My Photography Workflow

Full Size Preview in Bridge to Review an Image for Dust or Blemishes

Probably the question that I get asked more than any other is about my photography workflow. I actually feel like my photography workflow is pretty simple so I thought I’d write up a brief post documenting my process all the way from photo capture to photo publishing. Feel free to ask any questions if you need me to elaborate on things.

1. Step one, capture the image: I carry my Canon 5D and 5 lenses (24mm, 14mm, 50mm, 135mm, 100mm macro) with me in a backpack every where I go. I take advantage of the routine time wasted in a day to turn that time into photography. Walking to and from the BART train. Going out for lunch. Waiting in line somewhere. All kinds of everyday moments become photographic opportunities.

Of course I also go out on specific photowalks all the time. Sometimes these are weekend trips away from home, other times they are just evenings out shooting with friends or with my wife. I use 2 8GB SanDisk cards.

To learn more about what is in my camera bag you can read this post here.

2. Step two, transfer the image to the computer:
Here I use a high speed USB card reader. All card readers are not created equal. Spend the extra few bucks and get a high speed reader. Every day or other day I use my card reader to offload images on my camera card to my computer. In my case when I plug in my card reader Canon’s “Camera Window” software automatically loads. This software then pulls all of my images off of my CF card and puts them into folders on my computer titled by date taken. After my images are transferred to my MacBook Pro I then put the card back in the camera and delete the images off of it. If I’m on an all day shoot I’ll take breaks during my day (coffee, lunnch, etc.) to take a moment and clear out my cards.

Bonus Link: 13 Tips for Using and Caring for Memory Cards.

3. Step three, sort photos: Here I open the folder that has all of the RAW files from a given day’s images using Adobe’s Bridge software. I create a subfolder in the dated folder called “maybe.” I go through the day’s photographs and I drag anything that I think might have potential into the “maybe” folder.

4. Step four, first pass processing using Adobe Camera RAW: My next step is to open all images in a day’s maybe folder using Adobe Camera RAW (comes with both Photoshop CS3 and Lightroom). You simply select all of the images in your maybe folder, right click, and select “Open in Camera RAW.” This is where 95% of my photo processing is done.

With camera RAW you can adjust the contrast of a photo, the exposure of a photo, the saturation of a photo. You can adjust the temperature of a photo (the reason why some white lights are sulfur yellow and other white lights are soft blue), you can adjust the vignette (black or white edges around a photo), fill lighting, etc. Adobe Camera RAW uses sliders to make these adjustments and it is easy as pie.

After I get an individual image to where I want it I will use the “Save” button in camera RAW to save that finished photo as a JPG in a new folder “Finished Images.”

After I process my first pass imagery I move that date’s archive folder off my Mac and onto my drobo to back it up and store it more safely. Note, none of my RAW files are ever saved as processed. I consider my RAW files my negatives and always want to be able to go back to them and process from scratch if need be.

5. Step five, 2nd pass processing: Once I’ve finished my first pass processing I will point Bridge to the “finished images” folder. Here I will look at each finished JPG image in as large a format as possible looking for photos that need additional work. Typically less than 10% of my photos need additional work beyond camera RAW.

The type of work here is all done in Photoshop. As I go through the images I look for a few things consistently. Images that need slight sharpening. Images that have dust spots on them that need to be fixed with the cloning tool in Photoshop. Images that could benefit from dodging or burning, etc. As I see an image in Bridge that needs additional fine tuning I will double click on the image in Photoshop, make my edits, save the file and close it.

6. Step six, keywording: My next step is to keyword all of my photos using Adobe Bridge. Adobe Bridge has pretty powerful keywording capabilities. I can batch and bulk keyword photos. I might start out, for instance, keywording every single photo I just processed as “Las Vegas” “DMU Las Vegas Meetup 2008″ “Vegas”. From there I then might go through sub batches and keyword them (say Caeser’s or Wynn or Venetian). From there I might then bulk keyword certain frequently used attributes (neon, mannequin, graffiti, night, etc.). And then I go through each image individually adding any final keywords image by image.

Keywording is important because these keywords will be automatically read as tags by sites like Flickr and Zooomr. It also allows you better to search your finished imagery in the future on your computer. The Importance of Keywording Your Photos.

7. Step seven, geotagging: Here I use a free program called Geotagger. Geotagger works with Google Earth and allows you to pinpoint a spot on the planet using Google Earth and then drag and drop any images from that location onto the program and geotags them with that coordinate. Geotagger only works for the Mac but there are lots of other free geotagging programs like Geotagger out there that work with Windows. When you geotag your photos at the file level both Flickr and Zooomr automatically add them to the meta data on your photo and place them on their site maps.

