Trying Out a New Lightroom Workflow For Travel Photography


As promised, here’s a breakdown of a new Lightroom 2 workflow I tried out during my vacation trip to Turkey, Greece, and Egypt.

When I’m on vacation, I take two types of shots:

  1. Regular travel photos, where we’re posed in front of a monument, and I shoot the quaint restaurant we ate at, and all the standard tourist stuff that chronicles your vacation, and would make a great travel slideshow to show friends back home.
  2. Shots that just appeal to me as a photographer, which don’t always show a place like most people would expect. For example, I could shoot for a week in Paris and not have a single shot of the Eiffel tower; an act which would make most wives bludgeon their husbands upon return from their trip.

I always make a printed photo book of each trip when I return (once you start making printed photo books—you’ll always want one for each trip), but since I knew I would be shooting a lot of arty travel shots as well (my wife’s term) travel shots, I wanted to make a second book of just that stuff (which is the layout you saw here on the blog last week). So, I’m making two different books, which is what got me wanting to try a slightly different workflow.

DISCLAIMER: Just so you know; I tried out something new here, so there will be things in this workflow that are very different from my standard workflow which is detailed in my Lightroom 2 book. You know that up front, so you’re not allowed to post any comments that include the phrase, “…but in your book you said to…..”


Step One: Creating a New Catalog
I figured I’d start fresh by creating a new empty Lightroom catalog on my laptop, especially since I was going merge this catalog with my main Lightroom catalog (on my main photo workstation) when I got home. So, in Lightroom I went under the File menu and choose New Catalog. I named it “Turkey Greece Egypt” and up came a completely empty new Lightroom window.


Step Two: Creating My Initial Collection Sets
I knew which cities and countries I’d be visiting, so I created a Collection Set (kind of like a folder of collections) right up front for each city and country (you create Collection Sets by clicking on the little plus (+) sign at the top right corner of the Collections panel, then choose Collection Set from the pop-up menu).

Step Three: Importing and Sorting
At the end of each day, I would come back to the room and download my photos onto Two OWC On-The-Go drives (they’re 160GB each). One set goes on a drive named “Main Drive” and I have Lightroom automatically back-up a 2nd set to a drive named “Back-up Drive.” So, our first stop was Istanbul, so I imported the first days photos, and quickly went through and flagged any photos as “Rejects” that were just too awful to store on the drive.


Then, I quickly went through and made collections sorted by where the photos were taken that day (as seen above). This step isn’t entirely necessary, but I just like to be able to click and jump right to particular set of photos from an area, so I usually organize my days like this.

Now, my wife and I sat down in front of Lightroom; I double-clicked on the first photo to jump to Loupe view to see a larger version of the image. I pressed Shift-Tab to hide all the panels, then I pressed the letter “L” twice to blackout everything on screen but the full screen photo. As we moved through the photos (using the arrow keys on my keyboard), we would make two choices:

  1. If either of us saw an image we wanted for our Travel photo book, I would press the letter “P” to mark it as a Pick.
  2. If I saw a photo I wanted in my “fine art” photo book, then I would press the number “6” to give it a red label.

Some photos would have both Pick flags and Red labels, so that photo is marked to wind up in both books.


Step Four: Separating Our Photo Book Choices
Once we had gone through all the photos from that day, I would make two more Collections. I would go up to the Library Filter bar up top, click on Attribute, and click the white Pick flag (as shown above—click on it for larger view), to just show the photos that should go in the Travel photo book.


Step Five: Making a Picks Collection
Now I would Select All the photos, and create a New Collection called “Picks” and save that in the Istanbul Collection Set (I would choose Istanbul as my Set in the New Collection dialog, as shown above, so my new Picks collection would show up inside the Istanbul Set).


Step Six: Making a Selects Collection
Next I would uncheck the Pick Flag, and in the Attribute section I’d click on the Red Label. Now it just displays the photos I want in my fine art photo book. I Select All, and create a new collection called Scott’s Selects. Now I’m done with that day’s sorting and choosing, and you can see above what a typical day’s Collection Set would look like, with my Picks and Selects collections at the end of the day. While this sounds like a lot of steps, it actually all happens very quickly (it takes all of 30-seconds for this step).

So, that’s the workflow for each day; importing the photos in the city or country Collection Set, quickly sorting them into sub-Collections by where they were shot (market, downtown, etc.), then we would go through and choose our favorite for the photo books. Once we were done, each city (or country) would have a set of Picks and a set of Scott’s Selects. To combine these all into just one place, I set up two Smart Collections: One that collects all my Picks from each city automatically, and one that collects all my red label selects from each city automatically.


Step Seven: Making Your Smart Collections
Go to the Collections panel and choose Create Smart Collection. When the Smart Collection dialog appears, for Collection choose None, and then use the pop-up menus to set it up like this: “Pick Flag is flagged” (as seen above–click on it for a larger view). This goes through all your photos, in every collection, in every city, and gathers all your Picks and puts them into a Smart Collection, which now appears at the bottom of your Collections panel. How sweet is that! Now I have all my travel photos from each city or country all in one place.


Step Eight: Making Your Selects Smart Collection
Now do the same thing, but this time your Smart Collection will use these parameters: “Label Color is Red” (as shown above—click on it for a larger view). This goes through and automatically collects every red label photo from all my cities and countries, and puts them into one collection for me. Now, all the photos for my fine art travel book are in one convenient place. If, after going through the photos in my smart collection, I decided a photo actually didn’t “make the cut” I would just change its label to None, and it would be automatically removed from that Smart Collection.


Step Nine: Finishing Up Back Home
When I got home, I just had two things left to do:

  1. Export all the photos in each of my two Smart Collections as JPEGs, then I would import them into Apple’s iPhoto (or Aperture) to make my photo books.
  2. I would click on a Collection Set, then go under Lightroom’s File menu and choose “Export as Catalog” then I would save that on my OWC drive; connect that to my main computer at home, and import each Collection Set into my main Lightroom library at home.

Well, there you have it—a look at this modified travel photography workflow. I hope it maybe gave you some ideas you might be able to try on your next trip. :)

1 comment
  1. Scott, I am just developing my own travel photography workflows and this is a great example. It doesn’t answer 1 question I have: in Step 9 when you import the collections into your main library, do you have to import each collection separately? and do they show up as collections automatically in your main library? or do you have to set them up as collections again after import? Thanks!

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