How To Cut Your Editing Time In Half

We get several questions about editing images – as well as what software we recommend – in the Seniors Ignite Member Facebook Group. Patrick McBride and I are both avid Lightroom users, mainly because we love the ability to blow through editing a complete session in about 30-40 minutes tops.

If you find that you are spending hours just trying to get through culling and editing a single session then guess what – you’re losing money. Why?

Because TIME = MONEY.

If you add up all of the time you spend on each client – accounting for absolutely everything from the initial inquiry all the way through to the final contact and tying up all the loose ends – do you know exactly what that amount is? A while back Jen Basford walked us through a very simplified, conservative example of what this looks like once you add everything together; and I was shocked when I put my own numbers down on paper and added them all up. It came to somewhere around 70+ hours.

Granted, I run a very high-end boutique business and I want a lot of client interaction and communication. But holy balls did I need to streamline some things! The more time I was spending doing things such as emailing, or invoicing clients, the more money I wasn’t making. And I could have been spending that time on marketing to get new clients, or with my family and friends.

My editing has always been pretty streamlined, so I took a look at all of the things I could outsource (I have an awesome VA who now handles most of these tasks) in order to free up my time to focus on more important things – like making money. But most photographers I know are spending far too much time getting their images ready to show their clients, so I want to show you how you can tighten up your workflow by using Adobe Lightroom.

Lightroom has the ability to batch process images, and is a great tool to use for organization, but these aren’t the only reasons it’s so efficient; it was actually made to help us do our jobs faster. It can be a bit confusing to some people understandably, because the full name for Lightroom is ‘Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.’ But in reality Lightroom is like Photoshop’s Type A little brother on crystal meth.

Adobe created Lightroom primarily for the purpose of managing a large number of images and keeping them extremely organized (something that Photoshop is so bad at). Don’t get me wrong, Photoshop is a very advanced image editing tool, and I definitely still use it when needed (for example, extensive retouching), but Lightroom is far superior for preparing and editing your sessions quickly and efficiently.

Like many of you, when I first started out I used Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop. But the process was long and confusing, and the organization was stressful for my super OCD brain to handle. A friend of mine had told me about Lightroom, and while I was initially hesitant about it I eventually gave it a try; I was instantly hooked.

The cool thing about Lightroom is that it is a database-driven image management software that automatically reads image metadata (such as camera make and model, date/time captured, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, and more), know as EXIF, and writes information about each photograph in a new database known as a ‘catalog.’ What’s more is that you have the ability to apply information to images as you import them (such as flags, keywords, and even presets) which cuts down your time managing and editing these images even more.

It’s like a client management system (and you guys know how much I love Tavé) it will take a little time to set it up and get those pieces in place, but once you do you can automate so much of your workflow (and I haven’t even mentioned presets yet)! And while Photoshop has actions you can make and use, they are cumbersome. In Lightroom all of your presets and tools are easily accessible, and you can easily create your own presets as well.

Here are some of the tools that are available for you in the Develop module in Lightroom:

  • Histogram sub-module: Histogram, Crop + Straighten, Spot Removal, Red Eye Corrections, Graduated Filter, Adjustment Brush
  • Basic sub-module: White Balance Temp and Tint; Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light, Blacks, Brightness, Contrast; Clarity, Vibrance, Saturation
  • Tone Curve sub-module: Highlights, Lights, Darks, Shadows, Point Curve
  • HSL / Color / B+W sub-module: Hue, Saturation, Luminance
  • Split Toning sub-module: Highlights Hue & Saturation, Balance, Shadows Hue and Saturation
  • Detail sub-module: Sharpening Amount, Radius, Detail, Masking; Noise Reduction Luminance, Detail, Contrast, Color, Detail
  • Lens Corrections sub-module: Lens Profile, Distortion, Chromatic Aberration, Vignetting
  • Effects sub-module: Post-Crop Vignetting Style, Amount, Midpoint, Roundness, Feather, Highlights, Grain Amount, Size, Roughness
  • Camera Calibration sub-module: Process, Profile, Shadows Tint, Red Primary Hue and Saturation, Green Primary Hue and Saturation, Blue Primary Hue and Saturation

