Wedding Photographer Workflow
This article is for wedding or event photographers who are looking for ways to improve their workflow.
I’ve been a wedding photographer since 2004 and over the years, I’ve worked nonstop on maximizing efficiency in my business. And as part of that work, I’ve developed industrial-strength workflow processes.
Those processes help make sure that I’m incredibly organized and that the wedding photographs I create are safe from every real or imagined disaster. I hope this information can help you too.
Sharing is Caring
In recent years, I’ve seen many photographers share problems or horror stories related to memory cards, files, storage, and workflow.
Rather than repeatedly offer the same advice on social networks like Facebook or Twitter, I decided to share my thoughts and experiences in this detailed article on managing files and developing a solid wedding workflow. I hope you find this information helpful!
I’ve made the carefully calculated decision to always use high-capacity memory cards in my cameras.
Based on anecdotal evidence and common sense, I believe that your memory cards are in the most danger when they are removed during wedding day coverage. When you remove them from your camera during an event, you risk lost or misplaced cards. You also risk bent pins in your camera if you're using CF. It's far less likely that your memory card will fail due to a technical error with the card or camera.
Some photographers will argue that you're putting all of your eggs in one basket when you use large cards for weddings. However, there's an easy way around that argument.
to help mitigate the possibility of memory card or camera failure, make sure your camera is writing identical RAW copies to both of your memory cards simultaneously. This automatic insurance ensures that a backup is always available for every image. This suggestion presumes that you're using a camera that can write to two cards simultaneously. Personally, I refuse to use or consider any camera that doesn’t offer this capability.
As a further step to prevent loss, I never remove the memory cards from cameras outside of my home studio. My memory cards are inserted in my cameras before I leave my office and they are only removed when I’m back in my office after the wedding.
My second photographer uses the cards I provide, removing them from an indestructible Pelican Memory Card Case when we arrive at the first event location. They then return those cards to that same memory card case at the end of the event.
After returning to my office, I remove one 128GB memory card from each of my two cameras and place them in my card reader. I also remove my additional photographer’s 64GB memory cards from the Pelican Memory Card Case. I then place those cards my Lexar Professional Workflow HR1 Four-Bay USB 3.0 Reader Hub.
I also place the backup cards from each camera in a secure cabinet and don’t reuse them until at least a week after the finished job is delivered to the client. This step makes sure that I always have a full, untouched set of the original RAW files from the event.
I then begin the import for up to four cards simultaneously. I use Photo Mechanic to perform this import because Adobe Lightroom doesn’t have the ability to easily import multiple cards simultaneously.
During the import and to further reduce the risk of data loss, every RAW file is copied to both my local SSD hard drive and my RAID 6 QNAP Network Attached Storage (NAS) array simultaneously. After this point, all work on the files is continued on the SSD drive while the files on the NAS remain untouched for several months until I periodically purge import backups.
When the download is complete I’ll take a quick look at the imported files, and make sure that the getting ready, ceremony, family photos, and reception traditions are all there. I’ll also sometimes remove black frames or obvious OOF images that I happen to notice.
If you’re not familiar with industrial strength storage, RAID (redundant array of independent disks) allows photographers to store the same information on multiple hard disks inside a single enclosure. This is useful because it this storage method can help protect your photographs if one of the hard drives in your enclosure fails.
There are many types of RAID but the most common are RAID5 and RAID6. Most people use RAID5 because that method typically offers more storage space in the enclosure. The benefit of RAID 5 is that one hard drive can fail in the enclosure and none of your data will be lost. RAID6 means that TWO hard drives can fail in your enclosure and no data is lost.
Without going into too much technical detail, there are also extra software checks in a RAID6 configuration that aren’t present in a RAID5. Those extra checks can help prevent corrupted files.
For those reasons and a few others, I choose RAID6 over RAID5. I’m very risk adverse and those extra pieces of insurance offer incredible peace of mind.
