Jun 09, 2014

The Ultimate Guide to Workflow in Lightroom and Photoshop

Importing Images Into Lightroom

The first step in your workflow will be getting your images from your memory card onto your computer. We prefer to use Lightroom for importing as well as file naming and structure.

We choose to have Lightroom organize everything by date and convert to DNG when importing RAW files. DNG files take up less space on your hard drive and allow cleaner long term storage. In today’s episode, we show you the ultimate guide to workflow in lightroom and photoshop.

File Structure and Naming

After importing your files onto your computer or portable hard drive (we use a Promise Pegasus R4), it is time to get everything organized. We change the name of the main folder to include the theme from the photo shoot. In this example our folder is named “2014-05-27 Bahamas Shoot”.

After naming your main folder it is time to bring each of the images from the shoot together and create sub-folders for organization. We create 4 different subfolders titled “Capture”, “Master”, Selects”, and “Output”.

The Capture folder is where all of the RAW images from the shoot are placed. When you complete a complex shoot it is often a good idea to create subfolders in the Capture folder that describe different parts of the shoot. In this example we use both “Landscapes” and “Portraits”

The Selects folder is where your selects will go, usually exported as TIFs. This will help you to organize and quickly identify the best images from the shoot as well as get them in a file format ready for editing in Photoshop.

The Master folder is where your layered PSD or TIF files will go. Anytime you need to go back and make edits to the file you will be accessing images from this folder.

The Output folder is where images are placed after editing is complete. Images here are ready to be printed or uploaded to the web.

Editing Images in Lightroom and Photoshop

We use Lightroom for base editing techniques such as changing exposure, white balance, highlight and shadow levels and some base sharpening. After these changes are made to your selects it is time to export them to the Selects folder as TIFs.

In Photoshop we open those TIFs from the selects folder and make our final edits. These Master files are then saved into the Master folder. You can use layered TIFs (our preferred file format) or PSD files. Your Master files should contain layers and should be easily editable.

Exporting Images and Location

After completing your edits in Photoshop and Lightroom you are ready to get your files on the internet. We export from Lightroom using JPEG and Convert to sRGB options. These final JPEGs are saved to the Output folder and named appropriately.

Syncing Folders

By now you have created new folders and files within each of those folders. Right click on the original folder in Lightroom, in this example it is named “2014-05-27 Bahamas Shoot”. Click on “Synchronize Folder” and you will get a new import dialog, click “Synchronize”. Now you will see each of your folders populated with the files you created and everything should be in its proper place.

Now you have created a file structure that is robust and simple to access at any time. Years from now you will be able to go back to these folders and easily find what you are looking for.

Lightroom is linked to your operating system so when you create folders in Lightroom they will appear on your computer as well.


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(will not be published)

    • user image

      Hi Carlos!

      Thank you! We’ve gotten several requests for this but since we are an online company, we don’t really do prints in house. But we will keep this in mind for the future!

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    Tjeerd Doosje

    Thanks for this episode, Aaron! But why don’t you immediately export your image out of Lightroom right into Photoshop instead of opening Photoshop and browse through your folders?

    Maybe an idea for a future episode: how to work with calculations in Photoshop? I know it has something to do with channels, but I don’t know when and where to use it.

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    Assaf de Courcy Arbiser

    Can I ask why you convert everything to DNG and not stick with the original raw file. Thanks Aaron and love everything you do.

  • user image

    Great episode! While you are talking about organization topics, maybe something on how you back up photos as a business with a network of computers and how you back up photos as an individual photographer on one computer?

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    Eye On Photography

    I like most of it, but I’ve made some tweaks…for example, why don’t your just right-click edit in photoshop right from your selects folder? Then save as in photoshop to save it to master?? You can even load a set of photos as layers into photoshop that way instead of using the “load stack” script.

    • user image

      Hi @eyeonphotography:disqus! Great suggestion! I guess it’s just a preference for me 🙂

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    Don McPhee

    I adopted that workflow just 2 weeks ago and love it, however I do add keywords to metadata so the image can also be found by one word in my spotlight, em-beded in the metadata forever anywhere it goes…Don

  • user image

    Gotta say I’ve been driving myself nuts trying to organize my lightroom. This makes it super easy Thanks!!!

