5 Ways to Kickstart Your Lightroom Workflow with Matt Kloskowski

Attention, Lightroom lovers! Today we have a great post by one of our friends, Matt Kloskowski, full-time Education Director for Kelby Media Group and a Tampa-based photographer. He’s the Editor of Lightroom Magazine, author of several best-selling Photoshop books and teaches Photoshop, Lightroom and photography seminars around the world. So we’re flattered that he hand-picked a few favorite ways for Lightroom-armed Smuggers like you to get their photos finished faster. After all, we’d rather be outdoors shooting in the sunshine than stuck at our desks. Wouldn’t you?

If you’re a pro photographer thinking about joining the National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and continuing your photo education, they’re offering a free 24-hour trial membership now. Try it out!

Hey everyone, Matt Kloskowski here with some tips on speeding up your Lightroom workflow. We’ve all heard the phrase “time is money.” Well, if you’re shooting weddings or events, you need to get through your photos and get them organized as fast as possible. Then you can get on to the good stuff of editing and getting out there to shoot more photos. So to help out, I’ve compiled 5 of my favorite tips to kickstart your workflow and keep you moving through Lightroom as quickly as possible.

Tip #1. Use Flags Instead of Stars

A big part of speeding up your workflow is identifying your favorite photos in some way. That way you can do something with them. Well, if you look under the photo menu you’ll see Lightroom has 3 ways of picking out your favorites. First there’s Set Flag. next, there’s Set Rating and finally there’s Set Color Label.

Here’s my thoughts. Ratings and Color Labels are really difficult to work with. Most people are familiar with the 1-5 star rating system but the main drawback is that it has too many choices. 5 stars is a keeper right? 4 stars probably means the photo is pretty good. 3 means it’s decent. 2 would be bad. and 1 star would be a reject that you throw away. Well what happens as you go through your photos and you come across something that isn’t a throw away or isn’t an absolute favorite keeper? You sit there and debate with yourself whether it’s a 2,3 or 4 star photo. Either way, it’s not your favorite so you’ll probably never do anything with it. But yet, you’re giving it too much time in the rating process. And inevitably, when something takes too long, we stop doing it.

So try this. Instead of using ratings, use the flagging system. This way, you get two choices:

  1. Flagged means you like it.
  2. Reject means you don’t and you want to delete it.

Go through your photos quickly and hit “P” to flag or “X” to reject. If you don’t flag it or reject it, then it stays unflagged which is that gray area that you’re just not sure about. But you don’t have to press a key to be indecisive – Lightroom just assumes you’re indecisive about the photo by leaving it unflagged. So your job becomes really easy! Flag it if you like it and think there’s a remote chance you’ll do something with it again one day. Reject it if you don’t. Then hit the right arrow key and move on.

Tip #2. Delete the Bad Stuff (and an easy way to do it)

Another way to speed things up is to keep your library as clean as possible and get rid of the bad stuff. If you followed the previous step and are using the Flag system, you should have some rejects that were marked with an X. A really simple way to delete them is to go up to the Photo menu and choose “Delete Rejected Photos.” Lightroom will delete all the rejects all at once so you don’t have to go back and get rid of them later.

Tip: When you try to delete a photo Lightroom will ask you if you want to delete it from the hard drive or just from the Lightroom library. Personally, I want me rejects gone forever so I delete them from the hard drive rather than just removing them from Lightroom.

Tip #3. Use Collections

Using Collections in Lightroom is more important than ever and probably one of the fastest and best ways for you to speed up your workflow. Photos that go into a collection are the photos that should be one click away and the photos that you’ll want to see most often.

To put it simply, think of a Collection as a photo album. Let’s say you have 2000 images from a wedding. You want to quickly show them to the bride/groom or family. Do you go through and show them all 2000 photos? No way. Instead, you’d create an album. Well that’s what a collection is. It’s a way for you to get to your favorite photos in just one click no matter where you are in Lightroom because the Collections panel is everywhere.

Typically, I’ll look at my photos in the Folders panel and go through them one by one. I’ll hit the letter P (for Pick) to flag photos as a favorite when I come across them. Then I can quickly sort to just see my picks by clicking the little flagged icon in the Filter strip just above the filmstrip:

Once I’ve figured out what my favorites are I select them all (Edit > Select All), go to the Collections panel and create a new Collection with a descriptive name (usually the last name of the bride/groom). Now, no matter what I do in the Folders panel and no matter what folder I’m looking at, I have a one-click way to get to my favorite photos from that event.

Tip #4. Use Collection Sets

Collections have an extra level of organization called Collection Sets that are key for events like weddings. Think of a Collection Set as a group of nested folders. If you put your picks from a wedding/event into a Collection, you’d have all the best photos from all parts of the wedding in one place (the Collection you created). The problem is that this Collection could be huge, so this is where Collection Sets come in.

