My Wedding Photography Editing Workflow
Everyone has their own system of what works best for them that they develop over time, but it can be helpful sometimes to see what other photographers do, as it could prompt a re-think of one's own process, and result in an improvement of efficiency.
Wedding photographers have a unique challenge in terms of our editing workflow. A sports shooter may typically capture an even higher number of images for each hour of shooting during an event, but the nature of that kind of work usually means they can shoot to JPEG and not really have to do any significant editing work (beyond culling and picking selects, and perhaps some cropping). A wildlife photographer might also come home with a large number of images, but again, they're not going to edit all or most of these, just a handful of keepers. Meanwhile, a landscape or architectural photographer would probably tend to shoot a much lower volume, but may require an extensive level of editing to each image.
Wedding photographers, however, have to deal with a constant stream of a high volume of images almost every weekend, which all need to be thoroughly backed up, culled, edited, processed/exported, and delivered. Each event might yield a thousand or two (or more!) photographs, and although we should all strive to get the best images possible in-camera, the dynamic, unpredictable, and sometimes chaotic nature of weddings means some degree of editing is almost always going to be necessary, and this has to be done in an efficient manner, otherwise our clients would have to wait an unacceptably long amount of time for their images (plus the business would not be viable). Thankfully, we have a number of hardware and software tools that make this process a lot easier than it otherwise would be.
Computer Hardware, Software, and Configuration
I currently use a MacBook Pro 16" (2021 M1 Max model) with 32GB of RAM, a third generation iPad Pro 11" with 256GB of storage, and I do all of my editing work in Adobe Lightroom Classic (on the computer) and Lightroom Mobile (on the iPad).
16" MacBook Pro M1 Max Mini Review and Lightroom Benchmark
I upgraded to the 16" M1 Max-equipped MacBook Pro on release day. Here's a quick summary of a test export I did in Lightroom Classic 10.4 with 300 full resolution (50mp) Sony A1 images (ARW files converted to compressed DNGs), exporting as full-size JPEGs, to compare this new Apple Silicon equipped computer to the previous version with the Intel i9 CPU.
MacBook Pro 16" i9 2.3ghz – 20m 33s
MacBook Pro 16" M1 Max – 9m 31s
MacBook Pro 16" M1 Max (with GPU acceleration, June 2022 update) – 3m 24s
For this particular task, the new M1-based computer initially was over twice as fast(!) as the comparable Intel model, and then an even more dramatic improvement was seen with the release of Lightroom Classic 11.4 in June of 2022, which enabled the leveraging of the GPU for exporting images. Additionally, though the new computer still gets warm under extensive load, it does definitely stay a bit cooler than the old one... during that export, the bottom case of the i9 computer got to about 119 degrees F, while the bottom of the M1 machine reached 108 degrees F.
Most noticeably, however, is that the fans on the M1 were only slightly audible. Fan noise was notoriously bad on the i9, and any serious editing work (and sometimes just simple things like viewing certain pages in Safari) would cause them to begin to spin up. Exporting these 300 test JPEGs or doing any other tasks that fully utilize the CPU and/or GPU resulted in the fans almost immediately going to full-power and staying there for the entire time, sounding much like a miniature vacuum cleaner and prompting me to put on my noise-canceling headphones if I wanted to continue working in relative peace.
However, the M1 Max's fans were barely audible during this export (or even when exporting thousands of images), which is a massively welcome change. I know you often read reviews that say a particular device's fan is quiet, only to find when you purchase one of your own that it's actually quite noticeable, but I would describe the M1 Max's fan as a very soft and gentle whir that you have to specifically listen for and is not noticeable above the normal ambient sounds of a room, as opposed to the very prominent higher-pitched whine of the Intel Mac's fan that you can't ignore even if you try. Make no mistake, the M1 Max's fans CAN get loud... if I manually override them to run at full speed with a fan control utility, it's similar in volume to the Intel MBP. But the improved thermal efficiency means the fans don't need to run that high. A heavy load means the fans spin at over 5000rpm on the i9 machine, while on the M1 Max they'll typically only get up to 1500-2500rpm (and during normal operations, like web browsing, office stuff, and editing in Lightroom, they don't turn on at all).
No longer will I dread doing any intensive work that inevitably prompts the loud and distracting fan noise. And, of course, keep in mind, not only is it running cooler and much quieter, it's also twice as fast, and it uses less power (~50 watts during the above Lightroom export vs. the i9 machine's ~70 watts).
