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5 ways to improve your workflow and increase your output of photographs you love

5 ways to improve your workflow and increase your output of photographs you love

Explore the concept of workflow and get useful tips on how to become more prolific and appreciative of your own work- Including challenges to practise with!

Whether you consider yourself a pro, amateur, hobbyist or just someone with a camera-phone we all have unlocked potential and bad habits holding us back. Part of the creative process is recognising the importance of your workflow; from concept to final creation. We all have one and they differ in many ways. There are numerous things you can do to get into good habits, maximise your output, and recognise your achievements.

There are endless flow-charts, explanations and products which will help you to understand the workflow concept, it’s importance and how unique each photographers is. The majority will focus on file-handling strategies and utilising features of software.

The following 5 tips are practical concepts and considerations I utilise every time I work which aren’t generally associated with digital workflow. But trust me, they will change your workflow, your approach and hopefully the volume of work you make which you are proud of.

1: Spend time planning (instead of making excuses later)

Dwight D Eisenhower famously uttered that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable. Granted, Eisenhower was specifically referring to preparations for battle, but there is much to be taken from this sentiment when considering a project.

Whether it’s a week long shoot on location a continent away, or snapping for a friends birthday party, ruminating over plans of how everything will happen will lead you down a path that you won’t see the end of!

Planning however, will avoid time wasted wondering what you should be doing, looking for batteries you didn’t bring, overlooking that second flash, losing files… the list goes on. Part of the joy of photography is reacting to the environment you’re using your camera in, planning frees you to make the most of that experience and dare i say it- enjoy yourself too!

No batteries? No flash! Prepare your spares


What does planning look like? Again there is no coverall for this, you have to explore methods and find the right one for you. The following is the planning I undertook for a recent job photographing a live performer: Onstage and in a shoot after the performance.

  • Research and contact the performer.
  • Cast all ideas onto a whiteboard- keep for later.
  • Consider the gear needed and check over.
  • Checked the venue, location, parking and access restrictions.
  • Check all battery powered items - pack spares.
  • Prepare all folders necessary (folder management before the shoot is especially important when providing a client with imagery quickly. ‘Dump-it-on-the-desktop’ is to be avoided at all costs!).
  • Contact the client before the shoot to outline the timescales, meeting points and deliverables.

This may seem like vast amounts of pre-production for a relatively simple situation, however, good habits giving best results are best formed on easy jobs. Why jump into this unpractised on a big job when you have the opportunity to hone your planning methods in more straightforward circumstances.

Moreover, without going into the shoot in depth- this level of planning made me comfortable of my requirements, what I was delivering and the realistic turnaround time they should expect. Ultimately, I was able to conduct the shoot professionally, taking the emphasis off the subject. I’d go as far as to say that the confidence I had as a result let me work more easily with the performer and we both had a great time as a result.

2: Decide your finishing point before you begin

There is nothing quite as haunting as a body of images, project or submission which seems to never end. There’s always another image somebody is waiting for, an export in a different file format we hadn’t considered or a sense that there is something fundamentally lacking which halts its culmination.

On your next project, or with your next client, give yourself a clear set of goals. This can be as simple as:

Publish 8 images to my flickr group

Or as complex as:

Ensure 50+ images are provided at 72 dpi (square) images for web content by [date]. 10 images at 300 dpi for print by [date]. Ensure that daily email briefs are sent to [contact] . Project culmination will occur when the client has accepted all imagery provided at latest by [date]. Any subsequent changes will be discussed and agreed by [date] for completion by [date].

So, the finishing point can be a deadline, a contract with yourself or just a gentle prioritisation of your own expectations. Healthy expectations of your own capabilities are quantifiable to those you’re working with/for and will avoid dissapointment for your audience.

3: Carve your workspace

Your workspace is your office, be it bedroom, coffeeshop or an actual office! Treating it with a certain degree of respect and making it your own will undoubtedly boost your productivity and your quality of work.

Your physical and digital spaces will change over time; new technology, changing projects, life commitments will all have an impact. Managing these changes is crucial to having a clear space to work in, both online and at your desk.

Clean your desk up and clean your inbox up!

I always think back to the scene in Jurassic park (!) where we see Dennis (the evil, nerdy computer programmer) at his desk: cluttered with fast food, coffee cups, papers, mountains of cigarette butts and... junk. My previous attitude would have seen me hard at work amongst this, enjoying the struggle, feeling like Kerouac hammering out On the Road whilst my wife wipes sweat from my brow.

