This year will be the first year that I intend to use Lightroom exclusively for photo organisation. I've dabbled in Lightroom before, mainly for editing - but the thing with Lightroom is that I believe you either need to commit to it exclusively for organisation - 100% - or don't use it. Using it half-heartedly is usually when issues arise trying to find files and edits and so on (trust me on this one!).
I took a little time at the end of last year to think about my workflow, and how I am going to put this into practice in 2016, this time using Lightroom for organisation. I do recommend taking a few minutes now to figure out how you are going to organise your images for the rest of the year, as it can save you a ton of time just by having a reliable system for finding and using your photos.
Of course, every person's workflow will be unique, depending on many different factors: for example, what you shoot, whether you shoot professionally or as a hobbyist, what you use your images for, how you back up your images, and so on and so on, but I thought it might be helpful to see my workflow written out, even if all it it does is give you a jumping off point to creating your own exclusive workflow.
So, here it is, in all it's current glory:
STEP ONE: Upload & Import
Photos are uploaded using the Lightroom import tool, and saved on my working external hard-drive using a year / month / day & activity system. This means that Lightroom is both importing my files to the catalogue, and saving them onto my hard drive in one step. I also choose at this point to convert all RAW files to DNG upon import. If the files are all of the same thing, then I'll also apply keywords at this point too.
STEP TWO: Cull
Before I do anything else, I take the time to cull the images. I tend to overshoot by nature, so I need to be brutal. It's a simple X in Lightroom to reject. At the moment, I don't really use a rating system for personal photos, as I'm either keeping them or I'm not, so I don't bother with the whole rating thing. I could use the ratings system much more, and probably will in the future, but for now, I'm keeping it simple. However, for any shoots that I do for others, I rate these as Rejects, three, four and five stars, so that I can work on them accordingly.
STEP THREE: Delete Rejects
Rejected files are deleted both from Lightroom, and from the hard drive. I don't need rejected files taking up more space on my computer! (If you are a professional, I would keep these - the benefit of being a hobbyist is you have no-one to blame you for tossing that file except yourself)
STEP FOUR: Develop
By now, I should have only images left I want to edit, so I'm ready to I take my files through to the Develop module for editing. My goal in Lightroom is to create the image I wish I had taken in camera, so I'm adjusting exposure, shadows, darks, highlights, contrast, noise reduction, cropping and straightening to get the "perfect negative". If I am only editing in Lightroom, I may go on to do some extra's, like vignettes, split toning and so on.
STEP FIVE: (Optional) Edit In Photoshop
For many images, they will simply get a basic edit in LR, and then I'll proceed to export. However, some images will of course require work in Photoshop to really make them shine, so at this point, I'll take the images into PS. If this is a group of images, I'll export them from LR as PSD files, set to open automatically in PS. I'll then do the edits, save the PSD's files, and create a JPEG of the final image. I then import these final JPEG's back into Lightroom. Sounds time consuming, but really, it's not that bad. For just one or two images, I'll choose the "edit in PS' option in LR instead, and then LR automatically imports the file back into LR.
STEP SIX: Export JPEG's To Hard Drive
Now that I have completed the edits, I move onto getting these finished files to be useable (Remember, Lightroom doesn't actually apply your edits to your images until you actually export them) I like to have JPEG's copies on my hard drive, so I export the finished files from Lightroom as JPEG's, and these are kept in their own folder, but within the master folder for that activity, so that everything is in one place. (any PSD files are kept in the same location too)
STEP SEVEN: Export to SmugMug
One of the things I love about Lightroom is I can upload my images to SmugMug directly from Lightroom. I use SmugMug for my off-site photo storage and back up, so it's such a time saver to be able to do this directly from Lightroom.
STEP EIGHT: Add Images to Collections
I've created a couple of collections in Lightroom - one for my Project 365 photos so they are all in one place, and one for my portfolio images. I'll scan through the completed images and pick one for my 365 (if from a group of images) and decide if any are portfolio worthy. I may create other collections as the year progresses - it's a great way of grouping images together but without actually duplicating the file.
STEP NINE: Add Photos to Photo Books
Another time-saving feature of Lightroom is the ability to create Blurb photo books directly within Lightroom. I normally use Blurb anyway, so this works out well :) Each month I'll go through the images and drag them into my Blurb book within Lightroom, so that I'm working at it throughout the year, rather than trying to do it all in one month. This particular part is brand new to me as I've never used it before, so fingers crossed it works as well as I think it will :)
STEP TEN: Back Up Lightroom Cataloug
Once a week, I back up my Lightroom catalogue to different location, so that the edits are not lost should anything happen to my hard drive. I have also tried to minimise any losses by exporting the JPEG's to SmugMug and to the Hard Drive so that should my Lightroom Catalog get corrupted I have the images already exported with the edits applied.
That's my current workflow! I am quite sure that I will adjust this and add to it as I go (particularly using the keyword and rating systems more) but for now, I feel this is a fairly solid workflow that will help me be able to easily edit files, find them, and most importantly, be able to view, share and print them.