Additionally, Lightroom Classic is noticeably more responsive overall when editing. A good example is seen when zooming in to view an image at 100% in the Develop module when no valid 1:1 preview exists (either hasn't been built, or an edit to the image has made the preview obsolete). For a 50mp A1 image, this would take several seconds to render on the Intel Mac, while on the M1 Max, it takes only about a second. The OS remains responsive enough while exporting that you can continue working on other stuff (in Lightroom, or in other apps) even though the export is consuming nearly 100% of the CPU time.
Though I didn't initially think the 32 core GPU of the M1 Max would have a massive benefit over the 16 core GPU of the M1 Pro for Lightroom use (prior to the addition of the ability to use the GPU for exports), it did appear to be utilized to a greater degree than expected during editing. GPU usage at idle is 2-3%, with about 20-30% being seen while scrolling through a web page on Safari. But while editing in Lightroom, I see GPU usage typically in the 40-60% range, briefly peaking at 70-80% during some operations (when actively moving sliders, rotating, etc.). My assumption is that 50% usage on the 32 core GPU would roughly correspond to 100% usage of the 16 core, so it does seem that those extra cores are at least being somewhat put to work while making adjustments.
That being said, I doubt these brief spikes of GPU utilization make much of a noticeable difference in Lightroom performance, and although Photoshop does use the GPU somewhat as well, and apps like Topaz Sharpen AI make considerable use of it, I think the 16 core GPU model would be just fine for most photo editing work. The CPU is the same in all of the 16" models, with 10 cores (8 of them being high-performance cores, and 2 of them "efficiency" cores that are used for less demanding work).
One interesting side note regarding the GPU's effect on performance differences between Lightroom Classic and the competing app Capture One. Though LR has for some used the GPU for accelerating the display of adjustments as they're being made, as well as a few other limited image processing features (such as "Enhance"), at the time that I moved to this machine, LR would not make use of the GPU at all when exporting JPEGs or building previews. In contrast, C1 used very little CPU during exports, but made heavy use of the GPU (85-90%). The end result was that, as fast as Lightroom exported JPEGs on the M1 Max compared to the i9, C1 exported JPEGs even faster, almost twice as fast as LR on the M1 Max.
Thankfully, as of the June 2022 Lightroom Classic 11.4 update, this is something that Adobe has caught up on, with the GPU now being used while exporting, and it's even faster than C1. While with C1 I observed heavy GPU usage but almost no CPU usage, Lightroom appears to still use the CPU to a considerable degree (though perhaps not quite as much as when the GPU was not being used), so I assume that it's this combination of GPU and CPU (as opposed to just using the GPU) that gives LR the edge in exporting.
In short, this new M1-based MacBook Pro finally fulfills my wish for a laptop that doesn't feel like a compromise compared to a desktop computer. Indeed, both the M1 Max and M1 Pro are putting up benchmark scores that handily exceed the $6000 8-core Mac Pro desktop computer, and are on par with the $7000 12-core variant as well as the 14-core iMac Pro.
One concern I had was compatibility with older apps written for Intel Macs. For running apps that have not yet been updated for Apple Silicon, Apple makes Rosetta 2 available (you'll be automatically prompted to download and install it when you try to run an Intel app). Rosetta 2, similar to the function Rosetta performed back when Apple transitioned from PowerPC chips to Intel, converts Intel apps on-the-fly to run on Apple Silicon CPUs. This works pleasantly well. So far I've tried Quickbooks 2019, Fundy Album Designer v10, PFixer (a Lightroom Classic keyboard shortcut app), i1 Profiler, and a few others, and they all run fine. However, I do have some difficulty with ROES print ordering app... sometimes it launches successfully, but other times it hangs on "creating products" while initializing. Most Adobe apps, including Photoshop, Lightroom, Lightroom Classic, and DNG Converter, have been updated to run natively on Apple Silicon.
Although I have not encountered any issues with Intel apps that run through Rosetta 2, it should be noted that these apps will tend to run slower than what they would if they were native apps.
No Desktop Computer
I took a fairly drastic step in mid-2020 of shifting to an exclusively laptop-based setup with the 2019 16" MacBook Pro (2.3ghz i9). Before then, I always had a big and powerful desktop computer for the bulk of my work, along with a lower-powered laptop that I'd use primarily for office stuff and occasional photo editing work. But I decided that it would be simpler and more efficient to just have a more powerful laptop to use for everything. Contributing to this decision was the realization that I simply don't like sitting at a desk all day. My office still has a desk that I do occasionally use, but my main computer "workstation" is now a small couch in my office, with all my external drives, card readers, and other stuff located on a small table/shelf next to it, and the MacBook Pro stays on a nicely cushioned lap desk. For me, this makes for a far more comfortable work environment, which is important considering how much time I spend here.