8. Step eight, sort finished photos into A or B to be uploaded folders: My next step is to go through my imagery and basically sort 80/20. What I feel are my strongest 20% go into a folder “B.” The rest go into a folder “C.”

9. Step nine, publish:
I publish twice a day usually but this is by no means a hard and fast rule. Once in the morning and once in the evening. I typically publish 10-15 photos at a time selected mostly at random from my growing pool of “to be uploadeds.”

I make sure that when I upload these 10 or 15 shots in a batch that the “B” shots are uploaded last as Flickr and Zooomr only highlight the last 5 shots that you upload in an upload batch. I want these to be what I feel are my better images.

And that’s it. I’m sure that there are more efficient ways that I could be processing my imagery but this has worked for me for a while now. Feel free to ask any questions as the above might sound a bit complicated to some.

Additional reading: Thomas Hawk’s Principles and Guidelines for the Modern Photowalker . Brian Auer’s Your Guide to Adobe Bridge: Useful Tips and Tricks.

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35 Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Great writeup. It’s nice to see how someone who shoots so prolifically and so well sorts through so many shots to find the best in a timely manner. I have such a backlog built up…

    I have two questions for you and/or your readers.
    1) I had been under the impression that Adobe Camera Raw and Bridge don’t actually change the image info for raw files, but just the metadata–like the slider settings in ACR or tags in Bridge. Is that the case?
    2) Is there a way to geotag raw files? I’ve never found a way.

    Thanks for the great post!

  2. Kirk Kittell says:

    Do you ever detect patterns in your published photos and go back and add tags? For example, I went back to my photos — albeit, a much smaller pool than your own — and tagged my sunset photos as “sunset” and a few photos of courthouses as “courthouse,” etc. Or do you leave it as it is on the first go?

    I guess I’m asking: does your flow end at step #9, or do you occasionally iterate?

  3. Stephen says:

    On coincidence, I was asked over the weekend and also made a blog post this morning about this same topic although not as detailed and more focused on file management.

    I’ll be shamed and plug my post: http://blog.focusedonlight.com/archive/2008/june/photoworkflow

    It’s interesting to read a very different step #3 method.

  4. Shey says:

    Very useful Thomas, thanks for sharing :)

  5. Carl says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for posting this. My workflow is so slow that it keeps me from processing photos. It’s really nice to read how other people do it, especially when their workflow is relatively quick.

  6. Jeremy says:

    As said by the others, thanks for this write up. It is always interesting to see the workflow preferences of photogs I respect and admire.

    I am continuing to refine my workflow, which does include Lightroom for the first brush and general RAW processing. I also use DNG files for my archived settings, which I realize may alter source data, but I have been pleased with the results.

  7. I’m surprised that you save your processed images out of Camera RAW as JPG’s and not TIFF’s.

    While doing so requires an extra step to convert TIFF’s to JPG’s, it would create a scenario where JPG is just an output format used for the task at hand. Since JPG is lossy, and lossy compression tools/techniques are always improving, I would have expected that you would keep the non-negative “originals” in a lossless format.

    Keeping the first-pass-processed photos in TIFF means that any that need a second pass are not edits of lossy-compressed images, but rather of lossless files.

    I also found it interesting that you are keywording and geotagging the JPG output files instead of the RAW “negatives.” Is it not possible to add these metatags to the RAW files? This is another example of where it seems that working on the output files (JPG’s) instead of an archive file (RAW or TIFF) is applying work to something that may be replaced at a later time if that output ever needs to be regenerated.

    My guess is that the tools being used aren’t easily set up for tagging RAW/TIFF files with keywords and geocodes, and/or the additional work of doing it the way I suggest may not pay any substantial dividends in the end?

  8. Ah, great writeup Mr. Hawk. I’m curious to hear how your workflow would change if/when you move over to Lightroom.

  9. ojbyrne2 says:

    In the same vein as @Bigscreen.com, I personally try to keep stuff in Camera Raw longer (as long as possible), because jpeg is lossy.

  10. kk+ says:

    got a lot out of this. don’t use bridge or geotagger and gonna try ‘em both. thx bro! :)

  11. Thomas:

    You should start using aperture or lightroom! We want you more time in the field shooting those splendid photos!!! I really admire your talent, thx for sharing your secrets!

