cheat a bit again while you are editing, but don't overdo it. Just correct basic exposure parameters, if needed.

So, now, use that Pick flag sparingly, to do your first cull. Walk through the BW Basic smart collection and try and keep no more than 25-33% of your images. You are allowed some leniency here because you have not yet adjusted for contrast etc. Just focus on composition and subject strength at this stage.

Move to Processing

Time for the big guns. Apply a filter for Pick Flags in you BW Basic smart collection. Select all picks. Move to the WiP All collection (all selected picks should stay selected), and create virtual copies again. (The reason why you want to move to a collection and not create virtual copies from the smart collection is that your copies will be automatically named “Copy 2”, and drop out of the virtual collection; you can only find them in your basic Folder and need to drag them in WiP All again…).
With virtual copies still all selected, rename the copy from “Copy 2” to “BW Processed” and also apply a Purple Flag. At this stage, your picks should show up in the BW To Be Processed smart collection inside the Work in Process set. If you will, apply a few more metadata labels, to allow future recovery by label. Most times, I wait for the next edit to do this. Now, work through the To Be Processed smart collection and do what it takes processing wise.


Use you own presets or Inspired Eye‘s, mostly focus on contrast clarity and your favorite amount of vignetting and grain, tweak color filtering options as needed. It's your recipe, I won't go there. (I keep mine fairly simple, can tweak further after the next step). Let simmer a little while, ideally overnight…
Another editing and processing round

Now that you are happy with your first round of results, time to apply tough love to your work, and edit again. Pick flags have already been used, so now move to stars. Start with a simple star, don't go fancy. Again, try and aim for 25-33% keep rate only, so that you are going to have one- stars only on 6 to 10% of your shoot. Apply a filter for one-stars, so that the only images showing are your strongest from the shoot.

Now you have a smaller number of them to spend some more processing time on, so go ahead and tweak the development a bit more if you will. Most times, the least the better! More importantly, now it's the time to do the most vital bit, which is to finish the labeling metadata thing, and titling and captioning. With fewer images, this will not be a chore!


Done, and export

You are now done! You can proceed to clearing the purple labels, and your images will be nice and clean in “BW Processed”. Just remember that the really nice and fully processed ones are just the ones with one stars!

From here, therefore, apply the star filter again just to be sure, and Export to JPEGs for uploading to your website. If you use Lightroom to the end, you can normally upload directly from the application, for example to Flickr, but I prefer to have “final” jpegs to be sure, because the interface to outside services is sometimes buggy.

I also label everything that has been uploaded to my flickr page with a blue label, as an easy reminder from within Lightroom itself.

Clearing out your Work In Progress

Time to clean up and leave an empty desk for the next batch. So, simply, go to the WiP All collection in the Work in progress set, and move all images to the appropriate master collection, say to my “2013 Paris All” collection in the “2013 Paris” Collection Set. If you have created the same smart folders for original, Basic and Processed in that collection set, the relevant smart collections will populate automatically.

Of course, you may always want to revisit old “finals” and try alternative takes. Remember however not to keep tweaking the “first final”. Much better to start anew with a fresh virtual copy, best if from your Basic virtual copy so that you avoid layering similar development actions onto each other. Just remember to call the new processed copy with a sequential numeral. It will still work in the automatic smart folder sequence.


Other smart collections

Don't stop using smart collections once you start. For example, I use a “Best of” smart collection to automatically pick all images with Pick Flags plus One Stars in a given year. Useful starting point when you decide, at some point, to go one step further in your editing and give two stars to the best one stars and so on…


And then?

I have not gone into the printing business side of Lightroom yet, so I cannot offer much advice on that front. I hope the above can help you set up your personal system. There's plenty of good workflow advice on the internet…this is only mine.


Update: Check out this post with Screenshots. 

[highlight]Giovanni Maggiora[/highlight]

Please check out Giovanni's Flickr.

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