The downside that I initially experienced is that even this higher-end laptop didn't have the same raw power as a even a moderate desktop machine, which is a simple matter of heat management (a heavy computing load generates heat, and it's more challenging for this heat to be dissipated in the more compact body of a laptop). I didn't really miss this aspect of a desktop computer... the MacBook Pro was fast enough for me in most cases, though of course faster is always better.
However, related to this, one thing that I did miss is the completely quiet nature of the desktop Macs I used in recent years, like the sleek cylindrical 2013 Mac Pro, and even more so with the iMac Pro. I barely heard the fan on the Mac Pro, and I literally never heard it on the iMac Pro, even when doing multiple simultaneous processor-intensive tasks that maxed out the CPU for an extended period of time. In contrast, exporting JPEGs from Lightroom or building previews would quickly prompt the i9 MacBook Pro's fan to ramp up, producing a steady moderately high-pitched whine. So, I would make it a habit to typically run these kinds of tasks when I'm going to be out of the office anyway.
However, as mentioned above, the 2021 MacBook Pros with Apple Silicon are much better in this regard... even when pushing the CPU hard, the fans are barely audible, and the computer remains responsive even under this kind of heavy load, meaning I am free to keep working even when exporting images.
Though laptops are associated with portability, mine spends about 99% of its time in this one spot, plugged in. Only occasionally do I bring it with me somewhere... really only when I have a job that requires immediate on-site delivery or when having the computer at hand is otherwise beneficial or necessary. One thing I don't typically bring the laptop with me for is mobile editing of existing wedding or portrait images, as I use my iPad for this with Lightroom Mobile via Adobe Creative Cloud syncing.
One problem with this method of using a laptop (nearly permanently connected to power) is that keeping the battery at 100% all the time can cause it to wear out quicker. MacOS has features built-in that are supposed to mitigate this, using AI to predict when you'll need a fully-charged battery and keeping it at a reduced charge at other times, but my schedule is so sporadic, and it's extremely rare that I ever need to use the battery, so this feature doesn't really work for me. Instead, I manually control this with an app called Al Dente. This app lets you specify a lower percentage to limit your battery charge to when plugged in. I typically keep mine at 60-70%, which I feel is a good balance between keeping the battery at a healthy level while also providing enough capacity just in case I unexpectedly need to run off the battery. The app lives in the menubar, so I can easily adjust or disable the limiter if I know I'll soon be using the battery extensively and want a full charge.
I also use an app called Amphetamine to stop the computer from going to sleep when the screen is closed (though it will still sleep if on battery power). This is so that my backups can run overnight without the need to keep the screen open. I do, however, keep the screen partially open when running a lengthy, processor-intensive task (like exporting JPEGs from Lightroom or building previews), to provide better ventilation and out of concern for the heat damaging the screen. This fear may be unfounded, as there are many people who regularly use their laptops in "clamshell mode", lid closed and attached to an external keyboard, mouse, and display. But I figure it can't hurt.
I'm a big fan of SSDs, and I don't mind paying more (compared to spinning disks) for the speed, though prices of fast and high-capacity SSDs have dropped tremendously in recent years as these storage devices have increased in popularity. So in addition to the computer's built-in 1TB SSD, I also have an external 2TB Thunderbolt-connected NVMEe SSD which I use for storage of the RAW files of my current jobs and Lightroom catalog, as well as various other files.
If I were a predominantly mobile user of a laptop, extensively traveling or working on-site, it might be worth it to pay the high cost that Apple charges for higher amounts of internal storage. But since I'm almost always using the laptop in one spot, connected to power/data, it's not an inconvenience to use external drives to supplement the built-in storage, and honestly I could easily get by with even just a 256GB internal SSD, so the stock 1TB of the M1 Max is plenty for me.
