Managing images

Seeing the light - A photographer's workflow

Dawn light piercing clouds in Glen Coe. Captured one Autumn morning after I’d spent the previous evening camped on the summit of Bidean nam Bian, a 1150m high Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

Dawn light piercing clouds in Glen Coe. Captured one Autumn morning after I’d spent the previous evening camped on the summit of Bidean nam Bian, a 1150m high Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

(Or, how I organise, edit, find and not lose my digital images)

Long before I started my photography business, I had thousands of photographs on various computers. I had no real idea which ones I liked best, when they were taken or whether they were worth keeping. More worryingly, I had no back up copies of any of them in case of a disaster. In short, my photo organisation was a mess.

When I adopted an professional approach, I upgraded my equipment and created new business processes. At the time, I wasn't shy of learning from industry experts (I'm still not), so I downloaded a copy of Michael Clark's 'Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer's Workflow', took time out to read it cover to cover (many times) and decided what worked best for me.

My photography workflow

The three components in my photography workflow today are;

  1. Import files

  2. Rate, remove and rename

  3. Archive and share

To support this, I have two photography folders on my desktop computer - a ‘Temporary Folder ‘ and a Photo Archive’. The temporary folder is used solely for any initial imports and is cleared out once images have been rated and moved to my photo archive. Doing it this way reduces disk space and cost as I’m only archiving the photos I want to and not any that need rejected (e.g. because I've captured an athlete when they've had their eyes shut, I don’t like the composition or they're out of focus).

When I return from a shoot, I'll religiously stick to the following process;

  1. Download the images to a 'Raw files' folder that I’ve created in my Temporary Folder

  2. Create a new Adobe Lightroom catalogue (e.g. Catalogue_2019) or use an existing one

  3. Import photos from the Raw files folder into Adobe Lightroom with generic keywords relating to the shoot

  4. Rate photos in Lightroom - 1 (delete), 2 (happy to keep) or 3 (images that best meet the brief)

  5. Filter to view 1-star images and remove these from Adobe Lightroom plus my hard drive

  6. Batch rename all the remaining images in Lightroom, both 2-star and 3-star, using a consistent naming model, e.g. c_henderson_location_MMYY-123.NEF (using the ‘Library>Rename photo’ option in Lightroom’s top menu)

  7. Go back to Mac’s Finder application and move the Raw images (now filtered and rated) from my Temporary Folder into my Photo Archive folder. Then I'll go back into Lightroom and use its synchronisation functionality to re-connect my catalogue with the files in their new location

  8. Complete the keywording exercise in Adobe Lightroom then process the 3-star images and export them to a 'Processed Images' folder that already exists in my Temporary Folder ready for submission to my clients (For client sharing, I'll use either Photoshelter or Dropbox Pro).

  9. Exit Lightroom, choosing to back up the catalogue

  10. Once a client has made their selection from the proofs, I'll mark the select images up to 4-star, complete the processing of them as required in Adobe Photoshop and share them with the client as high-resolution TIFF and/or JPEG files to finish the job.

Backing up images

It's key that I don't lose any images. All my files are backed up automatically throughout the above process by Apple's Time Machine (though I do manually if I've made a lot of changes). I also back-up manually to 3 separate portable hard drives, two of which are in different locations off-site, plus I have an automatic back-up in the cloud. So there's eventually five different copies of any single file, in different locations, for archival purposes. (Plus a sixth copy on the memory card I captured the images on, until I'm happy to format it ready for my next shoot).


  • All my photographs and catalogues are backed up in multiple places

  • All my images are rated 2, 3 or 4

  • All images are named and tagged consistently with my name, the activity, location, keywords and date

  • I can deliver quality work for clients very quickly and easily