My Lightroom Workflow

lightroom2.jpgI used Adobe Lightroom when it was still in beta, I bought it when it came out and I recently updated to verison 2. I’m now on 2.1 and Lightroom is one of those things that I like to compare to the mouse wheel. Do you remember thinking “who needs that” when the first wheel mouse was introduced? And last time you used a mouse without a wheel, was it fun?

Lightroom is my personal mouse wheel of photo management. And of a lot of post processing. And of posting to Flickr. And of sending images out via email. And and and..

90% of my images will never see any photo-related software other than Lightroom. The rest will be opened in Photoshop out of Lightroom and once I’m finished working on it in Photoshop, it’ll automatically show up in its edited form back in Lightroom.

And before you email me, yes, Aperture can do all these things too. Maybe with different keyboard shortcuts and maybe in a slightly different way, but this post is about Lightroom.

With today’s massive amount of images (I just shot 318 pictures in 2 hours and that’s not really a lot) most of us need help. Help with the workflow. Some actually first need to understand that a somewhat defined workflow is key in making sure you get the best out of your thousands or tens of thousands of images.

I get a lot of questions about what my workflow looks like, so I thought I’d take you by the hand and show you my own personal version:

  1. Imported 318 pictures into Lightroom, making sure to use an import preset to stamp copyright info and add keywords.
  2. Assign a profile to all images (Develop/Cam Calibration) to make them as close as possible to what I saw on the display. If you don’t have profiles installed in your LR, you can find some good ones here: Despite the fact they say DNG, they work with RAW too. On to initial selection round now…
  3. Initial round, select pictures as picks (P key) or rejects (X key) – auto-advances to next pic with CAPS lock on. Swift. I select those pretty fast, maybe 2-4 seconds per picture.
  4. Quick review of the rejects. I’ve set up a Smart Collection for that that only shows me the pics with the reject flag on
  5. DELETE the rejects from disk. Pooof, gone. In this case 184 out of 318. Still too many picks, but man it’s hard to choose
  6. Now that I’m left with only flagged images, I rate them with stars. * = “hmm, not sure I wanna keep that”, ** = “kinda good, needs work”, *** = “high potential, I want to work on that!”. Shortcuts: keys 1-5 will rate, CAPS lock on gives you auto-advance again. While rating the pics, I found some more to reject. All rated now.
  7. Set up a Smart Collection that shows all pics with 3 stars and matching keywords. Call it “TBWO” (To Be Worked On)
  8. Now AFTER deleting them, I add additional keywords to some of the pics (maybe a person’s name or other detail)

(This list was first published on

This was the import and image organization part of my workflow. The rest pretty much depends on the actual images and where they will end up.

What does your workflow look like? Tell us in the comments!

» Read more Lightroom articles

Author: Chris Marquardt

Chris Marquardt is co-author of Absolut analog and The Film Photography Handbook. He hosts Tips from the Top Floor, the world's longest running photography show. Chris teaches photography all over the world on his photo tours. He is also a regular on the TWiT Network.

21 thoughts on “My Lightroom Workflow”

  1. Thanks Chris! I just started with Lightroom and haven’t come up with a good workflow yet. I’ll give this a try!

    One question – what’s the purpose of the Pick flag? Since you’re deleting the Rejected pictures, you should be able to go through and rate all the ones that are left over, right?

  2. @Chris: Using the pick flag helps me feel more committed to the pictures I chose and I can interrupt the process and come back later and know which ones I made a decision about and which ones I didn’t.

    @Stefan: I use 4 stars after I worked on a picture and I like it more than the original. I use 5 stars if I feel the image is really really good, aka print-it-out-and-hang-it-up-on-the-wall-in-a-gallery good.

  3. So far so good. Where I run into trouble is trying to edit within Lightroom. I know you can do it and go back and forth with PS if needed, but it takes a little practice. Looking forward to the next installment.

  4. Yep. I use a very similar workflow in LR2. I like the X and P shortcuts in the library module. And once I’m done I just hit control + backpage and all these “bad” pictures are forgotten alreayd (in Windows that is)…


  5. @Alan That’s where you open pandora’s box 🙂 Any specific type of editing? Color correction? Cropping? Rotation correction? Burning/dodging?

  6. @Alan: I hardly use a dedicted photo editing software (PS or other) anymore. LR2 is quite powerful and at least good enough for me. Only for a few pictures I jump to the dedicated editor and make the required adjustments. I got myself Jeff Kelby’s excellent book “Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers” which got me jumpstarted. He had a one day event where he donated all proceedings towards a good cause some time ago. Here’s a link:

    Hope it’s OK to post links here?

  7. Step 8 confuses me. Since you deleted the rejects in step 5, what does “them” refer to?

    Do you have some sort of separate backup solution for ALL of you image files that is held elsewhere?

