My Very Basic Workflow in Lightroom

As my Blog Site name suggests and as mentioned in my Welcome message, I enjoy processing photos almost as much as taking them. The first two processes I perform are:

1) crop the photo, if necessary, to get a better composition


2) punch the details in order to bring out definitions in the photograph.

These two primary steps to producing a great finished photo, in my opinion, led me to today’s post. I know just how much I’ve learned over the last few months from reading other’s ideas, suggestions, processes, etc. and therefore wonder if anyone can learn from me. I also know that there’s no possibility of anyone learning from me if I don’t put the information out there. So, here I am!

I hope I can share at least one little nugget that you will gain benefit from. Please keep in mind that I’m very new at all of this and do not know all the ins and outs of Lightroom. As a matter of fact, you may very well know much more than I do and I’d love to learn from you! At the end of this post, I will ask a question and would appreciate your response.

I realize that everyone must find their own groove when it comes to processing and what works for one, may not work for another but here is how I do it – my workflow, if you will. The steps I will share at this time are very basic. If other adjustments need to be made, I’ll save that for another post perhaps, but for now I will stick with the first few steps I take. I’ve found for most of my photos, these first few adjustments are all that is needed – in  most cases. And let me interject that if you are going to be doing any processing, I highly recommend shooting in RAW file format. Again, my opinion.

  1. The very first thing I do once I have imported my files is to select the Develop Module.
  2. I know that some suggest going through your entire library and weeding out the ones you don’t need or picking the ones you will salvage first, but I’ve found for me what seems to work best is to start at the bottom left of the library, look at each one individually, decide at that moment if I want to do something with it and if so, work on it. If I don’t want to work on a particular one, I leave it for now as I may have a change of heart later. I do not delete any unless they are just so bad, blurred beyond recognition, etc. that absolutely nothing can be salvaged. I find not many get deleted. Not because I’m that good of a photographer, but because I can usually find some fun and creative ways to process some of even the worst of the batch. But for now, I’ll only process the “easy” ones.
  3. Once I’ve found a file I want to work with, the next step is to check composition. If it could be improved upon, this is when crop comes into play. I crop before anything else to get the exact composition I want.
  4. Once I have my cropped photo, the next thing I do is to go to my presets – the general Lightroom Presets that come built-in. The next couple of steps involve the presets I almost always use and the order in which I use them. The first one is…can you guess? Nope, not yet.  Next, I go to Auto Tone (Gotcha, didn’t I?) This preset will slightly adjust the recovery, black, brightness and contrast. Sometimes, this takes away from the look I want, but most times, adds to it.
  5. From there I go to…hmm, think ya know this time? Yes, now! Punch! The Punch preset just adds a little, well, “punch” to the overall look. It brings out details that otherwise can get lost or forgotten. Punch is probably my favorite preset and I can say I always use it regardless of whether I’m doing color, sepia, b&w or grayscale.
  6. After punch, if I am working on any type of landscape scene (and many times even if I’m not), I’ll go to the Landscapes preset. This just seems to bring out details in leaves, bark, whatever is in the photograph. (*Note: if at any time you use a preset that you decide you do not like the effects, simply go to edit: undo or select Command-Z to remove it.)
  7. The next preset I visit is the Strong Contrast. For most of my photos, I really like to have defining contrast and this preset does a good job of giving me what I want. Now I will tell  you, it’s not always enough and sometimes it is too much. This is where you just have to go off what your own personal preference is for the particular photo you are working on.
  8. Last but not least in presets, on some occasions I will go and hit Auto Tone one more time. This does not work for every photo but on some where I want a little extra oomph to the overall tone, this will do it.
  9. If I feel my picture still needs more of something done, then I move to the other side of the module. This is where I will take a look at Exposure levels and adjust as needed – ever so slightly. I will also raise both Vibrance and Saturation a little to make the colors pop, if that is the look I’m going for.  Sometimes the Fill Light, Brightness and Contrast will be gradually adjusted, if necessary. The most important point to remember here is that you can play, adjust and undo until you get it right. Just make certain you do not hit Reset or all of your work will be undone. But even if that happens, hit Control-Z and all will be back to where it was. Have fun and play. (As mentioned at the beginning, this is my basic workflow so I will not be going any further at this time in details of adjustments.) Now to finish up…
  10. Once I have my photo just like I want, the next step is to save it or export it. You can right-click to bring up the options box and select Export to assign the location, name, settings, quality, etc.
  11. It is at this point that I mark the photo as Flagged. To do so, hit the shortcut P and a small white flag will appear in the corner. This is my indication that I have converted my photo to jpg and saved it on my hard drive. By flagging it, the next time I go into this library, it is very easy for me to know which ones I’ve adjusted and saved and which ones I have not. Remember, I said earlier that I will sometimes go back and have fun by getting creative with some of the less than best shots? By having flagged the ones I consider complete, this allows me to quickly identify the ones that have not been touched.
  12. If working in Lightroom 3 and uploading to Flickr, as I do, then go to the Library Module, select the Filters option at the top right and then choose Flagged. All of your completed photos will be on the screen and you can easily Select All and drag to Flickr under Publisher Services. Then Publish and Voila! You are finished!

