Adobe Lightroom is hands down today the most popular and best photo editing software in the industry. Lightroom's official name is Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. They are siblings, not competitors. They are two completely different programs with their own strengths and weaknesses. As a wedding and engagement photographer more than 95% of my work is done in Adobe Lightroom. I'm going to walk you through my workflow in Lightroom from photoshoot to delivery to help show you how how powerful of a tool it can be in speeding up your editing so you can get back to shooting!
My Lightroom Workflow is broken down here into 4 simple steps
Import - Cull - Edit - Export
You just got home from the most perfect engagement session and you cant wait to start editing your photos! Importing your photos is the first step. Open up Adobe Lightroom and you need to make sure some settings are checked first. On a Mac go to the top left and go to "Lightroom" then click "Preferences" once the window opens up head to the "Performance" tab and make sure both "Use Graphics Processor" and "Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for Editing" is checked. Now that that is done, close the window and plug in your cameras memory card into your computer. (TIP: Save your camera. Spend the $20 on a fast card reader! I use the THIS ONE) The import dialogue will open within Lightroom and show all of the photos on your memory card. On the right you will see the 4 drop down menus we will use to control how your images are imported. File Handling, File Renaming, Apply During Import, and Destination. File Handling is the first option and wants to know how Lightroom should use the photos. Build previews is the quality that Lightroom will show you the photos when you are editing them. You would think that choosing the "Minimal" option would speed up your editing but there are plenty of articles online that show for some reason 1:1 is faster. I have no idea how. Next we want to enable Building Smart Previews. Before this version of Lightroom I never did this as its original use didn't effect me but now that we enabled "Use Smart Previews instead of Originals for Editing" load time for your photos is much faster which lets you get to editing faster! Lightroom does this because a "Smart Preview" is a smaller 2mp version of your photos that Lightroom creates. As you can imagine a 2mp photo will load much faster than a 50mp photo would. The next drop down menu is File Renaming which is self explanatory. Your camera names your photos something like "Date-00453.RAW" which makes your photos hard to search for a few years from now when you forgot the date of the Smiths wedding. So I rename all of my photos "CouplesName Wedding-1.RAW" for better organization. Next drop down menu is "Apply during import" for events like weddings and engagements consistency is key so you will more than likely use the same preset on all of your photos. This saves you a step and just applies the preset you want to your photos when you import them so that if you shoot correctly in camera your photos will be 95% done when you go to edit them. The last drop down menu is "Destination" This is simply where you want the photos copied to on your computer so you can edit them. I always put my photos in the same place "Pictures Folder/ Lightroom Photos/ Raw Dump/ Couples Name/ Raws". The folder Raw Dump is simply because once Im done editing a wedding or engagement session I will move the photos off of my computer. The folder is just a reminder of what needs worked on. If you plan to keep all of your photos on your computer even after you're done editing them (which I don't recommend because of how much space it will take up on your hard drive) then you can skip the "Raw Dump" Folder. Ok thats it you are now ready to import your photos! Once you do so you can walk away for a while because this is when Lightroom will get your Smart Previews and 1:1 Previews ready. For 658 photos this took my MacBookPro just over 3 hours. This is why I import my photos once I get home from a wedding so my computer can build the previews overnight.
This is not an easy easy task. This is where you decide what photos will become master pieces and what photos will end up in the trash, never to be seen again. Open up the "RAW" folder you created and imported your photos in to. While you are still in the Library module click on the first photo. In the menus at the top click on "Photo" and click "Auto Advance". Auto advance will automatically move to the next photo once you have rated one. Saving time from clicking the right arrow for every photo. Super fast just do one pass through your photos rating every photo that you like with a 2 and every photo that you wont want to edit with a 1. Once you have edited all of the photos, in the lower right hand corner click on the second star to only show the photos you have decided to keep.
This post isn't to tell you HOW to edit your photos but how to get to editing within the Lightroom Modules. Go back to the first photo in the folder. You should have already imported your photos with your preset so your photos already have a base edit, this is just where you finish them up! If you come across a photo that you will want to give some more attention to later to clean up blemishes or whiten teeth then give that photo a 3 star rating by just pressing "3" on your keyboard. But I like to edit all of the photos first before you come back to the photos that need some retouching. That way you can ensure consistency in your editing. Remember when it comes to editing, it doesn't have to be as difficult as you make it out to be. Don't stress over the smallest of details. No client will ever email you saying "These photos don't have enough contrast" or "Can you recover a little more shadow detail?". All they want is to look happy in their photos. If you get good emotion, 90% of your work is done! Once done with the first pass of editing and retouching then go through all the photos again and give the photos you want to blog a 4 star rating, and all the website/portfolio worthy photos 5 stars. That way later on you can quickly find the photos you're looking for.
I see so many beginners with questions on exporting their photos. How do I export for print? How do I export for Facebook? How do I export to send them their digital files? In Lightroom CC 2015.5 there are 8 different fields within the export dialogue to control the final output. But today we will only use 5. Export Location, File Naming, File Settings, Image Sizing, and Post Processing. But that last one is just a convince. Export location is where you want your edited photos exported to. I recommend you make a folder called "Edited" within the project folder that also has the "RAW" folder. See below. Next File Naming will simply name the edited photos whatever you like. I use "Custom Name - Sequence" option from the drop down menu and enter in "Couples-Name-Wedding" and then the start number is 1. So Then All the photos are exported it will be in order like this below.
Next is the "File Settings" tab where the only thing you need to worry about is the quality slider. Your number one thought is to leave this slider at 100 for the best image quality possible but thats not the case. In fact there are hundreds of tests that show that there is no difference between 100 and 93 and then at 92 the file size drops by 20% but in my own tests as you can see below, the file on the left was exported at 65% quality and the file was 2.5mb where the file on the right was exported at 100% quality and was almost 13mb and yet there is next to no discernible difference in the quality of the photos and yet the file size is dramatically smaller. And when you're exporting hundreds of photos you can save precious gigabytes!
Next is image sizing. Your client doesn't need a 50 megapixel photo. Its way to much. This is where you can resize your photos into a much more manageable size for your clients to view. I resize my photos to 5000 on the long edge. This makes my photos that I deliver to clients about 15 megapixels. Thats large enough to print an 8x10 if they wanted to and it's not TOO big of a file that you cant upload them to Facebook. Last option is "Post Processing" and I chose the "Show In Finder" option after export. Exporting a wedding can take quite a while so I typically just walk away. Having a window pop up with all of the exported photos is just a convenience but it works for me to know Lightroom is done working. Then you can upload them to Facebook or to a client gallery to send to your clients!
Now that you have Imported, Culled, Edited, and Exported photos for your clients there is a bonus step to free up some space on your hard drive and keep your files save and editable within Lightroom. You can now MOVE the entire folder to an external hard drive so you can keep the main drive in your computer nice and speedy. It's important to do this step within Lightroom so you can still edit the photos. If you just move the folder outside of Lightroom, Lightroom wont know what happened to the photos and therefore wont be able to edit them anymore meaning you will have to RE-import the photos to make the same edits again and thats just a waste of time. In the Library Module simply drag the project folder on the left hand side onto your external hard drive below it. This may take some time but Lightroom will move all of the photos off of your computer and onto the external hard drive.