Few things can be as contentious as a discussion of workflow for post processing photographs. I think the reason for much of this is because there is really no such thing as an incorrect workflow. The workflow one incorporates can vary depending on many factors; desired results and targets, software used, etc.
One thing that I think can be agreed on, however, is that most photographers who are serious will have a workflow that goes beyond simply offloading their photos and then calling it a day.
Over time I’ve massaged my workflow in various ways. Mostly because I’m a sponge and when I see someone doing something that works better I’m all over it. I have no pride that way.
The following is my workflow. It works for me. I don’t suggest that you do it my way. I’m simply describing it to give any ideas that may or may not be useful for you. Also, my workflow is Adobe centric because I use Adobe products. The foundation of my entire post processing workflow is Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop. Yes, there are other solutions for post processing photos; some I hear are quite good. But for me, I made the decision to go with Lightroom and Photoshop years ago. I hate to even go into the reason, but here it is.
Long ago I experimented with various other software. The biggest problem I had with other software was that it was difficult to learn general post processing with it. No, Lightroom and Photoshop are definitely not easy to learn. In fact they are a downright pain in the ass in many ways. But what made them easier tools to learn post processing with was because of the sheer amount of resources for both Lightroom and Photoshop. Like it or not Lightroom and Photoshop are the industry standard to which all others are compared. Because of this there are almost endless learning resources and tutorials. If you Google anything related to post processing photographs you’ll find far more information from an Adobe perspective than any other software.
That alone saves a bunch of time.
If you’ve just installed Lightroom and getting started one thing that I highly recommend is watching this video that does a great job of explaining how to get started. It’s long, I know, but well worth it. When it comes to Lightroom how you get started will determine your future happiness. Trust me.
Anyway, my workflow.
The first thing I do is import my photos into Lightroom. All of my Lightroom catalogs and libraries reside on an external HDD that is constantly backed up to two other locations; one on site and one in the cloud (for this I use Backblaze). When importing I always create keywords for the session to easily find images later. Once they’ve imported I go through them and decide which ones are keepers and which ones are not. Personally I don’t use a rating system in the conventional way, they are either keepers or they are not. The keepers get rated with 5 stars, the non keepers get zero stars. I then go back through and delete everything that does not have 5 stars.
Note, I shoot everything in raw. You should too.
At this point, if I shot a white balance patch I sync it to all of the files; along with lens corrections and custom profile. I do this not for color accuracy. I do it simply to have a consistent starting point for all of the images from that particular session. At this point I then start working on the images themselves. I’ve never applied any editing globally. I know a lot of people do, but I don’t. That’s just me. I treat each and every image as a single entity.
I bring up an image in the Develop module and start making adjustments. Often times I’ll click Auto in the Tone section just to see what it does. About half the time it comes up with a pretty good starting point. It does a really good job with setting a white and black point. Either way I’ll always end up playing with the tone and presence sliders. I do it to my personal taste. One slider I’ve found that I almost always push up is the Dehaze slider. It always adds an improvement. Just go easy with it because a little goes a long ways.
Beyond this I do very little in Lightroom. If I notice some chromatic aberration or fringing I’ll deal with it in Lightroom, but that’s about it.
I then send it to Photoshop as a 16 bit TFF in the ProPhoto RGB color space (set that up in Lightroom; Edit > Perferences > External Editing). Whether you choose TFF or PSD doesn’t really matter. I personally choose TFF. But one thing that I highly recommend is that you always maintain the largest color space available during the entire post processing workflow which means 16 bit ProPhoto RGB. This article gives a good high level explanation as to why you should always do your post processing in 16 bit ProPhoto.
Anyway, I send it to Photoshop; right click > Edit In > Edit In Adobe Photoshop. It is here where I do the bulk of my post processing. The reason is because I like the control it gives me. With layers I can selectively edit different aspects of the image as needed. It’s not unusual for me to have several layers on an image. I’m not going to go into the particulars as to what I do in Photoshop as there are about a billion ways of doing anything in Photoshop (yes, I know, hyperbole), but once I’m done with the image I save the layered TFF; File > Save. This saves it back to my Lightroom Library (and the external HDD that’s always backed up that I mentioned above). Now, when I locate an image in my Lightroom Library I have easy access to both the original raw file and the layered TFF that is the completed image. The developed image if you will.
I do this with all of the images. Then, depending on the target I want to use an image on, I’ll open it in Photoshop from Lightroom; Right click > Edit In > Adobe Photoshop > Edit Original File. In Photoshop I’ll flatten the image and then convert it to the color space needed for the intended target. Typically I’m uploading the images to the world wide web which means that I’m converting them to sRGB. I then resize as/if needed crop, etc.
And that’s pretty much it. Again, this isn’t meant to be taken as the way you should do it. Or even a suggestion, really. It’s meant to simply show how I do it. If you are able to take something away from it, great.