How to Achieve a Speedy Workflow

June 17, 2010 | Mark Goldstein | Photography Techniques | 19 Comments | |
How to Achieve a Speedy Workflow Image

I often envy photographers who shoot for fun and don’t have the pressure of clients waiting for their images. Not only can they take as much time as they like to review and process their images, but they can also play with the latest Photoshop actions and generally experiment with postproduction techniques. Unfortunately, that’s not so viable if you’re running a photography business where time is money.

In my day-to-day life as a wedding photographer, it’s vital for me to stay on top of things so I don’t get left behind with a backlog of post-production work. Over the years, I’ve developed an efficient workflow that helps me to process my images quickly, while keep the quality level high.

The two key aspects to this workflow are simple:

  • A well-structured organisation system.
  • Fast image editing with a light touch of post-production.

If you’re a professional photographer, focussing on these two elements will help you to run a more efficient business. Even if you’re not a professional, it’ll help you to get more from your photography.

Read on to discover how simple post-production can be and how I create print-ready images at lightning speed.

In parts two and three I’ll show you how you to take this further, using more advanced post-production techniques to take your images to the next level.

First, it’s time to get organised.

How to Achieve a Speedy Workflow

Get organised

Have you ever struggled to find an image? Do you have images scattered over several computers, hard disks, folders and memory cards? I meet many photographers of varying experience at workflow seminars and it amazes me how many people use what seems to be a random file organisation system. I’m sure you won’t be surprised if I emphasise how important it is to organise your images into a logical, easy-to-search system. Here are a couple tips that are simple but I know have revolutionised how some people store and manage their images.

  • Design a file system

We use Lightroom as our main post-production tool. I think it’s the best one-stop-shop for managing all aspects of digital image organisation and development. That said, there are plenty of tools and applications on the market so choose one that works for you.

Whatever application you use, one of the main issues I’ve found with most image management tools, Lightroom included, is that they try and ‘help’ by offering to import images to a file structure based on date alone. I don’t know about you but I struggle to remember important birthdays, let alone the date of a specific job. So, my advice is don’t organise by date alone – take control and design a system of folders that fits your photography.

Sit down and think about how your images should be stored and organised.  Each folder and sub-folder should have a logical relationship. For example, a landscape photographer may have a parent folder called “Season” with sub-folders of “Autumn”, “Winter”, “Summer” & “Spring”.

A good way to approach this is to think about the types of photography that you capture. Are you a social and wedding photographer, commercial, wildlife, landscape or fashion photographer? You probably cover several categories, so use these as the top level hierarchy of folders.

How to Achieve a Speedy Workflow

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review, photos, images, image, photography, lightroom, professional, editing, processing, process, techniques, weddings, workflow, speed, quick, sort, organise, sorting, speedy, reviewing, organising

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#1 Henti

Fantastic article. Simple and efficient workflow with “less is more” development approch. Really glad to see this.

12:51 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#2 Joe Smokie

One of the largest barriers to an efficient workflow is an inefficient folder/file layout. After a year of trying to settle on the most useful layout I can now properly add my pictures to Lightroom and know where to put new pics. Starting out with a bad layout leads to a huge problem when looking for pics.
I’m glad to see that this article covered folder/file layouts.

2:24 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#3 John Steel

Fantastic article! I have been trying to organise my images for so long.  This simple solution is perfect. The 5 minutes reading this article will save my so many hours.  Thank you

2:33 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#4 Kinderkoffer Haba

A good way to approach this is to think about the types of photography that you capture. Are you a social and wedding photographer, commercial, wildlife, landscape or fashion photographer.You probably cover several categories, so use these as the top level hierarchy of folders.

3:00 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#5 Lorna Coates

Brilliant article, fantastic and very relevant advice. I cant wait for the next one!

5:51 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#6 Michael Hickey

Great article but embedded IPTC info is a MUST if photo organization is important. As our digital libraries grow, searching may be the only to ever find anything eventually!

11:12 pm - Thursday, June 17, 2010

#7 Sebastian

Thanks very much for this post. Even as an amateur enthusiast I found the points a great help towards solving my biggest frustration.

4:36 am - Friday, June 18, 2010

#8 Stewart Randall

Michael, I agree that IPTC is important if you’re a press photographer, working with stock image libraries and/or a commercial photographer. In terms of running a wedding photography business and simple organisation for enthusiasts, I don’t believe IPTC is a *must*. A nice to have but in my opinion not a must. The benefits vs effort involved in IPTC tagging is not beneficial in line of work.

