As a wedding photographer, it is easy to spend at least as much time editing 1,000-2,000 images from a typical wedding as you did actually shooting it. Although this can definitely be viewed as part of the creative process, minimizing the editing time will make your business more profitable and give you time for other things. Over the last few years, I have looked for ways to streamline the editing process and make it as efficient as possible. We have long since adopted Adobe Lightroom (LR) as our editing/cataloging software of choice, although Apple users could use Aperture with similar results.
I divide the editing process into six separate phases. (1) Importing the images into LR. (2) Setting up LR to efficiently manage the new images. (3) Reviewing the shoot to decide whether to keep each image or not. (4) Adding keywords or otherwise flagging Images so that they can be rapidly retrieved for review. (5) Editing as much and as efficiencly as possible within LR, limiting the use of external image editors such as Photoshop. This mainly involves white balance and color correction, exposure adjustments and basic cropping. (6) Final editings in Photoshop of selected images that call for additional “creative control”.
1. Importing the images
Efficiency starts at the time the images are imported into LR. During this process, LR can add shoot-specific keywords (e.g. wedding, location, bride and groom names) and append copyright information to all images. I prefer to use the “Camera Standard” (rather than the default “Adobe Standard”) Calibration Profile in LR, so this is applied automatically to all images via a Develop Preset during importation.
2. Set up Lightroom
Here’s where it gets interesting. Some time ago, I read an excellent blog post by an English photographer, John Beardsworth, in which he detailed a workflow solution that was based on LR’s Smart Collection feature. Basically, a Smart Collection is a way of automatically filtering a Catalog or Folder using criteria that you specify. Once you set up a Smart Collection, LR continually scans your images to see if they fit the criteria; if so, the images are automatically added to the Collection.
Once the images are imported, I take 10 minutes to set up a series of Smart Collections. Once set up, they look something like this:
Each Smart Collection is placed inside a Collection Set (in this case, “Kim and Josh”). Note that when I create each Smart Collection, it gets a number. This ensures that they appear in a particular order inside the Collection Set. The first Smart Collection just contains all the images from the shoot. This one is set up using a single criterion, and just includes all the images in the Library Folder “Kim and Josh” created during image Import.
When I later go through the shoot, images that I do not want are marked by flagging as ‘Rejected’ in LR (see later). By inference, when this process is complete, any images not flagged as Rejected must be the Selects. To separate these images, I create two additional Smart Collections - one for the Selects and another for the Rejects. This is what the Smart Collection for the Selected images looks like.
Note that the first line will include all the images from the “Kim and Josh” folder, and then include only those that have not been marked as Rejected. The second folder (for the Rejected images) works the same way except that only images marked as Rejected are included.
As I work through the images, I will usually identify a few to include in a blog post about the wedding. I mark these with a 3-star rating (this is the only thing that this rating is used for). These images are automatically captured in another Smart Collection. I do a similar thing to identify images that may later be included in a wedding album. These images are marked with a red label.
The next series of Smart Collections are used to organize the wedding into its component parts - Getting Ready, Ceremony, Formals, Bride, Groom, Reception and Details. If there are additional pieces such as a Rehearsal, First Look etc., I will create additional Smart Collections for those. The example shown here uses the Keyword ‘Ceremony’ to capture those images.
Obviously, accurate keywording is vital to this workflow. For that reason, the final Smart Collection (“Missing Keywords”) only captures images that do not contain a Keyword that puts it in at least one of the other Collections.
As noted above, I create the Smart Collections immediately after the images have been imported. At this stage, Collections 0, 1 and 12 contain all the images, while all the others are empty.
3. Review the shoot
Deciding what to keep and what to reject can be the hardest part of the process for many photographers. At this stage though, I am not actually deleting anything - just flagging images for Rejection. While these may be deleted from the hard drive later on, the immediate objective is simply to hide the poor or repetitive images so that we can concentrate on the ‘keepers’.
LR allows you to flag an image as a Pick (press ‘P’) or as Rejected (press ‘X’). Either method is fine, but I prefer to use the Reject flag. I also set LR’s Flag Filter to show “Unflagged Images”; this way, Rejected images disappear from the screen as I work through the shoot. You can work in the original Library Folder or in the “All Images” Smart Collection. Images are reviewed in LR’s Library Module; I prefer to use the Loupe View, but the Grid View works equally well if you have the screen real estate to see the image well enough to make a decision on it.
Some time ago, I attended a seminar by Jared Platt, an excellent photographer and teacher, where he demonstrated the use of a programmable keypad (the Shuttle Pro 2) to automate many functions within LR. I have set mine up with different settings for the Library and Develop Modules. This keypad makes it very quick to go through the images one at a time. A single key press with my left hand advances to the next image or marks the current image as Rejected. In the event that an image needs significant color or exposure correction in order to make the Accept/Reject decision, other buttons are programmed to apply Auto WB or Auto Tone corrections.
At the end of this process all the images will be neatly sorted via the Smart Collections into ‘Selects’ and ‘Rejects’. If you don't mind spending a bit more money (well, a lot a actually) you can get the even more capable RPG Keys unit.
I confess that I have not always been the most diligent keyworder. However, the efficiency of this workflow depends on the assignment of appropriate keywords. Fortunately, LR makes it pretty easy by allowing you to create Keyword Sets which group all the relevant keywords in one convenient area. Now it is a simple matter to select individual - or groups of - images in the Library Grid View and apply the appropriate Keyword by clicking on it.
As you work through the images, applying Keywords, the various Smart Collections will be updated appropriately and in real time with no further intervention from you. By the time you get to the end of the shoot, all the images should be in one or more of the Smart Collections that utilize the Keywords. If you happen to have missed any, the non-keyworded images will remain in the “Missing Keywords” Collection, and it is a simple matter to review those and add appropriate keywords. This Collection should be empty when you are finished.
5. Final image editing in LR
I typically run through the final image editing process in two stages. The first stage is entirely in LR and will include final exposure/color adjustments, cropping and removal of unwanted objects with LR5’s new Clone/Heal tool. Additional image effects including black and white, sepia etc., are applied with appropriate Develop Presets. Many of LR’s Edit functions are programmed into the Shuttle Pro 2 for maximum speed and efficiency. In order to be as efficient as possible at this stage, take full advantage of LR's ability to adjust multiple images simultaneously.
The last step is to take selected images into Photoshop for more detailed editing, retouching etc. Typically, this will only be performed on a few selected images, although most images later selected by the clients for their wedding album will also receive the “full treatment”. While outside the scope of this post, I maximize efficiency within Photoshop with the use of plugins from Imagenomics, Nik (Google), Topaz Labs, RadLab and OnOne Software.
Of course, there are many ways to develop an efficient digital workflow. Even this one is a work in progress.