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The Ideal Digital Photographer's Workflow, Part 1

Steps for Preparing for a Shoot

by Ken Milburn, author of the upcoming Digital Photography: Expert Techniques

Digital photography is such a relatively new art that most of us, whether professionals or amateurs, have been adopting in helter-skelter fashion. Experiment follows experiment until we're temporarily satisfied with the results. Six months (or six days) later, we become aware of a new procedure, or some facet of the technology changes, and we begin making more and different changes to our ever-growing library of pictures.

That is when, to our horror, we discover that techniques that we once thought created perfection also destroyed so much of our original data that we have to start the editing process all over again. Unfortunately, all too often, that's when we discover we have overwritten the original. Even if, by luck or forethought, we've safely saved the original, each of the changes that permanently alters the original data needs to be renamed and saved, adding to our workload, and to our mounting pile of digital files.

But wait! That's not all: we also discover that it can take more time to find the original than it would to just shoot another original. That's when the importance of establishing an efficient and non-destructive workflow begins to reveal itself.

Keeping images organized with the help of a systematic workflow is the key to your sanity. I've written this article in the hopes that it will help you to avoid wasting a lot of time recreating your digital masterpieces, or sifting through piles of digital file clutter in search of original files. What follows is a multi-level list of workflow steps that you can copy and paste on the wall of your digital lab and/or tuck into your camera bag. These steps can be gradually adapted to fit your own personal style and personality. Along the way, you may make discoveries of your own. If you don't mind sharing them, please do so via the Talkbacks section at the end of this article, so we can share them with the rest of our community.

Related Reading

Digital Photography: Expert Techniques
Professional Tips for Using Photoshop & Related Tools to Enhance Your Digital Photographs
By Ken Milburn

Before You Start

Here are some tips to consider before you even pick up your digital camera and start shooting.

General Workflow Hints

The following are suggestions for "workflow etiquette." These are good tips to remember regardless of which phase or step in the workflow process you are in.

Picture-Taking Workflow Hints

Now you're ready to shoot. Here are some tips that will help you optimize your shooting time.

Image-Organization Workflow Hints

You've got a "camera" full of images. What's next? Consider these hints for organizing all those great shots.


This article has suggested a workflow for preparing for a shoot, shooting procedure, and for downloading, cataloguing, tracking, and archiving the image files that result. Stay tuned for the next article, where we'll present workflow suggestions for image editing, extracting images for use in composite photos, doing backups of each of your work stages, and for communicating with your images in various ways.

Ken Milburn has been a photographer, both full- and part-time, for nearly five decades. In addition to countless articles, Ken has written 17 books on web design, Flash, Photoshop, and digital photography. His latest book, for O'Reilly, Digital Photography: Expert Techniques, was released in March 2004.

O'Reilly & Associates will soon release (February 2004) the Digital Photography: Expert Techniques.

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