Sample Workflow

The best way to understand how Lightroom can work for you is to watch a few sample workflow movies. This lesson shows a complete workflow in Lightroom, from initial import through selection, develop and output.

Part 1 - Import
Part 2 - Organize in Library
Part 3 - Develop
Part 4 - Export Options
Part 5 - Archiving


This workflow example shows how you can use the tools in Lightroom to help you from start to finish. You will see how the different modules are made to work together, and how it presents a simple start-to-finish process. I have split the workflow into 4 parts:

  1. Import - Download, rename, tag and backup your images
  2. Organize - Use the Library to group the images from the shoot, and to rate them for quality
  3. Develop -Make the pictures look their best
  4. Export - See how you can deliver pictures to your client
  5. Archive - Convert to DNG, make disaster-recvovery backup to DVD


FIGURE 1 This movie outlines the steps for the workflow, and describes the computer system you will need to accomplish it

Part 1 - Import

The movie in Figure 2 outlines the import process.

Import Settings

Once you have the storage set up, you will want to set up this import. The steps include:

  1. Download - Tell Lightroom where you want your images to be copied
  2. Rename - Give the images a unique name to aviod confusion and the possibility of image loss
  3. Bulk Tagging - Attach some metadata tags to the images, such as the location of the shoot, the name of the client, and other keywords
  4. Backup - Make a backup copy of the images at the earliest moment possible. Lightroom makes this part of the process
  5. Add Develop settings - Use Lightroom's import tool to apply a develop preset which can save you time adjusting the images
  6. Build Previews - Tell Lightroom how to build previews when downloading the pictures


FIGURE 2 The Import process is the beginning of a solid workflow. This movie shows how to make the most of Lightroom's import tools

Read more about Lightroom's Import in the Import Module Lesson

Part 2 - Organize in Library

In the second part of the workflow, I will take a look at the shoot and do some work to organize the photos. Part of this work helps right away, so that we can use the Develop module more efficiently. This work also helps over the long term, by making the pictures easier to find inside a growing collection. Here are the steps:

  1. Basic grouping - If your shoot has multiple situations, you might want to use keywords to group each situation together
  2. Rate for Quality - determine which are the best pictures so that you can know where to spend the most time perfecting your images
  3. Other tagging - if you shoot panoramas, HDR sequences or Time Lapse, this is a good time to tag the photos that are part of these multi-shot groups

Review and group

The first thing we should do in the library is a quick review of the images. Before you delete images from your card, it is a good practice to review the images and make sure everything transferred properly. Once you are satisfied that everything looks fine, it is time to do a little grouping of the images. 

The photos were tagged with keywords, location and client information during the ingestion process. Sometimes you will want to do some clean-up of these tags, in case some images should not get all the tags. This might include images that were not really a part of this assignment, but happened to be on the same media card.  

This is also a good time to subdivide a shoot a little more, if appropriate. This might include getting more specific with some tags, such as location tags. It might also include dividing a shoot into multiple parts, if that is helpful to the editing process. You can use wither Collections or Keywords to split you shoot into subgroups. Figure 3 shows how to do this review and grouping.


FIGURE 3 Once your pictures have been imported, use the Library tool to do some basic rating and grouping of the photos

Tag HDR and Panoramas

If you shoot multi-frame captures, such as panorama or High Dynamic Range sequences, it is good to tag them right at the outsetas shown in Figure 4. This can help you remember whether you have stitched the images or not.  It can also help you understand why you want to keep a particular frame, even though the composition or exposure may look like an outtake.


FIGURE 4 If you shoot multi-capture sequences like HDR, Panoramas or Time Lapse, use Labels to tag these images early in the selection process

Rate for Quality

Rating your images for quality is one of the most valuable things you will ever do.  It allows the best pictures in your collection to be found more easily. And you can use the rating to know which images deserve the most attention. Higher-rated images should probably get more attention in the Develop process. You might also want to spend more time tagging the images that you think are the best. You can add custom keywords, for instance, to images that you think are really good.  

The Star ratings tag was developed specifically to help you keep track of which images you like best. You can assign a rating of 0-5 to your images, as well as the 'reject' tag.  You assign a rating by selecting an image and tapping keys 0-5 for star ratings, and the 'x' key for a Reject rating.

Ratings should be done as consistently as possible, across your entire collection. This lets the ratings become a very useful filter when searching the archive. We suggest that you come up with a rating definition, and stick to it.  Here is an example of a set of definitions:

  • Reject - Throw away
  • 0 - Keep
  • 1 - Good enough to show to the client
  • 2 - Good enough to recommend to the client
  • 3 - Best of collection imaes
  • 4 - Portfolio Quality images
  • 5 - reserved for use once the #4 rating has gotten too full

As you do your ratings, you will want to take advantage of Lightroom's keyboard shortcuts. This makes it easy to look through many images, choosing between similar items and checking for critical focus. Figure 5 shows the rating process for a shoot.


FIGURE 5 This movie outlines a method for rating images for quality

Read more about the Library in the Library Module lesson

Part 3 - Develop

Now we get to the fun part. The Develop module in Lightroom is a wonderful way to make your pictures fulfil your photographic vision. This movie outlines several different ways to approach the develop workflow. Here are the steps:

  1. Quick Develop - if you have lots of pictures that all need different adjustments, the Quick Develop tool lets you make many adjustments very rapidly
  2. Filter to best and adjust - you can use the ratings you made in the last section to start your work on your best photos
  3. Paste Settings - take the settings made for one image and apply them to other images that were shot in the same lighting setup


FIGURE 6 This movie shows how to use Quick Develop

Filter to best and adjust

We can leverage the ratings by spending the most time on images that we have decided are the best from the shoot.

