The Super Workflow: 7 Steps to Faster Editing.

by Gavin Seim (updated 7/21/12): I give workflow a lot of thought. In fact I started writing this nearly two years ago and it’s based on methods I’ve refined in my own business. If you read this and follow through with it, you WILL edit faster. Truth is, I’ve actually refined my skills by just by writing this down. I’m going to be a little blunt today so don’t take it personally and don’t think me arrogant. My goal is to make us all better at editing so we have more time for life. Good processing is very valuable, but it does not have to be slow.

I devote a lot of energy to planning workflow for my own studio and for the tools that I make for LR, Photoshop and Aperture (check those out here). I’ve experimented a lot and I’ve built a system that works. As photographers we often end up with hundreds, even thousands of images to edit. But editing should not be a tedious overbearing monster. What we need is a plan. I say that in a good batch workflow, you should be spending no more than 20 minutes sorting & editing per 100 images. If you spend much more than that, you likely have ENAS, or Editing Non-Awesomeness Syndrome. It’s a common ailment among photographers, but there is a cure, which we’ll address here.

This topic can get tedious if we don’t have some fun so lets keep it light. Really though. These concepts work for 25 images or 25,000. It’s about being organized, creative and efficient with editing. It’s the opposite of having countless pieces of software you switch back forth to, or endless erratic steps to reaching your goal. I can edit a wedding with 1500+ images in 3-5hrs of computer time. I’m not a light editor either, so some will do it even faster. Sure, it’s OK to spend extra time editing because you’re enjoying your work or doing fine art, but a solid foundation will make every project flow better.

Because I’ve also built a business out of making workflow tools, I’ll be using my own effects today. But these tips apply to any tools that fit into a smooth editing plan. I’m also using Lightroom. It’s the fastest I’ve found to date and can do about 90% of what Photoshop can, but about 5x faster. That’s huge! If you use Aperture or something similar that’s cool too. I’ve worked with both and the approach is essentially the same. If however you’re still doing main corrections in Photoshop, you’re probably wasting time. Doing all your editing in Photoshop does not mean you’re more creative. It just means you’re slow! That’s not to say you should not use PS. But with a good A-Z workflow you’ll use it less, edit faster and make your work better.

Here’s an average Super Workflow. Let’s say we’re working with about 1500 images from a wedding.

  1. Prepare your workspace (know critical shortcuts):
  2. Import & apply batch corrections:
  3. Sort and or rate favorites.
  4. Perform the Grid Edit.
  5. Apply creative LR edits as needed:
  6. Edit the “best” in Photoshop if needed:
  7. Tidy up and export for web, album designs etc.

Lets take a closer look.

  • 1. Make sure your workspace is “Super” ready:
    Often we have little things on our computers that are annoyances, but we put up with them rather then fix them. This is no good for the Super Editor. Everything should be in it’s place. Set up panels the way you like and save them. Make thumbnails a size you like. KNOW YOUR CRITICAL SHORTCUTS. Print a sheet with your essential one’s and tape it to the wall if you need to. Make sure your presets (LR) and actions (PS) are loaded, organized and tidy. Keep your favorites together so you can access them fast. Details matter in workflow. When you waste 3 seconds with extra clicks or searching through clutter, that’s adds up. 3 seconds x 1500 images = 75minutes of your day. It’s fine to spend extra time on great images, but spending time because your disorganized gives you nothing. A few side notes. See here for my video on managing LR presets, and here for my video on managing PS actions). Also make sure you have a good plan for your files and LR catalogs (if using LR). More on that in my LR training sets.
  • 2. Import & Automate:
    I’ll add a general correction preset to every image on import or just after. Then you can start your previews rendering. This will get you started on the right foot. Presets are KING of Super Editing. Now I’m not telling you to rush out and buy my presets… Well OK go ahead… Really though, get some good starting presets. You can even check out my freebies section. Make sure you have a good general correction preset so you can start with a basic batch corrections. I generally start with Super Gentle (or another Super Series Preset) from Power Workflow3, but just make sure you have something that’s works good for batches. Don’t start by working individual images. That will come later.
  • 3. Reduce… then take a break:
    So your images are loaded. Start hitting that arrow key. I go through and rate those images. 3 stars = good, 4 stars = great, 5 starts = awesome. I ignore anything lower than 3. I know we all have different preferences, but I say don’t waste your time marking rejects when you don’t need to. If you mark your keepers in this good, better and best format, you can easily sort them later and you’ll automatically know which are your rejects, so why waste keystrokes marking them? That’s me though. Adapt ratings to suit your preferences. Just decide on a system that’s well reasoned and stick with it.You’re well on your way now. One quick note. If I’m planning on posting a sneak peak the session I may take a minutes here to grab some favorites, export, and post them online. The main thing is not to get too carried away. The more we stick to the plan the better. OK now you can take that break.
  • 4. The Grid Edit:
    This is a big one and something I spend a whole chapter on in my LR Ninja videos. You’ve separated the goals from the culls. At this point I’ll do an overview edit in a grid (Library) view. I show the 3 star and higher images (no need to work further on the rejects). I’ve found you can see much by just scrolling through that screen full of thumbnails. I browse through, selecting images that even after my batch correction were off a bit. For example, I may look through and select groups of images (cmd or cntrl + click) that feel a bit too dark. Then I’ll use the Quick Develop panel on the right and instantly bump up settings on all of them at once.

