Tips for a Better Digital Photography Workflow

An important aspect of starting a photography business is having a solid photography workflow in place. Many photographers today wear many hats and are responsible not only for capturing images but also photo editing and delivering the final product to their clients. This can be an overwhelming process, especially if you’re a little trigger happy like yours truly. It’s not unusual for me to walk away from a photo shoot with over 1,000 images to edit, which can seem incredibly overwhelming when I sit down at my computer to process them all.

Here’s my digital photography workflow process that I use for every shoot I conduct. Sometimes the steps might vary slightly between event photography and food photography, especially if I’m shooting tethered. However, the workflow stays more or less the same, It’s important to note that there are many types of photography workflows out there and they can vary drastically. This is one of many options out there, so feel free to peruse through it and use the parts that make sense to you.

Full disclosure: This page does include a few affiliate links. That means if you click and proceed to buy something, I may get a small commission, and you may get a discount. Specifically, using this SmugMug affiliate link will give you a 15% discount as well as provide me with a commission. I promise to only recommend things that I absolutely love and truly believe in.

My 7-Step Photography Workflow

  1. Recommended tools
  2. Start with image dumps
  3. Hard drive file structure
  4. Edit photos and add SEO keywords
  5. Send images to client
  6. Use images for social media and blogging
  7. Archive photos

What is a photography workflow?

In digital photography, a workflow refers to an end-to-end system for capturing, processing, organizing, and delivering images. Personally, I had two problems I wanted my workflow to tackle:

  • Being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of photos I would have to process at a time
  • Problems with finding old archived photos when requested by clients

Through trial and error and constant tweaking, I’ve developed a photography workflow that has sped up my photo processing time and made it much easier to find archived photos down the road.

Recommended Tools

id=”image-dump”Start with Image Dumps

The very first thing you want to do is transfer the images off of your camera to your computer or an external hard drive. Use a tool such as the Transcend USB 3.0 card reader to connect your microSD, SDHC or CF card to your computer. After your card shows up on your computer screen, you have several options for transferring your photos over. These options vary according to what photo editing software you use, and if you would rather choose your selected photos to keep before or after you transfer them to your computer.

  1. Drag and drop photos to a folder on your hard drive
  2. Use Photo Mechanic to cull (preview and select) images and then drag and drop to your hard drive
  3. Import images using Adobe Lightroom

Photo Mechanic: a photographer’s secret weapon for fast image culling.

My personal preference since I tend to overshoot and prefer PhotoShop over Lightroom is to use Photo Mechanic to weed out the obviously bad images and only copy over good images that I know I can work with. I also tend to store my images on my computer hard drive for about 1 month before archiving them on an external hard drive.

Hard Drive File Structure

After you transfer images to your computer or hard drive, it’s then time to sort and organize them. Ideally, you’ll already have a routine file structure for organizing your photos. If not, it’s time to develop one!  I constantly have to dig into archives to find old photos from years ago, so file organization is very important for making this a quick and less painful process.

My file structure for photos has several layers of folders with action-oriented names. This helps me remember which photos have been edited and archived, and which ones still need to be edited or archived. I also make sure that each shoot-specific folder is accurately named so I can easily find it later on. Photo organization might seem complex and time-consuming, and it might be when you’re figuring out the best structure for yourself. But it will save you loads of time down the road, especially if you need to dig back into the archives later on.

First Layer: Pictures > Sorted into Edited to To Edit folders

Second Layer: Within the Edited or To Edit folders is another layer of action-oriented folders


Third Layer: Shoot-specific folders that are sorted by RAW files versus JPGs.


Fourth Layer: If for some reason I end up with hundreds or thousands of photos, I’ll take it a step further and organize my RAW and JPG folders according to file contents. This helps with finding photos later on, and it also makes the photo editing process seem less intimidating when the photos are broken up into bite-sized pieces.


Batch Photo Editing Folders

Batch or bulk photo editing is a gift from heaven and can save you tons of time. I take liberal advantage of Adobe PhotoShop and Lightroom’s batch photo editing process, and Adobe PhotoShop actions to automatically resize and save images to my computer. As a result, I keep several Hard Drive folders where all PhotoShop batched photos and Lightroom Exports are automatically saved to.