    • user image

      You are very welcome @ksandven:disqus! Glad you found this episode helpful!

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    Billie Jo

    I’ve been working on organizing my photos (organize…re-organize…etc) and now I know exactly how I’m going to do it. Just one last re-organize to do. Thank you so much

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    Billie Jo

    I’d love to see a video on what’s the best computer/laptop for photography and what the best components would be…etc etc.

  • user image

    How do you handle the .lrcat file?
    Do you keep it in another folder located within the main folder?

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    Tim Shahady

    I would also love to know how you deal with catalogs. I’ve been told to make catalogs for each shoot (for speed of edits), but then keyword searches are out.

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      Roem B

      For all my personal work I keep 1 catalog per year i.e 2012, 2013, 2014, inside of a folder titled LR Catalogs. If LR starts to slow down then I might split the year if I need to (select the photos you want, right-click and select create new catalog). This has only happened once and it was because I was using my personal catalog to retouch images for my clients.
      So I decided to create new catalog for each of my client, inside of the drive that they send me. That way everything stays nice and neat, and most importantly separate.

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    Mikel Iraeta

    Hi Aaron and Phlearn team, thank you so much for your episodes. Taking a look to the episode, I’ve seen you’ve taken some shots to make an HDR. It would be great if you could make an episode on how to perform a good HDR image that looks ‘real’ (sometimes HDR images look way to much saturated, and microcontrast has been pushed too far).

    Anyway, thanks for the tutorials, it’s always fun and interesting to see your videos!

  • user image

    I really appreciate this video, but I have a question. If I wanted to come back later, and change some of those initial base adjustments that I made in Lightroom, how would that work with this workflow? Would I make them on the Capture, the Select, or just the Masters?

  • user image

    I was that “I don’t need to learn this” guy…and then I became the “I NEED TO LEARN THIS” guy as I’m helping to create a new magazine which will always include at least 3 categories… Thank you. I love this tutorial!

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    T.A. Barnhart

    i’m making the switch to LR5 from Aperture, and this was a huge help. thanks. one question, though: nothing about Collections. do you use these? or is Selects your version of Collections?

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    Patrice Guay

    That would be nice if you could please comment on the usage of keywords, collections, sets of collections, stars, and labels (colors & picked/reject). Basically, how you see these fitting in your workflow.

    Thanks for the tutorial.

  • user image

    Thanks for the insight Aaron, very useful. I have a master catalogue with everything in but it is getting slower to use (over 70,000 photos!). I do like being able to browse everything in a single catalogue, but do you have a better suggestion how to handle catalogues and retain that facility?

  • user image

    I am using Lightroom 5.5 and i see that you are using lightroom 4. Is it roughly the same or are there a lot of differences?
    BTW Thanks for making these vids. You’ve really sparked my interest for Photoshop, Lightroom and photography.

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    Sujit Bose

    Excellent tutorial but I wished you had slowed down a bit in describing the steps. It was a little fast to sink in.

  • user image

    I just LOVE your tutorials and this has made things a lot clearer to me! The information, pace and style of your teaching is great! Keep up the good work. Thanks!

  • user image

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!!! This was awesome & has really helped me improve my non-existent workflow!

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    Ray Ebersole

    The Ultimate Guide to Workflow in Lightroom and Photoshop was a super video as always. One thing I have added to the Master file is an ! like this !Master this way it is always my top file folder in the list . Keep them coming.

  • user image

    Sweet. That’s what I have been doing for years. 🙂 I use a different naming convention, but I’m glad to know my efficiency is up there with the big boys.

  • user image

    I can not thank you enough for all the great tutorials, you are a legend, thank you so much for all your time and sharing all your knowledge, this is so helpful…

  • user image

    Your tutorial is certainly perfect.
    1 or 2 comments though: 1) I am french but I do manage to understand and follow your talk.

