Lightroom Workflow and Data Management – Then & Now
It wasn’t that long ago when Lightroom, or even digital itself, didn’t exist. Those of us that were around before digital sent our film out for processing. Some even did their own in-house printing.
Regardless if you sent it out or did your own development there was a workflow to process and stay organized. I’d argue, that back then, it was more important than today.
We didn’t have the luxury of “seeing” all our images on a screen in 1 folder or more. All my negatives (and slides) were stored in “filing cabinets”. If a client called (two years after the session) or if Grandma wanted a print, I’d have to locate that negative among 10’s of thousands of others…
I’d better have a spreadsheet telling me which “cabinet” it was in!
That’s not to say having a workflow or being organized is not important today. It is indeed. However, we’ve upgraded from filing cabinets to folders on our computer.
The same rules apply; someone will ask you for that one specific photo you shot 2 years ago and you’ll either find it in seconds or you’ll spend an hour or two (maybe more) locating it… is it archived? If so, where? Which hard drive is it on? Or did I burn a CD instead?
Once you have your “digital” workflow in place, finding 1 photo among 100’s of thousands can be done in seconds!
A workflow is more than just being organized and finding files, it’s about the entire process: from importing to organizing, editing, exporting, etc..
In this day-and-age, most photographers do their own editing. The ability to achieve our creative vision, and do it ourselves, is so much easier than it was back in the day. With a workflow, you can streamline the process and be more productive.
the Workflow Challenge
hen shooting film, I was more cost conscious and shot a lot less. If a client hired me to do a portrait session, I’d shoot around 24 or 36 photos (depending on the type of camera and film, you could get between 8 – 36 exposures).
With digital, there’s no film to buy or money to be spent on processing. I can easily shoot 150-200 photos for the same session!
Which can lead to a huge problem without having a workflow in place.
How do you organize those images for easy access later on?
Do you really want to show your client 200 images from a 1 hour photo session?
Then you’ll have to factor in how long it’s going to take to edit 200 images vs. 24?
If you’re a wedding photographer you may shoot 1,000 images per wedding. I know some that shoot 2 – 3 times that.
Multiply that times 30-40 weddings per year and you better have a workflow in place. Otherwise, you’re going to be spending more time at the computer vs. actually shooting.
Staying organized, editing quickly, and consistently is a challenge with the large amount of tools (in Lightroom and Photoshop too) at our disposal; metadata, ratings, labels, keywords, brushes, crop overlays, Linear gradient filters, radial gradient filters, white balance, exposure, dynamic range, split toning, HSL, camera calibration, just to name a few.
And if that wasn’t enough, within those tools are additional options. You have sliders for different color channels, different color profiles to choose from, hidden features most photographers don’t know about, and more.
Plus, some tools give you the option to set the adjustments automatically or manually. It’s enough to make your head spin.
Where do you start?
How do you apply that specific edit every time within seconds?
Well, you have all the answers in this e-book! By the time you’ve finished every section, checklist, worksheet and more, you’ll have the perfect workflow for YOU!
the Most Important Step
T he first steps in creating any workflow is the most crucial. Without it, the rest of the steps in creating your workflow will be of no use to you. Because if you don’t have a data management plan in place, then you run the risk of losing all your photos, presets, actions, templates, work files, documents, and more!
So, what good is it to take the time to create a workflow if you’re not going to protect your files?
Since you’re reading this, I imagine your images (and presets and actions and your sanity, etc..) are important to you. Am I right? (this paragraph is an excerpt from the premium version – the Lightroom Workflow Made Easy ebook)
So, it only makes sense to do your data management workflow, get it up and running BEFORE you do anything else. Only when you’ve completed this step should you move on to the next step.
Before we start the process of creating your data management workflow, we’ll take a look at 3 types of data and a basic backup workflow. You’ll then be able to use it as a basis for your own.
Then, your first step will include filling out the risk analysis worksheet to determine where you are. From that, you’ll then be able
Once you’ve completed your risk analysis, we’ll take a brief look at some storage and software options in order to streamline the workflow.
You may already be familiar with some of the options available to you. But I just want to briefly go over how some of the choices you may have already made or will make in the future, will affect the speed of your workflow when it comes to using Lightroom.
I’ve put together a worksheet, checklist, and a Risk Analysis spreadsheet, to help you organize the information you will need in order to create your data management workflow.
