So, the other day I was musing over my photographic workflow and looking at ways of smoothing the way, becoming more efficient and ultimately speeding up my client supply time.
Incidentally, my client supply time is pretty rapid, if you carefully plan and manage your day-to-day activities you can turn jobs around pretty quickly. This is something which is very important for my commercial and business clients, they simply can't afford to be waiting 'weeks' to get their images so I normally aim for around 3 to 5 days from shoot to delivery where possible. If this isn't possible, then managing the clients' expectations is crucial... It's good to talk!
Anyway, back to my basic Lightroom editing workflow and the 10 things I do to (almost) every image after they have been imported into the Lightroom catalogue...
1. Backing Up
First up... After I've imported a client's images into Lightroom I back them up. This is possibly the most important thing I do on a day-to-day basis! Can you imagine losing 10's, 100's or 1000's of precious images in a hardware or software failure? Doesn't bear thinking about does it! While the images are being worked on, I also try to keep the original set of RAW, unedited images on their memory cards, just in case!
Once backing up has been done, I tend to start the Keywording process in Lightroom's Library panel. Occasionally I'll do this last after I've edited all the selected images, but ultimately providing it gets done at some point in the workflow it doesn't really matter.
Keywording can be done in bulk, so there is no need to keyword each image individually. I also keyword images automatically whilst importing them into the catalogue with things such as the year and with terms such as 'Commercial' or 'Event' so I can easily filter different types of images later on.
Keywording is important as it helps me find images, or similar images in future. As an example, as a Photographer, I'm rather partial to photographing sunrises and sunsets. If I type 'Sunrise' into Lightroom's search function, guess what pops up... All the sunrise images in that particular catalogue... Keywording is a very handy thing to do, especially when you have 100,0000+ images stored as I do!
As a side note, I've just had one of my main camera's serviced by Canon in Auckland. As of last week, it had shot around 135,000 images. Then there are my other current work cameras, the old ones which don't see the light of day anymore, and lastly my latest, the Fujifilm X-T20 which I'm using for travel and other non-work related photography. All this equals a huge number of files which need keeping track of, so without keywording I'd be stuffed!
As keywords are stored in a files Metadata, these keywords can also be exported with an image and written into, for example, a Jpeg file. This enables my clients to use the search function within my image supply galleries, which is especially useful when shooting a sporting event where people have race numbers, etc. The race numbers can simply be searched for, and hey presto, here are the images featuring that person/race number combo. The keywords also stay embedded within an image when a client downloads the file. This helps them search for particular shots within their own image library.
3. Checking & Correcting White Balance
White balance (WB) refers to the colour temperature of an image. An image with a WB of say 2000 is very 'cold' looking and blue in colour, whereas an image with a WB of 50,000 is very 'warm' looking and yellow in colour. I won't go into the technicalities of WB in this post, but suffice to say, if I was to shoot a portrait of you with either of those WB's above, you would not be very happy! Unless of course, we were doing something 'creative' and you wanted to look like either a Smurf, or an Umpa Lumpa!
The opposite can be true when shooting a landscape image though. If I'm shooting a sunrise which is maybe a little lacking in colour, sometimes a tweak of the WB towards the warmer end of the spectrum can make a dramatic improvement. Likewise if shooting something which is white in colour, like snow, then tweaking the WB to make sure the snow is white (not blue, yellow or anywhere in between) is also important. The 'dropper' icon on the left of the image above is a great way of selecting something in the image which you know to be white (or grey) in colour. This basically sets the white point to that colour so if someone is wearing a white shirt, or there is snow or other white elements you can easily correct it.
Below are three identical shots of our dog, Harvey which I shot up on Te Mata Peak last year. The version in the middle has had the white balance adjusted to a point at which I'm happy with the warmth/colour tone and accurately reflects how I saw the image with my own eyes. The other two versions either side have had the WB adjusted to the extream of what Lightroom is capable of to demonstrate what WB's which are too cool, and too warm look like.
As I mentioned above, I don't want to go into the technicalities of WB in this post, but cameras don't 'see' in the same way as the human eye, so can't always replicate the same colours and tones that humans see (or feel) without our help.
4. Adjusting Exposure & Colour
I'd say that 99.9% of the images I photograph are shot in RAW format, as opposed to JPEG. This means that the files which the camera produces are not affected by the cameras internal algorithms as they would be if I was shooting a JPEG image which comes out of the camera in an already 'processed' state, or at least processed the way the camera thinks it needs to be done.
The straight out of camera RAW image often looks very different to the final edited image. RAW images often need exposure levels changing to reflect actual conditions, or so the Photographer can add his or her creative slant to the image. To do this we can use the Exposure slider in Lightroom to affect the whole image, or use the Highlight, Shadow, White or Black sliders to affect just those elements. All these can have a dramatic effect on the final image.
When adjusting a RAW files colour, as with exposure adjustments, we often need vibrancy and saturation levels adjusting also. In a nut-shell, vibrancy adjustments affect the more muted colours in an image and leave the more vibrant colours alone. Saturation adjustments, on the other hand, are a uniform increase, or decrease of all colours equally.