9:47 am - Friday, June 18, 2010

#9 Dan Chippendale

Good article. I actually follow a pretty similar workflow so I must be doing something right! I also find the copy/paste of added changes a god send in Lightroom. Great that you can apply the same effects to other photos by just pasting. I look forward to the other parts of this article.

11:18 am - Friday, June 18, 2010

#10 Tom

Great advice about “edit IN”. Not sure about the folder structure though. I’m an IT professional so used to managing data (photos are just data). The power of using a tool like lightroom is that you can store the files in a very simple and flat structure and use the library features to create any organisational structure you want on top of it just by using metadata and collections. A collection is like a soft folder that points to the images rather than containing them. The advantage is you can easily change how you organise you images without having to moves and copy physical files. This is particularly important when you are bedding in your workflow. It also make searching much easier and allows you to store the same photo in multiple workflows.

1:51 pm - Monday, June 28, 2010

#11 Stewart Randall

Hi Tom, thanks for the comment. Glad you liked the edit IN approach.

With regards to folder structure I’m interested in your thoughts. As an ex-IT professional myself I’m also very familiar with flat structures and databases and trust me when I say that I have tried all sorts of organisation techniques in Lightroom. One such technique was to use keywording to help separate the images in to categories however the time it took to do this was no where near as quick and as simple as dragging and dropping. You can indeed use collections to achieve the same effect however as it’s technically possible to place the same image in to multiple collections you run the risk of duplicating images. My approach of using folders not only helps to maintain synchronisation between LR and the physical disk, but is also very simple for complete beginners to master.

Perhaps for a smaller number of images I would definitely agree that metadata is an ideal solution, however in terms of speed I still believe my folder system will work out quicker.

You make a good point about the importance of having flexibility at the early stages of developing which I agree with.


2:32 pm - Monday, June 28, 2010

#12 Dean Whitling

I think the very best organisational structure is found in the book by Peter Krogh called DAM- Digital Asset Management.
For me this is the only way to truly organise a large catalogue of images.

11:47 pm - Monday, July 26, 2010

#13 Catherine Lacey Dodd

Great article. Happy to see it replicates what I have for my folders for my children and my work . My challenge was moving from a PC to Mac at Christmas, then trying PSE, PS, Lr before eventually settling on Aperture which I love. With thanks

7:18 pm - Monday, August 23, 2010

#14 catherine Lacey Dodd

Meant to ask though please. You mention storing on your hard drive. I’ve tended to use hard disks for photos now as my Mac is too slow with the photos housed there. Any recommendations here (I use Smugmug for archiving of jpgs currently but not RAW) for additional archiving and how to manage that process. Thanks

7:22 pm - Monday, August 23, 2010

#15 catherine Lacey Dodd

Another thing on selective editing: In Aperture I select all images as 3 (select press 3) then select IN my favourites by clicking 5. You can add another step by clicking 9 for deletions for smaller projects (ie when they’re aren’t 3000 images) but I’m moving towards the 5 star rating instead

7:51 pm - Monday, August 23, 2010

#16 Vlad

Glad to see that the article spends a good amount of space on discussing folder organization.  Many people ignore organizing their folders and rely almost completely on image tags.

Doing both in an efficient and consistent manner has proved to be the best approach.

While I’m not a professional photographer, I liked the fact that there are individual folders for the output type.  In my case instead of HI JPG and Facebook Pics I have something like this:
  2010-08-15-zoo-trip (folder containing originals)
  web (pics formated for the web)
  print (pics formated for printing)
  e-mail (for e-mail…similar to web)

12:52 am - Tuesday, August 31, 2010

#17 louise

thanks great info for improving and making sense of the workflow issue

3:15 pm - Saturday, October 23, 2010

#18 Gold Coast Wedding Photography

Good tips. I’d also add that a fast processor helps! And batch processing through bridge is a must!

12:35 am - Tuesday, February 1, 2011

#19 Dan at Vigorotaku

Good advice!

Bottom line - My workflow:
1) Shoot RAW+JPG. RAW to Card 1 JPG to Card 2.  I can always hand off the JPG card to anyone for them to use immediately if necessary.
2) IMPORT : Photo Mechanic
3) EDIT :  Capture One Pro 8
Use Sessions so that I can edit in original directories and not have a huge catalog. Also, if I really need to use Photoshop or another plugin because I have a solution that I have used in the past I can.
4) SEND Proofs: Smugmug
5) PRINT: Imageprint
to my Epson 3880.

Check out my quick and dirty workflow for large shoots and weddings here:

You can take a look at
Workflow for Weddings at

I hope that you find this helpful.

Dan at

6:19 pm - Wednesday, September 17, 2014