Click the link below to download the Data Management worksheet.
3 Types of Data
Here is an outline of my basic workflow. Use it as a basis for your own Data Management Workflow…
There are 3 main elements to any data management workflow. Each of which should have its own backup version.
1. Original RAW/JPG files.
My RAW files are my digital negatives and I will keep them all until I’ve completed my culling process.
2. Working image files
My “working” files are kept on my computer system and I have several backups. This includes both on-location and off-location.
3. Computer system and software
My computer system is “cloned” daily. This gives me an exact copy of my operating system, all software and all the (working) files located on it. Plus, the drive it’s copied to is bootable. In the event, my original drive dies I can restart my computer within a matter of minutes. I’ll then have lost any data prior to the last backup (which is still better than losing everything).
Don’t worry if this is a bit intimidating and you’re not sure how to set all this up. We’ll go over everything you’ll need to create your data management workflow.
Let’s get started…
Welcome to step 1 of creating your data management workflow. Here you’ll do a risk analysis and find out where you are at this point and then, we’ll take this information to build your Data Management Workflow. To fill out your Risk Analysis, print out the spreadsheet from the worksheet you downloaded (above).
It’s safe to say that someday you’re going to experience hard drive failure or even a full-blown computer meltdown. Now is the best time to take the steps to quickly and easily get back up and running, in a matter of minutes versus possibly days.
Because not only could you lose all your images but you could also have to re-install all your software, add back all your presets, redo all your preference settings, and much more.
There are 2 types of hard drives and computers – those that have failed and those that have not, yet.
It’s imperative to not only backup your image files but to create a bootable, external hard drive, that will clone your existing operating system.
You’ll learn the software you’ll need to do this in an upcoming section.
So, let’s go back to your worksheet and fill out your Risk Analysis.
O.k., in your spreadsheet, we have
For data type you need to list all your Lightroom catalogs, every hard drive with images, your computer
Under Current Location is where you’re going to list every item and where it’s physically stored.
So are they on an internal or external drive and are they on your laptop or your desktop or somewhere else, like the “cloud”?
Then with Backup Frequency, you’re going to list the last time a backup was made for each data type.
Then we have our risk analysis. Imagine three different types of catastrophic scenarios for each risk.
Scenario 1 would be; Your Computer Stops working
Scenario 2 would be; Your computer and all attached hard drives stop working
Scenario 3 would be; All your computers and hards drives are lost to fire, theft, or some other unforeseen catastrophic event.
Decide whether the data would be Easily Recoverable, Somewhat Recoverable, or Gone Forever.
So “Easily Recoverable” (add a 1 to the column) would be you can recover your data fairly quickly and easily.
“Somewhat recoverable” (add a 2 to the column) would be, yes you can recover, but it’s going to take longer and very inconvenient.
And “Gone Forever” (add a 3 to the column) is, well, your data is not recoverable and therefore, gone forever.
In the scenario columns, you’re going to add a 1, 2 or a 3 for each of the different data types.
Let’s look at an example (below)…
Now it’s your turn…
Go ahead and fill out your risk analysis worksheets and then we’ll explore some storage and software options for putting your data management workflow in place.
Now that you have everything filled out, any areas where you’ve entered a two or three require your attention.
If your completed form is full of 1’s then you have a solid data management workflow already in place and I commend you for having that done already.
But, if you have some twos and threes then it’s time to do a little research and figure out how you’re going to create your data management workflow.
If we take a look at my data management workflow (below), we can see that I import the images to my internal drive.
Then I have a system in place to back that up to an external hard drive.
Which is done with a program called SuperDuper and it auto backs up on a daily basis.
Plus, I also store photos on additional drives for archiving any non-working files.
My Data Management Workflow
Once upon a time, before “the cloud”, I also stored my files on CD’s (1 for each client). I burned 2 copies. 1 for on-site storage and a second for off-site storage (friends house).
If you choose not to go with a “cloud” service, then you’ll need to either utilize CD’s (or other storage devices – like USB drives) to have a second copy and
If your drive ever fails, you’ll have backups of all your photos – Kudos! But, if you don’t have one of your operating
I have a second external drive dedicated
I’ve had my share of drives die during the busy season (Christmas and/or middle of the wedding season). Having another bootable drive makes getting up and running a breeze.