I've used RAID enclosures from several manufacturers over the years, but I've settled on QNAP as my preferred hardware supplier. Their systems are sometimes a little more expensive than other NAS options, but their read/write performance typically beats all similarly priced hardware. As an additional benefit, the software they use to setup and manage the system is a breeze to use. And their phone support is pretty great too.
As a final note, if you're looking at a NAS device where you supply your own hard drives, make sure you don't purchase cheap OEM hard drives for your system. Make sure you use the one of the specific drives recommended by the NAS manufacturer. Otherwise you might be opening yourself up to a ton of headaches down the road.
I’ve developed some well-considered filename suggestions that may work well for you. When I import images, I've configured my import software rename all of my files automatically. Those renaming settings are usually found in the Import dialog of whatever software you use. The structure I use is:
Files from additional photographers use the same conventions, but I append a letter to their filenames (e.g. rob-greer-YYMMDD-HHMMSSB). There are several great advantages to using these sequential filenames in your workflow.
First, because my name is in the filename, my name is more likely to stay with the image. Even if the copyright EXIF is stripped by other software, this highly visible reminder will remain with the image.
Second, because of the letter appended to the filename, I can easily tell which photos are mine and which photos were taken by additional photographers.
Third, because the filenames aren’t sequential (e.g. 001, 002, 003) if I need to remove one of the images from the delivered set, renaming the set to ensure a sequence without gaps isn’t necessary.
Fourth, because filenames are all time stamped, the default image sort always presents the images chronologically regardless of the photographer who captured the image. My additional photographers and I always use the same iPhone app (Emerald Time) to time synch our cameras before every event to ensure that the sequence is always perfect.
Fifth, the time stamp is sometimes useful for easily showing clients when certain things happened (or didn’t happen) at their event.
Folder Structure for Long-Term Storage
The naming system is used for long-term storage also serves me well. I’ve been using this method for more than a decade and it works great, keeping me well-organized every day. At the top level of my photography directory, I have folders named:
Under the Weddings folder, I create folders named the year the wedding was photographed. For example:
Under each of those years, I have folders titled Bride Name & Groom Name (e.g. Sally Smith & Dick Johnson). In the Bride Name & Groom Name folders, I have subfolders titled Engagement and Wedding.
I store the RAW and XMP files in the root of the Engagement and Wedding folders. I also include a subfolder titled Large that includes corrected JPG files. If an album is applicable for that client, then I also have a folder titled Album with all applicable album files.
I’ve always felt that storage space is relatively inexpensive. And that’s one of the reasons why I’ve kept all the RAW and JPG files from every wedding I’ve photographed since 2004.
Several years ago, I started outsourcing the culling and correction for all weddings to Lavalu. Some photographers claim that they could never allow someone else to cull their images. Or that nobody else is qualified to correct their photos. Or that they can do it more quickly than outsourcing. Or that it was too expensive.
And I used to say all those things too. Until I decided to remove the one thing from my business workflow that I liked least of all. And it also happened to be the one thing that was keeping me from doing other work that was far more profitable.
That decision not only made my life better, but it also gave me more time to grow my business. Today, the individual editor assigned to me does a better job culling and correcting my work that I ever did on my own. Lavalu has set me free.
As of this writing, their fees for culling are $0.07 per image, image corrections are $0.26 per image, cropping is $0.10 per image (when required), and retouching is also available for $55 per hour. If you’re a high-volume studio, reduced fees may apply.
One of the great differentiators for Lavalu is that you’re always assigned the same editor. And even better, that editor is based in the United States.
If you're considering moving to outsourced editing and you're new to Lavalu, just mention the code RobSentMe and they'll hook you up with a VIP onboarding experience. You'll receive a one-on-one workflow consultation with the owner of Lavalu, Mike Connell. You'll also receive a minimum of $50 in customized discounts on any of the services you might like to try.