The reality of course is that it’s distracting. There’s nothing admirable in a needless struggle you make for yourself! A clean desk and organisation contributes to a space you’d be as happy relaxing in as working, seting you up for a day of productivity.

What more do you need in your workspace?


Look around you, right now! What’s distracting you, open webpages? an untidy desk? an inbox in the 1000s? Between now and tomorrow morning, assess it. Tomorrow morning, do something about it. Empty your inbox, reorganise those archive folders, put the cat out and get rid of that ashtray (for many reasons!).

Now, bask in your zen for five minutes before you double click Lightroom!

4: Manage your time - don’t let it manage you

On a personal level, time management is my greatest failing! I daydream, I flit through creative ideas, I can make ten minutes work last all morning if I’m not careful. Like all things, when something is obviously a problem this of course is where I found a huge improvement could be made - provided I was willing to challenge it.

The following ideas are a non-exhaustive list of ways to work without fearing the clock, give yourself breathing space and sometimes: JFDI

Working times

Give yourself a time-slot in your day. Much like a shop or an office, having ‘opening times’ rather than working hours gives you and anyone you’re working with a boundary. Put it this way, if you send an email at 10pm do you expect an answer before 9am the next working day? Give yourself the same respect by scheduling it to go out at that time, or better yet, don’t write it till then!

Time-limit your edits

By time-limiting your edits, you give yourself realistic timescales for bodies of work. For a professional, this is obviously important: From giving a client a turnaround time, to setting your rates, for image processing, you know where you are. Arguably, this is as important if not more important for a hobbyist. If you’re photographic work happens in your free time then be realistic about it. An evening quickly disappears; by the time children are in bed, pack lunches are made, washing is folded… I know it well!

Give it a try: Set a time-limit or just time yourself, You might be surprised



A good habit in all projects: contingency is your buffer. Adding extra time to a large part of a project allows for unforeseen time-drains. The bonus of having a contingency is that if all goes well, you’ll end up with spare time. That can be used to give yourself more time on another aspect of the project, getting a head start, or just having a much deserved break.

Again, this is more about the concept of working habits than workflow as such but your working day, prioritisation and commitments dictate your turnaround. Remember working 24 hours a day doesn’t mean 24 hours of productivity a day.

5: Don’t believe the hype!

Special keyboards, expensive hard drives, 6 litres of coffee and that super piece of software that catalogs all your work by colour, file size, number of green pixels etc won’t make you better at managing your workflow!

That may sound obvious, but your workflow is your workflow. What works for one photographer may not work for you and the first step is always analysing what you do. If sitting down to work feels good and you have an active life- do it! Don’t be swayed into working standing up because you read an article on standing desks! Likewise, don’t take the methods I’ve outlined here as gospel.

I once worked with a photographer whose entire sketchbook was a series of packing boxes stuffed with photocopies, notes, magazine pages and sketches. I initially felt embarrassed about my seemingly obsessive workflow, he was embarrassed by his methods of organisation. The truth of the matter was that by acknowledging our different workflows (and oh how different they are!) we worked together fabulously!

Conclusion - or rather - The Actual Beginning

Workflow has become a wide-ranging, all encompassing topic. It’s been decentralised, packaged, unpackaged, sold, taught and bought over the last few years in an attempt to encourage good working practises.

This article has focussed on mindsets and habits: the parts of workflow improvement that we can all explore and improve upon. It doesn’t cost anything to take on new methods of organisation and workflow improvement, you never know, it might earn you some money.

As with any other part of creativity, the key is to never stop growing. Never assume you’re done. Your workflow will change as you do.

The ever-growing community of photographers will constantly lead to changing ideas and methods. Please share yours in the comments below and give us an insight into your workflow. 

Whatever your setup, your workflow is unique - make it work for you.

Published on: March 2016
About the author

Joe Coleman

Based in Bristol, UK, Joe is a full-time photographer. Owner and operator of Grit Bristol Photographic, Joe Provides professional creative photography and video solutions for clients small and large. Having worked in traditional and digital from the age of twelve, Joe continues to push both his technical ability and working knowledge of all aspects of photographic theory, specialising in representation and purpose within photography.
This is Joe Coleman's first article. Cheer for more!