How to Keep Up With Your Editing

How to Keep Up With Your Editing

I have had the blessing and curse of having too many photos to edit in the past few months. I've had plenty of opportunities to improve my work with the high frequency of shoots, but it's caused me to feel buried. During a typical shoot, I'll take between 250-400 photos. With each light setup, I'll take a few shots to ensure it's just how I want it, then I'll start directing my model. I strive for 3-4 solid shots per setup, one of which will end up being the final image. Both myself and my hard drives are feeling the pressure. In order to make sure that everyone gets their photos in a reasonable timeframe, I've adopted a new workflow for my editing.

In the past, I usually would edit one shoot start to finish before moving on to the next. With the time that making final selections, preliminary edits, and retouching takes, a shoot a week was totally viable and average for me. As I booked more and more, I found myself falling behind slowly on finishing sets. I found that the following changes and additions to my workflow ensured that my clients and models alike were receiving their images on time. 

Work on Multiple Shoots at Once

I recommend going through your shoots and making all your selections before retouching. If I have three or four shoots to go through, I'll open up one catalog or session and select all of my one-star images for that shoot. Then I do the same for the rest of the shoots before returning to the first catalog to select two star images and so on with the rest of the shoots. I always use the star rating system in Lightroom and Capture One in order to organize my selections. Four and five-star images are the ones that end up getting finished, but I may go back at a later date to work on three-star images if I think there are some solid ones. I always focus first on what needs delivered, sorting these out into the five-star category. Switching between each catalog or session frequently keeps me from getting into a rut about those specific images. It becomes hard to differentiate between what I do and don't like when I've been staring at so many similar photos for so long. By switching up the catalog and going through each tier of selections within each catalog before moving to the next tier, I can keep a fresh perspective.

Actions and Presets

If you're using Lightroom, presets are a must for editing a shoot quickly. Once you have your three or four-star images selected, edit one or two of the images to get a feel for the main adjustments that you'll be making and then make a preset. Use this preset to do the bulk of the work in Lightroom. I recommend making a preset for each shoot so that you're still editing each shoot individually, not just slapping a preset on it. By making a preset for each shoot, you're saving yourself a lot time not having to adjust ten to twenty different sliders on each image as you go through the selection process. 

If you're retouching or using Photoshop for any part of your process, make actions for your common steps. For instance, my dodge and burn action makes a group of four curve layers, one for burning shadows, one for dodging shadows, one for burning highlights, and one for dodging highlights. Making these layers and grouping them takes a few minutes, and that may not be a big deal if you're not using a certain technique frequently, but it speeds up an all-day editing session substantially when you have ten to fifteen images to get through. 

Learn Keyboard Shortcuts

Almost every photo software employs keyboard shortcuts to access different tools and functions. While we're talking seconds, this all adds up when you're retouching a photo for thirty-plus minutes. Even in Lightroom and Capture One, this is tremendously helpful. Enabling an overlay of a mask or viewing the before and after of an image could be annoying had Adobe not put those functions a keyboard press away. Within preferences, you can view what buttons are mapped to which functions in order to better learn them. 


This is likely to be different for everyone, but I find that having music, preferably without lyrics, helps me to stay laser-focused on my edits. I know some people will watch Netflix or what have you, but I find myself too distracted. Make a playlist on iTunes, Spotify, or your app of choice and let it play. Avoid clicking outside of your editing software as much as possible.

I don't dread editing at all; I see it as an integral part of the creative process. After hours and hours staring at Photoshop, however, it's easy to get burned out. With large volumes of images or complex retouching, it's crucial to stay focused in order to finish your images in a timely manner, and these few additions and changes to my workflow have been a tremendous help. As a final parting tip, I implore you to close out of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Social media is a huge time suck when you're busy. 

Spencer Lookabaugh's picture

Spencer Lookabaugh is a lifestyle and portrait photographer located in Columbus, Ohio, as well as an employee of Midwest Photo Exchange. He is a firm believer in printing, shooting film and digital, and the power of photography. He also shoots landscape work in his spare time.

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I don't think I'd be able to edit WITHOUT Spotify now..

Do you know what's better than music? Podcasts. An engaging podcast will keep you at your desk and stop you checking out what's on Facebook or Fstoppers because you can't really read and listen at the same time :)

I was *just* listening to these over the weekend while culling and correcting in LR::

Yep, podcasts and audio books! it's like getting 2 (or 3 or 4) things done at once. :)

Do you know what's better then podcasts? Good audio books.

So long as Stephen Fry is narrating I'm in ;)

Do you know what's better than Audiobooks? Spotify.

haha! Do you know what's better than Spotify? Weed...

One can also hire a professional editor like myself if you get bogged down. .