My Photo Post-Processing Workflow – Stage 1: Capture

My photo processing procedures include several stages, capture, processing, online access, and preservation.

The Capture Stage

The capture stage is probably the most important stage for organizing photos and keeping them organized from the time the shutter button is pushed to the time they are placed online for access and stored in a permanent location for preservation. The capture stage begins immediately after the photo is snapped. I take photos in one of four ways, through my DSLR, through my Lightroom camera app on my iPhone, through my native camera app on my iPhone, or from my wife’s native camera app on her cell phone. All of these make their way in to my Lightroom ecosystem in an organized way that allows for workflows that work best for me. My Lightroom ecosystem consists of both Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (aka Lightroom Mobile) , which is available on my iPhone, iPad, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for Windows, and Web access) and Lightroom Classic on my PC. The organizing that I do through Adobe Photoshop Lightroom (hereafter referred to as Lightroom Mobile) is transferred over to Lightroom Classic already organized into the albums that will most likely remain throughout each photo’s lifetime.

Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader

For photos that I take with my DSLR, I transfer into Lightroom Mobile using an Apple Lightning to SD Card Camera Reader.  I simply open Lightroom mobile and plug in the cared reader with the card inserted and any photo that has not already been imported will be highlighted.  I click the photos that I want to Import, click the Import button and the photos are imported into All Photos in Lightroom Mobile.  When I use my DLSR, I shoot only in the camera’s RAW format which transfer over to Lightroom nicely. 

For photos that I take that are meant for keeping such as family photos and photography “shots” when I do not have a DSLR on hand, I use the camera app integrated into Lightroom Mobile.  I shoot these photos in JPG format as opposed to RAW because I found the quality to be better with JPEG and the post-processing editing capability of the cell phone RAW files is not worth the effort.  Afterall, these photos are still being shot with a very small crop sensor cell phone camera and thus I find that the benefits of RAW are mostly lost.  As with the camera’s native camera app, the JPG files come out looking like typical cell phone photos, blotchy, due to camera’s instant processing that is done when taken.  The RAW files contain an incredible amount of noise that is not present with the JPG versions, and thus they require a great deal of post-processing editing later.  Unlike RAW photos taken with a DLSR, the edited RAW photos taken with a cell phone, I find, are really no better than what I would have ended up with a photo taken in JPG in the first place.  Thus, I save myself a great deal of time shooting in JPG for photos that in the end, are of better quality.  I should note that my cell phone camera is great for capturing family moments since I always my cell phone on me, but not my DLSR.  I use my DLSR when I can for family photos, but sometimes you have to go with what you’ve got.  If I am shooting for creative purposes, I always use my DLSR because the of the superb quality and the greater level of control I have over exposure and composition. 

I use my iPhone 11 native camera app for three purposes.  The first is for photos that I am taking for documentary purposes and not meant for long-term keeping.  For example, I may take a photo of something that I see in a store that I want to remember.  Or if there is something from my home that I want to buy, I can take a photo of it so I make sure that I get the right things at the store.  Or another example is to take a photo of something that I want to post to social media that I have no interest in keeping long-term. 

The second reason I use the native app is to utilize the night mode feature for shooting in low light situations.  The Lightroom camera app has this feature as well but I found that the native app does a much better job.  The third purpose is for shooting video since the Lightroom Mobile camera does not have video capability.  I have the settings in Lightroom Mobile to automatically import video taken in the native camera into my Lightroom Mobile library All Photos.  I have this turned off for photos since I almost never want to keep these photos long-term.  If I do happen to take a photo with the native camera app that I want to keep and imported into my permanent library, I can very easily manually import the photo into Lightroom Mobile.  Keeping the two Libraries separate allows me to easily keep short-term reference photos apart from those I plan to keep, something that has always been a major challenge when using just the native IOS photo app. 

Finally, my wife often takes family photos that I want in my library.  I will occasionally look through her photos and transfer the ones that I want from her phone to mine via Airdrop which allows the transfer of a very large number of photos in a very short amount of time.  These go into my iPhone native Photos app which I will then transfer to Lightroom and then I delete the versions in the iPhone app.  It may sound extraneous, but it really is not that bad. 

