A Logical Editing Process

by Michael Clark

One of the best features about Lightroom, perhaps even the best feature is how Lightroom allows us to edit our images quickly and painlessly. I have touched on my editing process with Lightroom in several posts but never actually explained it in detail.

First, as I have said many times in my blogs, to allow Lightroom to run as it should you'll need to render the 1:1 Previews. To do this, first select all the images you need to edit and then go to Library > Previews > Render 1:1 Previews.


Once the previews are created the editing process can get under way. For myself, I use a logical progression of steps - at least a progression that is logical to me. I'll just say it now, there are a million ways to edit your work - this is just one method that I use with great results. Depending on the subject matter, number of images and how much time I have to edit, I'll go through and check to see that each image is in focus. I'll double click on the first image from the grid view which gets me to 1:1 view. Then I'll leave the left panel open in Library mode so I can see the Navigator. This allows me to see where I am on the image. With my right hand on the arrow key I can quickly crank through hundreds of images in a just a few minutes to see if they are all sharp. Anything even slightly off gets deleted and erased from my hard drive unless it was an intentional blur or an intentionally out of focus image. If I am under the gun and my clients need the images ASAP, then I'll forgo the sharpness check until after I have done my edits.

The next step is the initial edit. Here I use Library mode as set up below with the Navigator still present and just go through image after image with one hand on the right arrow key and another on the 1 key (for 1 star). I use the star method because that allows me to rank my images at multiple levels. The initial edit is a gut reaction to each image. At this point I know they are all sharp so I don't worry about that. I just go through and rank everything that I think has any merit whatsoever as 1 star.


Once I have gone through the initial edit, I get up from the computer and go do something else for a few minutes. I'll go check the mail, get a snack, whatever. I think a crucial part to any workflow is to get away from the computer for a few minutes here and there just so you can be attentive while editing and especially while processing your images.

When I get back to the computer it is time for round two. I'll set the filter to show only 1 star images then go through those and upgrade the images that warrant it to 2 stars. In this round, I'll also go in and set some of the best images to 3 or 4 stars just to make sure I don't overlook them in future edits. I'll continue the editing until I get to round 3 and then take a look at what I've picked. In general, any images 4 stars and above get processed and exported as ProPhoto RGB tiff files. And sometimes the 3 star images will make the cut as well. It all depends on how many images I shot and just how many good images I have. I don't have any special star rating guidelines. Sometimes the 5 star images are the only ones that get processed, sometimes I don't make it above 3 stars in the editing process. I can say in general that 5 star images do get consideration for my portfolio.

I have found that Lightroom cuts my editing time significantly (meaning a HUGE cut!) compared to my old Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw workflow. I have already gone into using the Compare Mode for editing in a previous blog post - you can see that one here. I tend to use the Compare Mode intensively in the later rounds of editing - and sometimes even in the 2nd round if I have shot a lot of sequences or similar images. In general the survey mode doesn't do much for me as the images appear small. Compare mode allows me to really go in and view two images side by side to tell which is the image with the better expression or body position of an athlete.

I tend to fire away while shooting so that I have lots of options. I may never be at that same location ever again and I may never be able to get a similar image as often times things just happen - like great light or in the case of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta I went to yesterday - incredible forms that just appeared. In a case like this where I shot 45+ very similar images, I am sometimes bracketing exposures, or focus points or as is normally the case shooting lots of different compositions while the magic happens. That makes for a tough editing job back in the office. Hence, for these type of situations I make sure that I spend some time with the images. Ultimately, the best images will stand the "test of time" and hence we all need more than a few seconds with each image to really pick the winners.

Once I get a decent set of images edited I move to the developing phase of my workflow. And that takes considerably longer than the editing part unless I am just working up one or two images for a client.

Below is my favorite image from the shoot yesterday. The forms look like aliens or ghosts and it is really a striking image that may even make it into my portfolio at some point. We'll see what I think of it here in a few weeks before I make that decision.


The reality is that the editing never really stops. A week, two weeks, or even months later I go back and look at images - and every time I get a call for a submission I am constantly reassessing which images are the real winners and which aren't - and that is all personal taste.

That's it for this session. See you next week.

Adios, Michael Clark


stuart gill
2007-10-15 02:31:53
That's a great shot
2007-10-15 04:24:25
Is there a way to generate the 1:1 previews at import time, rather than after the import has finished?

Many thanks, Richard.

Michael Clark
2007-10-15 06:49:34
At the moment there is not a way to render 1:1 previews on import. Thanks for the nice comments on the image as well.
2007-10-15 09:24:44
Hi there! Thanks for this tip. It's good to hear about others use LR in their workflow (and their reasoning for doing so). I have a similar workflow but am a little less structured with the "start at 1 star", part. I may try that since i often find myself going back to see what if i need to move photos up or down in the star scale.


Richard L
2007-10-15 17:29:15
Thanks for sharing your process though what I find most intriguing is your image. I think it's a wonderful, unusual, mesmerizing and beautiful shot... put it in your portfolio. :)