I’m always fascinated by other people’s Lightroom workflows, and I’ve picked up some great tips and ideas over the years, so I’m pleased to introduce a new feature here on the Lightroom Queen blog – a series of interviews with well known Lightroom users about their Lightroom workflows.
This month Gene McCullagh, of Lightroom Secrets, was kind enough to sit down and share his thoughts with us:
What’s your background? Have you always been a keen photographer?
I was born and raised in New York City. When I graduated from Elementary School my parents gave me a small Yashica range finder. They didn’t realize what they had started. I began shooting black and white images and commandeering the only bathroom in the house for a darkroom. This went on for a few years and then life had other plans and my camera was relegated to a drawer.
I met my lovely wife, Juli, during a production of Mame at her high school. (I asked her to marry me before I asked her out on our first date!) She eventually said yes.
Life rolled on through college and law school. Our four children (Katie, Michael, Daniel, and John) joined us on our adventure. In 1991 the company I worked for moved us to Dallas, Texas.
While all of this was going on photography was making the shift from film to digital. Remembering the smell of the darkroom I, of course, started to investigate digital photography and rekindle my love of the craft. A new Canon 20D took the place of my old Yashica and I was off again!
What kinds of photography do you enjoy? Any favorite photos you’d like to share?
I’ve done some portrait and wedding work but I really like to shoot landscapes. Landscapes present so many image possibilities. Finding the right angle, lighting, composition, distance, etc. is a wonderful challenge. You can’t pose trees and rocks (they’re rather uncooperative) but you can change your perspective. And that’s the fun part. The best part is that landscapes generally don’t comment on how they look in the photo. People, on the other hand…
Sure! Here are a few images…
You’re well known in the Lightroom community — how did you originally get involved with Lightroom?
I have always been interested in the magic of computers. I started dabbling with Photoshop and Illustrator doing some part-time design work. I really was impressed with the Adobe products. I founded the Dallas Fort Worth Adobe User Group and managed it for over seven years. During that time I became an Adobe Certified Expert and was invited to join the Adobe Community Professional program.
Then Adobe introduced the beta for a new product. Lightroom. At first, to be honest, I didn’t see much benefit. After all, I was already using Photoshop and had built up skills and scripts that met my needs.
But then I had one of those aha moments! Lightroom was a perfect environment for the photographer. Even in those early days there were excellent organizational features. I had struggled with several other applications to organize my growing collection of files but none really fit the workflow. Lightroom not only organized them but fit in the workflow easily.
As I started to do demos at the user group meetings and local camera clubs I liked this Lightroom thing more and more. I started my website to help others learn more about Lightroom. Over the years the Lightroom community has blossomed and I am grateful to be a part of it and help whenever I can. It’s a great group of folks all over the world.
What’s your usual Lightroom workflow, from shoot to output?
Before I go into my workflow I really have to thank you, Victoria, for your excellent Missing FAQ books! [Thanks Gene! – VB] I always keep them handy and refer to them often. Anyone reading this now should take a break and order the Missing FAQ before you continue. And I’m not just saying that because this interview is on your site. I really think they are fantastic resources!
I’ve tried several workflows and have helped many people with their workflows. What I have found is that Lightroom (for the most part) contains the workflow. There’s a subtle genius to how the modules and panels are arranged. They guide you through the workflow in a logical order. So that’s the workflow I have adopted. Here are the basic steps I follow:
- I’ll gather the cards from my shoot. I have a firewire CF card reader and a built in SD card reader so I can import directly from the card.
- I’m a big fan of the DNG format so I choose Copy as DNG. This will convert my raw files to DNG and import non-raw files in their original format. I shoot raw 99% of the time.
- If I have several different shoots on the card I will import them in groups. I do this so I can make use of Lightroom’s rename and keyword on import features. I will also make use of the grid and loupe views in the import dialog to weed out any obviously bad shots. My standard import panel choices are:
- Build 1:1 previews
- Build Smart Previews
- Make a Second Copy To: Backup is extremely important! Lightroom can help by automatically creating a second imported copy to another drive when you import. While it doesn’t put these into your folder hierarchy it does apply any file renaming to the copy so it can be easy to find if your original gets lost or corrupted. This is only one part of my backup process but it is easy and automatic.
