André Ruiter Digital Workflow

My Lightroom Workflow

September 24, 2020
My Lightroom Workflow - B&W photographer and collector of antique photographica
I have been using Adobe Lightroom for processing and archiving my photos since the first version came out in 2007. I use the desktop version, known today as Adobe Lightroom Classic. Although Adobe struggles to keep the performance of the software at an acceptable level, Lightroom is still my editor of choice. Before start using the software, it's important to think about a good workflow.

To understand this article, I assume you're familiar with Lightroom, the modules and its concepts such as stacks, color labels and star ratings.

There is no good or bad workflow, as long as it's consistent and meets your needs. With a bad workflow you end up with a huge amount of photos that are untraceable and make it impossible to compile a portfolio. In this article I share how I've set up my workflow. I hope it offers some inspiration for setting up or optimizing your own Lightroom workflow.

To understand my workflow it's good to know something about my photography. I work on photo projects that often last several years and consist of dozens of photo shoots. During the project I want to keep an overview of the project and the candidates for the final portfolio.


Strictly speaking, it doesn't matter to Lightroom what the physical location of your files is, because the extensive filter and sort options always allow access to the right images. I still import my images in an organized folder structure. The main folder consists of the year and each shoot is imported into a folder with the name convention: [yyyymmdd_location]. I still find it useful to find the right images by browsing folders.

Lightroom Workflow - folders

My Lightroom catalog currently contains more than ten years of images, shot by different cameras. During the import I've created presets that generate the filename according to the convention: [yyyymmdd_originalfilename] and apply some basic adjustments during import, tailored to the type of camera.

An example: because I only do black & white photography and save my RAW files in DNG format, I choose to convert the images of my Canon 5D to DNG and apply a black & white conversion during import. My Leica Monochrom camera already shoots DNG and it only captures black & white, so a different import preset is used for this camera.

Finally, I add a metadata preset to add the copyright information to the images.

Library Module

After the import I switch to the Library Module. I use this module only for preparing my images for archiving and I don't make adjustments here.

First, I go through the images and delete files that can't be used for further processing. Then I link files with different exposures that are intended for creating HDR images to a stack.

Each photo session is provided with a keyword. I don't have an extensive taxonomy of keywords, I limit myself to one keyword per photo session, most of the time this is the name of the photo project. The keywords are used to create smart collections of my projects. Finally, I fill in the metadata, such as captions, country, sub location etc.

Lightroom Workflow - smart collections
Smart collection which collects all images of my Verdun 1916 project

Develop Module

The Develop Module is the most important module for me, although my adjustments are modest. I start with the adjustments in the Basic panel and then switch to the Tone Curve panel. The last step is to remove sensor dust and apply sharpening to the images, but I only do this for images which have a chance to end up in a portfolio.

After processing the images, I've a good idea of the results of my photo shoot and I will apply color labels. My workflow relies heavily on the use of color labels:

Purple labelThese images are part of a HDR stack. Three images with an exposure of -1, 0 and +1.
Red labelImages with basic adjustments. These are semi-finished images, without dust removal and sharpening. I'll finish these images later.
Yellow labelImages with final adjustments, dust removed and sharpening applied. These images are good to go.
Green labelSame as yellow label, but these images are project portfolio candidates.
Blue labelSame as yellow label, but these images are part of the final project portfolio.
My Lightroom Workflow - Library Module

I continue with giving the images with a yellow, green or blue label a star rating:

No starsNot useable images. Might be deleted in the future.
*Not my best, but maybe they become useful in the future.
**Mainstream photos of my projects. These images tell the story.
***The best images of a project.
****Same as three stars, but these are my personal favourites. I consider these my best work.
*****I don't use five stars.

After adding a star rating to my images, my Lightroom workflow is ready. I go back to the Library Module and delete additional files if they're unusable for my project.

What about Lightroom CC?

Lightroom CC is the latest version based on full storage of images in the Adobe Cloud. I assume this version will eventually replace Lightroom Classic in the future, but Adobe is still investing in both versions for the time being. At the moment, Lightroom CC (version 3.4) doesn't offer the same functionality as the Classic version. I therefore use it only for viewing my photos on my Apple TV and for importing images on my iPad when I'm travelling.