Ever since I began enjoying photography in June 2006, shortly before purchasing my Nikon D40 (my very first DSLR) I was interested in how other photographers deal with the amount of pictures a digital camera allows you to take. I've learned since then, that the best way to do so is to carefully select you shots before hitting the trigger, but still what do you do with the remaining shots in post processing?
Lightroom offers several methods for organizing photos and I believe Aperture provides something similar:
- Images can be sorted into folders that correspond to folders on your hard-drive
- Images can be tagged
- Images can be rated from 0 to 5 stars
- Images can be picked or rejected
- Metadata can be edited
- You can create virtual copies of images
That's quite a lot to worry about and for a long time I couldn't imagine how to use all these options properly. But I think I finally figured out a way that works for me. What works for other may differ, especially the purpose of your photography is different. I'm doing this only for fun on private occasions with a relatively low numbers of pictures per "shooting". A professional probably has a different workflow but for beginners looking for ideas my workflow might provide some orientation.
I have my Mac configured so that it opens Lightroom when I insert the SD Card from my camera into the card reader. To do this, open the Image Capture program and select Lightroom in the preferences.
Lightroom itself is configured to open the Import dialog when a card is inserted. This way I only need to insert the card and whatever I've been doing before, the Lightroom Import dialog pops up. For maximum convenience, I've set up Lightroom so that it even ejects the card after the import is done.
During import I store the images into folders that are hierarchically organized by date. In my photo folder I have 2 subfolders currently, "2008" and "2009", each of which contains folders from 01 until 12 for each month, and each of those -- you guessed it-- contains folders for my shootings, prefixed by day like "2008/08/01 - Barbecue Party".
I rarely have more than one "shooting" per day. If I do, I append letters to the day, like "2008/12/24a - Decorating the tree" "2008/12/24b - Christmas Eve".
In the next step, I set up Lightroom to only show unflagged photos and begin looking through all of the photos with the filmstrip displaying at the bottom of the screen. My goal here is to sort out any pictures that are garbage or duplicates. Unusable stuff gets marked for deletion with the X key. Duplicates (usually from shooting people in continuous mode) are reduced to a single best shot by deleting the excess ones. If I have several very similar shots that I don't want to throw away, yet also not deal with individually, I group them by selecting all, going to the best one and hitting CMD+G.
After I'm done, the rejected photos are deleted for good by pressing CMD+Backspace
In the beginning I didn't use tags because I could easily keep all my shootings in my head but since my first photos in Lightroom half a year has passed and I don't really remember them anymore. Now's the time I wish I had used tags back then. I tag photos by location, by subject (if it's a person or something significant), by event, by purpose or by any other criteria that I might some day use to find those photos. Generally, I find it pretty hard to come up with good tagging schemes. This is somthing everyone has to learn on his own I guess, find a system that works.
For rating, I collapse all stacks (grouped photos, via "Photos" menu). Then I go through the photos and assign stars via the following scheme:
- 4 stars: best shots of the series, the ones I would show someone who doesn't have a lot of time.
- 3 stars: good shots, ones I would show someone who won't be bored by them.
- 2 stars: mediocre shots that are too boring in the context of the entire series but might have specific features in them I personally like.
- 1 stars: bad shots. Not deleted because they might show people I like or contain memories or any other reason to keep them but are not even looked at by me unless I specifically search for them.
Then I look at the 4 star photos and give those a 5th star that qualify for my all time best shots.
The overall goal here is to reduce the amount of images. Say, I have a hundred images of a given event. Someone interested in the event will NOT want to look at all the pictures. Someone who wasn't there might only care about the 15 best shots, while someone who was attending and whose interest is higher will pobably want to see the 30 best shots. To the first person I'd show the 4-star photos, the other person would also get to see the 3-star photos. And I probably only want at most one, rarely even two photos of a series in my 5-star all time favourite list.
Picking and Collections
I rarely use these two features. I can imagine how picking could be useful if you intend to throw most of your taken pictures away during import (as opposed to keeping most of them like I do). I have found another use though: If I export my photos to a photo sharing site or for a friend, I use picking to select the photos I want to use. When I'm done, the Picked-flags can be removed again.
If I decide that I'll use one of the selections made this way again at a later time, I create a collection from it.
The tools Lightroom provides are extremely flexible. This can be overwhelming at first and it takes time to develop an effective workflow that combines the needs of the photographer with the options provided by the software. The result will likely differ from person to person. The presented way is one that works well for me and might work for many other beginning photographers but you should feel free to explore other uses for Lightroom's tool.