You’d create a Collection Set (example: the top level folder with the bride/groom name) and then create Collections within the set for each part of the wedding (example: formals, church, reception, etc…). Here’s what a Collection Set could look like in Lightroom:

Tip #5. Use Smart Collections for the Long View

Collections are also smart: They can organize themselves automatically as you import photos into Lightroom. One example of this could be a Smart Collection to help organize your portfolio photos. These are photos that help get you new business as you update your website, so you’ll want to keep them close, easy to get to, and – most importantly – easily updated.

For example, anytime you edit a show-worthy image, put the word “portfolio” in the image title or give it a certain color flag or label. Because Lightroom’s Smart Collections are “smart”, you can set up a rule to detect that this photo meets certain criteria and have it placed directly into a “Portfolio” collection for you.

The best part about it is that once you set up your Smart Collection, Lightroom automatically does the rest.

Bonus Smug Tip: Get Them Uploaded Safely

Once your photos are all cleaned up and ready to go, you’re just a few clicks away from uploading them safely into your SmugMug website. The publish plugin is free, gets your photos seamlessly into SmugMug, and also lets you sync, make galleries and keep your online presence as clean and organized as your Lightroom library. You can also see and adjust your customer’s Event Favorites, republish, and even proof your orders all right within the SmugMug Publish module. Get it now!

What Lightroom tricks have shaved seconds off of your photo editing workflow? We’d love to know!

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I'm a freelance documentary photographer who loves travel, rangefinders, medium format film photography, and everything in-between.

28 thoughts on “5 Ways to Kickstart Your Lightroom Workflow with Matt Kloskowski”

  1. Very valuable advice.

    I’d like to add to tip #1, last sentence, “Then hit the right arrow to move to the next image.” I’ve discovered (accidentally) that if you set your caps lock to ON while you’re P-ing and X-ing, that Lightroom 4 will place your P or X selection, then automatically advance you to the next image.

    It just saves a second, but seconds add to minutes and minutes to hours, and it saves me from hand cramps when editing thousands of images.

    1. there’s also the ‘auto advance’ option, which will move to the next photo whenever you apply a rating, flag or colour label to it. can be toggled in one of the drop down menus.

  2. Thanks. I have used Smugmug for many years for my photo website, and I have followed Matt quite a few years. Both with great satisfaction. Thanks for this blog. None of it was new for me, but suddenly it gave me the solution of a problem: Putting small pics on the web and put the finished jpg in my archive, with less efford, less used space and with the same control. Great.

  3. Excellent tips….

    for tip 5, I would think using a keyword “portfolio” then setting it to never export, is more elegant than changing the photo filename or using colour labels.

  4. Nice article. But, I think like the Romans, Matt’s system is missing a “zero.” By this I mean no flag IS a flag, no number IS a number, no color label IS a color label, etc. However, if one still wants to fly the white flag for “select” it is much faster to begin with select all and set the flag. Then when paging through one only has to click the “x” to set a reject.

    1. I use the “zero” option often in my workflow. When returning from a shoot and needing to edit hundreds of photos, I will use a 3 pass system. On my first pass, I can usually tell which photos are clearly bad and set them to reject. I can usually tell which shots are going to be keepers and they get the pick flag. But I’m often unsure about many shots and for these I leave them unflagged–the “zero” option. After completing my first pass, I’ll choose all the rejected photos, take one last look to make sure I really don’t want any of them and then delete them as Matt advises. Next, I’ll select the unflagged shots and make a final determination of pick or reject.

  5. Nice article, I mostly agree with all of these things.
    However, I have a problem with tip #1, which can catch people out. The Pick and Reject flags are stored at the collection level, so if you look at all your photos (i.e. not a specific collection) you then can’t filter the photos to show all picked photos from example.
    Therefore to get around this problem, I have resorted to using ratings but just thought I would point that out – a trap for young players

  6. Auto Advance is my favorite tip.

    Also (in the Develop module) sync! Took me a year and a half to discover auto-sync. Seriously took hours off of my processing time.

    1. Hi there, I was reading your post and wondered if you could explain to me a little more about what this favorite tip of yours is, what it does and how to use it? I am just starting to explore this program and I am really interested in cutting down on processing time while i am in the beginning stages of this learning curve…If you would be so kind…

      1. I meant to say Christine…. this is regards to your post.
        Or anyone else who knows about Auto Advance as Christine was posting. Thanks so much!

      2. Auto-Advance (I’m not at the computer that has LR installed, so I can’t be more specific): In the Library module, go to Photo > Auto Advance. What it does: when viewing the photos, it automatically advances to the next photo once it’s flagged in some way (pick, reject, stars, color, etc). Makes it easy to go through teh photos and pick/reject them and not have to then arrow over to the next.

        Auto-sync: I think it was Matt K who blogged about this too (maybe Laura Shoe). In the Develop module. when you have multiple photos selected in the filmstrip at the bottom, go over to the right and select, “auto-sync.” All the changes you make to the photo you’re viewing are made to all the photos selected. This is great when you shoot 5 or 10 or 100 photos with the same conditions (portraits in a studio, kid’s little league game, etc). I’ve saved hours of time processing my photos with auto-sync.

  7. I’d like to expand on Tip #1 a little bit more when it comes to the majority of my work flow but mainly Wedding workflow. I use flags all the time in the same way Matt K. mentions, but I also always tag using colors. As I go through pictures and “X” out the losers, I use my colors to seperate out the photos so at the end of the set I can easily sort them to collections or for use that I always keep the same: Green|Favorites, Blue|Social Media, Yellow|Fellow Vendors, Red|Ones that need PS or heavy editing… etc etc… makes things REALLY easy.

  8. Hey there fantastic website! Does running a blog such
    as this take a massive amount work? I’ve very little expertise in coding however I had been hoping to start my own blog in the near future. Anyhow, should you have any recommendations or tips for new blog owners please share. I understand this is off subject however I simply had to ask. Thanks!

  9. OK, I’m a brand-new LR user and this workflow issue is a big one for me. I have a question: can I review each picture (using the methods listed above?) right from my SD card before I upload them to my hard drive? I tend to ‘over-shoot’ a lot because out of (say) 5 consecutive shots of the exact same scene only one of them will be the one I want to upload (maybe there’s only one with their eyes open! Or, way over exposed shots, or I shot the dog by mistake, etc.). Why up-load the other 4 shots and then immediately delete them off the drive (and end up with them in the trash, etc? I want to upload only the ones that have a chance of being used and then go thru the rating method as described.

    Also, I noticed that #12 pix already had some editing done to it (B&W, vignette). When was this done and is it saved as a sub-set in collections for just that one photo, or what? Thanks!

    1. I can’t believe you would want to use a tiny low res camera LCD over your big monitor! How can you ever choose the nuances from your near identical shots using that tiny screen? The trash can won’t mind you stuffing it!

      1. Yeah, I was afraid I wasn’t clear enough about my request. What I want to do is review the shots full size in LR before I download.

    2. You can view and select them before you import them, if the time to import takes too long. But i would rather just import them and decide once they’re on my computer. Then I can take as long as I need to decide if I can’t sit and do it in one sitting.

    3. This isn’t an answer to your exact question, but… I also overshoot, taking 4-5 photos of the same thing, and what has really helped me choose between them has been the survey mode. I use a 2nd monitor and set it to “survey”, then select the photos that are almost identical. The computer then fills the screen with just those five images, as big as they can all fit. Sometimes I can see immediately that one of them is superior to the rest, but if it’s tougher, then I’ll start by identifying slightly weaker photos, then click the X on the image in survey view to unselect, narrowing them down one by one. Finally I’ll hopefully have just one or two that I want to keep/use, and I hit whatever key to mark it (a rating number or a Pick). Then I get rid of the unpicked/unrated/whatever at the end.

      That’s been really helpful for me. Before I figured that out, I had no idea how to compare such similar photos.

      Hope that helps; I’m not at my computer at the moment to check if its possible to use Survey mode before import.

      1. Thank you Mallory for your thoughtful reply, I appreciate what I’ve learned from this blog!
        I just happen to have side by side moniters, it will be fun to give your suggestion a try.

  10. Bill Woodrum :
    Yeah, I was afraid I wasn’t clear enough about my request. What I want to do is review the shots full size in LR before I download.

    That’s ducksoup! Just use all available zoom and pan controls (grid and loupe views) and uncheck any you dont want to import. If you feel you will be uploading only a tiny percentage it would be faster to click “uncheck all” and then just put back checks in the ones you want to add to the catalog and copy to their final resting place on the hard drive.
    You can also increase the size of the thumbnails in the import module. However, other important features like full screen on a second monitor, comparison, “grading” using colors, stars, flags, keywords, etc are NOT available. Hence, for me, it is still faster and easier to import first and delete later. In the end you will finish faster than pre-deleting and have the extra advantage of being able to “undelete” if you make a mistake.

  11. Great responses from randyhl and christine, they demonstrate how there are usually several ways to accomplish the same things in LR – I’m going to try both ways and see what works best for me.
    One thing that I can see that has confused me is the differance between “uploading” and “importing”. It seems I can Import photos without “up-loading” them, correct? The photos could “live” on my SD card but be imported to LR and be linked thru the SD card so that LR would only find the photo when my SD card is plugged in, right? (I have no idea why I would want do that, but it clears up the process for me in my mind – a device that needs constant ‘Sharpening’ and ‘Noise Reduction’.
    Also, one answer I didn’t get was about the images in Matt’s tips that shows some of the images have been edited, when in the process did that happen and how are the versions saved in LR?

  12. I used to delete photos one by one as soon as I decided I didn’t like them. Using Flag as Rejected and then hitting that button to delete them all is definitely a time saver.

  13. Just a friendly word of caution about marking selections flags to anyone shooting tethered directly into Lightroom. Any flags added to proprietary RAW files (BEFORE) they’ve been converted to DNG, will NOT carry over, while star ratings and everything else will. Maybe I did something wrong, but as soon as I converted all my tethered CR2 files to DNG, the flags all disappeared, while the star ratings remained. Now, I still use “X” on rejects, and a single star on “Picks”. If it’s a really great image, I might give it 3 stars, but at least the ratings remain in tact after converting to DNG.

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