The questions you should be asking yourself about your workflow

Workflow is a big subject, and far more important than is often realised, even for the amateur photographer.

If you have a well thought through workflow that suits your personal circumstances and preferences, then you can stop wondering and worrying about how to get things done quickly and conveniently. The backroom processing will become a familiar, comfortable routine, freeing you up to concentrate on enjoying your photography.

So how do we nail down that ideal workflow? There is no “one size fits all” solution, because needs will vary depending on whether you are a professional or taking photos purely for pleasure, on your throughput of images, on how much you can afford to spend on software and equipment, on the kind of photography you are interested in, on whether you shoot in studio or on location, on your personal preferences, etc.

So instead of attempting to prescribe a workflow, I’m going to suggest a series of questions you should be thinking about, covering all aspects of your photographic process from click to print. Your individual answers, reflecting your own preferences and circumstances, should help lay down the basis of a workflow that will work for you.

In this post I’m putting forward the questions. In future posts, I’m going to be taking each of the questions in turn and looking at the pros and cons of various possible approaches. I am assuming throughout that we are talking about digital photography and that a computer will be used somewhere in the workflow.

Firstly, a recap of my own definition of photographic workflow, from an earlier post:

Workflow means a systematic, planned and repeatable pathway for transitioning the image data captured in the camera into usable images and safeguarding them in organised, secure long term storage

Following from this definition, here are the questions that need to be answered for each stage of the process:

(The symbol denotes a link to the corresponding post suggesting some possible answers)


1. In the field

Note that for this purpose “field” means the place where you are shooting, which can include home and studio.

1.1 What are you going to do about taking notes that will help you process your pictures correctly later?

1.2 What aids will you use to assist with later adjustments to white balance, exposure, etc?

1.3 Are you going to shoot RAW, JPEG or both?

1.4 Which colour space will use use?

1.5 Are you going to use one large memory card or several smaller ones?

1.6 Are you going to use external devices to safeguard your images in the field?

1.7 Are you going to delete “dud” images in-camera?

2. Transition to the computer

2.1 How will you physically transfer digital image data from the camera (or other storage device used in the field) to the computer?

2.2 In what file format will the transferred images be saved on the computer for subsequent processing?

2.3 What will you do about the physical organisation of image files on your computer so that you can locate and identify them later?

2.4 Will you add tags to help identify or search through your images?

2.5 How will you incorporate tethered photo capture? (added 20/2/09)

3. In-computer processing

3.1 What software will you use?

3.2 How will you select and deal with discards?

3.3 How will you standardise your processing?

3.4 To what extent will you use presets?

3.5 How will you approach sharpening?

3.6 How will you deal with noise?

3.7 How will you handle HDR and other specialised processing?

4. Transition to web

4.1 What file format will you choose for images to be displayed on the Internet?

4.2 Which on-line medium will you use?

4.3 How will you upload your images?

4.4 How will you deal with colour calibration?

5. Transition to print

5.1 Will you use your own physical printer or a third party printing service?

5.2 How will you deal with colour calibration?

6. Transition to long term storage

6.1 What file format will you use for long term storage?

6.2 Will you use a physical backup medium, the “cloud” or both?

6.3 How will you organise your backed up files for ease of location and retrieval?

7. Administration

7.1 What routine housekeeping tasks are required?

7.2 What additional record keeping do you need for your business?

7.3 What about links with your accounting system?

7.4 How should you document your workflow? (added 8/1/09)

I’ve probably forgotten loads of important questions.  If you can think of any please let me know and I’ll incorporate them.

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1 Comment

Filed under Photography, Workflow

One response to “The questions you should be asking yourself about your workflow

  1. Thanks for the post. I really like your question based approach. Currently looking to revise my own workflow, especially since I’m considering doing more stock work, and I found this post very helpful. Might also consider workflow options that incorporate outputs for presentation to clients (slideshows/lighttables/PDFs/video), multiple LR catalogues (for transfer between multiple computers – i.e. desktop used for editing, laptop for travel, or by project), subsequently how to handle updating those multiple catalogues, and collaborative projects that require shared image files.