Reflections on Lightroom workflow and archive

Having recently addressed my IT infrastructure around my photographs, in particular a robust back up routine and a MacBook docking station (see here), it was again time to revisit my workflow and approach to maintaining my photographic archive. I first seriously considered this during my Context and Narrative Course (post here), in September 2015. Re-reading this now the process seems complex and too involved – there is little surprise that I’ve failed to follow it!

Here I note my revised workflow and look forward to reviewing it in 6 months to discover whether the approach turns about to be workable.

Overall set-up

LR catalogue is kept on a Macbook Pro (MBP), with the backup saved to Dropbox. The MBP, including the LR catalogue, is also backed up to a NAS drive using TimeMachine.

Primary storage for photo files is a 2TB WD hard drive (WDHD), which is connected to a MBP docking station along with a large monitor. The MBP is docked to work on the image files, or to work on them remotely ‘smart previews’ are created. The WDHD is backed up via TimeMachine to the NAS drive and to the cloud using iDrive (with student discount!)

On import (while travelling)

Photos are imported to the LR catalogue but stored in a desktop folder on MBP named ‘photo import’, which is separately referenced in the LR catalogue. This is a temporary working location used for review and processing only, not cataloging of the images. While travelling a portable WD 1TB drive is used to back up the image files and stored separately to the MBP.

On cataloging (at home base)

I’ve rearranged the folder structure on the WDHD into  3 top-level folders: 1) own digital images, 2) others digital images (mostly family members or friends that I’ve agreed retouch), and 3) historic photos (analogue family archive that I’m beginning to scan). Own images contain the vast majority of files and my approach to sub folders is now: year/general category (eg family, landscape, street, OCA)/specific project or location. I was previously using LR’s default of year/month, but this buried specific projects deep in the folder structure, making it tricky to quickly find anything.

On selecting and processing

Initial selections:

  1. On import, rate any image with potential as 1 star. Note – keyboard short-cuts for stars are the numbers 1 to 5.
  2. Filter and review all 1 star images, making basic processing adjustments if needed. Rate any images passing review with 3 stars and process. Use virtual copies when very different treatments are planned (eg colour and monochrome), otherwise use snapshots to mark different versions of similar processing.
  3. Any images that are stand-out, rate as 5 star (use with extreme discretion)
  4. Apply keywording to starred images using defined structure / regularly update maintain keyword structure. This allows searching of archive for specific images with specific elements.

Project selections:

  1. These are made after initial selections, but for specific purposes. Two tools to suit nature of project:
    1. LR collections (including collection sets) – remembering to create virtual copies of original image files if specific adjustments are required (eg crops)
    2. Colour flags. I’ve set mine up to be labeled; potentials, picks, selects – draft, selects – final. Keyboard shortcuts are 6 to 9.

As a general workflow principle, I aim to process the original RAW file with basic exposure corrections only and then work on virtual copies for further processing. This allows images to easily be repurposed where different crops / processing is required.


3 thoughts on “Reflections on Lightroom workflow and archive

  1. Andrew,

    Do you mind if I ask how does the back up of the external hard drive work?



    1. Sure Alan – if you go into TimeMachine preferences while the laptop is connected to the hard drive and click on ‘options’, you can select which folders you’d like to back up or exclude, including any folders on the external hard drive. I only found this out through researching the set up – so, until a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t even aware this was possible!

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