I hope you have found this of benefit to you. Keep in mind, this is only my basic workflow and the steps I take for the majority of the photos I process. For those I want to let my creative juices flow upon, there’s much more that Lightroom has to offer.

Now it’s your turn! I’d love to hear from you. Let me know what you think about my process and more importantly, allow me to learn from you! What are some of the main features of Lightroom that YOU use? I’d like to know! I look forward to hearing from you. Please post in the comment section below.

(For some AWESOME posts on the how to’s of using Lightroom to a much greater degree, check out Elizabeth Halford’s Blog. You can also discover all sorts of tutorials from the Digital Photography School site. I’ve been absorbing a great deal from these two learning playgrounds over the last several months!)

ALWAYS…let your light shine!
Bit by the Shutter Bug,

8 responses

  1. aaron

    Great post.. One little minor thing, as much as i love your background, it’s kind of distracting and makes reading a little difficult.. Just my $.02.. I think if you darkening it a bit may help.. Keep on learnin ! There’s a lot to Lightroom and you won’t learn if you don’t fool around

    February 15, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    • Thanks Aaron for your $.02! I didn’t “upgrade” to make those types of changes and will have to live with it for now. If I have many comment about it, just may have to change my theme…AGAIN! :(. Have a good one!

      February 15, 2010 at 4:45 pm

  2. my first step when using LR is to check the camera profile. That will ensure that I am getting an accurate conversion.
    2nd step is to check and adjust the White Balance.
    3rd – is Voila 🙂 wallah sounds like something in Arabic language:)

    I personally crop at the end but that is my own preference.

    February 15, 2010 at 4:40 pm

    • Thanks! I’ll make that change. LOL!
      Good point about WB. Most of the time I’ve found my white balance is ok – but definitely not all the time.
      Yep, it’s interesting how we all have our preferences. Thanks again for your input. Now to change to Voila!…

      February 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm

  3. I think this is a fabulous and very clear start!! I personally go through and star mine instead of flag. I might rate the ones I KNOW I want at 1 then continue on through 2 or 3. but that’s just my preference.

    Not sure if you know (you probably do) but there are TOOOONS of free presets out there that are just breathtaking. is my total favorite.

    Thanks for your info!

    February 15, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    • Thank you so much Gretchen, for the link, your input and comment.

      I do have several presets that I’ve downloaded but haven’t been to this site. Will check it out immediately. Thanks again and please come back again ~ Debbi

      February 15, 2010 at 9:32 pm

  4. I used to think that my WB is right until I bought a WhiBal and I saw the difference between what I thought is correct WB and what it was indeed true WB. Shocking! 🙂
    I don’t know if you shoot Nikon or Canon, but if you shoot Nikon I strongly recommend trying Capture NX. Lightroom might be very good at managing the files but when it comes to RAW conversions…not that good.

    February 17, 2010 at 2:48 am

    • Thanks again, Ovidiu, for the info. I’m going to check it out. I’m always interested in learning more and you are right, may not realize WB isn’t the best it could be until I see it in a different light (no pun intended – ok, maybe a little 🙂 ). Thank you! ~ Debbi

      February 17, 2010 at 8:39 am

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