If you're anything like me, you've probably found that having a system in place for organizing and working on your images in Lightroom is an extremely helpful thing. Lightroom is a really powerful tool with many ways of accomplishing the same task. So, sometimes your best option is to streamline your workflow down to several simple stages that all images make their way through. I don't claim to be a Lightroom expert by any means, but I've found this process of organizing my images to be quite helpful in keeping track of what I am working on, what I'd like to work on and what I've already finished.
In my catalog, all images are stored by date. (Year | Month | Event and/or Location) I've found this to be the simplest and fastest way of organizing and importing images as Lightroom automates the creation of folders based on exif data. So, all organization is handled through the 'folders' section of Lightroom. Once imported, I use smart collections and color labels to move my images through the various stages of my workflow. It's a simple four stage system that helps track each step of the process from imported RAW to finished jpg.
Using Smart Collections to Track Workflow
For a while, I really didn't use collections very often. And other than these four smart collections and a handful of portfolios divided into collections, I still don't use them all that often. But, I've found that smart collections divided simply into four different stages of my workflow allow for me to easily track an image through my process. Those four stages as you can see in the screenshot are Possibility, Processing, Post and Finished.
To add a collection (and in this case, I'll be using smart collections) press the small plus next to the collections section in Lightroom's sidebar. I recommend creating a collection set called "00 - Workflow" to organize the smart collections we'll be using. After that's done, you can create a smart collection by clicking the same plus as before. While creating the smart collection, make sure to add it to your newly created workflow collection set. In the rules for the smart collection, select color and set your options so that color matches the color label you are using for that collection. It will look something like this..
The easiest way to make all four collections is to create the first one with the rule set accurately, then duplicate the collection and simply rename it and change the rule to reflect each stage and color label of the smart collections. I use the numbers before each collection's name because lightroom organizes the collections alphabetically and I wanted them in the same order I would be working in.
My 4 Workflow Stages
How often do you get in the mood to edit a couple of images only to realize you have all sorts of folders to look through just to find a couple images to edit. Or, you remember editing an image earlier this year but can't remember the exact month or date of the photo to quickly get back to editing it again. This workflow organizes all images you've edited or are interested in editing into one of four easy places to check whenever you want to find an image to work on. With that in mind, here's the four stages I've found that work for me.
01 - Possibility
This smart collection automatically pulls in any image that I've color coded blue. And, my thinking behind this is that after import and during my culling process, I am doing one of three things with my photos. I am either hitting (x) which flags the photo as a reject, doing nothing which leaves it right where it is, or I am hitting (9) which marks the image blue and adds it to my Possibilities collection. These are images that catch my eye, get me excited, that I see potential with etc. Any photo that I want to come back to, consider for editing, review later, I will mark as a possibility. This instantly pulls photos from across the many folders representing the dates of all my shoots and organizes them into one easy place that I can go to whenever I have some time to sit down and edit a couple of images.
02 - Processing
Once I've begun working on a photo, I typically hit the (7) key to mark it as yellow. The processing smart collection pulls in any image color coded yellow and allows me one place where I can view any photo that is a work in progress. Over the years, I've found that having a buffer period between when I edit and image and when I decide it's done and post it online is a good thing. It allows me the time to see the photo on multiple occasions and make sure I'm happy with processing, color, sharpness etc. Perceived color as I'm editing a photo can be so affected by a number of things like the room I'm in, device I'm on, what I was previously looking at etc that if I allow myself a workflow stage that keeps photos that I'm working on for me to review multiple times, I can adjust for those things.
03 - Post
Once I've finished an image, I hit the (8) key for it to be color coded green and pulled into my Post collection. This collection holds any photo that is finished but has yet to be posted to my website, portfolio, social media etc. It's a place for unannounced but finished images. Typically images in my Post collection need to be given a title, have a description written and geotagged with the location it was taken. My export presets pull from the title metadata when creating sharpened jpgs so taking time to add this info makes the process of posting the image to my portfolio and elsewhere much easier and more simplified.
04 - Finished
Once an image has been finished and published, I hit the (6) key to color code it red and add it to my Finished collection. This is an easy spot for me to gather all the images I've finished and posted at some point or another.
That's pretty much it! Hopefully this may work for you & your workflow... Doing something similar? I'd love to hear what you're doing... Send it in the comments.