Making Your Photo Workflow Work For You

Workflow is roughly described as a routine that helps you stay organized and work more productively. Here we compiled a infographic on Cooper & O’Hara’s workflow,and we also give some tips on how to make your own workflow. Our is a unique combination of Capture One Pro, Lightroom, and Photoshop, plus a specific file structure, so you should get a kick out of seeing how it all flows together seamlessly.


It’s best to see a workflow visually, so click the image below to bring up the full-sized workflow image. Then continue on for even more tips on creating your own photography workflow.

Likewise, when you’re planning out your own workflow we suggest working on a big sketch pad. Don’t afraid to be messy and scattered, that’s why we’re using an analog method. Have a little brainstorm session where you write out the different stages of a photoshoot and what they look like for you now. You need to consider lots of options before making it look neat and tidy, and cohesive.

The Bright Spots

Rather than focusing on the negatives or the things that aren’t working, notice what is working – right now. Why do those parts of your workflow go smoothly and make sense to you? Base the rest of your workflow off that experience.

for example:

In our case we knew that we liked how Capture One Pro 7 made our images look. We also use Capture One to shoot tethered to a laptop and it does exactly what we want. We can apply adjustments to photos as they come in so that the photos look that much more polished. This is really useful for when Art Directors or other collaborators are on set. We (and you the reader) as photographers know what a RAW image looks like, and how that final image will look in turn, but not everyone will see what we see. Getting the image close to the final toning and contrast that you’re going for will help everyone, and make you look even more awesome!

Edit: Truth be told, we use Lightroom for tethered capture a lot because then we don’t have the extra time for import. LR has some features like LR mobile that are intriguing. We still wished they handled tethered capture better/differently though, and the reasoning we have here is a big part of that.

So we want to stick with Capture One Pro for those reasons. The downside is that once the shoot is done, we’re editing the images in photoshop because there we have more control. However, we think Capture One is poor at presenting your photos as a catalog. It can’t be used to view layered tiffs or PSDs, which is what we wanted. We did have great experiences in the past with Adobe Lightroom handling PSDs going back and forth from photoshop (it makes sense, it is made by Adobe after all).

Those two positive things are what helped us create the workflow you see.


Here’s some more tips on creating your own workflow. This was taken from an article Bryan wrote for Creative Dwelling awhile back.

Creating a Personalized Workflow

There are lots of books and articles out there on workflow (or digital asset management as it can sometimes be called). Most often, they’re giving you a recipe for a workflow that you might adopt. This is all well and good, but that workflow may not work as well for you as it did for the person that scripted it.

There are definitely some major necessities in a workflow, so here’s a breakdown of problems, with potential starting points for the solutions.


1. Backup, backup, backup

It’s not if a harddrive will fail, it’s when a harddrive will fail… because it is inevitable.

I often hear about the golden rule for backups. Have two copies at least. One of which is off-site in case your house burns down or something. I have also heard people suggest that you have a backup on alternative media like DVD’s. There’s lots of complexities that exist in the world of backups. Lots of expenses too. RAID arrays, Drobo, Cloud Storage, Personal Servers, the list goes on.

I’m not going to get into that, because I think the most common problem among beginner photographers is that they’re either overwhelmed by the number of options out there, or they’re waiting to accumulate and set up this complicated perfect system. In the mean-time they have little to no backup process. If all you can manage right now is a simple copy and paste backup of your files to a second drive every week – do that! The perfect system will never come along, and a good system doesn’t happen overnight, so get started with what you can. It’ll develop and change from there. It can be good to read lots of those books and blogs about workflow, because you’ll discover good technical systems that you can look into and see if they’re right for you.

2. Having a Home For Those Files

Whether you use Lightroom, Capture One,  Apple Aperture, or even Photo Mechanic in your workflow, it doesn’t matter. They all need a spot on your harddrive to import the photos to.

The folder naming and structure you create is important because it helps you stay organized and find things when you need to go back to a previous shoot. Because of that purpose, the way you set up these various folders is very much determined best by personal preference.

Are you the kind of person who searches for photos based on the date that you took them? Or can you barely remember what month it was when you did that shoot, but you’ll remember the person’s name?

For example, Lightroom can automatically create folders based on date, which sounds like it will save you time in writing the custom folder name every time. However, even if you’re going to remember something by the date you took them, you still might have several shoots around the same time. Might as well name them with the date and a description (ex. 2013-06-25-Jimmy-Headshots).

My good friend and mentor Shaun Scade of Scade Photography starts his session folder with a description of the type of shoot, followed by the person’s name or a description. (ex. Wedding-Cooper, Landscape-GrandCanyon, Portrait-WayneGretzky). These folders also reside within a folder for all the work of that month. He’s got his bases covered by appealing to those two ways of remembering the shoot. Most importantly because he took the time to think out this workflow for himself, he understands it 100% front to back. He’s not borrowing someone else’s system and trying to make it fit for him. That’s the point I’m trying to drive home here.

Another suggestion: because you might decide to change your folder naming/structure later on, it can be a good idea to work within a calendar year. That way you can transition into the new system without things becoming messy. Not that you should wait till the new year to do any changes, but I’ve found that it keeps things nice and separated so you can change things up over time. There are probably lots of ways you could divide up your work so that you can transition to a new system over time. Try now to think of some ways that make sense with how you work.

3. A Process to Cull The Images

Nobody is perfect. You’re going to have lots of photos from a shoot, some not so great. Before you start editing aimlessly you’ll want to look through every photo and decide if it’s one of your “selects.” Meaning: is it worth your time doing the edit? 

Software like Lightroom, Aperture, and Capture One all have a variety of labels you can apply to help sort your photos this way. You can flag or reject, have a star rating from 1 to 5, or use different coloured labels. You can get creative with your system. Remember, the important thing is that it makes sense to you, and it remains consistent.

If will offer a bit of advice:it can be better for have a yes or no system for picking, that way you have to be decisive and don’t waste time waffling about it. If you’re not sure, chances are it’s not a winning photo. Other situations you may want to hold onto those extra photos, but that means you should just pick it and move on.

You can use star ratings or coloured labels creatively to mean something else, like a 2-star rating or a yellow label might mean “convert this to black-and-white later”. I still regularly use a blue-label as a reminder that something needs to be done in photoshop. That makes sense to me, because the photoshop logo is blue. Make it your own for the best results.

4. Consistent Editing

As you go through the editing of your selects it can be good to have a consistent process or train-of-thought. As in, “first I’ll adjust exposure/contrast, then the white balance, then cuves/levels, then sharpening, etc, etc.” The point is that developing this routine will make you work much faster, but also you’ll tend to have a more consistent look across the photos in your session.

Try to batch edit as much as you can so that you’ll save time and get that consistent look by eliminating the human error component. I edit one very important image to the way I like, and then copy those adjustments to the rest, and tweak to match.



There’s rarely going to be a great time to switch your workflow. Hopefully we inspired you to make the leap of faith, so that even if it’s more work right now it’ll be so much easier and better, soon. We wish you luck on your journey to find workflow nirvana.

Any questions or comments, leave them in the section below. Much appreciated.


-C & O