Film Rolls Art Work @DeTour 2011I have been using my iMac for photo editing for quite a while now. As is my way, if I don’t have a set of rules laid down then I waste a lot of time fiddling with things trying to improve things. The idea is to try and work out the best way. In reality though, every time I open up Aperture I start reorganising rather than actually editing photos…

To stop this time wasting back when I used Windows I detailed my Windows photography workflow. This was very specific to the tools that I used at the time and so is not much use to me now.

It is high time I updated this and wrote up a new workflow so I can actually get down to processing the backlog of images. This time I want to make it more generic, based more around the general steps you should take, rather than tying it down to the current tools I am using. That way the workflow should stand the test of time even if the tools I use change…

I will cover the basic steps required to import, cull, rate, edit and organise your images. Hopefully there should be some useful tips for anyone trying to find a photo editing process that works for you…

Import Images

The first step is to get the images onto you computer and into the program that you intend to use. If possible try and include metadata as part of the import process to make sure all images are marked with your copyright details.

You may want to have a copy of the original image straight off the camera, either way…

Make sure you think about your backup strategy!

The import should be done after each shoot, if possible. The images from each shoot should be stored together, even if different cameras or cards were used. Separate shoots should be stored in different folders.

This makes it much easier to get a feel for the amount of shots rather than having to flick between different folders. Each shoot can then be processed individually, following all of the steps below…

Assess Images

This is a first run through all of the images. The basic idea is to cull anything that you’re not happy with and give an instant rating based on the first impression of each image.

Be quite strict when culling images. Images that are blurred or if the subject has their eyes closed, unintentionally will have no real use why keep them in your library? Anything that doesn’t make the grade should be rejected…

Any other images that are left should be given a very simple rating. Most systems use a rating out of 5. On this first pass to keep things simple restrict your choices to 1–3 based on the following:

  1. Poor – Not great shots but not considered bad enough to physically delete. Maybe the image captures a memory but is a bit blurred and so wouldn’t be worth showing to others.
  2. OK – Reasonable shots that captures something worthwhile with decent focus.
  3. Good – Images that stand out for some reason, after a cursory glance.

Remember that these should be instant decisions based on your first impressions. Try not to spend too much time at this stage as first impressions say a lot about an image.

Add Keywords

How long you spend on this is entirely up to you. It makes a difference how many images you are likely to accumulate as the more you have the harder it becomes to find anything. Keywords really help when it comes to organising the images, allowing you to find specific photographs quicker.

As a minimum I suggest that you add keywords for the names of all of your family members that appear in a lot of your pictures.

The next level would be to create some generic categories to help group images together. My top level categories are currently set to:

  • Landscape
  • Nature
  • People
  • Event
  • Subject
  • Location

The Subject category is to house anything that doesn’t really fit into any of the previous categories, with a subcategory detailing what the main subject of the photograph is. The Location category has a lot of sub categories with locations of where the photos were taken.

Some tools allow for subcategories, others rely on individual keywords so how you organise your keywords can depend on the tools you have opted to use…

Quick Edits

Select all of the Good images and run through them in full screen. Perform some simple edits if you feel the image would benefit from it, like cropping, fixing red-eye or simple colour adjustments for example.

There’s no point in spending a great deal of time on items that are rated lower than Good but you may want to have a very quick run through the OK images, fixing red-eye and cropping any images that would benefit from it.

Rate Images

This pass is the time to refine the ratings a bit. These final ratings should be a bit more specific. Think about what you want to use the photos for and create a ratings system that works for you. This is what I currently use:

  1. Keep – Some reason to keep but will not appear in any collection of photos ever shown to others.
  2. Had To Be There – Reasonable photos that capture something that might only appeal to people who were there…
  3. Gallery – Images that you would be happy to display to both friends and family.
  4. Stand Out – Stand out shots that you are pleased to put your name to. There shouldn’t be many photos in this category as you want this to the cream of your photos.
  5. Wow! – Did you really take this? If so then make sure everyone else knows about it!

Now you have run through the entire project you should have an idea of the standard and quantity of images available. If there are a lot of duplicate, or very similar, images then it may be a good idea to group them together and pick the best one, if your tools allow for that. Another way to handle this is to mark the best image as a higher rating but mark all of the duplicates as Keep to stop them appearing when displaying or sharing images.

The rating of Good now becomes a personal Gallery quality image as they are both just names for a rating of 3 out of 5. Go through all of the Good images and decide if any deserve to be adjusted up to the Stand Out or even Wow! rating.

Next give the OK images, which now relate to Had To Be There, a quick once over to see if anything now looks like it could be a Gallery shot.

Images set to Poor on the first pass will not really feature from here on so these should just be left with a Keep rating. Sometimes the shooting conditions may not have been ideal or something could have gone wrong. It may be worthwhile to have a quick look to check if you have enough images. If not then it may be necessary to uprate some to Had To Be There now…

Organise Images

Now you have fully rated and organised all of the images from a shoot you need to store them somewhere you can get access to them. How you do this will depend on what you plan on doing with your images.

At the simplest level you could just export the images to appropriate folders based on their ratings or their category, or both, whatever works for you. Some tools allow you to create Albums to group pictures together, others allow you to set up rules that will do this automatically for you based on keywords and ratings.

Just make sure that you do something with you photographs. Remember you have spent some of your precious time on these images. Please don’t let them just sit there on your hard disk never to be seen again…

Backup Strategy

Now you have fully edited photos it’s definitely time to backup. I just want to reiterate this as I have been caught out before…

Make sure you have a backup strategy!



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