  1. Select the Collection that the shoot belongs to
  2. Filter to the highest-rated photos, and start your develop work on those photos


FIGURE 7 This movie outlines a method for rating images for quality

Paste settings to lower-rated images

Now that the highest-rated photos have been adjusted, you can show the lower-rated pictures, and paste the settings to similar images of a lower rating. The movie in Figure 8 shows how to do this.


FIGURE 8 You can take the settings from the highest rated images and paste them to lower rated images

Work down through lower-rated images

In this workflow, I will now move through the lower-rated images, applying an appropriate amount of care to optimize these images, depending on how highly you have rated them.


FIGURE 9 This movie contines the proces of working through the shoot from highest to lowest rated photos

Review and backup

At the end of the Develop session, it is helpful to review the work before output. One advantage of a Lightroom workflow is that the selection process and the image adjustment process are all part of one programme.

After the review, it is a good time to backup the work you have done to your catalogue. Run the backup during Lightroom shutdown to make sure you have preserved all the settings.


FIGURE 10 This movie shows how to complete the Develop process with a review of your work and a backup of the catalogue

Read more about Develop tools in the Develop Module lesson

Part 4 - Export Options

In the final phase of the workflow, I will show how Lightroom can output finished images for any number of uses. These include output of files either for proofing, or as finished files. After the introduction, each of the movies in this section outlines a diferent wany that the images can be put to use, through one of Lightroom's built-in features.

Introduction to output

The movie in Figure 11 outlines the output options in Lightroom. In addition, this movie shows a workflow for captioning the image prior to an export.


FIGURE 11 As you prepare for image output, make custom collections, if necessary, and finish the metadata and captions for your photos


One of the most useful ways to output files is a simple file export. This creates a new set of files that reflect the adjustments that have been created in Develop, as well as any metadata that has been added to the photos. Often, these exported files are burned to CD or DVD and sent to a client.  They can also be transferred by FTP. The movie in Figure 12 outlines how to export from Lightroom.


FIGURE 12 This movie shows how to work the Export controls in Lightroom

Web gallery

A popular way to send files to a client for proofing is to create a web gallery, and then upload the gallery. Lightroom's Web module allows you to do some basic customization to your gallery and to automatically create and upload it.  Figure 13 shows you how.


FIGURE 13 Use Lightroom's Web module to make a custom web gallery from your adjusted images

Publish to Flickr

Lightroom has the ability to create and upload images directly to your Flickr account. This provides a nearly seamless transition from the Lightroom window to web-based distribution.

  1. Make a Publish Collection
  2. Add the images you want to upload
  3. Put the images in order
  4. Hit the 'Publish' button.

The movie in Figure 14 shows you the steps.


FIGURE 14 Publish images directly to Flickr right out of Lightroom


Lightroom's Slideshow module allows you to run a slideshow directly from your computer, of course, but it does more than that. If you wnat to send a selection of images off for printing, you can export the slideshow directly to PDF. The movie in Figure 15 outlines the process.


FIGURE 15 You can run a slideshow in Lightroom, or export the slideshow to a PDF


The Print module allws you to print your adjusted images from inside the programme. You have a variety of layout options to choose from. The movie in Figure 16 outlines some of these options.


FIGURE 16 The Print module gives you control over page layout as you send to your printer

Part 5 - Archiving

At some point during the workflow, you need to make sure your images are put away as safely as possible. There are 2 things I suggest doing to protect your images, beyond the simple backup copy you made during the import. I suggest that you save the raw files as DNG, and that you write these image to optical disc, such as DVD or Blu-ray.

Convert to DNG

Sometime during the course of your image work, I suggest you convert your raw image files to DNG. This adds a couple levels of security for the image. Note that while we are showing this at the end of the process, it could actually happen at any point in the process. I suggest making the conversion at any time when your computer is not busy with other stuff. The conversion takes up a lot of computer resources, so it is best not to do it while you are busy with something else. Here are the reasons I like DNG.

  • A DNG file is built for the kind of editing Lightroom does - all based on instructions. The DNG file format can include all the processing instructions inside the file, along with custom camera profiles and more.
  • DNGs include an embedded file verification tool.  This enables you to check up on the health of your digital archive in an automated way. 
  • DNGs will also often be smaller than the original proprietary raw files. 

Making DNG files from raw is really easy. 

  1. Make sure any files you want to throw away have been deleted
  2. Select all images while you are in Library, and go to the menu Library>Convert Photos to DNG. 


The movie in Figure 17 shows how to do it.

FIGURE 17 I suggest archiving your raw images as DNG for safe keeping


Burn to Optical disc

Once again, this does not need to happen at the end of the process. It could happen at any point after the initial download. You might even wish to backup the original proprietary raw files instead of DNG files, although I like the DNGs better.  

Burn on Macintosh, or 32 bit Windows

On mac or on 32 bit Windows systems, you can burn to optical disc right out of the Export dialog. It's very simple.

Select the files

  1. Open the Export dialog
  2. Choose CD/DVD as the Export location
  3. Choose DNG as the Format in File Settings
  4. The system software will divide the files into DVD-sized groups and burn the discs

The movie in Figure 18 outlines the process.


FIGURE 18 You can export to DVD right out of Lightroom for Mac and Windows 32 bit

Burn DVD on Windows 64 bit systems

On Windows 64 bit systems, there is a bug that prevents this from working properly. You need to manage the process manually in order to copy to optical disc.  Here are the steps:

1. If the entire shoot can fit on a single DVD you can simply drag the whole shoot folder to your DVD burning software and burn away. Most disc burning software also has the ability to split large folders of images to multiple discs. The movie in Figure 19 shows how to do this with Roxio Creator DE.


FIGURE 19 You can export to DVD right out of Lightroom for Mac and Windows 32 bit