I determined several years ago that there's not a noticeable speed benefit that comes from keeping RAW files on an SSD. And, to check that the faster CPUs available now don't change the equation, I repeated the testing more recently, and confirmed that exporting JPEGs from RAW files takes almost exactly the same amount of time, whether those RAW files are stored on a traditional hard drive with a read speed of 170MB/s, a basic SSD with a read speed of 400MB/s, or a Thunderbolt-connected NVMe SSD with a read speed of 2,400MB/s. To put it another way, it's clear that, at present, it doesn't matter how fast the drive can supply the image data, the CPU's ability to process that data is still the limiting factor.
But regardless, I simply like the completely silent nature of SSDs, as well as not having to wait for a sleeping hard drive to spin up whenever these files need to be accessed. A few years ago it would have been difficult to justify the very high cost of this size SSD for these relatively insignificant reasons, but since these devices are much more affordable now, it's a lot easier to swallow.
On the other hand, the speed of an SSD for Lightroom's catalog file does seem to noticeably help Lightroom be more responsive. The catalog file is essentially a database, and the faster access time of an SSD helps it more quickly access the various small pieces of information scattered throughout it.
Lastly, I do also have a couple of large external hard drives for long-term storage of files I do not need to frequently access, as well as some backup drives. These include a 10TB hard drive that is for general storage (final exported JPEGs, old RAW files, and other stuff), and an 8TB hard drive that I store files that aren't really important but I still want to keep around (I don't even maintain a local backup of this drive, just Backblaze).
For local backups, in addition to several specific RAW/Lightroom backups, my primary general backups are made to a pair of 14TB hard drives. One of these stays connected and runs automatically overnight, while the other stays disconnected and is connected and run manually once every few weeks. I also have a small portable 5TB hard drive that gets my most important files backed up to it every now and then (usually right before I leave to go on a trip, as I bring this drive with me). And everything gets backed up to Backblaze as well.
The previously mentioned main 2TB NVMe SSD is in a small external enclosure. I specifically have my RAW and Lightroom catalog file on this drive so that in the event of a computer failure, I could move this drive to a secondary computer and instantly have access to my current wedding and portrait jobs (faster than having to set up a new drive and restore the files from a backup).
Lastly, I also have a USB-C enclosure that contains a pair of standard 2.5" SSDs. These are my near real-time backups that are intended to minimize downtime in the event of a drive failure. One of these mirrors the 2TB NVMe SSD, so that if this main Thunderbolt SSD fails, I still have instant access to my current jobs.
The other SSD in that enclosure is for a Time Machine backup (which runs hourly) of my MacBook Pro's internal SSD, which would enable me to easily get a replacement computer back up and running as quickly as possible, and I do also have a secondary Time Machine backup on a small external SSD which is normally kept disconnected (but is only run about once a week).
With Mac laptops for a while now being equipped with Thunderbolt ports through which they can be simultaneously charged and connected to peripherals, one convenient category of products that have become more and more popular and functional are USB-C and Thunderbolt docks.
A variety of these are available, but they all basically consist of a fairly small box that you connect to the computer, and this one single cable not only provides power to run the computer and charge the battery, but also supplies data connections for your external drives, card readers, speakers, ethernet, etc. Most of these docks will also have ports for external monitors, for those who want to use their laptop as a desktop-like machine when they're not on the go. But again, I don't usually use my computer at a desk, so I don't make use of this particular feature.
Regardless, it's very pleasant and clean to not have to deal with a tangle of multiple separate cables coming out of the computer for charging and data, and if you frequently take your laptop away for mobile use, only having to plug and unplug one cable makes this easier and more convenient.
As an illustration, my MacBook Pro currently has connected to it, with one cable connected to the dock (which in turn has a few USB hubs), three hard drives, two DVD/Blu-Ray burners, two SD card readers (with two slots each), a dual 2.5" SSD enclosure, an NVMe SSD enclosure, a pair of USB speakers, three label printers, a gigabit ethernet network connection, and an additional small USB hub that doesn't have anything permanently attached to it (it's just there to provide a conveniently-accessible place to plug in backup drives, iPhone, flash drives, etc.). All through one cable, which also powers the computer.
Now, there's a catch: all the bandwidth of that one cable must be shared among all the devices attached to the dock (just as would be the case if you connected a USB hub to your computer and attached your other devices to it). But in the real world, this isn't going to be a noticeable limitation for most photographers, unless you frequently have multiple large file copy operations with very fast drives going on simultaneously. A USB-C connection can handle somewhere in the neighborhood of 400-1000 MB/s (depending on if it's the 5gbps or 10gbps flavor of USB). A regular hard drive will be able to use about 150-180 MB/s, while a 2.5" SSD will typically use about 400-500 MB/s.
