Lightroom workflow after a shoot, marking approved and rating

When you work with a live model in boudoir photography, there are hard limits — like hunger, exhaustion and the 48-hour limit for reporting missing persons — to how long you can stay in the studio. (I feel sorry for still life and fine art photographers.) But there is no limit to how post production can last. For perfectionists, this is a blessing and a curse. This article shows my system for staying on track and keep moving towards the goal. I show how to do this in a Lightroom-based workflow.

After the photoshoot is over, you are probably staring at a huge heap of photos like this:


Actually, our shoot had 1,000+ photos, so you are seeing this screen shot in the middle of the process.

Step one: focus on the goal

Repeat after me:

Your goal is to pick and enhance the best photos and get the client to accept them.

Step two: get client input first


Photographers have mixed opinions on whether you should allow a client/model see your raw shots before editing. Here are the considerations:

Let them see:

Don't let them see:

For me let them see wins because it is the most direct path towards THE GOAL of picking the best photos. Here are specific tips to make this work:

Now here is the actual process. Use caps lock (auto advance) and have the model only select picks (P) if they absolutely love them and reject (X) if you should delete the photo. Do it in full screen or grid view and show the client how to go back and forth. Then step away.


Just watch them and look for careful thought. This is your shot! Maybe your question is "did you pick that photo because your eyes look bigger?" If she giggles and gives you a nod — then you just saved about 4 hours of post-production retouching for photos she would not accept!

PROTIP: Flag and reject annotations are saved in your Lightroom catalog BUT NOT in your sidecar files. If you send photos to a third party for retouching or if you need to recreate your library you will lose this information. Don't wory though, just read along with the next section.

Step three: categorize and rate all photos

This is a simple process and you should move forward in one fell swoop. Stay in Lightroom's Library module. This is my rating system for photos:


Your client picks are fives right away. And your client rejects are twos. Anything all black (after auto tone), out of focus, or unintentional nudity are ones. Delete ones immediately after each review! Use a library filter of zero-stars to focus on getting a quick rating on each photo!

PROTIP: If you did not rate 100+ photos in the first 10 minutes, you are going too slow. Try sorting the photos by reverse capture time, this will help you go faster!

Next, create folders for each outfit change or shot. Basically use a folder for any set of photos where if you don't give the client something from that set they will be pissed.

Last, sort by rating and look at each folder. No fives in a folder? Be a little more forgiving.

Step four: do retouching

WARNING: For the love of god, do not start retouching before other steps are done.

Every photo is a precious snowflake. And with the infinite possibilities of non-destructive retouching you can devote a whole lifetime to editing a single photo.

PROTIP: If you look at two bad photos long enough you will begin to love one of them. Therefore avoid looking at the bad photos in the first place. See XKCD comic #915.

My full process for retouching boudoir portraits is in another post [ADD LINK HERE]. But each time you retouch a photo, remember your goal:

Enhance this photo and get the client to accept it.

If something about the photo will prevent the client from accepting it you need to STOP! ("The dress looks REALLY awesome, but her eyes are out of focus, maybe I can make them less blurry.") There is a quote from a famous painter that I am probably butchering here (please help if you know it).

If parts of the face are in the wrong location it is better to throw away the painting than to continue adding detail.

Step five: the draft

Your deliverable to the client is a set of photos. There is no sense sending partial drafts, one-offs or work-in-progress.

Under no circumstances should you send a photo that you can't make acceptable. You do NOT want to hear "oh my god I love this photo, I just need you to something you can't/won't do. Personally, I do NOT remove moles or marks and I do not reshape bodies (see my ethics and style). So if the photo has great eyes, smile, boobs and emotion; but the belly looks fat; and I know the client cares about that — then I CAN NOT send that photo!

Export the photos (full size, 94% quality JPG, name like YYYYMMDD-Client-OriginalFileNumber.jpg) and send it as a set. Personally I use Google Drive to share the folder. Also I use this command on Mac to make thumbnails all in one big contact sheet (because everyone previews on their phone):

montage -verbose -label '%f' -font Helvetica -pointsize 10 -background '#000000' -fill 'gray' -define jpeg:size=200x200 -geometry 200x200+2+2 -tile 4 -auto-orient -title 'MANDY 2016-05-22' *.jpg ~/Desktop/out.jpg

If the photos are very sensitive because of nudity, celebrities or whatever I am more careful. To be clear, we are talking about being afraid that your Google account is going to get attacked specifically because someone wants to steal your photos from this session. In this situation, I host photos on my own secure computer, in my basement, using HTTPS, and a one-time password and access logging. (See my other post all about computer security [TODO: WRITE ARTICLE, ADD LINK HERE].) If you're even reading this far you should probably just keep the photos offline and physically meet the client to review your draft.

The point of each draft is… to get the client to accept it! Make sure it is a no-holds-barred attempt to get them to accept completion of your assignment.

But if they don't accept it. Mark anything they "love" or "accept" as pick (P), and mark rejects (X). Go back to step four and either edit that reject (now you can remove the flag, U) or mark it four and then find a four to promote to five. Keep your head up and try again!

PROTIP: When you submit your next draft, send all photos again. Your deliverable is the complete set. This avoids your client from having the Joe Biden problem (did you see the comic above?)

You're done

Now the client accepted your photos.

But first before you close this page… All your fives have been accepted, you can remove pick and reject flags. Archive your photos onto cold storage and set a reminder for any follow ups in your client workflow.

Written by William Entriken 2016-11-03 with links to Randall Munroe.