5. Adjusting The Tone Curve
The Tone Curve is one of my favourite things to play with in Lightroom. It can have very dramatic effects on contrast and colour. As a starting point, I often tweak the tone curve into a gentle 'S' shape. This adjustment changes the overall contrast within an image and usually gives a nice overall result. Tone Curve adjustments are normally done after I have adjusted the Highlights, Shadows, Whites and Blacks sliders in the previous step. I basically use it to fine-tune the contrast of an image.
6. Adjust HSL (Hue, Saturation & Luminosity)
HSL adjustments can have a very dramatic effect on your images. For example, If you wanted to change the colour of certain tones in Lightroom, you can tweak the Hue slider to achieve this. The same is true of the Saturation and Luminosity sliders. Rather than affecting all the colours within an image 'globally', this is where you can selectively change each colour in turn, very handy!
7. Sharpening and Noise Reduction
Sharpening and noise reduction is a very important step in creating an image. RAW files straight out of the camera do not have any sharpening or noise reduction applied to them. Sharpening increases texture and draws the viewers focus towards the important parts of an image. There are many ways to sharpen an image, be it in Lightroom, Photoshop (there are several ways of doing it in Photoshop alone), or in other add-on software packages which work in conjunction with Lightroom and Photoshop.
Here's before/after shot (heavily cropped) from a business portrait I shot last week. As you can see, the before shot needed some sharpening, but after a little sharpening tweak in Lightroom was applied, you can really see the difference in her eye lashes and brows.
In digital images, noise can be described as 'visual-distortion' and looks very similar to the grain found in images shot with film cameras. Noise can be caused by many factors, including ISO, sensor size, pixel density, exposure time, or shooting in low light, etc. Modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras are able to be used with ISO's which are far higher than cameras of just a few short years ago which results in far less noise in your images, which is generally a desirable thing.
Below are identical images, both cropped from a 100% view in Lightroom. The image was shot with an ISO setting of 5000 which has resulted in quite a lot of noise being present. This is really noticeable in the 'before' views solid areas of colour and in the darker/shadow areas.
In the 'after' version, the solid and shadow areas are a lot 'smoother' with visibly less noise. There is a trade-off when applying noise reduction however, and that is in sharpness. It's a fine line between removing the noise, and retaining a level of sharpness that you are happy with.
8. Lens Corrections
Lens Correction is a tool within Lightroom which enables the correction of things such as chromatic aberration, vignetting and perspective correction. Each lens model is designed with a unique 'optical formula', so Lightroom, in turn, needs to be customised with its own formulae to correct these things on a lens-by-lens basis. No single correcting formula can be applied to more than one lens model due to the optical differences of each lens. Adobe does a great job of constantly updating the Lightroom software to account for new lens and camera models.
9. Transform Adjustments
Transform adjustments are extremely useful things to have in Lightroom. They basically let you correct things such as vertical and horizontal perspectives, something which is especially useful when you are photographing architectural and landscape images.
As a general rule, it's not a good thing to have walls and other vertical elements in architectural images which are converging, or diverging, i.e. not perfectly vertical which is the way the human eye sees such things. Similarly, with landscape photography, it's generally not desirable to have horizons which are tilting to one side or the other. Have you ever looked out at the ocean and seen the that the horizon is leaning to one side? No, neither have I!
In the before and after images below we've got a shot showing the converging vertical lines of the building walls and then how the corrected image looks. It should be noted that the human eye and brain combination does not see vertical walls either converging or diverging. We see things as they actually are.
It should be noted that I cheated a little with the shot above. As a professional Photographer, you would aim to not photograph an image like this with converging or diverging verticals in the first place. For starters, we would aim to get it right in camera; in this case, that meant having a camera which is perfectly horizontal, i.e. not looking upwards or downwards thus ensuring nice vertical lines. A second way would be to use a tilt-shift lens which through some very clever optical jiggery-pokery corrects perspective even when the camera is on a tilt.
For this example, the lens was as level as I could get it. Only very minor perspective tweaks were needed to get those lines vertical. This image was reverse edited so as to be able to show you what not to do when photographing this sort of subject, and how it can be corrected in post processing.
Finally, we come to Publishing those final edited images ready for client supply, publishing to Social Media, or simply keeping on file ready for use further down the track.
In the image below we've got my typical Lightroom publishing routines which I use for the majority of images which I publish via Lightroom. It's pretty self-explanatory what each one does, so I won't go into the specifics here.
So, this was a relatively quick/high-level overview of my Lightroom workflow. Sometimes, depending on the editing needs of an individual image, or of the needs of a whole project's worth of images I may use other software, such as Photoshop, to achieve the end goal. This is especially the case when more detailed work is needed, for example, cloning or editing things into (or out of) an image. I find Lightroom very good for most things, however, when compared to Photoshop there are things which it doesn't do quite as well, likewise, there are also things it does better or in an easier way.
From time-to-time, in addition to my commercial and event photography work, I undertake 1-2-1 training with individuals. This can be either in general photography (getting out of auto), and/or Lightroom training for those who are just starting out on the photography journey. If you are interested in hearing more please do get in contact for a no obligation chat.
Here are a few more before/after shots to give you a further taste of what Lightroom is capable of, and also how I take an image from it's RAW, straight out of camera state and into its final edited version...
Freeway Horse Floats
Pacific Powder Coating
Logan Stone Valuation & Property Management