Two Recommended Workflows to Curate Your Photos for Every Photoshoot

Two Recommended Workflows to Curate Your Photos for Every Photoshoot

In the world of digital photography, our discussion topic has always revolved around equipment, software tricks, and tips for getting better images. But deep down, we should know that data management discipline after every shoot is also crucially important. After all, what is there to edit and publish if there is mishandling of our photo files?

That being said, the way you manage your digital files during or post-shoot can significantly impact your productivity and final output. Whether you're a seasoned pro or an enthusiastic hobbyist, establishing an organized and standardized approach to handling your images during each photoshoot is extremely crucial and will help you go a long way in achieving consistency in your visual output. In this article, I will be recommending two workflows that I have personally tried to streamline your post-shoot creative process and hopefully help you elevate your photography game in the long run. It is important to note that this method is an approach that sits above a systematic file organization and backup strategy.

Method 1: The Ongoing Curation

Personally, I prefer not to delete anything from the camera right on the shoot to reduce the amount of time fiddling with the camera. At the end of the shoot day, I will transfer all the photos to the main computer and do a first round of filtration to remove images that may not work well when viewed on a larger screen. These filtered images will then be backed up to an external hard drive. This process is repeated if there are subsequent shoot days back to back, starting with a fresh memory card while retaining the previous day’s backup. This iterative curation process continues throughout the shoot days, resulting in a thoroughly curated collection of early material by the end of every shoot day.

Moving into post-processing, I will usually work in chronological order from start to finish, allowing time between capturing and making final decisions on images that have undergone fewer curation rounds. I will perform a final cull of all the processed images based on their potential and quality after the processing stage. It is important to note that I do not delete previously processed images but instead, I utilize the rating function in Adobe Lightroom to rate the images differently and store them in a separate folder. This approach ensures that only images with genuine potential will undergo full post-processing, optimizing my workflow efficiency and final output quality.

It is important to note that this method is also built upon a consistent folder structure based on shoot dates and project names as a solid base foundation. Then within each main folder, categorize your images into subfolders accordingly such as raw, original JPEGs, exports, and working project catalog. You may also add naming conventions or metadata tagging to enhance searchability and ease of reference within your collection.

Method 2: The Time-Saving Curation

For those seeking a more efficient and time-saving approach, I would suggest skipping the continuous image-culling process in method one. Therefore, a typical process for method two would be to start the shoot day with a fresh memory card, then back up all the content from the day while using a fresh new card for the following day. At the end of a multiple-day shoot, you should have multiple cards with all the images you have shot, with a copy of the backup on your computer where you can utilize the rating system in software such as Adobe Lightroom to rate the images accordingly. By the end of the rating, hopefully, you will have your desired amount of images at the highest rating, e.g., 4 or 5 stars. Then process them in order from the most stars to the least. The advantage of this approach will be the total time it takes in total, at the disadvantage of having less clarity of your shoot objective from capture to culling since you will be culling and looking at your images less.


Implementing a structured workflow in handling your images after every shoot transcends just file organization, as it empowers you to gain better clarity in shoot objectives to unleash your creativity with confidence. As technology continues to evolve, we should stay abreast of the latest advancements and tools that can further optimize our photography experience and constantly reflect on our current post-shoot process while considering incorporating elements from these recommended workflows to enhance efficiency, productivity, and creativity.

How do you currently handle your photos after a photoshoot, and what improvements do you plan to integrate into your workflow following the current advancement with cloud services? Share your thoughts and experiences, and let's continue to refine our post-shoot processes together.

Zhen Siang Yang's picture

Yang Zhen Siang is a commercial photographer specialising in architecture, food and product photography. He help businesses to present themselves through the art of photography, crafting visually appealing and outstanding images that sells.

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Naturally everyone’s post-processing and curating strategy will be unique to that person. We are no more alike in that regard than we are in the way we approach cleaning our homes. Some people are comfortable keeping everything they ever bought for decades until the house bursts at the seams with stuff; other people can’t stand one tiny bit of clutter. For me personally, the description of your method number 1 makes me dizzy. I can’t imagine keeping anything on any hard drive, internal or backup, that wasn’t a useful finished image that I’d have some good reason to expect needing years in the future. That applies to the image and its internal components like all the non-destructive, adjustment layers that we’re told by experts to keep… just in case we decide to edit the image differently at some point in the future. Nonsense. How often do we go back to an image from ten years ago and decide to alter the contrast by a significant amount?

Maybe a better strategy for the majority of photographers is to learn to curate their images before clicking the shutter button. Make good decisions while composing the photo in camera. And then make post-processing decisions once and for all, thereby dramatically reducing both the quantity of images saved and file sizes, and subsequent need for an array of external storage devices. Granted some genres such as wedding photography necessitate a far greater number of spontaneous pictures, with a slight twist of a facial expression here and there making a big difference. Of course there are some of these examples where shooting more pictures ensures a greater success rate.

But for every other sort of planned photo shoot, why not think twice about clicking the shutter before you shoot? Under that premise with a fraction of the images to deal with, curating is much simpler. I don’t need rating systems or different folders for the same project. And to every photographer who feels compelled to shoot the same subject from ten different angles… just in case it might be what the customer prefers? Good grief, do we really need another picture two inches from where we were standing for the first one? That’s the mindset which produces photo collections in the hundreds of thousands. Besides, I thought that we as professionals were expected to make sound decisions when making a photograph. If we were to use our camera like it’s loaded with a $4 sheet of film per exposure, we'd solve both our curating problem and maybe become a better photographer as well.