If you do need more speed, you can go with a Thunderbolt dock instead, which provides for 20-40gbps of bandwidth. For example, if you have an NVMe SSD (in a Thunderbolt enclosure), these are capable of much higher speeds than USB-C allows, so to make the most of it, you'd want a Thunderbolt dock. And if you want to use your laptop with an external monitor, a Thunderbolt dock is definitely the way to go.
One other thing to be mindful of with a dock you are considering purchasing is the amount of charging power it can provide. Note, you don't necessarily need as much power as your original charger is capable of supplying. For example, my MacBook Pro M1 Max came with a 140w charger, but the computer definitely does not need that much power to run (the higher wattage of this charger is just so that the battery can be charged faster). At idle, the computer only draws about 10w, and while actively editing it will draw 15-30w. Exporting JPEGs from Lightroom draws 50-60w.
In other words, for my computer, a 60w dock would probably suffice for most of my usage. If the computer needs more power for a short time, it will draw those extra few watts from the battery as needed. However, for tasks that make heavy use of both the CPU and the GPU simultaneously, power usage would be higher than what the dock could provide, and over an extended period of time the battery would be drained. To be on the safe side, go with a higher-wattage (85-98w) dock.
Yes, workflow includes the actual photography! Taking steps to set up your cameras properly and with foresight can help speed things up later.
Pretty much all cameras allow for a custom prefix to be set for file naming. It's a good idea to change this to something different on each camera rather than leaving at the default (which is typically "DSC") to avoid the possibility of file name conflicts when shooting an event with multiple cameras.
The standard I settled on long ago is to use the last two digits of the camera's serial number as a prefix followed by an underscore character (so, my files are named, for example, 32_03912.ARW from one camera, or 18_05214.ARW from another). Of course, I may have to change this if I ever happen to end up with two cameras that have the same two digits at the end of the serial number!
When shooting with multiple cameras (and multiple photographers), you'll want to set the clocks of all the cameras to be precisely synchronized down to the second, so that when these images are combined, they all are sorted in the correct order. This typically needs to be done for every wedding (or at least once each weekend), as no camera I've ever owned has a perfectly precise clock, so after a week or so they might be several seconds off from each other.
An alternate means of handling this (if you forget to do this before you begin your coverage, if you and your second shooter are starting in separate locations, or simply prefer to do it this way) is to not worry about the precise time your camera's clocks are set to, and instead bring up a display of a clock (with seconds) on your phone (such as from time.gov), and photograph this with each of your cameras. These shots don't have to be done at any particular time, and can even be captured after the event is over (as long as the cameras' clocks have not been adjusted in the meantime, or too much time hasn't passed, as, again, the clocks may have drifted further out of sync since then). Once in Lightroom, you'll filter your view in Library mode (thumbnail view) to display only images from one particular camera, select the clock photo, select all (leaving the clock photo highlighted as the primary photo), then use the Edit Capture Time feature (set to the "adjust to a specific date and time" option).
This can be a little confusing at first, as one would get the impression that with all the images selected, this option would set all the images to that exact same time and put you in an even worse situation than before. But that's not how it works. It actually sets only that highlighted image to that specified time, with all the ones before or after it being shifted the same relative amount. You then repeat this process for the other cameras' images, and the end result is an entire wedding's worth of perfectly synchronized photos.
But the bottom line is that if you don't either synchronize your clocks before you begin shooting, or take clock photos with each camera to facilitate easily shifting the time in post-processing, you're going to be faced with the possibly tedious prospect of having to manually figure out the time differences between cameras.
When photographing weddings, while I do try to get my images as close to perfect as possible in-camera, white balance is the one thing that I do not obsess over. There are a number of products and methods available for precisely setting a custom white balance on-location, but I see this as futile and unproductive.
Weddings almost always involve constantly shifting white balance depending on where you are in the space, since the multiple lighting sources (warm artificial light, cooler daylight coming in through windows, colored lights from the band, and your own flash, which will be daylight balanced, or tungsten balanced if gelled) are going to all contribute in different amounts as you move around. So, setting a custom white balance is largely a waste of time and effort, as there's really nothing to be gained here in terms of efficiency, with the possible exception of formal group shots where you're going to be doing a long series of shots in the exact same spot. But even then, there's simply not much (if any) difference in time between setting a custom white balance in-camera or, in post-processing, setting the white balance of the first image and syncing that setting to the rest.
