In this article, I take a look at my aviation photography workflow from the point I get home from a photo session to the point where the photos are ready for export. To see what equipment I use to take these photos, click here. Rather than being an in-depth guide on each of the steps in the workflow, this article gives a high-level overview of the whole process. More articles will follow with a more in-depth look at each of the steps.
Spending a lot of time around airports and taking a lot of photos is incredible fun. Howerver, as many of you have probably experienced, keeping your photo collection properly backed-up and organized can be a daunting task.
In the beginning, I simply remembered when and around what date I took a certain picture. For example, I would remember “that picture of Lufthana 748 I took at Haneda in 2012.” However, as my collection started growing by hundreds of pictures every year, it became increasingly difficult to recall a certain photo. This was especially true, if it was not a photo of a particularly special aircraft.
As such, I tried using a variety of methods to organize my photos – naming photos based on the registration, creating Excel lists, and using a variety of photo organization software until I stuck with Adobe Lightroom.
This article is not meant to be a step by step guide to follow, it merely gives an overview of the aviation photography workflow I use, and I hope it will help you in designing your own workflow that suits YOUR needs.
There is a number of possible photo workflow applications to chose from including Lightroom, Zoner Photo Studio and ACDSee, and of course, every person will have a different set of priorities and preferences when it comes to choosing one.
As I was trying to list the reasons for why I chose Lightroom, I realized that recently most of the major workflow software includes the same functions – photo database and editor in the same application, non-destructive photo editing, and so on.
As such, I would guess the main reason for me to choose Lightroom was a personal preference. However, I believe Lightroom offers the most intuitive user interface and the most powerful organizational and filtering capabilities.
My Aviation Photography Workflow
Below, I will briefly describe each step in my aviation photography workflow starting from when I get back to the trip and ending with photos being ready for export and for final use.
The steps of my workflow are as follows:
- Raw data transfer and back-up
- Import into Lightroom, culling and library back-up
- Labeling, keywording and organizing into collections
- Post-processing and exporting
Step 1: Raw data transfer and back-up
Taking one step back from Lightroom, the very first thing that absolutely needs to be done after getting back from a photo session is transfering photos from the memory card onto a hard drive and creating necessary back-ups.
Everyone uses different methods of backing up, however, I recommend keeping two copies of each file on independent media at the very least.
While some people may use cloud services, in my case it is very simple – I store all my aircraft photos in a folder called “Aviation Photos Master” that is further split into years. In the year folder, I have a folder with a format of “YYYY-MM-DD_Airport-Name” or “YYYY-MM-DD_Flight-Number” depending on whether its photos from a spotting session or from a flight.
The master folder gets backed-up on two separate external hard drives, and contains all photos that I have taken (whether good or bad).
Step 2: Import into Lightroom, culling and library back-up
Once I have two back-ups of the whole shoot, I create a third copy of the folder – this time on my local hard drive in the Lightroom photo library folder which uses the same structure as the master folder above.
This is the point where I start-up Lightroom, and import all the photos from the shoot.
After the import, first I go through all the photos, select the photos to keep in my library and remove the others – the blurred ones, the duplicates, and so on.
As such, my photo library folder, unlike the master folder, contains only the “keepers.”
Just like my master folder, I have two copies of the library folder (and the Lightroom catalog) as well – the main one residing on my local hard drive, and the other one being periodically backed-up on my external hard drive.
Step 3: Labeling, keywording and organizing into collections
This is a step that I often skipped in the past. After getting home from a trip, I was just getting too excited to see the final result, and so I jumped straight into editing.
After a while, however, I realized that keeping my library organized rather than my photos edited should be the highest priority.
Let’s say I wanted to use a photo of an Egyptian Government A340-200 on my blog one year after I shot it.
If I both keyworded and edited the photo, great – I simply search for it, and there it is, ready to use.
If I only keyworded the photo, but did not edit it, still great – I simply search for it and edit it.
If I only edited the photo, but did not keyword it, that could cause issues – I would have a photo ready to use somewhere on the drive, but without being able to locate it, it would be useless.
In short, a nicely edited photo that you cannot find is useless, while an unedited photo that you can easily locate can be edited as necessary.
I will get to how I use labels, keywords and collections in Lightroom to organize my photos in a separate article.
But just to give a quick overview:
- Each photo gets labeled using the aircraft’s registration
- Each photo gets at least three keywords – location it was shot at, the aircraft type, and the aircraft operator
- Some photos get additional keywords, such as special livery, night shot, etc.
- Some photos get added into collections such as photos that I upload to my Facebook page, or photos from a specific large trip (e.g. the Iranian Skies & Cities 2016 collection)
Step 4: Post-processing and exporting
Finally, after I am done cataloging my pictures by assigning them labels, keywords, and so on, I enter the editing process.
Because I take more photos than I am capable of editing, not all “keepers” get edited right away.
Generally, I edit the photos that I like the most or the photos that I need for my trip reports, social media posts, etc.
The rest gets gradually edited when I have time or when the need arises.
I do large majority of my editing inside Lightroom (very few photos get additional touch ups in Photoshop), and then export them into JPG or other formats as necessary.
While the above seem simple, it took me quite some time to arrive at the point where I was confident with my workflow and didn’t have the urge to change it every other week or month.
As such, if you already have a workflow in place, I hope you got one or two ideas from this article about how to improve it if necessary.
On the other hand, if you are only beginning with aviation photography, I hope the workflow above will serve as a starting point for you to develop your own workflow that suits your needs.
Just to recap, I think the following are some of the most important points when it comes to your aviation photography workflow (and photography workflow in general):
- More than the form of your workflow, consistency is important – if you change your workflow and organizational system every other week, it might result in a big mess
- Always keep at least two copies of your original unedited on two separate media
- Organize first, edit second – you can always edit a photo you can find