  12. JeffH says:

    Thomas, I have to reiterate that you definitely would benefit from moving to Lightroom to do your RAW processing, key wording, and general sorting, ranking and databaseing of your images. I have been using Lightroom for about 2 years, since it was pre v1.0 Beta. I’ve processed many thousands of images using it. The current Version 1.4 is very stable and speedy on a multi-core processor. I find I can do almost all of my editing within Lightroom and only need to go to Photoshop with less than 5% of my images. The primary corrections I need to do outside of Lightroom are selective editing/dodge/burn <1% of my images, perspective correction, and panorama stitching. The next version of Lightroom, v2.0 (currently in Beta), will have selective editing/dodge/burn capability. I have read that later versions of Lightroom may have perspective correction capability added and possibly panorama stitching capability further in the future.

    A couple of observations: Was wondering why you don’t keyword, geotag, dust spot your images in Camera RAW? Seems like you create .jpgs and do edits to them that could be done at the RAW Level such as spotting and vignetting. By doing this you loose the advantage of having a ‘master’ RAW file with all of your edits associated with it. Also, do you have Camera RAW set up to create .xmp side car files when you edit your RAW files? If not, you should, as these files contain all of the meta data edits you made to your RAW files, along with key words & geotags, etc. If you don’t save the edits in sidecar files, they are contained in a Camera RAW database, but if you move the photos to another computer or onto a backup drive, the edits you made are no longer associated with the RAW files and for all purposes lost. When you switch to Lighroom, all of the edits you made to your RAW files will move over with the RAW files via the .xmp side car files. Another benefit of using Lightroom is that you can do all of your ranking, selecting, and sorting directly in Lightroom without having to create multiple sub-folders and there is no need to drag files back and forth between folders as you do now. Lightroom has a very powerful database with very powerful sorting and filtering. Photos can be tagged with ranks 0-5, flagged as keep or reject, and color coded one of 5 colors. Keywords can also be used as ranking and sorting criteria. You should easily be able to come up with a scheme that would allow you to identify the Maybe’s, A’s, B’s, C’s and any other criteria you want. Once you process a day’s worth of photos, you can filter them to show only the ones you want to upload, then perform a bulk export to .jpg format. There are also automated plug-ins available to allow you export and bulk upload images to Flickr and several other photo sharing sites in one operation. Another powerful editing feature in Lightroom is the ability to create virtual copies of a photo. This allows you to make several different edits to the same RAW file, all as meta data. You can create a color, B&W;, a different crop, and maybe a sepia version of each photo if you wish without actually creating real copies of the RAW file or not having to create ,.jpg, .tiff, or .dng versions, which can save a lot of disk space. I’d be happy to sit down with you some time and go over all of these features and show you my Lightroom work flow.

  13. jcpiercy says:

    wow , thanks for sharing TH .
    No doubt just as much work goes into finshing a photo as does taking the photo.

    Perhaps a video on Photocycle ?

    Thanks for the information .

    Keep on taking great photos TH.

  14. Donato says:

    I just wanted to chime in and say I agree with pretty much everything JeffH said. I really couldn’t say it any better, so just re-read his post. :)

  15. Brassard says:

    Thomas,

    I’m surprised that you delete the pictures from the card immediately after moving them to your computer. Hard drives fail all the time and you could easily lose those 100, 200, 300+ shots. I make sure that I always have images in at least 2 places, so they are generally on two hard drives or burned to DVD before they are removed from my cards. Have you considered this?

  16. Susan says:

    Really interesting, Thomas…thanks for taking the time to share.

    Having tried both Lightroom and Aperture, I ultimately decided that Aperture best suited my needs. You should download the trial and give it another go…there have been many improvements and features added since your first go round with it.

    I’m curious to know if you always do all of your post processing on your MacBook Pro? I used to have my MBP as my only computer, but working on the 15″ screen got a bit tiring on the eyes…at least in terms of photo editing, so I finally threw in the towel and bought a 24″ iMac. Just wondering if you might hook your MBP to a larger screen when you are working on your photos…?

  17. dotcompals says:

    Is there is a Windows version of this GeoTagger available? ( http://craig.stanton.net.nz/software/Geotagger.html ) Or which is the best way to geotagg pictures while using windows.
    Thanks in advance.

  18. Greg Goodman says:

    What a fantastic article! Thanks! It makes me ready to cut the rest of my work day, go buy a Mac and get to work. I’m still using a 7 year old PC, and as my photo file sizes get larger, my sorting gets sloooower and slooooower. So many photos remain unsorted on my computer, its obnoxious. You have really inspired me!