    2) old age amateur photograph like me ( I am 70) find it hard to follow your explanation because you are talking at a high level output. I do understand that your “débit de parole” as we call it in french has to be that much to respect your time allowance of 18 minutes talk. A bit slower would be just great, but is that only possible for you?

    Have you any tuition session going on in France ( Paris or elsewhere) so we can attend to?

    Yours truly,

    Kaïsse CHOPRA

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    Dwayne from New Orleans

    What’s up aaron Once your finish do you ever delete anything from the selects, master or output.

  • user image

    Hi Aaron,

    Thanks globally for all these great tutorials.
    Nice workflow here. I’m sure you know about that but lightroom “collections”, “color labels” and “keywords” are quite useful to organise, follow and find the files through the different steps of the process.


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    Micah Kohn

    Phlearn to the rescue once again. It’s great to see what kind of adjustments get made in Lightroom vs Photoshop.

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    Daniel Kelly

    Fantastic Tutorials Aaron! Quick question. After your Photoshop edits, when naming and saving your edits back to the MASTER folder you renamed the file to “Pool.tif”. I wondered how you manage the file if in 3 years you need to go back to that edit and find the original file for some reason.
    (not sure why this would ever happen but I know you manage tens of thousands of files and I’m curious to know if this is a reversible workflow that I should be concerned with or not)

    Currently my thoughts are to keep the BG layer in Photoshop as an original copy and name it per the original DNG file but I wondered if you had a different method to this?


  • user image

    Hi, I’ve heard you speak on a couple of podcasts in the past and finally got around to looking at your site and this is the first tutorial of your’s that I’ve taken. I love it and feel I’ve learned and it has answered some questions that have been brewing in my mind for a while.

    I do have a question though. Historically when I import an image into Photoshop from Lightroom I would just double click on it and click on edit in, is there an advantage to doing it the way you did?

    Also I’m wondering how you would incorporate other plugins, say Nik Silver Efex, or Photomatix HDR, to the workflow?

    Thanks, and I’m looking forward to working my way through more of these tutorials.

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    Angie Hall

    OKAY, I’m in LOVE with you! I have been pulling out my hair weave trying to organize my photos in LR5! I searched the web looking for an easy way to create my workflow, and I am so GLAD I found you. Marry me? Oh, wait. I already AM married…to a guy who didn’t know how to teach me this stuff! You’ve taught me so much! Thank you! Thank you!

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    Ricky W

    I’m looking at moving to LR and have a quick question. I’m guessing a lot of my editing would just be Lightroom only without the need for PS. So the TIF would be saved in the Selects folder. If I am finished with this, would it still be good practice to then export this to the Masters folder even if not editing in PS so I know that this is what I considered to be the final version?

  • user image

    Great tutorial Aaron, thank you much! My question is, I only have LR 4, and I’m not able to “show in finder” as you did. Your version of LR looks just like mine and I read a comment that you are using LR 4. Is your version LR 4, and if so, how can I get to the finder? Without that step I can only export to a folder on my computer and I don’t think I’ll be able to synchronize or anything.

    Thanks again for your help!

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    Lilia Murashova

    Great tutorial, was really happy to follow all steps and organise my library.
    BUT I HAVE A PROBLEM. The images in tif and psd format is pixelated when I zoom it a bit. Why is that happening? In dng or raw format is not pixelated and look sharp. I didn’t even notice it before start working in photoshop with a lot of small detail image. What have I done wrong? Thank you for answer.

    • user image

      Me too! Did anyone actually answer you? It doesn’t appear so…

  • user image

    I’m new subscriber but French, so sorry for my “jumble” language.
    This tuto was very helpful for me because my hard drive was “jumble” too.
    Many thanks

  • user image

    I enjoyed watching this tutorial and the workflow makes a lot of sense. Some of the ways you did things though seemed needlessly convoluted. Is there some reason I am not aware of?
    1. You keep synchronizing the folders after exporting images to them. Why! There is a tick box in the export dialogue marked ‘add to this catalog’ that does exactly this automatically. there is no need to carry this out manually
    2. You go out of lightroom and use your computers file manager to find the Tiffs for editing. Again why? Lightroom has round robbin editing. Ctrl+E (Cmd+E) Sends the photo to Photoshop and closing it in PS then returns you to lightroom with the image updated I cannot see the sense of doing things the way you have.