- I set up a renaming template for the particular shoot. My usual choice is custom name and a sequence number.
- I apply a metadata preset to make sure my copyright and contact info is included.
- Since I am importing individual shoots I apply common keywords for that shoot.
- Lastly, I let Lightroom put these into a by date folder hierarchy using YYYY/MM
- Once all the images are imported I’ll start in the Library Module. My main review method is PUXing. I wrote an article back in 2007 outlining this process Do You PUX? Using Pick and Reject flags still works for me.
- I will generally let the import keywording handle the non-picks. For the picks, I like to add additional keywords.
- Next it is on to stars. Since I’ve already chosen images via PUXing I will restrict my star rating to 3, 4, or 5. This is really a very subjective thing. As you’d expect there are very few 5 star images, a few more 4 star, and the rest are 3 star. To facilitate this all picks will get 3 stars across the board. Then, as I review in loupe or survey view I will promote some to 4 or 5.
- Lastly, 5 star images will get the full metadata treatment. I’ll try and add a title (I’m very bad at titles) and a caption.
- I like to geotag my photos when I can. To do that I will take a reference shot with my iPhone or use an app called Geotag Photos Pro. So my next stop is the Map Module. (This module, for me, should either be part of the Library Module or just to the right of it.) There I will make sure my images are properly located on the map.
- I find it a good idea at this point to close Lightroom. Let the images sit in your mind a while. If you jump right into the Develop Module you may miss some subtle possibilities. Having just stared at all these images, flagged, rated, keyworded, and geotagged them — they are a whirl of colors and shapes. Your eyes and mind need a rest in order to get the most out of them.
- OK. Housekeeping done. It’s time for fun! And that means the Develop Module.
- Lightroom is post-processing central for me. I like to handle the basics in the Develop Module first by starting at the top with the Basic panel and work through to the Camera Calibration panel. Not every image needs an adjustment in each panel but the top to bottom first pass is a good discipline.
- Depending on the image I may use an external editor or plugin. My absolute favorites are
- Photoshop for when I need to really get in and do things that are still beyond Lightroom’s skill set like layers and channels
- Photomatix Pro 5 for ANY HDR or faux HDR work. (By the way, you can get 15% off is you use the code LRSECRETS at checkout)
- And for all special effects and adjustments I find onOne’s Perfect Photo Suite 8 brilliant!
- After round tripping from an external editor I like to make any final tweaks back in Lightroom.
- I use Lightroom’s virtual copy feature quite a lot. I prefer to have different versions of some images so I can explore and compare. Since virtual copies take up no additional drive space they are perfect for this kind of creative play.
- As for Book Module, Slideshow Module, Print Module, and Web Module – I will use them as needed but they are not part of the foundation workflow I follow. Book Module and Print Module are very useful and have come a long way. Slideshow Module and Web Module really haven’t been given the attention they need. I don’t find them as useful
What’s your favorite Lightroom feature?
Wow! That’s hard to say. There are so many great features in Lightroom. If I had to choose I’d say that it’s a tie for me between the ability to selectively synchronize adjustments (and thereby create presets) and the Lens Corrections panel.
The fact that you can instantly apply complex adjustments made on one image to thousands more in the blink of an eye still amazes me. The new features in the Lens Corrections panel (perspective correction, chromatic aberration correction, lens profiles) are wonderful.
What would you like to see in a future Lightroom version?
There are two things I would really love to see in Lightroom
2. Multi-User capabilities
If people want to follow your work, where can they find you?
Being a big believer in community you can find me on most of the social media sites. My site is Lightroom Secrets. You can also find me on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, Pinterest, App.net, Linked In and Tumblr. I also write occasionally for Photoshop User Magazine and Lightroom Magazine.
[Thanks for sharing Gene! – VB]