The Ultimate Guide for Creating an Efficient and Effective Lightroom Workflow

When diving into Lightroom, trying to set up a workflow can be a daunting task. Even once you have one in place, trying to stay consistent with it and properly tweak it as needed is a challenge.

Knowing this, the team over at Phlearn has put together a very useful, in-depth video that walks you through the basics of setting up a workflow and learning how to properly maintain it over time.

The tutorial starts off by going over a few basics, before diving into their five step plan, if you will: importing, file structure and naming, editing in Lightroom and Photoshop, exporting images and location, and syncing folders. We have to give them credit, the tutorial goes into just the right amount of detail on each step without getting overwhelming or monotonous.


Rather than giving a completely direct “you must do this” type of presentation of the tutorial, Phlearn’s approach allows you to more easily adapt the workflow they’re presenting to fit your needs. This means that both beginners looking to start fresh and veterans looking to implement some new structure into their workflow can pick and choose elements as needed.

The video comes in just shy of 19-minutes, so it’s a bit of a lengthy watch, but your future self will thank you a great deal for putting in the time now — you’ll be saving far more than 19-minutes when your workflow is properly set up.

(via ISO 1200)

  • David Sr

    I find ticking the “Add to this Catalog” in the Export dialog, eliminates the “Synchronize folder” after each export. But like he say’s, everyone needs to find the workflow that works for you. I pick automation whenever possible.

  • michael p

    nice workflow. i’ve been using a method somewhat similar from Kevin Kubota. I have a master folder structure i use for each shoot. each folder is dated and then labeled for content. Instead of uploading the images from my card through LR, i copy the files manually to the folder structure i have set up. card 1, card 2, etc… I then launch LR and add rather than copy so i can leave the files where they are but add them to the catalog. The one thing i noticed that wasn’t in the video was showing the shortcut in LR that allows you to open an image from within your catalog to photoshop. of course this way allows for three options of use, but is helpful in that you don’t need to go back to the finder for your files. when you are done working on your image in PS, hit save, the new image sits right next to the original in LR. from there you can move the image to another folder and synchronize the master structure. there is no perfect way of handling the images, but to save time in the future, maybe create a master structure of folders you use often. :)

  • Matti R

    Anyone heard about the keywords?

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  • Moloch2

    well the workflow sucks for most pro oriented photographer.

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  • Ken Elliott

    I think the guide was created by someone who understands file folders, but does not grasp the power of a database – the core of Lightroom. I believe this is a huge oversight and misses one of the most powerful features of LR.

    At first, organized by folder seems to make sense – Portraits in a “portraits” folder, beach shots in a “beach” folder. But what do you do with a portrait shot at a beach, at sunset? See the limitations? A file can only be in one folder, so you end up picking a single description (folder), which makes it difficult to find the image based on its other characteristics. You can work with it short term, but over a lifetime of images, it becomes impossible to manage.

    This is where using keywords come into play. I can tag an image as “portrait, beach, sunset, white_dress, red_hair, Jane_Doe”. Now I can search for all beach shots of red hair girls (the key “Jane_Doe” is part of the keyword set “girls”) . Or all shots of Jane Doe at sunset. When I pick my finals and deliver to a client, I tag those images with the project number. Then I can find the whole group of images, without regard to what folder they may be in.

    I also don’t catalog my exports. If I’ve exported, I can easily re-export at any time. I export them to a separate drive, that doesn’t get backed up. I could delete them right away, but it is handy when a client deletes his file and asks me to send another copy.

    My method is far from “ultimate”, but I think it has many significant advantages.

  • Cemal Ekin

    Using collections instead of disk folders are far more flexible for what he is doing, especially if combined with flags, star ratings, and keywords. Opening the files from Lightroom will eliminate the need to “synchronize” the folder every time a new file is saved. This workflow, to me, is neither efficient nor effective. Selecting files to import in the import window is a waste of time, particularly for large image shoots. Once the idea is planted in the minds of the learners that selecting images to import is a good idea it will be very hard to make them break that habit. I would suggest Phlearn to redo this session and improve upon it.

  • Alan Klughammer

    The trouble with relying completely on the database is you are locked into Lightroom. If sometime in the future you decide to use a different DAM software, you have to re-catalogue all your old photos.
    Personally I use a combination of folders and database keywords. I file all my images by date and job, then use keywords to further refine them.
    I do tend to keep my exports in a sub-folder with my raw files. I have found it is much easier and faster than re-exporting. As an added bonus, I can see all my edits and manipulations in any file browser…

  • Ken Elliott

    Yes, you’re right – there is some lock-in. But if I decide to switch, then I’d export all files with XMP sidecar files, and import into the new system. You can bet someone who is thinking about building a DAM will consider ways to import LR data. That’s not so bad.

    But even if that’s not possible, the choice of depending on the database is simple – if you don’t, you give up productivity, and – at the time you change DAM systems – you’re no better off that I am. I get the productivity advantage, and MIGHT get to take that data along. I believe this is much better than avoiding the database for fear of not being able to transfer the data at a later time. And I may not ever change from LR. I still use Photoshop, Word, Excel, AutoCAD and Solidworks. Once I settled on those apps about a decade ago, I’ve not changed. I did switch from Pagemaker to InDesign – which had a Pagemaker-import feature. Excel imported Lotus 123. Word imported Word Perfect. Solidworks reads AutoCAD files. So I’m pretty sure any future DAM product will likely import LR catalogs.

    BTW – since LR uses SQLite as the database, I can already access the data outside of LR. It would take some effort to move it to another DAM, but it is possible.

    I wish Adobe would offer a “Lightroom Pro” that would use a plug-in database connector, allowing me to chose from a number of database servers. I think they will do this, as it will allow for multi-user access.

  • Barbara Havrot

    I have always imported my files from my card to my hard drive in the Pictures folder (by date and keywords), then imported them to LR and exported them to sub folders of the original folder. Am I wasting my time? (Still learning and welcome any suggestions)

  • Felix Dürrwald

    This workflow seems much too slow and complicated to be “ultimate” Why don’t you use collections? Why to you re-import files from PS to LR instead of using the auto-import to collections? Why do you create an unnecessary folder structure for your RAW files and then mix them with finished files? I don’t get this and it seems to be far from efficient.