First, let’s take a look at whether you should use a Desktop or Laptop and the advantage and
So, technically a Desktop computer will be faster than a Laptop. In most cases. However, I own an iMac that is about 3 years old and Apple’s new Mac Pro’s are faster than it.
So, should I switch to the newest faster computer available? Not necessarily. Although a computer is faster than another, it may not really matter.
However, Lightroom can take advantage of more RAM. If your computer is 2-3 years old, I’d recommend adding as much RAM as possible vs. buying a new computer.
When it comes to speed, I don’t think there is much difference between a Desktop and Laptop. But, most Desktops can take more RAM than laptops.
You’ll need to do some research on what option is best for you. Just keep in mind that Lightroom requires a minimum of 2GB RAM (Adobe recommends at least 8GB).
Sure, you can use Lightroom with only 2GB of RAM, but at what cost? At first, everything may be just fine. However, as your Catalog grows, Lightroom needs more memory to work at optimal speeds & you may see a slow down in how Lightroom processes your images.
My current setup includes 32 GB of RAM. My main working
I do not experience any major hiccups with that amount of RAM. However, my Mac Pro only has 16GB and I find it to be sluggish at times, which hinders my productivity. So, this is just something to consider as your creating your workflow.
The other thing to consider is Color Management. I don’t find laptops suitable for accurate color. In the right conditions, it may be fine. However, in most cases, laptop screens were not designed for accurate color.
Either way, I would recommend a Desktop over a Laptop. However, I do still use my laptop while in the field. I just don’t do any critical color correction, retouching, etc.. It’s mainly just for Data Management. (You’ll learn more about Color Management in the e-book).
Second, you need to decide on whether or not you’re going to use an Internal Hard Drive, External Hard Drive or a combination of the two.
Again, in most
However, I wouldn’t stress about this too much. Start off with what you can afford and upgrade
That being said, an External Hard Drive can still outperform your Internal drive if your using old technology. Anything under 7200 RPM and you may be better off with a RAID system or even Thunderbolt.
For internal drives, your best, but
When it comes time to backup your data you have 2 choices…
1. Do it manually
2. Let software do it for you automatically
I prefer step 2 since I tend to forget things if they’re not written down.
Even then, I may not look at my “to do list” every day. For on-location back-ups, my software will backup my entire system daily.
For off-location, backups are done instantaneously. Both of which are done automatically.
First, let’s take a look at software options for setting up your on-location, backup automation.
For Mac Users
Personally, I prefer MAC’s vs. PC.
This software makes it super easy to make backups of your data, automatically. Plus, SuperDuper will create an exact clone of your Mac’s hard drive so you have a full backup of all your data, including permissions, user profiles and private settings.
Having an exact clone allows you to restart your computer, from that cloned drive, in the event the original stops working. Which means you can get back up and running within minutes v.s. hours, days or weeks (if you need to re-install all your software and find those pesky license keys).
When I first purchased my Mac Pro, about 10 years ago, Time Machine was not available. I’ve been using SuperDuper ever since. However, I’m going to be changing my workflow soon to include Time Machine.
Another excellent piece of software that will make backups of your data super simple. SuperDuper will set you back about $30. However, Time Machine is built into your operating software!
You’ll just need to attach a dedicated drive. Once you’ve setup some preference settings, in Time Machine, your computer system will continually archive your data in the background.
What I like about Time Machine vs. SuperDuper is it will keep old versions of your files too. Which allows you to go back to a previous state (or version) of specific files if needed. Apple recommends using an external drive that’s much larger, than your computers hard drive, due to the previous versions being saved
For PC Users
I personally have no experience with PC software since I’ve been using Mac’s for the last 10 plus years. However, I’ve listed a couple of popular options.
This is the highest rated backup software by PCmag.com. It offers full protection, speed, and reliability.
StorageCraft creates a snapshot of a particular partition on your hard drive, which you can either use to restore the entire system or open in a window on your desktop.
Acronis is the most user friendly and offers the most amount of features for backing up your data. Not only do you have the option of backing up to an external drive, but it also provides a “Cloud” service too. Which is convenient if your looking for an all-in-one solution.
Acronis gives you the option to backup individual folders, files or your entire drive. Plus, for 2017 they introduced mobile backup to PC, Facebook backup, and remote backup management.
