Speed Up Your Lightroom Workflow

Adobe Lightroom is the ultimate organization and basic editing tool for underwater photographers. The true benefits really stand out once you begin to learn the tips to speed up your Lightroom workflow, saving you hours of editing time.

It’s important to note that there is other editing software out there, and that Photoshop is a much more powerful tool for detailed local editing in your images.

That said, Lightroom is the clear winner when we talk catalog management, image organization, and batch editing. Lightroom is great for detailed editing as well – so much so that I rarely edit in Photoshop anymore.

This video tutorial and article share some of the broadest tips to help you speed up your photo editing workflow.

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Speed Up Your Lightroom Workflow

File Organization

File organization is very important in Adobe Lightroom, especially when you are setting up a catalog for the first time. Once your file hierarchy is established, it’s much harder to change or update it.

The brilliant feature in Lightroom is that all the editing (and virtual collections) are non-destructive. This means that all your edits and virtual organization do not affect or change your original raw files or the way they are stored on your hard drive.

You can think of this as a virtual layer or blanket with all these edits, which you can modify or remove to see the original at any time.

This is fantastic because it allows you to edit as much as you like knowing that you can always go back to your original capture in just one click. You can even edit multiple versions of the original photo as virtual copies.

File Organization Structure

It is best to use a very basic file organization structure. My structure hierarchy starts with Land or Underwater folders. In each, I will next have the year and then each location within that year.

Note that I’ll use completely separate virtual collections once I start organizing by specific marine life, website galleries, and other criteria.

Notice that I include “_uw” and “_20uw” for each folder. This is to ensure I never have any folder duplication.

Importing Your Images

Importing your underwater photos presents a huge opportunity to save time. Below are a few areas of the import dialog box and tips for using them to speed up your Lightroom workflow.

Image Selection

Lightroom allows you to select all, select none, and to individually include or exclude specific images. This means you can do a big round of image selections or deletions now, or import everything and do this big round once all images are imported. There are pros and cons to each method.

Should I Copy as DNG or Copy?

This question is subject to debate, but I feel you should ‘Copy’ your images into Lightroom and not ‘Copy as DNG’.

Both options will copy the files from your memory card into your designed photo folder. Copy keeps the native RAW file produced by your camera, while Copy as DNG converts the file into Adobe’s neutral DNG format.

Regardless of the pro/con arguments on this, you can always convert the native RAW file to DNG and not the other way around, which has been my deciding factor in importing as a Copy.

File Handling

You should enable Build Standard Previews. This will take a few extra minutes on import but then enables you to quickly toggle between photos later on since the previews have already been built.

I also like to build Smart Previews. This allows you to edit (albeit a smaller version) of your photos, add metadata, create collections, etc. even when Lightroom cannot find the original files. For example, I store all my photo files on an external drive. With Smart Previews, I can use Lightroom without plugging that drive in (very useful on an airplane).

File Renaming

This is our first opportunity to apply a timesaving Preset to all the images you’re importing in one click (see related video tutorial below). I rename all my photos using a custom template with my name, date and photo number, ensuring there will never be any duplication or mixup with clients.

Apply During Import

This is an opportunity to apply two more presets to all the images you’re importing. Develop settings allow you to apply global edits to all your images, which is useful if you generally make the same basic edits as a starting point on all your images.

You can also select a metadata preset that contains all the metadata you use across all images, like customized copyright information.

Related Video

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How to Create & Use Lightroom Presets

Exporting Your Images

Lightroom acts as a catalog to help keep your images organized, which means you don’t need to keep various .jpg files on your hard drive. I open Lightroom for every image request and to find each social media photo, exporting into a .jpg with specs ideal for the intended use.

The video tutorial discusses each panel of the Export Dialog Box and various settings, but let’s focus on how we can speed up our Lightroom workflow when exporting images.

Lightroom Export Presets

Export presets work in much the same way as all of our other presets. You can apply them to a single image or to a group of images you’re exporting as a batch.

I’ve set up a number of export presets with different file sizes, export locations (locally or to sync with mobile for Instagram), and watermarks.

Lightroom Watermark Presets

Most photographers will find the need to have several different watermarks depending on the intended use of the image. My video tutorial below shows you how to do that, but for now, note that you can add any of these watermarks while exporting your image(s).

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How to Create Custom Lightroom Watermarks

Lightroom Search Basics

The search functions in Lightroom are one of the most powerful and most useful features. Learning to use the search feature helps easily find images across your entire library.

In order for you to get the most detail out of your searches, you will need to be diligent in adding keywords and ranking criteria to your images. Search functionality will be limited without this.

Once your metadata is accurately updated, you should be able find find very specific photos within a few seconds. Think “best Philippines nudibranch photos” and “all divers carrying cameras”.

Back Up Your Photos

Backing up your photos is essential. You know this firsthand if you’ve ever had a hard drive crash or even lost a key before making duplicates.

I back up my photos on every dive trip and also once back at home on external hard drives. These 1-2TB drives are very affordable these days and very easy to use if you don’t mind spending the 60 seconds to manually drop a folder (then do something else on your computer while the files transfer). Pro video shooters will look towards an automated and redundant RAID system, but there’s really no need for that until you’re at that level.

Best practice for backing up your underwater photos is to have at least two copies on site (two separate hard drives) plus at least one other copy offsite. It’s wise to do these backups as often as possible.

Lightroom Catalog Backups

Earlier in this tutorial we discussed the fact that all Lightroom edits are virtually applied to your original file. And we back up our original files. But what about the virtual edits we’ve made? We need to back those up too!

Be sure to back up your Lightroom catalog regularly. By default, Lightroom presents a dialog box asking you to back up your catalog every time you exit. It’s wise to do so if you’ve made any significant edits or updates.

My catalog is stored in an area of my laptop that is synced to the cloud, so it’s backed up automatically. On top of that, I also manually back it up onto my external photo hard drives.

I hope this article serves to complement the video tutorial and helps you to take full advantage of time-saving features in Lightroom.

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Brent Durand

Professional writer and underwater photo instructor. Brent is an avid diver and surfer, and has led many intensive photo workshops around the world. BrentDurand.com.