When shooting RAW, shooting with precise white balance vs. setting it later in post-processing, makes no difference in terms of quality. So, I'm almost always simply shooting in auto white balance (AWB). This usually gets it pretty close in-camera (especially for outdoor shooting), and then I can either make batch changes to groups of images that all have identical lighting, or tweak each image individually for those that don't.
I do, however, set my white balance in-camera to tungsten if I'm shooting with a CTO or CTS gelled flash (to make my flash match warm artificial lighting), but even this is merely for aesthetic reasons, to make the images look more presentable when viewing them on the camera; most camera bodies when set to AWB and when they detect that a flash is being used, will not actually evaluate the scene to calculate the white balance, but instead will just assume that the daylight-balanced flash is the dominant light source and will set the white balance to around 5500K, but this will result in a very orange looking image if the flash is, in reality, gelled to around 3000K. Again, there's no harm in just letting images be captured in this setting and making the adjustment in post, but it just makes for an unnatural looking image when viewing on the camera.
Big Memory Cards, and RAW to Both
I always shoot with dual card slot cameras, and unless it's the occasional job (typically non-wedding) that requires immediate on-site delivery of unedited / straight-out-of-camera JPEG images, I shoot RAW to both cards. Some photographers choose to shoot weddings with JPEGs being written to the second card as a backup because of card space, which is certainly better than nothing, but since all of my cameras use SD cards, which are so reasonably priced, for me I see no reason to not shoot RAW to both, so that I'm not giving up any post-processing exposure or white balance adjustment latitude on the off chance that the first card is corrupted somehow.
I also always shoot with cards that are sufficiently large to avoid having to swap full cards during an event. Before dual card slot cameras were commonplace, the dominant thinking was that it was safer to shoot with numerous small cards, so that if one was corrupted or misplaced, you wouldn't risk losing the entire wedding. But with dual card slots, that's not nearly as much of a concern, and I feel it's more prudent from a safety perspective to not handle cards at all during the event (since any handling increases the chances of a card being lost).
This also gives the benefit of fewer cards to deal with after the event, just two for me, and one or two others if there was a second shooter.
I keep an absurdly large number of memory cards in my inventory, to eliminate any pressure to prematurely reuse cards, at least the cards from the second slot (I use faster UHS-II cards in the first slot for faster downloading, and these do typically get reused within a week or two of the wedding, but the second slot cards get set aside until well after the wedding is edited and delivered).
Before I trust a newly-purchased card for a wedding, I first test it thoroughly. I use a simple command-line app called F3, which writes a series of test files to the card, completely filling it up, and then reads/verifies all of those files. The intended purpose of this utility was to confirm that a memory card (or flash drive) actually did have the capacity that it was advertised to have (and was not just a very small card that was altered to fraudulently present itself as being a higher capacity), but it also works great to put a new card through its paces and make sure it's operating correctly. I'll then use the card for a non-wedding shoot just as a further confirmation that it's working properly, and at that point it's put into circulation for regular wedding use.
Downloading & Importing
Once I arrive back home from a wedding, I immediately, without fail, start the process of downloading and backing up the images. Doesn't matter how badly I want to go to bed, this is something that I want to get done ASAP.
Converting to DNG
As my first step in post-processing, I convert all of my RAW files to compressed DNGs, and I do this directly from the cards, with Adobe's DNG Converter app. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to copy the RAW files from the cards to your computer first, and then either convert them with DNG Converter, or bring the RAW files into Lightroom and do the conversion there. But I find the quickest, most straightforward way to do the conversion is straight from the cards. This also enables the processes of copying from the cards and converting to DNG to be executed as one step that can run without intervention, as opposed to copying the RAW files first then converting in a separate step.
I utilize multiple card readers so that I can convert all the cards at once rather than having to monitor the process of importing individual cards. DNG Converter does not allow for multiple cards to be selected and converted in one batch process, so you need to have multiple instances of the DNG Converter open to be able to do this. The easiest way to do this is to duplicate the DNG Converter app several times (naming them DNG Converter 1, DNG Converter 2, and so on), each of which you can launch as a separate instance of the app.
These will run in parallel, and although doing it this way might not drastically speed up the overall process, depending on your computer's speed (because if just a single instance of the app will fully utilize the CPU, multiple instances just result in that same CPU time being divided up among the instances), it does end up being much more convenient, as I can set up all the cards to be converted while I go off and do other things, rather than having to babysit the process more by waiting until each card is done before I set up and start the next one.