    Finally I wonder about your White Balance step or lack of it.


  8. @David “them” refers to all the images that I deleted in the process, e.g. the rejects. White Balance and all other image modifications come after the management steps described here.

  9. Apart from archiving the raw files, will you keep all the “working images” on the same disk ? In which format ?
    Personally I’m trying to work out a procedure which:
    1) makes a backup of all selected raw images on DVD (or HD)
    2) after working on the keepers, I store all of them (raw) on a separate HD (together with raw-processing information) and
    3) I keep only a mid-resolution version in JPG format in the
    photo browser application

    This allows to have the full image catalogue available on the laptop, useful for the web or a photobook or small size prints, while I have to retrieve the full resolution from the dedicated HD when I want to use the image for some more refined use ..

  10. @Simone Not sure what you mean with “working images”? And do you use a separate photo browser application apart from Lightroom? I have all my important pictures from the last 5 years in direct access, my pictures folder resides locally on a mirrored 500GB disk. For added data protection the folder is included in my Time Machine backup, which saves them out to a Drobo on an hourly basis.

  11. Chris,
    Thanks for intro into your processes. When we should expect to see more of them?

    The most I’m excited to know if you’ve managed to overcome the bug in LR (Win) with updating XMP files (they simply not always updated when one changes a picture). I presume you are using those fiels to exchange information with PS, right?

    Another point, which is still questionable to me, if you are, actually, much more careful about removing files or not? On TWIP some people are talking about NOT removing any originals at all (Monica L. case). I’ve just told to one potential client “sorry,I don’t have it any more”, because did not make a full backup of ALL original files from that session.

    Myself I was using GQView (Linux) for primary selection process, then backup and only then LR. With your shortcuts, I might streamline the process a bit 🙂

    PS: Out of interest, I’ve tried to find ‘X’ keyboard in LR Help . Not that easy 🙁

  12. @PavelNL

    I’m a Mac user and unfortunately can’t help you with bugs in LR on Windows. I can only tell you a few very generic things here. Do the XMP-Files get updated when you mark the files and press CTRL-S? Command-S does that on the Mac. Are you on the latest version of LR?

    With regards to deleting sub-standard pictures, what I showed you was my personal workflow and everyone needs to decide for themselves if they want to adopt this or not. I’m pretty strict myself, and I’ve learned to delete those files that don’t meet my own standards. I agree that there might be corner cases, but I’ve never really run into one of those. If it suits you better (and if you can afford the disk space, preferably in a RAID array or any other redundant way) then there’s of course nothing wrong with keeping every single image you ever shot.

  13. Sorry, I was referring to “working images” as those images which were selected (i.e. not thrown away).
    Thanks for the reply. “Mirrored” means that you have the 500 GB available locally also on your laptop ? (and then you sync when you have the internet access available ?)

    Presently I don’t use LR. I use iPhoto as a catalogue for jpgs, while I do the raw edits with Canon’s software (DPP). I am evaluating both LR and Aperture. At the moment I had the impression LR is more powerful and faster in editing raw images, though Aperture gives me more options for sharing with iPhoto and using pictures in other mac applications.

  14. @Simone: I’m thinking about evaluating these too. But I need to get Mac or get their OS running in VMWare first.
    To me the points of Aperture are: plug-ins and storage/cataloguing. For LR: non-destructive editing and speed.

    @Chris: Thanks. Will try Ctrl+S tonight. About keeping non-keepers – this was more ideological question. My approach is the same – do not store stuff – but, sometimes, this is back firing.

  15. Lightroom is amazing! And, like you, all of my photos rarely enter any other program besides Lightroom. It’s one of the first things I ask other amateur photographers, “Have you ever used Lightroom?”.

  16. Thanks Chris – great inputs for the daily work. BTW are you using the grouping feature at all or you just working with collections and smart collections?

  17. Hi Chris,

    Thanks for sharing your workflow. I’ve been using LR and now LR2 for the past fw years and recently switched from PC to Mac so am re-evaluating my Photo catloguing.

    One specific question; Do you keep all of your photo’s in your LR catalog? ie do you have 10’s of thousands of photo’s in lightroom at any one time? Or once you’ve finished working with them do you remove them from your catalog?

    Historically I’ve used LR to do all of my editing but not used it to organise my photo’s because I fear if I leave all of my photo’s in the catalog my editing speed will be slowed. So currently i’m using iPhoto as a photo browser and LR to do my editing. I’m hating this method.

    Any thoughts anyone has would be appreciated.

  18. Thank’s a lot for this very good workflow, me and my spouse now have a tremendously easier task to go through all our photos and separate the pics from the rejects..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *