Workflow: The Most Important Investment You Can Make

A Wacom tablet with stylus.

When it comes to wedding photography there are thousands of ways to invest your money.  New lenses, camera bodies, bags, flashes, accessories, they're all ways that you can see dramatic changes in your business, yet one that gets overlooked far too often is workflow.  Your photographic workflow is the process from start to finish of capturing, editing and exporting your photos.  It's hard to put money into something that won't show up in the form of better photos, but today I'm going to talk about why that's exactly where you should invest.

If you've ever shot a large number of photos, such as at a wedding or event, you understand how long it can take to sift through, edit, and process all of the images after the fact.  If you can develop a technique or use a tool that will save you ten minutes per job, then after 6 jobs you've saved an hour of your life, etc.  When you're in the habit of doing this often, or even doing it for a career, you'll quickly realize how much the hours add up.  Sure it may not be glamorous to put your money into equipment, systems, or software that simply help you shave off seconds, but you need to ask yourself honestly: what's my time worth?

To that end, here are a few tips and pieces of technology I use myself to save countless hours:

1. analyze your workflow

Do yourself a favour and time yourself editing and processing a number of your common tasks.  For instance, if you're a wedding photographer like me, time how long it takes you to import and manage your files, how long it takes to do basic edits (crop, sharpen, adjust exposure, etc.), time how much time you invest into processing (applying filters, manipulating curves for artistic effects).  Figure out where the biggest investment of time is, this way you know where you should focus your efforts.

2. Learn your software (particularly its shortcuts)

By far the best thing I can recommend is learning your software.  If you're not well versed in operating in Lightroom or Photoshop, you should really invest a bit of time into learning all the shortcuts that apply to your process.  Shortcuts are the quick key methods of doing things that save you from constantly searching your menus, or scrolling over to your toolbars.  They allow you to do things like change tools, adjust brush sizes, apply filters, manage layers, and just about everything you can imagine by simply hitting a single key or a combination of keys.  Think of how in programs you can hit CTRL+S to save a file instead of scrolling up to File and then down to Save, that's a shortcut. For a list of the Photoshop shortcuts CLICK HERE.  For a list of the Lightroom shortcuts CLICK HERE

3. buy the tools/learn the skills you need

A Wacom Intuos Pro (Medium) tablet with stylus

One of the hardest things I've done was admit that I needed a Wacom for what I do (Be sure to read the update at the bottom).  Now that I use it exclusively it's hard to imagine ever going back, it's already saved over a hundred hours of my processing, and every job I do it shaves a minimum of half an hour off of my time.  I also found myself spending an inordinate amount of time managing the white balance of multiple cameras across a variety of different lighting conditions, so I invested in an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport, and now I don't have to spend any time with the eyedropper in Lightroom clicking everything white and grey again and again trying to adjust the white balance to what looks best for me.

Programs can make a world of difference too.  For a long time I didn't realize the true potential of Lightroom and Photoshop, so I actually had separate programs for managing IPTC, file management, HDR processing, and a plethora of other things I routinely did.  I spent a good chunk of time analyzing my workflow and researching what I was already doing, and learned how to trim entire programs like Photomatix and Bridge.

Another option is taking courses.  There are tons of editors, photographers, and subject matters that teach ways to be more efficient and streamlined.  Research what works for you and consider investing into them.  Most professionals like myself teach also, so never be afraid to reach out to your favourite photographers and subject matter experts teach or hold workshops that can greatly benefit you.  Sometimes it absolutely makes sense to spend the time to save time.

You should realize that many of these investments come with a steep learning curve, so initially it may actually slow you down.  But like so many things in this field (Such as SEO) you need to think of it as more of a long term investment.  Do the research, ask the questions, and if you're not certain then borrow or rent the equipment you're considering before you commit to purchasing it.

4. don't fear outsourcing

It took me a while to be comfortable with releasing the reins when it came to the processing process.  I viewed this portion every bit as much of my photographic style as the visualization and shooting processes.  Here's the thing though, good editors can mimic a style very well.  Now when I foresee myself getting backlogged I proactively adapt and outsource work.  That can mean employing editors, second shooters, or a whole team.  Investing in these areas have really freed me up to refine my focus and cut time down, but at the same time I have to be comfortable and clear about what my own time is worth, and that's a decision you'll have to make yourself.

5. Be honest with yourself

Just because you've invested into something, doesn't mean it's going to work.  After some time revisit step one.  Give yourself some time to become efficient in the method, to have overcome the learning curve, and see if it worked.  It may be that even though you may like it more, that it may actually cost you some of your time.  Be honest with yourself, if it doesn't shave time then ditch it.  It's hard, but you only have so many hours in a day.

These are just a few suggestions, but they'll definitely get you headed in the right direction.

Signature block.