You can find more options and ratings by PCmag, by clicking here.
Now let’s take a look at options for setting up your off-location automated back-ups.
Dropbox is a simple, user-friendly cloud storage service. It allows you to access your files from nearly anywhere. Install on virtually any computer or mobile device. Plus, dozens of other apps support integration with Dropbox too.
This is a great service to have while working on your “working” files. Any files stored in Dropbox are also auto stored on your computer too.
However, when you’re done with your working files and ready to archive (move to an external drive, CD or another USB device) then, you’ll have to remove them from Dropbox too. Otherwise, they’ll continually re-download to your main computer (when their app is turned on and have auto sync setup). In that case, you’ll need another Cloud service for archival purposes.
Personally, I use Dropbox mainly for file sharing with colleagues, clients and for my virtual assistants. For archival purposes, I use Amazon Cloud ( although, it may change in the near future).
When Amazon first came out with its CloudDrive service, it was not very user-friendly. It’s come a long way since I first started using it about 2 years ago. However, it’s app still has a lot of bugs. So why do I use it? Unlimited storage for only $59 (U.S.) per year (I think this changed recently and the reason I may be switching to something else).
In order to make it workable, I use it in conjunction with another (free) service called Odrive. The Odrive app allows auto syncing of your files and much more. They have both a free and paid service for more features.
Personally, the free service is all I need. If you’d like to be able to remove the files from your main drive, but still keep them on Amazons CloudDrive, then you’ll want to take a look at their premium features.
When Backblaze first came out, I was one of their early customers. At the time, the app was buggy and the overall process was slow. I didn’t have the time, or patience, to wait for the fixes.
However, since then Backblaze gets much better reviews than they did in the early days.
Their cloud storage service boasts fast speeds and an easy to use interface.
Plus, the cost is very reasonable at $5 per month, $50 per year or $95 for 2 years. Oh, and that comes with unlimited storage too.
Your Lightroom Catalog
When using Lightroom for the first time, you’ll want to setup how often your Lightroom Catalog is backed-up.
Imagine if you had thousands and thousands of photos and your Lightroom catalog becomes corrupt.
Well, the good news is you’re not going to lose any photos (if you have a solid Data Management workflow setup), but if your catalog becomes corrupt and you can no longer use it; then all the edits for all the thousands and thousands of photos that you’ve done will be gone forever (depending on how your preference settings are setup).
Which means, you will end up having to re-do all your edits again if your Lightroom catalog becomes unusable. So, let’s set up your backup schedule for your Lightroom catalog.
To do so, you’ll need to navigate to the Lightroom Catalog Settings. Go to your menu, select Lightroom and then click on Catalog Settings.
Make sure the General tab is selected. Then, at the bottom of the dialogue box you’ll see a section called; “Backup”. Click on the drop-down menu and you’ll find 6 options. Any option is fine except “Never”! If you’re using Lightroom on a daily basis, then you may want to choose “Once a day” or maybe select “Every time Lightroom exits”.
If you’re not using Lightroom daily, then maybe once per week or once per month will be sufficient for your needs. Just keep in mind, if you choose a longer time frame and you do lots of edits prior to the next backup, you risk losing those edits if they are not saved.
Yes, Lightroom catalogs do and may become corrupt. Personally, in 10 years, this has never happened to me. Knock-on-wood. However, I still backup my catalog daily. Just in case.
One of the biggest misconceptions about backing up your Lightroom catalog is, your image files are not being backed up during this process! That’s why it’s so important to have a Data Management Workflow in place, in addition to backing up your catalog.
Adobe has provided an option to backup your files during the import process. Personally, the other options presented to you previously are sufficient for my workflow (and most other photographers). However, I just want to share with you this option in case you find this works for your workflow.
Once you’re in the Lightroom import dialogue window, navigate to the right panel and locate the inner panel called; “File Handling”. From here, you can check the box next to; “Make a Second Copy To” and then select the drive for the additional copy.
Well, that concludes the process for setting up your Data Management workflow. What did you think? Have any questions or would like to provide any additions to this article? If so, please provide them in the comments below.
For a complete Lightroom Worfklow, that includes a workflow for the Library Module, Develop Module and more, checkout our Lightroom Workflow Made Easy e-book.