    I continue this process browsing, selecting small groups, making various Quick Develop adjustments and moving on to a new batch without leaving the thumbnail view. You can also play with more presets and effects from this grid view. For example, you might see a sequence that’s great in monochrome. You can quickly apply a preset right from here without leaving the grid. You can apply different White Balance settings to large groups of images. Occasionally I quickly break from grid for long enough to tweak one image in Develop, then I jump right back into Grid mode to Copy (Shft+CMD+C) and Paste (Shft+CMD+V) those settings to groups of similar images to keep consistent feel (generally better than every image having a different look for no real reason).Bear in mind not to get distracted with creative edits yet. Be frugal with the. Don’t constantly go into Develop right now. That will come later. For now we just want everything to look good. Once finished with the Grid Edit we should be looking at a collection of nearly finished images. Some will still beg creative refinement, but if you started with a good batch preset and then did the Grid Edit, things like exposure, tone and overall feel should be looking pretty good. Must be time for another break. Celebrate awesomeness.

  • 5. Creative LR Edits:
    Now that the primary corrections are done, filter to your favs and delve into the Develop mode (D). If images look great you can leave them. Or you can get creative. Start mousing over you favorite presets in the left hand panel and try a variety of effects until you see what you like. Of course you can manually adjust settings, but starting with presets is faster. It gets you thinking creatively and seeing things you would not try otherwise. It’s OK to play around a bit at this point. The tedious edits are mostly done and you can get creative as much or as little as you want.I like playing building a consistent mood for my project.I’ll try out other effects here and also delve into effects from Color Fantasies and Silver Shadows.I may also use brushes and localized corrections at this stage, or find a look I like and paste settings to other images. It’s a great way to build on a theme. You can also use this method to refine groups of similar images (such as the formals). Get one looking perfect, then paste the settings to the others. Don’t make the mistake of taking a bunch images into PS just yet. Finish in the creative edit first, then move to the next step. If you want to be efficient you have to stay disciplined. Bouncing back and forth now, is generally a waste of time.
  • 6. Time for Photoshop:
    This should come last. I love Photoshop, but keeping it as the last part of the workflow will not only be faster, it helps keep images higher quality since you stay with the original file longer. Generally I should not have a lot of PS edits, but I nearly always use it to refine my best work. If I have more than a dozen or so images from a wedding that need PS, I was probably not leveraging LR to it’s full potential as it can do most of the heavy lifting. Generally I use PS for detailed tonal control, skin smoothing, or serious detail work.Don’t get in the mode where you feel every image needs some wild effect. It can easily be overdone. In PS I’ll do burning, dodging an detail fixes, or use effects from my Hollywood or Creativeactions.There’s lots of tools out there, just remember that while clients may like choices, we don’t need to go crazy on every image. I see people all over the map with overkill edits. It usually lacks direction and does not make their work look better. Make you best images the sweet candy but keep a consistency. Also in PS or whatever you’re using, have things set up and easy to access. Your favorite panels in place, keyboard shortcuts ready, actions organized and in button mode (see the how to manage actions video).Stay focused and get the PS edits done. As you work, save those images right back into LR and it should will stack your new edit right on top of the original and you’re all set. Don’t waste time trying to save your PS edits in other folders, make naming structures or saving copies at various stages in some complicated system. This is not 1995. We have tools like LR that manage files seamlessly. Lets not over think it.
  • 7. Tidy up & export:
    After another break I’ll Take a moment to glance through the thumbnails again, make sure everything looks good and make final quick correction as needed. Tidy up by collapsing any stacked images that were saved from PS. Now you just need to export the final collection for uploading to a gallery, images for album design etc. Here too can also make custom presets for export settings and even use a plugin like LR Mogrify to add signatures or logos to every image as it goes out. Sending out images without your name on them is generally a bad business idea (see tips on image logos and branding here). Also you might want hang in LR a bit longer and use it to project proofs in the sales room.

That’s it?
Yep. Of course there’s planning involved and learning to stick to the plan is not always simple (not even for me). You’ll also need to understand your software (attend workshops if you need it). And don’t forget to get your effects and settings in place like we talked about. Also have your folders and jobs tidy. I prefer a separate catalog for each job. Of course it goes without saying you also need a good backup plan.

Bottom line is it’s not hard to be a Super Editor if you plan well. Get into a good workflow mindset and stick with it. It may take some time to get it nailed down perfectly, but it only gets faster and more creative . Kick the bad habits and don’t fall into bad editing relapse. Soon you’ll be blazing away on your editing while listening to the dulcet tones of Pro Photo Show. Ya, that was definitely a shameless plug.

Rules can be broken. Once you understand them:
This is a system. It’s what I teach at my workshops and it works. That said we all have differing situations and you may not exactly copy every step of my plan. I break the rules myself sometimes. For example when I make my landscapes, I have less volume of images and more ultra refined detail work. I’ll take extra time on things like high quality blacks, good grain patterns and balanced noise, while perhaps focusing less on large batch edits. But the same underlying workflow steps hone the way I work.

The main thing is to get yourself a solid foundation and adapt a system that works for you and not the other way around. Don’t make the excuse that a Super Workflow is not for you, just because you’re too lazy to pin it down. Becoming a great editor is not rocket science. Once you take control of your editing you’ll get more profitable, more creative and have more time for life. See you on the other side… Gav


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