Organization

Adobe PhotoShop Lightroom for iOS

In Lightroom Mobile, I maintain a file system that automatically transfers over to Lightroom Classic and will almost always resemble my permanent file structure.  I will get into the Lightroom Classic part of this equation shortly.  As photos come into All Photos in Lightroom Mobile, I move these to Albums that either already exist or that I create on the fly.  For personal/family photos, albums represent months or seasons for random photos that I take, or I may create an album for a particular event like a birthday or a trip to the zoo, for example.  It is important to add these photos to albums as soon as possible to keep them organized.  Lightroom Mobile has robust editing features which I use if I need to edit a photo for immediate use.  However, I choose to do most of my editing in Lightroom Classic on my PC since the editing tools are better and it is much easier on a large monitor than on a cell phone or an iPad Mini.  Lightroom Mobile maintains the non-destructive features that Lightroom users come to expect.  However, one way that I find Lightroom Mobile on my iPhone or iPad mini particularly useful is for weeding out photos that I do not want.  For instance, when taking photos of people, I often take multiple photos to account for closed eyes or someone looking away, or perhaps blur due to camera shake or someone moving in a low light situation where the camera speed was slowed down.  Having all of my latest photos on hand, I can sort out the bad ones whenever it is convenient, and I am away from my computer.  Waiting in a long grocery store checkout isle is one such place I may do this, or waiting for an oil change on my car.  This saves me valuable “computer photo editing time” later.  If you are synching Lightroom Mobile with Lightroom Classic, the best way to remove photos in Lightroom Mobile is to flag them as rejects and then delete them in Lightroom Classic later. This is because they may be removed from Lightroom ecosystem, but not on my PC in Lightroom Classic.   When they are flagged as rejects, they will still show up in Lightroom Classic grayed out rejects that can very easily be deleted permanently as a batch or restored. 

Lightroom Classic

Lightroom Mobile is great, but it is no replacement for the power of Lightroom Classic.  Rather, Lightroom Mobile is a fantastic mobile companion app that brings the entire Lightroom ecosystem together and available anywhere.  I do not have all of my photos in Lightroom Mobil since I don’t think they even have plans that would accommodate my storage needs.  I stick with base 100 GB option which is $9.99 a month.  100 GB is plenty of space for my purposes and it serves my need as a staging ground for storing and working on photos that are in “processing stage.”  I also use it to keep a record of photos that I have uploaded to social media sites and as a holding space for photos that I want to upload to socail media at a later date. Once a photo is uploaded, I simply move the photo from one location to another.

Lightroom Classic folder synched with Lightroom Mobile

The only physical transfer of files that I need to do are from my DSLR SD card into Lightroom Mobile on my iPhone.  From there, they automatically enter the Lightroom ecosystem which includes Lightroom Classic.  In Lightroom Classic, I have a folder called “Import from Lightroom Mobile.”  This folder is synched with Lightroom Mobile and thus all photos on Lightroom Mobile are also stored locally on computer in the folder.  These photos are actually saved onto the computer whenever I open Lightroom Classic and it synchs with Lightroom Mobile.  Any changes made in Lightroom Classic are reflected in Lightroom Mobile and vice-versa.

Lightroom Classic collections

But what about the albums I created in Lightroom Mobile?  Do these transfer over to Lightroom Classic?  Yes they do.  Any albums that are created in Lightroom Mobile, automatically show up as a collection in the Collection panel of Lightroom Classic.  This is why organization of photos while they are in Lightroom Mobile is so important, because they enter Lightroom Classic already organized how I want them.  I do not have to worry about copying files from one device or location to another and moving them around.  Lightroom Classic is where I do most of my editing and metadata work and thus us a good start to my processing workflows that I will discuss in subsequent blog posts. I will also show my overall filing system and how I separate work space from permenant storage space for access copies and master raw files, and how my system for moving collections into SmugMug.

In my next post, I will describe my processing steps from selecting photos to keep and reject, editing the photos, and adding metadata. In a later post, I will describe my process for exporting photos to JPG for online access, preserving my master files, adding photos to my website for access anywhere, and final clean-up of my Lightroom ecosystem.