    To see some of my work and stories from world travel, check out http://www.AdventuresofaGoodMan.com

    Hopefully, I will be using some of these techniques to update the site soon :)

    Keep up the outstanding work

  19. Roscoe says:

    Why do you bother to geotag? Unless someone is taking photos for forensic analysis or anticipates the need to reshoot a scene under different conditions, it seems like overkill — technology used just because it can be used.

  20. dotcompals says:

    I can’t agree there with Roscoe . GeoTagging can be very useful for the future as our landscape changes very fast. It is real fun to get the exact spot from where I captured a particular frame.

  21. Dan says:

    It is great to read exactly how you proceed with processing you photos in detail. Thanks for sharing.

  22. Daniel says:

    Great post! Along with what JeffH said, you might consider modifying one part of step #4. Rather than taking the time to save each file as JPEGs one by one after editing in Camera Raw, there is another way. Keep in mind that I'm running Photoshop/Bridge CS3 (not sure if this works in previous versions).

    1) Edit all the photos in a given folder.
    2) Select all the photos you want to convert to JPEG (or TIFF, etc.).
    3) In Bridge CS3 go to Tools > Photoshop > Image Processor
    (If you want to do the same thing from Photoshop look under: File > Scripts > Image Processor).
    4) There are a number of options to choose from on the window that comes up: image quality, file type (i.e. JPEG, TIFF, PSD, etc.), resize to fit, etc. Select the options you want and choose the location you want to export your files to. Consider your options carefully at this point.
    5) Click "Run" and walk away for a few minutes. This will take a while.
    There you go. All of your photos are batch converted at once.

    I tend to do 95% of my editing in Camera Raw and do a batch process right before moving the files to the Flickr Uploadr.

    If you want an even more detailed description of how to use the Image Processor look here:
    http://livedocs.adobe.com/en_US/Photoshop/10.0/help.html?content=WSfd1234e1c4b69f30ea53e41001031ab64-7426.html

  23. This is a great write up. It has helped me with my work flow quite a bit.
    Thank you and great job.

  24. elgato says:

    Hi. Excellent post, Thomas. It’s great to read of such a tight routine, and you’ve written it so succinctly – thank you!

    I’d like to suggest just a few points:
    – Rename all images as soon as they come off the camera: use something descriptive that can be found later via your computer’s search facility ( Spotlight of course!). I use A Better Finder Rename but Adobe Bridge and others provide the same feature.
    – Once you’ve completed initial adjustments in Camera Raw select the images and save them as TIFFs. This is an uncompressed image file format and retains the pictures’ colours and gradients accurately; the JPEG format simplifies colours and shadings to reduce the file size – only when all adjustments have been made to an image (colour cast correction, colour correction, cleaning and sharpening) should it be stored as a JPEG. I’d like to recommend that you save those JPEGs at their highest quality setting too.

    – Always work on unsharpened images. This preserves the colours in your picture, and the subtle shifts between these. When you’ve fully adjusted, corrected or worked on your image only then sharpen it.

    – Adobe Photoshop’s Actions are superb; investigate them.

    Thanks again Thomas.

  25. elgato says:

    Hi. Excellent post, Thomas. It’s great to read of such a tight routine, and you’ve written it so succinctly – thank you!

    I’d like to suggest just a few points:
    – Rename all images as soon as they come off the camera: use something descriptive that can be found later via your computer’s search facility ( Spotlight of course!). I use A Better Finder Rename but Adobe Bridge and others provide the same feature.
    – Once you’ve completed initial adjustments in Camera Raw select the images and save them as TIFFs. This is an uncompressed image file format and retains the pictures’ colours and gradients accurately: the JPEG format simplifies colours and shadings to reduce the file size. Only when all adjustments have been made to an image (colour cast correction, colour correction, cleaning and sharpening) should it be stored as a JPEG. I’d like to recommend that you save those JPEGs at their highest quality setting too.

    – Always work on unsharpened images. This preserves the colours in your picture; and the subtle shifts between these. When you’ve fully adjusted, corrected or worked on your image only then sharpen it.

    – Adobe Photoshop’s Actions are superb; investigate them.

    Thanks again Thomas.

  26. Craig says:

    btw if anyone is interested GeoSetter is like GeoTagger for Windows.

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  33. Anonymous says:

    buenas fotos, te añadí como contacto en flick

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