Thanks for reading edward. Yes like you said different photographers will have a different method of curating their images. Personally, the logic behind saving everything to me is extremely crucial as I often go back visiting my archives thinking of ways I could re-curate the images or even re-edit them as software technology grows. And as we grow as a human being and a photographer, if we are doing enough experimentations you will soon find your style change be it post processing, curating or composition as a result of "cross-pollination" from other work and the experience we have. Which is why I would think photography as a fluid creativity where there is no fix outcome that we can settled with for the rest of our life. Therefore, having the assets that you have made in storage is very convenient for the just in case scenarios since storage are pretty cheap these days. Post-processing decisions are also pretty hard to be fixed when you are fine-tuning them for prints or specific requirements later, which is why preserving the layers and metadatas are crucially important.

I totally agree with you on a planned photoshoot. And I do have another side of the story from experience as a working photographer. Often times, we are required to photograph the same subject for 12 months straight creating hundreds of images showing them in different scenes, and catering them into different usages. As much as I would love to just shoot once and be done with it, client brief don't really allow that to happen. Trust me it is way harder to shoot a subject multiple times without the risk of them turning mediocre.

You certainly have some great work in your Fstoppers portfolio. I wouldn't even try to convince you of a different workflow. My comments are purely stated as an option and something to consider for anyone else who happens to be reading. Makes me wonder though how AI will effect your product photography and any need for multiple photo shoots. I'd guess that in cases where not only the subject but the background elements must accurately reflect your client's hotel or restaurant, that your job is safe, for now. But product backgrounds and possibly even the product images themselves are vulnerable to AI.

That said, your needs for revisiting past work is probably much greater than most photographers... certainly compared to any amateur. My experience is that I've always had enough current work to keep me occupied, without the time, interest, or need to rework past images. As you said, we all evolve in style, skills and available technology, but for the most part the images I made ten or twenty years ago have no more than sentimental value.

I have seen AI used in a very creative way to overcome obstacles which are not physically possible in traditional photoshoot and am eagerly waiting to incorporate them in my workflow when opportunity presents itself. As of now most of my work are still very much location dependent probably due to the cheap workmanship cost that our industry presents so there is no incentive for clients to move into AI.

If I am being honest, for the past 2 years I have been extremely occupied to the extend I am constantly doing whats next and have not have the luxury to look back. It was during the global pandemic lockdown that I have the chance to cycle through my work properly. While I do not wish for another global pandemic I do secretly wish for the industry pace to slow down so we can all further learn from our past work analysis.

As an event photographer, I do one culling run - deleting everything I wouldn't want the client to see, including blinks, duplicates, and weaker variations of the same shot. Then I move what's left into a "Selects" subfolder, give it all one star, process and deliver. Along the way, if I see images I might want to use elsewhere, I put five stars on them so I can more easily find them later. For a recent 9-hour corporate event job, it took me a bit under two hours to cull 2200 images down to 1500. For a wedding, I'd be more picky and would probably follow this initial culling run with a second one that would yield about 500-800 3-star images.

that is an interesting workflow giving it an option for secondary usage filtering. Thanks Jacques for sharing!

I have two questions regarding the word curate:

1. Is the word misused, or simply overused?

I used to think curate was reserved for employees of a museum who were tasked with organizing an exhibition. By definition of their job qualifications, these people were experts in their field. Ordinary folk were not curators. So I looked up the definition of curated in my dictionary: "selected, organized, and presented using professional or expert knowledge." As you say, Ansel, everyone seems to be a self-anointed curator these days, but how do we establish who's an expert or qualified to make curatorial decisions? I certainly consider myself an expert in regard to curating my own images. I don't feel that I've misused the word according to its definition. Maybe everyone's just getting smarter than decades ago when just the formally trained experts were granted the title of curator, and so it now appears to be overused. Certainly the popularity of "influencers" correlates to curator, and there's an influencer on every street corner trying to build a following.

2. If not curate, what other word could it be replaced with?

Each of the components of curation (select, organize, present) separately lack the impact of the whole. We can organize our images but that does not include the choice we make to throw some out. Jacques uses the word "culling" but that by itself doesn't include organizing or presenting. In the book "Group f.64" by Mary Street Alinder, she has this to say about Edward Weston: "Edward was about to see his first book of photographs go on press. It was October, 1932, and the publishing date was set for November. For the past three months he had held himself to the task of selecting and printing just thirty-six pictures from a lifetime of work. The process of elimination had been agonizing, and then he had toiled in his darkroom to make perfect prints." Sounds like that could have been distilled to one word... curation. Later in that same book, Alinder writes: "Sonya had been a real help in winnowing down the images for his book." Now there's a word that could get on my nerves if used too often. So what would be another single word that describes the multiple steps and process of curating a portfolio of our work?

I love how you put things into context edward! thanks for sharing

The word winnow is so seldom used that I'm not sure I'd have recognized its meaning if not for the context it was used. Most poetry goes over my head, but I get your point. It's like the top 10 song on the radio that you can't stand, but radio stations keep playing it over and over until it drives you nuts. The song must have been evocative though for a lot of other people, or it wouldn't have risen to the top ten. Cliche pictures have that effect on some of us too. Music and language and art are all sort of like that... you either like it or you don't. A few things are especially annoying, and we found yours.

Yes everything is pretty much curated these days and I do not think we can avoid that if we choose to publicise anything. To me its not really a buzzword but a rather straightforward choice of word given the context of not overcomplicating things. Yes the word curation used in a higher level will definitely yield great results but does that really mean those who aren't at that level not allowed to use that word. I reckon not.