Additionally, you can create slideshows, print images, export image galleries for the web, and more… Patrick actually designs his albums in Lightroom; he literally uses it for everything! I still use Fundy for my album designing because I like to design them in ‘story spreads,’ and I offer the 8×12 album from White House Custom Colour, but I wanted to mention that it is entirely possible to fully edit your images from start to finish in Lightroom without ever opening Photoshop.

All of my senior sessions are edited in Lightroom and then exported to show for the sales appointment. At this point I will sometimes go back in and do any additional Photoshop work that needs done, or send it out to a retoucher, but I try to limit this as much as possible as it can be a time suck if it isn’t necessary. I will also use Alien Exposure 7 now and then on some of my images. Although it does integrate with both Lightroom and Photoshop, I use the standalone version and it’s super quick.

If you’re not using Lightroom already (or if you’re still relying heavily on Photoshop), I highly encourage you to give it a try. It’s like the Wacom pen and tablet; you have to commit to using it exclusively for a couple of weeks and force yourself explore the tools. You won’t harness the power of it overnight, so allow yourself the time to really get used to it and see what it can do for your workflow. As you slowly start to reduce the amount of time spent editing, you’ll be able to focus that time and energy on other parts of your business and your life. (And if you’re not already using a Wacom tablet for your editing, make that your first priority – that alone can cut your editing time in half!).

If you’re like me (I’m a control freak) then you don’t want to hand over the editing of your images to someone else. I do send out retouching occasionally, but for the most part I want to handle my own editing. I know my style and my vision better than anyone else, and as I’m shooting I am already envisioning the final look I’m going for during the editing process. At this point it’s just a part of how my brain works, and I keep a tight process so that my workflow is super efficient.

For many photographers, outsourcing is the best option for their business and workflow; but if you do edit your own images, please don’t overlook the power and speed of Lightroom.

  • If you are just starting out you will find that Lightroom will be easier to learn than Photoshop, however you will need to learn Photoshop as well. Even if you plan to outsource your retouching, as a professional photographer you should still know and understand basic Photoshop skills.
  • Although you can purchase presets (my favorites are the VSCO and Mastin Labs film presets) Lightroom includes some basic ones that you can play with to get started, and eventually I encourage you to make your own. This is a great way to set yourself apart because no one can duplicate your own personal style.
  • Lightroom is also an incredible tool for organizing and streamlining your overall workflow; don’t overlook how important it is to use a standard naming process for your image files as well!
  • Lightroom is lightning fast once you learn how to use it and get into a groove. You should be able to blow through an entire session in 30-45 minutes tops.
  • You have the ability to create folders and sub-folders inside of Lightroom that will be reflected on your hard drive. As I’ve mentioned, the organizational tools are incredible – you can also rename files very easily.
  • When you are editing images in Lightroom the original RAW file is never permanently altered (as Lightroom is non-destructive). Photoshop, however, is a mix of destructive and non-destructive editing; you must use separate layers or history states within Photoshop if you want to ‘go back’ and restore the original file data. In Lightroom, however, these changes are never permanent; you can access the history of every change made on the lower left module, and simply click on the point in the process you want to go back to. This is great because you can experiment on your images without commitment.
  • Be sure to create a separate catalog for each session. This way you can quickly and easily go in and edit just that session when needed without having to waste time sifting through other images in the catalog.

There are numerous other advantages of using Lightroom, and I hope that you will do your own research on this as well. Both Patrick and I offer training on this as well, and several of my 2-hour Skype mentoring sessions are focused primarily on learning or fine-tuning the editing process in Lightroom. So feel free to reach out with any questions you have, and here’s to an efficient and profitable workflow!


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