The one last thing I should mention about working with any editing service is that you and your editor may need to work back and forth through several jobs before they're 100% dialed in to your preferred style. It was like that for me and Lavalu and it may be like that for you too. Have patience during that stage and you'll see amazing results.
After I finish download the files to my local computer, I start uploading the RAW files to Lavalu. It can take 2 to 3 days to upload 3000 to 5000 RAW photos (my typical job).
Lavalu supports and recommends uploading DNGs or Smart Previews, but I prefer to upload RAWs because this method also allows me to have a short-term online backup of my entire RAW set from the wedding. This method also removes a few extra steps from my upload workflow.
After the upload is complete, I complete an online form and ask Lavalu to cull, crop, and correct approximately 100 photos per hour of coverage. But that number is just a guideline for my editor. Sometimes the number of selected files are lower than my request and sometimes they are higher than my request.
This is because the editor uses their best judgment to select the appropriate amount based on how many unique and important images were captured at the event. In other words, I leave it to the editor to decide how well I did on a job and then select accordingly.
For most clients, Lavalu usually finishes their culling and corrections in about 5 business days. If you're sending them files for corrections only, then it only takes 2 to 4 business days.
Once Lavalu sends me a notification that they’re done with my files, I download and copy the XMP files they provide to my working wedding folder. Once that’s done, I then import the entire job into Lightroom.
Once the files are imported, I filter the files to only show those images that have been selected by my Lavalu editor. I then I render 1:1 previews on those selected files. The 1:1 preview rendering can take several hours of computer time, so I find other work to do while that process takes place.
Once the previews are rendered, I check the entire job in the grid view, zooming into certain photos that I think need a careful look. For most weddings, I find anywhere from 3 to 5 files that were selected and included by my Lavalu editor, but that don’t meet my minimum standards.
During this review, I’ll also see one or two files that need a modification to the crop. Otherwise, it’s very rare that I’ll make any other adjustments to the photos.
As an aside, every few weddings I’ll think that Lavalu didn’t include a photo in the selection that they should have selected. With that in mind, I’ll review the uncorrected RAW files looking for those “missing” images.
Almost without fail, I’ll find that I was mistaken in my assumption and I’ll see that my editor had already picked the best example for that moment. And for that 10th time when the photo I wanted wasn’t selected, I’ll simply add it back to the main set. However, to be honest, I seriously doubt that my clients would miss the photo in question.
I’ve spent countless hours resizing images, comparing file sizes, and evaluating image quality. I’ve settled on exporting JPGs from the corrected RAW files at 84% quality using Adobe Lightroom. From my testing, using a higher quality setting isn’t necessary on the export.
If you choose a higher quality setting, you won’t be able to tell a difference in image quality and you’ll be creating images with unnecessarily large file sizes. Those larger file sizes increase both your long-term storage needs and your upload/download times. For big results, make this change to your workflow today.
Once the export is complete, I upload the JPG files to my online proofing system, ShootProof. In 2017, I switched to ShootProof after spending almost 10 years with SmugMug. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. If you’re thinking about switching too, you can save 25% on your first year by using the code GREER.
After the upload to ShootProof is complete, I send the client an email letting them know that their wedding photos are ready to view. The client can then download all the images from their wedding using the download code I provide. The photos then remain online indefinitely as a long-term off-site backup.
Long-Term Local Backup
As the last step, I copy the RAW and JPG files from my SSD local drive to a local QNAP NAS server for long-term archival backup. And to make sure there’s a backup of my backup, I have two identical QNAP NAS servers running RAID6. With that configuration, the primary QNAP NAS is periodically backed up to my backup QNAP NAS.
That's it. That's a whole wedding deliverable for me. Although this description may appear complex and lengthy, my computer is doing most of this work in the background while I’m doing other things—like working on my business.
To help put this workflow in perspective for you, my total active time invested in this workflow is about an hour for each wedding—and that’s from start to finish.
Would you like to spend less than an hour working on your wedding files? Yes, please!