What is a Photography Workflow?
Workflow is a hot topic in the digital SLR world because you can do much more with your creations than people who take photos with smartphones. You don’t simply upload photos from your smartphones to Instagram. It begins with uploading photos from the camera to a computer, of course. Afterward, you can choose to organize, sort, rate, tag, process, edit, print, and archive photos.
A photography workflow has a couple of meanings. In a larger sense, it describes the process you follow as you work with your photos, beginning when you take them to when you’re ready to archive them for long-term storage. Workflow also means the more limited process you follow to edit and publish your shots.
Workflow is a huge topic of debate, and the more detailed the workflow, the more people love debating it. Favorite topics include whether you should sharpen before you reduce noise or whether you should adjust brightness and contrast before you correct color. No universal workflow exists — all are based, in part, on opinion.
The following general workflow is a good one to start with:
- Set up the camera. Your workflow starts with the decisions you make when setting up the camera to take photos. Your choices here affect later steps.
- Transfer (and import) photos. Moving photos from your camera to the computer is to transfer. In many cases, this means simultaneously importing them into your photo management software.
- Manage. Organize, sort, rate, geotag, filter, delete, and add keywords to your photos.
- Fast processing. Quickly develop the photos that you think are worth keeping using a photo-processing application such as Adobe Lightroom. For example, you can make many photos look a lot better by tweaking brightness, contrast, and color, and making a few other basic adjustments. The idea is to spend a little time improving your photos and getting them printed or posted online. This step applies to Raw and JPEG images.
- Complex editing. If you want to spend more time working on your photos, you can perform more complex work using a photo editor such as Adobe Photoshop. For example, you can make targeted adjustments with masks, mash up different versions of the same shot, exercise more control over removing dust and other distractions, and more. Some photos (especially HDR and panoramas) require special software.
- Publish. The entire point of the workflow is to create materials worth publishing, such as a JPEG to place on your web page or Flickr photostream, or a high-quality TIFF file to print.
- Archive. Back up the original photos. In addition, save any additional processing or editing you’ve done, either in the form of edited files or photo catalogs, in long-term storage.
You can tailor this workflow example to suit your needs. In fact, you’ll do a lot of tailoring, depending on several factors:
- Movies: Do you need to change your workflow to work with movies that you’ve shot with your dSLR? That means more software and a substantially different editing and publishing process.
- Other people: Do you have to fit into a process created by other people? Does someone else need to view or approve your work? Are you doing the approving?
- Time: How much time do you have? Do you want to spend a lot of time or as little as possible per photo?
- Photos: How many photos do you take? Must your workflow be able to handle tens of photos a week, or thousands?
- Hardware: Do you have the camera and computer hardware to manage your workflow and run the software? Over time, of course, you will need to upgrade your system. Will you be working in an office/studio or on location? Weekend photo trips are fantastically fun. I like having a laptop with me to review photos and make backup copies. If you would rather travel light, take extra memory cards. You can preview photos on a TV, should you find yourself near one (in a hotel room, perhaps), so remember to take the correct cabling with you.
- Software: What applications are you using? Are they current? Can they handle Raw files from your dSLR? Do you need anything else (panorama or HDR software, noise-removal plugins, other creative solutions)?
- Priorities: In the end, deciding what to do (and what not to do) has a lot to do with your priorities. What’s most important: speed, quality, compatibility, mobility, or something else?