I keep a "Temp" folder on my RAW drive that is always set as the destination in DNG Converter. When I first adopted this workflow, for each wedding or portrait session I would create the actual destination folder and designate it in DNG Converter so that the images are converted straight into that folder, but I eventually realized that, because this folder had to be set every time in each of the multiple DNG Converter instances I was running, it was quicker to just leave it permanently set to one temporary folder, and then once the conversion is complete, I create the correct folder for the job and move the DNG files into it all at once.
One last time-saving step I stumbled on involves setting the sources (each individual card) for each instance of the DNG Converter app. Previously, when I'd open the multiple copies of the app, I'd have to then go to each one and select a card for each to convert. However, I found that if you drag a card to the DNG Converter app, it sets that card as the source. So, I put aliases on my desktop for each of the copies of the app (I use four), and rather than launching the app and selecting the source, I just drag each card to its own copy of the app, which launches it and sets the source.
The process of converting all of the images to DNGs typically takes 15-30 minutes, so that's a perfect time to go take a shower, grab a late night snack, and get ready for bed (and, if there's another wedding the next day, get my batteries on their chargers).
Backups, Backups, and More Backups
I probably have more backups than I need, but I see it as a relatively inexpensive way to drastically decrease the chances of ever losing these priceless images. If there's one thing I fear, it's having to tell a couple that a computer mishap resulted in their images being lost forever, so I do anything I can to reduce the possibility of ever having to make that call!
Though I make general backups of my computer and external drives, I make additional specific backups of my RAW files and Lightroom catalog. These backups include an always-connected hard drive, three portable hard drives (one of which stays in my car), a cloud backup (Backblaze), and a USB flash drive (which usually goes with me if I leave the house, especially if the cloud backup has not yet finished).
In addition, I set aside the second set of cards until after the wedding is edited and delivered. I intentionally retain the second set (instead of the first set that was just downloaded), just in case there ends up being some corruption on the first set of cards that initially goes unnoticed. I have a massive stockpile of SD cards that makes this easy and eliminates any pressure to prematurely reuse cards for other jobs.
Importing Into Lightroom
It's common practice for wedding photographers to use Photo Mechanic as a preliminary culling and sorting tool prior to bringing the images into Lightroom (or whatever editing app they use). Although Photo Mechanic is indeed a very speedy app for quickly going through RAW files, I personally see no benefit to this for how I work as long as a little preparation is done in advance, which I will expand on later.
I also just perpetually use one single Lightroom catalog file for all my current jobs, rather than a separate catalog file for each event or session, or having a catalog file for each month or year. This is partially driven by the fact that I heavily use Lightroom Mobile to edit images on my iPad Pro, which requires that one single catalog file be used, since only one can be designated to sync to the cloud server. But even before I started using Lightroom Mobile, I still just used one catalog file, as that was the simplest and most convenient method for me, as it gives me the ability to instantly switch around to different jobs as needed rather than having to quit and relaunch Lightroom.
There are some anecdotal reports of Lightroom slowing down over time when using a single catalog file, with it being said that the catalog becomes bloated and corrupt over time. However, in the 12 years or so that I've been a Lightroom user, this has never been an issue for me, though I should note that I don't literally keep every single image I've ever captured in this one catalog file, as once a job is edited and delivered, I export a separate catalog file for that job onto a different drive for offline storage (which I keep for a year or two... I don't retain the RAW files indefinitely). So, in other words, jobs come and go out of this one catalog file, and although at any given time it may contain 10,000-20,000 images, it doesn't continue to grow and grow, jobs are cycled in and out of it as they come in and are completed). Additionally, I have Lightroom set to automatically prompt me to optimize this catalog file upon quitting the app.
Modifying Lightroom's default develop settings to automatically set imported images to a good starting point can be a big time saver. I like to have a Contrast boost, lifted Shadows a little, a bit of Clarity, and a light Post-Crop Vignette added to my images by default. Additionally, Lightroom has a fantastic (and largely hidden, if you don't know to look for it) feature that allows for ISO-specific default settings. What this means is that you can set up greater amounts of noise reduction to automatically be applied to higher ISO images.
Additional Preliminary Lightroom Tasks
At this point, with backups run and the images imported into Lightroom, I set up several more processes to run before heading off to bed. Because I make heavy use of Lightroom Mobile, I create a Collection for each job (which is a step needed in order for the job to be sync'd to Adobe's server), and I generate Previews. These tasks, running in parallel, can take a few hours to complete, so I like to have the computer working on them while I'm away.
