Digital Workflow Things To Consider

Blond model in black and white dress workflow example

Digital Photography Workflow Ideas

Perhaps you have given great thought to your photography. You read magazines and articles. Follow fabulous blogs (like this one…) and you study other photographers whose work you admire.

If you are sensible you take a look at their shots and you try to copy. This is a great way to learn.

The end result of all this though is that you may have a lot of shots on your computer. If you are like me then we are talking about gigabytes of shots. Thousands of images. So what is your digital workflow?

Do you know what I mean by digital workflow? If you are like me then some of your shots are fabulous, some are ok, some are bluh, and some should never see the light of day and you wonder why you don’t just delete them and be done with it. Digital workflow is partly about a system to keep track of the good, bad and ugly of your images.

The shots you have taken will be of different people, at different places, at different times, in different styles and if any of those shoots resulted in shots to share, then there are also a ton of shots you’ve given to other people. Digital workflow is a system to keep track of this as well.

Finally have you considered the security of the images, as in people having access to them if you decide to share them, and security in that the images exist in more than one place.

Have you considered all this, or is your digital workflow something you never considered at all? To follow are some suggestions to help you with the mass of data and metadata we’ve just mentioned.

Shoot Workflow

First up here is an idea for your shoot workflow.

1. Make sure the SD or CF cards you take on your shoot have all been backed up elsewhere and are ready to be formatted. Then format them. If you haven’t done that before, you’ll find it in the menu on your camera. It will delete all images on the card in one go. You don’t have to delete images individually (I say this only because I know of people who didn’t know they could format their cards to get rid of the images).

2. It is a good idea to put numbers or letters on each card. Use them in order. Start with the lowest and as you fill it move to the next.

Note: If you buy and use only a single large card, say a 64Gb card, you risk losing your entire shoot, or entire trip. Cards do sometimes go faulty, or you can lose your card. For me this is way too much egg in one digital basket. I prefer to shoot with smaller cards and have more of them. That way if a card fails or I lose it, I haven’t lost my entire shoot or trip.

3. When you get home go to your computer and take your first card and copy its data to the computer.

File Structure…

Here is the time to talk about where on the computer to copy the data to. I use a Mac, but that is irrelevant for this bit.

On my computer I have a folder called ‘pictures’.

Within that folder I have several. I have ‘1. Personal’ which is anything where it is just me shooting for fun. I have ‘2. Gigs’ which is anything I got paid for.

Why are they numbered? It keeps them in the order that is of my choosing and not alphabetical. Alphabetical might seem more logical but when you go to New Zealand at the start of the year then Alaska in August, you’ll realise that it makes more sense that folders be chronological. You could put the date, but numbers are easier and tend to be foolproof once you tick past December.

Inside each of these folders is more folders. They are numbered in the order I do them. So for example I have ’72. Blind Cycle Kickoff’ which I shot for a paper. I have ’85. Three Peaks Fashion Shoot’ which was a fundraiser. Etc. For each new paid gig I create a folder and label it with the next number and a name to remind me what the shoot was about.

Within each of these the folder structure is the same.

0. Originals – this is where I put my my shots straight from the camera.
1. Working – this is where copies of the shots I work on will be saved. Note that I said copies.
2. Finals – This is where I put the results of my edits.

So for example I might have a nice shot of a human. Perhaps DH2_7665.NEF (A raw file from my camera).

This will be in my ‘0. originals’ folder. I browse in Adobe Bridge, or Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (PC) and decide I like that shot and want to work on it.

I double click and do my edits, for me that means Photoshop, and I save the result of all this into my ‘1. Working’ folder. So there is now the original still in the originals folder and a copy called DH2_7665.psd in my working folder.

From there if I need a print copy and a web copy, I save two versions. One called DH2_7665 6×8 300.jpg and the other DH2_7665 6×4 150 wm.jpg

The 6×8 means I have sized it to 6 inches by 8 inches at 300 dots per inch ready for printing. The other is sized at 6 x 4 inches at 150 dots per inch and has my watermark on it. I name all my final shots with this extra info so that I don’t have to hunt for them. You could put them in individual subfolders of your finals folder. Up to you. This article is only a suggestion after all. ha.

Blond model in black and white dress workflow example
1. Example shot from the shoot mentioned in this post.

If I need to crop a shot then I’ll save it as the same file name and then the size and add crop to the end so that I know it is only part of the original image. If I have more than one crop version then I’ll either number the crop or add what the crop is into the name.

