The underlying thought behind establishing your workflow should be speed and quality. I heard about PhotoMechanic for a year before I bit the bullet and bought it. Now, I can't imagine going back to Lightroom for ingesting and ranking images. However, I also wouldn't dream of editing images in CameraRAW and using Bridge for my processing workflow. Point being, use the right program for the right job and you'll save yourself a lifetime.
PHOTOMECHANIC | $150
I use PhotoMechanic for what it does best: ingesting, creating a backup, viewing, rating, and key wording every image. I do this prior to import into Lightroom as any and all changes are written directly into the RAW file. On import into Lightroom all of my star ratings and keywords are easily viewable. Everything I shoot ultimately ends up in Lightroom, but it starts in PhotoMechanic. If I'm in the field, I can use PhotoMechanic and my laptop to import directly from a one card to two separate drives creating an instantaneous backup. From there, I quickly sort through images using a 3-Star rating for anything that should continue on in my development process. I also apply keywords and location data on import. Even though PhotoMechanic exports color labels to Lightroom, I don't use them at this stage of my workflow. More on color labels later.
LIGHTROOM CC | $10/month
Lightroom is meant to be a database for cataloging and tracking your photographs. It also has a powerful development engine for making non-destructive changes to RAW files. The non-destructive part is important because it preserves the file as it came straight out of camera. It also saves on disk space when creating multiple versions (i.e. color, black and white, square crop). Use it like this. Lightroom is bad at quickly viewing and rating images so find a different program for that portion of your workflow. After import, I use Lightroom to maintain a single point of reference for EVERY photo on EVERY hard drive. I rename all my images to a standard template starting with date (YYMMDD_Location_0001.cr2). Lightroom is my digital darkroom of choice as I've been using it since the Beta release. That's not to say that other digital darkroom softwares aren;t equally as good or better. Lastly, I use Lightroom to store and backup all of my changes to images within my catalog. Collections and Smart Collections can be useful tools to utilize when you are creating multiple portfolios or web galleries.
As part of my process, I assign color labels based on image genre (see below). These images are what I consider portfolio quality. I hold off on using color labels until the end of my workflow because I don;t know the images that will ultimately become 5 star quality until after adjustments are made and compared across the board.
I used to keep multiple Lightroom Catalogs based on image genre, but found color labels worked better. All of my images remain together in single location which aids in search. If an image falls in to 2 categories, I can generate a second version of an image and place it in both genres. Here is how I separate based on genre:
Red - Adventure Work
Yellow - Family/Personal Work
Green - Architecture Work
Blue - Business/Commercial Work
Purple - Wedding/Families Work
Being that I don't shoot Weddings and Families anymore, I have assigned this category to purple because there is no quick key for assigning the Purple color label. One final thought here, If you go back to view images in photoMechanic that you have adjusted in Lightroom, you'll notice it recognizes and displays your Lightroom adjustments when rendering a preview.
CLEANING UP YOUR LIGHTROOM CATALOG
If your Lightroom catalog is a mess, there are a couple of things you can do to get things organized. Before starting, recognize that anything you want to do to your catalog of images (rename items, move folders, copy or duplicate images, show parent folders, edit using Photoshop or an external editor) should all happen via the Lightroom interface. if you make these changes from within Lightroom, you won't have files missing or unlinked. I would start by cleaning up my folder structure and hard drive system before moving on. Next, I would organize images from within Lightroom using stars, flag picks, and color labels. Lastly, I would add keywords and location data to small groups of images that are ranked 3-stars and higher.
Here is my file structure for my hard drives:
- 01 January
- 150126 Moab
- 150126 Moab
- 02 February
- 03 March
- 01 January
Hopefully the above structure makes sense. Using numbers at the beginning of months ensures they stay in the correct order within a yearly folder. Upon import into Lightroom I always make sure the parent folders are showing starting with the year (right-click on folder > "Show Parent Folder"). This is a nice way of browsing for images within Lightroom.
Finally, I turn off all modules within Lightroom that I never/rarely use. For me that's the Print, Web, Book, and Slideshow modules. I also collapse all of the development panes that I don't use. I like having as simplified an interface as I can get so I can focus on my images.
In closing, I wanted to share something I've recently learned regarding DNG files. A DNG can be used for sharing RAW files with clients while preserving the opportunity to share your edit and vision for a specific image. Exporting the DNG allows you to include a JPG thumbnail of your fully developed image while also including the RAW file with accompanying changes for client use. If they don't like your edit, they can always reset an image and start with the original RAW file.
Hope this little update was helpful. Leave a comment below if you have any questions and I'll get back to you.