Organizing your workflow for portrait and wedding photographers

Organizing your workflow was something that made very little sense to me when I first started out.  Sure I understood that you had to have a system in place for packing your camera bag (heck, I’m a military kid, we learned early to pack well and pack often).  I understood that a file system and records were essential, but I didn’t understand the nuances of a workflow.

In it’s simplest form a digital photography workflow is an end-to-end system of working with digital images, from capture to delivery.  It is also a series of inter-connected steps developed by photographers to simplify and standardize their work.

Simplification and standardization are key words here.  Even if you are the most exclusive, the most unique and the most outstanding in your field, you still need some standardization.  Standardization is not mass production, it’s merely a tool to help with simplifying and speeding up all the tasks involved in getting your ideas into images and the results into your client’s hands while allowing you to stay organized, improve your efficiency and add consistency to your work.   Why is that important?  Because even though we’re artists, we want to make a living at being artists.  There’s no point in being a starving artist – they don’t last too long.

I really didn’t understand workflow until I began learning about cinematography and the differences between videography and cinematography.  With cinematography we have what is called a “non-linear workflow” so the story we’re telling does not necessarily begin at the beginning and run through until the end, but rather the story may jump and shift around a bit, like a creatively plotted novel until finally, in the end, we see the happily ever after.

The key to all this is that even though the story does not flow from beginning to end without twists and turns, it does have a common thread.  Cinematographers make out that common thread, that storyline that weaves through everything else and in the pre-planning stages mapping out that storyline is often done on paper, or on a white board.

So what does all this have to do with a photographer’s work flow?  Well it hit me one night (since I always seem to have the most disturbingly  brilliant ideas right as I’m trying to fall asleep).  It hit me that I could use the same kind of mapping used in cinematography with my photography.  The “story” that needed mapping was all the different steps that happen from beginning to end in my business.  After a sleepless night, a bit of research and some designing and modifying a template or two, I came up with my workflow.

It’s surprisingly simple.  I knew I needed simple because anything more complex would be too much work.  I know myself well enough to know that if it’s too much work, then I’ll have a more difficult time staying committed to it.   So, I had to make it simple, and preferably fun!

This is what I have in place now:



workflow desktop Bethesda Photographer
This is my desktop wallpaper on my work computer.  Sure I’d rather have my nieces or my husband and step-son, or my pup up there, but it’s work, so * sacrifice*  So, basically, when I have a new shoot it gets uploaded to my hard drive, then to my desktop (back up # 1).

The session and all the contents live there until they’re processed and ready to present to clients during their ordering session (or Champagne Reception, for weddings)

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Once they’re all edited I move the folder over into the next area on the screen, waiting for my Marketing Monday Madness (in English, the day I do my blogging and social media interactions for the week).  The prepared blogpost will remain in my drafts of my site until after the family has ordered their products and services.  I will release one or two small images to Facebook for preview purposes, but the session isn’t blogged until some time after all the orders are placed.  (I want to be sure to remove any pictures the client doesn’t absolutely LOVE after all).

From there the folder moves along to the next little box.  All those files are ones waiting to be uploaded into a client’s online preview gallery (back up #2) after we have our sales session in person.  Since I meet with all my clients in person so they can see the products and how it might all fit together for them on their walls, they don’t usually receive their online gallery until after we’ve met in person.  Photographers who do online sales only may have the “upload to web gallery” section first in their workflow, followed by blogging the session after the client has seen the gallery and placed an order.


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From there the folder moves into the Ordering box. All orders in process are stored there until the lab finishes the order and the products are delivered to the client.

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At this point the entire session is saved to another hard drive (back up #3).  I also archive the best images of the shoot in a special “best of” folder that I maintain each year.  This allows me quick access to the best images in my portfolio at a moments notice without having to tax my memory and file system looking for my favorites.

The other two boxes on the screen store my software and other tools.

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The beauty of this system is that I can sit down on any day of the week, any time of the day and see exactly what I have to do even before I opened up Photoshop.  At a glance I can see any bottle necks, and I can determine if I have time to go for a long lunch with my guy, or whether I need to plan to work late.

So this tracks a session’s images and products as they exist on my computer, but any photographer will tell you that there’s so much more to running a business than just what lives inside your camera and computer.  This is the fun part…

I picked up come colorful whiteboard markers at the local business supply store and sent off this images to my regular print lab.  I had it mounted on cork board, laminated and sealed with a glossy finish.  The resulting piece is as durable as any high end store bought whiteboard, only it’s now customized for me!

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The best part?  Besides being more organized, is that I get to doodle and color….

Bethesda Photographer