What I don’t do is remove the original file name from the image, that way I know that any image I have in finals has a corresponding working file in the working folder and a corresponding original image in the original folder. (I made the mistake of taking out the original file name in a shoot of kids for a school once. What an error that was. Three or four shots of every kid that to me looked pretty much the same but to the parents there were differences. Tons of complaints…)

Is this all too much?

I don’t think it is. Once you start shooting a lot, and especially once people start relying on you, you’ll realise that you need to keep track of your work. You don’t want to be wasting time looking for shots.

This site is about being an amateur, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be organised. If you end up being paid, it becomes even more important.

Redundancy wise, once I’ve finished my work on a shoot, I will copy the entire parent folder, ie the one with the name of the shoot, across to my backup drive. It means in some cases having three copies of the one shot, but so what? Space is cheap these days.

You can of course delete your dudds from the originals folder to save some space, but I just don’t really have the time for the space it saves me.

Note that I don’t put my cards back in my shoot pile until I have this backup done. My number one rule is that every shot has to exist in two places.


Note also that all of this file talk is on one computer plus a backup drive. I have not discussed using the cloud, ie storage space on a server on the Internet, as a backup.

It has always been a good idea from an Information Technology perspective to have what is called an offsite backup. This means that not all your files are in one physical location. So far in this discussion they all are. I have them on my main computer and on my backup drive.

So the final part of my workflow is to take the Working and Finals folders and copy them to Dropbox. It is a file sharing platform whose security I am happy with. I don’t copy the Originals folder because in truth, the files that end up in Working are generally the only ones I use. Originals would use up far too much space for the benefit I get of them being offsite.

If you don’t trust the cloud, then think about burning your folders to DVD and keeping them offsite, or even simpler and probably cheaper, put them on portable drives or even thumb drives. Space has become very cheap so it is not hard to find physically small large scale storage. Offsite need only be as far as your garage in some cases. You just want to avoid the instance where a fire takes out everything you’ve ever shot.

The good thing about Dropbox is that it lets me share a folder that has small versions of client images (that I make and put there) so that clients can choose what they want to get from me. I also use it as a way to give clients their images once I am done (this obviously all depends on the nature of the gig and the size of the final image data bundle).

Social Media as part of my Digital Workflow Storage?

I have had some people tell me that their images are safe because they upload them all to a social media site like Facetube or Youbook or something.

I am not keen on that idea. Read the EULA (End User License Agreement) or equivalent and you’ll see that in most cases any image you upload to social media, the social media provider has reserved the right to use those images for their own means without your permission. hmmm. Uncool.

There are many places offering free storage. Even Google offers an amount for free if you have a Google account. Do your research, it is just a suggestion. Offsite storage is a good idea, Internet storage is a medium good idea.

Metadata and knowing where your shots have gone..

If you don’t know what metadata is I shall tell you. Metadata is data about the data… huh.

To explain, the image on your camera is just a file. It might be a jpeg or it might be a raw file. The data in that file that is the picture is the data. The data in that file that says when the picture was taken, what ISO was set on your camera, what f stop was set, what shutter speed, what white balance setting, what your name is, where it was taken, when it was taken and much much more is the metadata, ie the data about the data.

You may not know that every image you take is full of that extra information. You can even add your own. Most DSLRs let you specify copyright information (look in the menu) which will be written into the metadata of every image you take. This is a way to check if someone stole your image. It isn’t foolproof though, metadata is relatively easy to change. But it is still worth putting into your picture for those that steal your images without knowing what is inside the file.

So that is metadata, now how do you know if someone stole your image?

Google lets you search by image now (the link goes there). You can upload a small version of your image and Google will return images it thinks are the same or similar (click on the little camera on the right of the search box to upload an image). You can use this tool to go hunting for your image if you suspect you took a clanger and it has gone viral or something. Consider this when uploading selfies etcetera. You may become the face being used to attract people to dating sites … or worse (I am sure you can imagine).

(And for those keen to post pictures of their kids, I urge you to consider setting the social media settings to friends only. Additionally, put yourself in the mind of a pervert and ask yourself if you really need to post pictures of your 8 yr old in his or her swimmers at the pool. Perhaps you should share them with your family privately via text or perhaps just print some copies and have a barbecue and then show them.)


I will probably think of more on this subject so I will update this post as I do (for example some stuff got added just now re metadata). If there is anything you’ve pondered about workflow, feel free to use the contact form below.


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