My Go-To portrait session workflow and Routine

Are you a portrait photographer? Do you have a specific post-processing workflow yet? I hope so! Every single photographer has a slightly different system when it comes to post processing, and today I will share a little bit about my personal portrait session workflow!

When I mention I am a portrait photographer people think my job is all sunshine and rainbows. “Oh how amazing…you get to take photos all day!” Yeah, I wish that was the majority of my job. But, of course, the reality is much different. Picture hours spent in front of the computer—downloading, editing, uploading, perfecting, designing, emailing, backing up…photos. The photographing itself is such a small part of the job, and although it’s usually the favorite part, it really is not the majority of the job.

So rewind to 15 years ago at the start of my business and I had no idea how to figure all this out/ I spent days and days just trying to find a system, and at the end of my first year I realized I had to make a pretty big change to make sure I could stay on top of everything. Insert my current workflow system. Let’s take a little peek at all the steps, and feel free to download the free Canva template to start implementing this into your own workflow.

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Downloading and backing up the photos

The first thing I do when I get back from a portrait session is download AND backup the photos, this is the first step in my workflow. I am a little overkill (maybe) with backup because not only do I shoot on double cards during the session but I have a local and online backup as well. All my cameras have XQD and SD slots and I set them to copy instead of overflow or jpg (that way I have a full backup and not just a jpg in case the card were to go bad). Then I download the photos onto my main computer and my external hard drive (local copy).

I’m going to put in a reminder here again to never fully trust your computer. (My brand new iMac just died a few months ago and it was less than 6 months old…thankfully there was nothing on there that wasn’t copied to my external RAID system). If you don’t have a RAID system yet…get one now. A RAID system is essentially a copy system among different hard drives (depending if it is RAID 2, 4, or 5) so if one drive dies then you can replace the other(s) without losing any information, or time. Are you seeing a pattern here?

Culling & Selecting

The term cull means to choose from a larger number, I also call this selecting. I use a method called “culling in” instead of “culling out”, meaning I choose the ones to keep and not the ones to throw out. If you are an over shooter (me too!) this process makes it much easier because you likely have many really similar images and this helps you to choose the best of the best, the créme de la créme. I personally do all my culling and selecting with a different program than I edit with. You can use an all-in-one platform, like Lightroom, but I’ll explain a little about why I do not use lightroom to cull.

If you know me you’ve probably heard me talk about Photomechanic, and they are truly the BEST photo browser out there. It is not an editing program—it is just for viewing, organizing, and selecting. It is worth every single penny I spent on it almost 10 years ago. Yes, you can cull in Lightroom but I personally don’t like LR organizing system, and if you photograph often then your catalog gets HUGE and a bit unmanageable after a few years. Not to mention sloooooooooooow. For me Photomechanic is worth every bit of the $139 price tag.

Editing & Exporting

Once the photos are selected I actually copy them to a separate “selects” folder and that is the folder I bring into my editing program, Lightroom. I have presets that are my own recipes from purchased presets (some many years old) and I usually choose a single preset to apply to all the photos and then go back through and fix the ones it doesn’t work for. I flip often between library view and editing view to make sure I can see the whole set of images to be sure they have a similar look and feel across the gallery.

Then I choose a small selection to make black and white. My preference for black & white is to make a copy of those particular images so my clients have choices but never have to ask me for a color copy. The black & white is usually just my preference for a particular image but they always have the color version in addition to the black & white. I have heard so many complaints about this from my friends (not my clients) over the years about a photographer that didn’t give them the color photo and they wanted it.

Once the b&w photos are chosen and changed I am ready for the export part of my portrait session workflow. I export through LR into a separate edits folder. Export settings is a whole other discussion (and dare I say argument) between photographers. I’ll get into that in another blog post.

Uploading & releasing the gallery

Once the finished edited photos are exported into a separate “edits” folder for that particular shoot, I prepare the gallery for upload. At this point, every session has an originals folder, a selects folder, and an edits folder. I personally use Pixieset for all of my client galleries. There are tons of beautiful gallery options out there but I have loved the cleanness and simplicity of Pixieset for years now. I think the client interface is beautiful as well as the backend photographer options. Plus they are continually adding new capabilities, and just in the last few years you can do almost everything from Pixieset including using them as your studio manager, your website, your client galleries, and your print store. I sell all my digital files, prints, and wall art through the online gallery, and even digital downloads for a full gallery. It truly is a great system. You can set reminder emails, password protect the galleries, and also expire them after a set amount of time.

Lastly, since you are uploading full size files this works as an online backup for as long as you use them (or until you use up your space and erase older sessions). I find this useful to keep the last year or so of images up online while I work to backup all the edited photos on a separate, more permanent backup system in the cloud.

Permanent Backup

You need to choose an option for permanent backup. Earlier I mentioned I backup all of my edited photos (every one I’ve ever taken for clients) in “the cloud”. I laugh because I never fully understood the cloud, but years ago I was part of Zenfolio (another great client gallery option) and just kept them as I transitioned to different interfaces for my clients. So I have a very low paying option with them to host ALL of my photos and backup every final gallery with them. There are hundreds of options for cloud storage, I just kept Zenfolio because that’s where I already had years of photos.

So here is a very pared down version of my portrait session workflow. It seems as if all of this is done at once but this really takes weeks. Usually the download and backup is fast, then a few days for the choosing and editing, and another day or so for export, upload, and gallery release. And if you want to steal—err get immediate access to—my actual workflow template that you can customize to your heart’s desire then click above.



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I am a professional photographer & photo educator. I’m here to share with you my best (and easiest) tips and tricks for taking amazing photos. I’m sharing years of knowledge as a teaching artist to help you find a way to share your unique point of view with the world. Welcome to The Photo Method.

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