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Photo Contest Insider Blog

How to organise your editing workflow at busy times

February 5, 2017

As photographers, we tend to be very good at organising shoots and getting them done. But after that, images can sit in editing limbo for far too long – beyond the point where the client gets impatient to see them. If you find that you have a backlog as long as your arm during busy times, then you need to work on your editing workflow. This is all about organisation, and it’s important to have a strong workflow that helps you to get everything done in a timely fashion. Here’s how you can organise that workflow and get everything done to a schedule that keeps your clients happy.

Create a detailed to-do list

This shouldn’t be simply a list that you create once and forget about, but rather an ongoing project list which is constantly taking shape and constantly being ticked off. The important thing is to figure out how many steps you need to do in order to take a photoshoot from the camera and into the client’s inbox. It might seem like you have to spend a lot of time on this, but it will help you in the long run. For example, if you have a photoshoot with a fashion company to edit, you might use a to-do list like this:

  • Upload photos from memory card to computer
  • Filter images to selection of best 40
  • Create PDF file with basic colour corrections for client to view
  • Fully edit top 10 selected images
  • Send to client

If you find that you struggle to get organised properly you could even break down the list further, adding in steps such as eliminating photographs with blurred or out of focus elements and then removing duplicate or similar images from the list before you get down to your top 40. Of course, the numbers may change, and you may not send a PDF preview to your client – make sure to adjust this to your own personal process.

Once you have a detailed list with all of the steps that you need to do, write down the deadline for delivery next to the last step. Going back up the list, write down a date one day prior for each entry. Using our list, if the deadline for the last item was the 15th of February, then the first item would be marked as the 11th of February.

You now have a target to complete on each day leading up to the deadline. Using this plan you can also make clearer promises to your clients. The best advice is always to suggest a deadline further away than you can normally manage. If your shoot was on the 10th of February, then you can perhaps set them a deadline of the 20th of February. But here’s where you make it work: rather than setting the deadline on your list as the 20th, keep it as the 15th. This gives you that little bit of wiggle room if things don’t go according to plan. If they do go according to plan, then you can deliver the images to your client early, which will certainly impress them and make them think about working with you next time they have a quick turnaround to work to.

Make a daily schedule

You now have a full to-do list with multiple shoots and different deadlines going down your list, some of which most likely overlap. This is where having a daily schedule comes in. Your best bet for this part of the organisation process is to find a pre-printed notepad, or print your own, which has the days of the week with hourly blocks. Start by adding in any new photoshoots you have planned, or other commitments on either a professional or personal level. Now add in essentials like meals and going for a shower, or whatever else you might be doing on a daily basis.

The space that is left might look small, but it is very powerful. Look at your to-do list and take the first item which has the most pressing deadline. Go ahead and write it down into any gaps that you have. Don’t reject a piece of time because it doesn’t look like enough to finish the task. Let’s say that you know you need around 3 hours to fully edit the last selection of images. If you have 30 minutes between your first shoot of the day and lunchtime, then you should schedule in 30 minutes of editing. This means you only have 2 and a half hours left to fit in, which makes your task easier for the rest of the day.

With a full daily schedule, you will know what you should be doing at any given point of the day in order to get the work done. It’s important that you try not to deviate from the schedule. If you do, you should immediately reorganise the rest of the day so that it all still works and you are still working on your top priorities first. Try not to let any part of the process get behind schedule. If it does, you are not likely to meet your deadline for the last task – which is why you should always give yourself some space to the client deadline.

Refine your processes

The next part of getting that editing workflow on track is to ensure that you can spend less time on each task. If it takes you 3 hours to do those edits, you need to try and refine them down so that they take perhaps only 2 hours. The more time you save in this way, the quicker you can smash through that to-do list and deliver according to your clients’ expectations.

First off, let’s look at the selection process. You should be able to quickly and easily see which photographs are still in your selection, and which have been ruled out. The best way to do this is with a program that allows you to mark files. Lightroom is a great example of this, or you can also use View NX or Faststone Image Viewer. These all have the same thing in common: you are able to mark files and then remove unmarked files from your current view, so that you can narrow your selection down.

It’s better to use a system like Lightroom’s because it gives you multiple options – you don’t just mark an image, but you can actually assign it a rating or a number. This means that you can make a first edit, then elevate images to a second edit, and a third, without destroying your previous choices.

Practice being brutal when making selections. If you spend hours humming and hesitating as to which shots should go from your selection, then it’s time to harden that backbone. Make hard choices quickly and avoid lingering over them. Remember that the client won’t see the images that you didn’t select – they won’t judge you over what you have left out. They will only judge the selection that you show them.

A good workflow which gets through images quickly could be as follows:

  • Remove all images which are obviously blurry at full-size view
  • Remove everything which is unflattering to the model or doesn’t show the product properly
  • Zoom in one step and remove anything where the focus is not pin-sharp where it should be
  • Zoom back out and make quick decisions between similar shots as to which one you should go for
  • Reduce selection by the least pleasing images until you have a small enough cut.

Refine all of your processes down to the quickest possible route by having a standard routine that you follow. Once you have a routine in place, you can also cut out unnecessary time spent on trying to decide what to do next.

Make editing faster

Now let’s make your editing process as fast as possible. If you are shooting in a studio with the same lighting set-up throughout, things become much easier. Colour correct your first image while recording what you do as an action. When you have it looking how you want it, use batch processing to apply the same action to all of the other shots. With this technique, you can adjust colour and contrast across a full photoshoot in a matter of minutes.

The same goes for any process that you do more than once during the shoot. If you want to finish off the images by adding your copyright and then merging the layers to save, then you can make an action which does this and apply it to all of them after the edits are finished. If you always add certain layers or elements, make them into actions.

Even where you don’t use the same process every time, you can create actions which you are likely to use regularly. You can have an action for converting an image into black and white, or for adding your studio logo as a low-opacity overlay. Whatever you do often, record it so you can make it happen with one click in the future. Actions are incredibly powerful and can reduce your editing speed from hours to minutes. Don’t neglect them as part of your workflow.

Use your time wisely

Be aware that you can also squeeze more use out of your time while actions are batch processing. Normally it will take a few minutes at least to work through the images, but you don’t need to supervise the process. You can take this time to get something else done. Flick through images on the back of your camera and delete a few obvious bloopers now before you even get them uploaded. Check off your to-do list and see what still needs to be done. Make sure that your daily schedule is going to plan.

You can even steal these few minutes to work on your social media pages, or to reply to a few emails on your phone or tablet.

Be aware of your time and try not to waste a single moment of it. If you are staring at your screen and watching Photoshop batch process your images, then you are not using your time to the best extent. When you are running a busy photo studio and barely have enough time to meet your deadlines, that’s unforgivable.

Make speed a habit

While these tips are intended for busy times, your workflow doesn’t have to slow down at times when the shoots are a little more spread out. Having an editing process which takes the least possible amount of time is a great way to work, and it means that you will have more time to work on other things. You might want to dedicate the extra time you save to promoting your business, and ensuring that you have more work coming in.

You can also use this time for your personal life – it’s important to give yourself some time to relax away from work. This helps you to save up a reserve of energy which you can use once things get busy again. It’s also a good time to create new actions and experiment with new workflow techniques which can get you moving even faster when you need to.


With a strong editing workflow, you can move through tasks quickly and meet deadlines even when it seems that every day is taken up with more photoshoots. This is key to being known as a professional and punctual photographer, and will secure you more long-term clients thanks to your work ethic.

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