Building Previews in advance, for me, make culling with Lightroom efficient enough so as to not feel a need to use Photo Mechanic for this.
This can be a point of contention for some. Photo Mechanic's big draw is that it enables the photographer to very quickly see an image, rate it (or just flag/reject), then instantly jump to the next image. But for Lightroom to run as fast and efficiently in culling, it's best to build Previews first. Otherwise, there's a slight delay (less than a second typically) when moving from one image to the next, during which time a low-res version of the image will appear while a larger version is being rendered.
The time required for building Previews is what is commonly cited as a reason for using Photo Mechanic. But again, I set these Previews to run beforehand, so that I'm not waiting on them to be built when I'm ready to start editing. If the type of work I commonly did involved a need to instantly get to work culling immediately after returning from the event, I could see a benefit to Photo Mechanic. But I'm not going to start editing until the next day at the soonest, so there's no time penalty for me by first building Previews, which simplifies my workflow by keeping everything in Lightroom from start to finish, and lets me edit on the computer or iPad at any given time.
I typically build Standard Previews, which are sufficient for normal culling. If you want to also have the ability to instantly zoom in on your images, building 1:1 Previews instead will allow for that (otherwise, it takes several seconds to render when you zoom in). Additionally, I also build Smart Previews (which Lightroom can utilize to speed up the editing process, and can also allow for editing if the drive that stores my RAW files is not available). Whether you want to build Standard Previews or 1:1 Previews, along with Smart Previews, both of these processes can be initiated at the same time and can run in parallel, so no need to wait for one to finish before you start the other.
I'll initially do a quick scan through the wedding to see if there are any large groups of images that could benefit from a batch correction, especially white balance.
Continuing, there are a couple of schools of thought of how to proceed, with some people preferring to do two passes, with the first pass being strictly for culling and the second pass being the editing of the resulting keepers, while others like to just do a single pass during which culling and editing are done simultaneously. Admittedly, I vacillate between these two methods, as I personally believe a single pass is the most efficient way, but sometimes I just feel like culling and am not in the mood for editing, so I'll just do a preliminary first pass. Either way, I'm not heavy-handed with culling, I only edit out images that are clearly unusable.
As mentioned before, I make extensive use of Lightroom Mobile to edit on my iPad, both when on the go and when simply wanting a change of scenery (away from the computer) at home. Lightroom Mobile makes this simple, with images (and edits to them) automatically being sync'd between devices.
When editing on the computer though, I like to use my Monogram Creative Console setup. This hardware control surface enables me to edit much quicker than I'd be able to by dragging on-screen sliders in Lightroom (or fiddling with Lightroom's limited keyboard shortcut abilities).
As a final step once editing is complete, I run a Lightroom plugin called Apply Bulk Develop Settings, mainly to make batch noise reduction adjustments. This useful plugin is somewhat redundant given that Lightroom already allows you to automatically designate higher noise reduction (as well as other settings) based on the ISO of each image upon import, but this plugin goes even further and analyzes the exposure adjustments you've made to the images (for example, if you've increased exposure or boosted the shadows, which increase noise), and adds whatever additional noise reduction you have it configured to do.
I also, of course, rename the images at this point, typically to the client's last names and sequential numbers.
Edited JPEGs are then exported, with a high resolution set going to one folder (for archiving and delivery to the client) and another lower resolution to a different folder for uploading to my gallery system. In the past, with my i9 MacBook Pro, this process would take a few hours and the heavy CPU usage would result in the laptop's fans spinning up to an annoyingly audible level, so I would usually arrange my schedule to let this process run overnight or when I otherwise was going to be away from my computer for a while.
But, as mentioned above, the new M1 Max MacBook Pro computers are much better in this regard. Exporting JPEGs takes half the time as before, and the fans are barely audible, meaning I am free to run my exports whenever it's convenient.
I don't retain my RAW files indefinitely (just the edited JPEGs), and after the job is exported and delivered, I move it from my active RAW drive and Lightroom catalog onto a separate hard drive by using the Export as Catalog function, which exports a specific folder of RAW files as its own catalog. There, it lives for the next six months or so, just in case I subsequently have a need to re-edit an image, which is rare, but I still feel more comfortable keeping these files around at least for a while.
And That's It!
That's my system, which I've basically used for the past 12 years or so with great success.