    Oh. Take a look at Lightblue Software for organising your shoots and contacts. You can set it to automatically create your folder structure for the session. Then you simply go into Lightroom and import straight into the final folder rather than all that drag and drop

  • Silas Fallstich

    I really enjoyed this workflow explanation, thank you for posting it. I usually do my active workflow on my mac book hard drive in the default Lightroom catalog, once a job is complete I will import the files into a Lightroom catalog on my external hard drive. I do this primarily so I can be a bit more mobile in my editing. Using this method with the sub-folders have any issues moving the images from one catalog to another? My main concern is the movement of the layered tif files.

  • user image

    Thank you!!! I have begun using this today!!! Yay!!!!!!! No more headaches trying to remember where I put my darn photoshop edits.

    If you havent’ already, can you do a video on how to manage files between your desktop and backup servers? What to keep where, when to move them, how to archive effectively, what to do with RAW files that aren’t “selects” etc. This would be a huge help as well. Thanks!

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    Nnabueze Emmanuel Odinukwe

    Thanks Aaron for this tutorial, you have solved my workflow process with this tutorial.

  • user image

    Fantastic method to handle photo images. Found this tutorial on youtube about a week ago and have been applying this workflow on a trial basis since then. I love the system and cannot find anything I want to change before I implement it in total. Have you made any changes in how you use this workflow since the tutorial was published?
    All of your tutorials are easy to understand and fun.

  • user image

    When I hit shift command s this is the save screen I get how do I get the screen that u had in ur video

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    Granny B

    Finding this video couldn’t be more timely! I’m about to go through over 600 photos from a recent trip to the Grand Canyon circle! I’ve been scratching my head about how to organize –and keep together the original photos, those that are post processed, and those I want to share via a slide show. Straightforward, simple, and efficient.
    Thanks! (P.S. –The avatar is NOT me!)

  • user image

    This was a great tutorial! I am always interested in tweaking workflow.

    How do you handle rating and collections? The workflow that I started to use (by default) was to import all images into a folder by year and shoot name.

    1. I use a catalog for one calendar year
    2. I create a collection of those imported photos for the shoot name
    3. I then do a quick scan and rate the photos; 5 starts being the best, 4 iffy and x for bad.
    4. I create another collection for the shoot name – FINAL of those 5 star images.
    5. I then work on those and edit in Photoshop right from LR and keep the psd files in the catalog.

    Is this not a proper workflow? Should I be using physical folders instead of collections? Should my catalog be for a single event/shoot and not for the whole year?

    Keep these great tutorials coming!!

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    JIm McDowall

    Many thanks for this. Have been working in lightroom for a whilw now but work flow was always a mess but now thanks to this video things are more organised now. Great video

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    This is a Prairie Rattlesnake I photographed twenty years ago in New Mexico and I’d like to submit it for editing. I shoot mostly wildlife under ambient light and I’d like to see your approach to enhancing these types of images. I really like the way you rendered the “Steampunk” edit a while back and would like to see how you would treat an equally atypical subject such as this.


  • user image

    Thanks for an excellent tutorial video – this is a great way to organise captures, edits and exports. I’m working my way through my existing folders to re-organise everything using your approach – I love it, very effective indeed. Additionally, I like to add keywords and ratings to my captures as this makes it even easier to locate an individual photo or a selection of candidate images for a specific purpose – something that folder organisation alone can’t do. I’m also adding “Web” and “Print” sub-folders under the Output folders, to segregate output files with different purposes…

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    What advantages do you see for using a filesystem-based approach rather than a collections-based approach in this workflow? For example, why not use filters to tag your selects, to sort out your TIFFs from your RAW images, etc.? (FWIW, I haven’t been able to get a collections-based approach in Lr to completely meet my needs. I like Capture One’s sessions-based approach quite a bit, but their DAM capabilities are nowhere near as good as Lr’s, so I’m not jumping ship yet)