Editing Photos

After copying photos to the computer and organizing them, go ahead and do your usual edits. Adobe PhotoShop is my preferred photo editing software, although sometimes I’ll make use of Lightroom too. As mentioned above, I use PhotoShop actions to automatically resize and save all of my images once I’m through with edits. Finished photos are then saved to the Bulk Edits folder on my hard drive.

For every shoot, I create three copies of each image:

  • a high-resolution JPG (5000px on the long side at 300dpi)
  • a web-sized JPG (2000px on long side) with no watermark
  • a web-sized JPG (2000px on long side) with watermark

Adding File Info and Metadata and Rename Photos

Before I send out finished JPG photos, I do two extra steps for the sake of SEO and file organization.

1. Add file info and metadata

This is crucial for adding my virtual stamp to all photos (especially the unwatermarked ones) to ensure that my contact and copyright information is included in every image. In many cases, this image metadata will also be automatically applied to your images if you upload them to photo-sharing services such as Flickr, SmugMug, and 500px. It’s pretty easy to do using Adobe Lightroom or Bridge. Fill out as little or as much info as you prefer, but at the very least, fill out the copyright section.

photography-workflow-metadata-keywords2. Rename photos with SEO keywords

For the sake of photo organization and SEO, also consider renaming your photos. Utilize keywords, but don’t overdo it. Again, very easy to do in Lightroom or with Adobe Bridge’s Batch Rename feature. Learn more about how to find the best keywords for your photography business.


Send Photos to Clients

After adding image metadata and renaming photos, I then send them to the client. As mentioned above, I save three copies of each JPG image I have. Two of those copies, unwatermarked hi-res and web-sized JPGs, are sent to the client via WeTransfer or Dropbox. WeTransfer automatically deletes images after the client has downloaded them. If you opt for Dropbox, you run the risk of your client becoming dependent on the images to be permanently stored on Dropbox.

Use Photos for Social Media Marketing and Blogging

I use the watermarked photos to promote on my Instagram account and photography blog, but I always make sure to have my client’s explicit permission. One of the easiest ways to get client permission to use photos for your own marketing purposes is to include it as a clause in your photography contract.

Archive Images

The final step of the photography workflow is to archive images online and on external hard drives. I’ve learned the hard way that trying to save every single image I’ve ever shot is very expensive. The cost of hard drives and purchasing cloud storage space can add up very quickly. As a result, my new image archiving process looks like this:

1. Upload to SmugMug

All unwatermarked hi-res JPG photos are uploaded to a private SmugMug folder. SmugMug doesn’t have a limit in photo storage, so I’m banking on being able to store a ton of images here for easy on-the-go access for the annual subscription fee that I pay. After these images are uploaded to SmugMug, they are then deleted from my hard drive.


Private online SmugMug galleries where I store all of my high-resolution JPG images.

2. Archive RAW Images on Hard Drive

All watermarked web-sized images are uploaded to social media and blogging platforms and then deleted from my hard drive. The only images I keep on external hard drives are the original RAW files. In terms of choosing an external hard drive, I prefer the Western Digital brand. I’ve been using them for years and only I experienced a single failure when I dropped a hard drive.

Currently, I use several Western Digital 4 TB My Book Desktop Hard Drives which stay at home in a fireproof and waterproof safe, and a single Western Digital 1TB MyPassport Hard Drive for traveling.



3. Backup RAW files to CrashPlan

After photos are backed up on an external hard drive, CrashPlan backs them up to the cloud.


The digital photography workflow might sound long and complicated, but it will truly save you loads of time. If my method sounds logical, feel free to use the parts that make sense. If not, let me know how you manage your workflow in the comments below!

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By | 2016-12-21T17:57:26+00:00 November 11th, 2016|Comments Off on Tips for a Better Digital Photography Workflow

About the Author:

Suzi Pratt is an event, food, and concert photographer based in Seattle. She started Intrepid Freelancer to inspire and teach others how to start a photography business. View her at photography portfolio, and subscribe to herYouTube channel.
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