Artist vs. Archivist

As a photographer and an archivist, the lines between the two roles are often blurred, at least in my personal life.  The photographer in me wants to spend my “photo hobby time” taking photos for creative purposes, editing those photos, posting them online and social media, and blogging about it.  The other side of me is the family photographic archivist, so as I take family photos and photos of family events, I need to keep on top of my processing and archiving of these precious collections.  These activities proceed my marriage and family by quite a few years.  Over the years I have developed elaborate organizing and archival processes of personal digital photos and older print photos of mine and of my family members that I have scanned.  Some of these proceed my life by decades.  While I have lofty goals of enhancing metadata for these “legacy collections” my main responsibility is to stay on top of newly taken photos.  Since my time is limited due to working full time and family responsibilities, I often struggle finding a balance between working on family photos and my creative photography endeavors.   Both are important to me, but the archivist in me will not allow me to ever get too far behind in keeping up with new family collections.  To further complicate matters, I also need to find time to learn.  2020 has been one of the single most educational time periods for me due to finally getting Lightroom and taking advantage of my institutional subscription to LinkedIn Learning as a University employee.  LinkedIn Learning has tons of learning modules on photography and photo editing and managing.  So there is always that question; work on creative photo shoots, do some learning, or work on family photos (current or legacy collections that need work)?  In coming blog posts, I will discuss my Lightroom workflows for different types of photo projects, my filing system and hardware configuration and how my workflows help keep me organized. 

West Coast Wildfires Brings out the Indiana Sun

So yesterday morning I was struck by how spectacular the sunrise was; it was a big red ball that I could look right at.  I was truly amazed; I don’t recall ever seeing that before.  Later that day learned that it due to the smoke that had traveled all the way from the West Coast wildfires!  WOW!  More specifically, the smoke filters out shorter wavelengths of light (like blue), leaving mostly red and orange wavelengths to shine through.  During the day when the sun is higher, it is not as bright and the sky lacks color. 

So last evening as the sun was setting, I headed out to a location that I have been wanting to shoot at a nice September evening ever since I saw it a few years ago, Benton County Indiana where wind turbines fill the cornfields and air above.  The sight that I saw a few years earlier that I have been after is the sky just after the sun has set, leaving the sky an upward gradient of red, orange, purple and then deepening shades of blue.  But why this location?  Because the wind turbines stand as tall dark silhouette statues in the foreground.  So with this sun yesterday, I rushed out there with my camera and tripod, hoping to capture something spectacular.  The sun was amazing, but unfortunately, the sky wasn’t.  It was pale and lacked color.  My photos all ended up with a gray background.  I discovered that the same thing that causes the sun to be such a vibrant red and orange, also makes the sky colorless and boring (at least in Indiana, 2 thousand miles away from the fires).

So my plan for this shoot was to take mostly bracketed shots of three for a powerful HDR image.  I could see from the small LCD screen on the camera that shots showed the beautiful sun, but the sky was all gray.  That was disappointing but I held out hope that I could bring out some color in post-processing.  I took all kinds of shots, varying shutter speeds and aperture settings, tight and wide bracket settings, and so on.  Nothing changed the gray sky.  The higher exposed shots had a bright gray sky with a light orange/red sun while the underexposed shots had a dark gray sky with a deeper and more vibrant red sun.  The HDR composites didn’t look right.  They looked really weird.  So I ended up selecting the one I liked the most and worked with that in Lightroom. 

Using the baseline photo, not over exposed or underexposed, I started by using a graduated filter on the sky and changed the temperature, the hue, and increased the blue saturation.  I used another graduated filter on the lower half of the sky to bring out some purple.  I used a third graduated filter on the field of wildflowers and corn in the background to bring the exposure and color in that but I was not satisfied with the end result.  It was too flat to begin with.  I tried not to alter the sun too much because I was trying to capture what was really there, but I did have to make some adjustments to correct what was done with the gradient filter for the rest of the sky.  Most of what I did was to bring it back to its original form as much as I could. 

Overall, I am pleased with how the final photo turned out.  I am attaching the original photo that I shot before I started working on it so you can see how the sky turned out. 

Photo as shot. 1/4 second, f32, ISO 100
Before and after post-processing