The simple joy of a workable photography workflow

My biggest obstacle for accomplishing the things I want in life is, more often than not, myself.

That was particularly true with my art photography. I’ve recently undertaken a pretty massive project of reorganizing my photography library, and during that process, I came to a pretty stark realization. In organizing my photos in Adobe Lightroom, it sorts everything by year and date. I looked at the size of each year’s folders and found that 2013 was clearly my peak year for getting out and shooting photos. And not by a little. By a lot. That year comprises nearly a third of my photo library amassed over the past decade. Compare that to the years since, and I’ve only taken a small fraction of photos each year up until now.

What was so good about 2013? I was coming off some really exciting things in the buildup of my photography… venture? I don’t even really know what to call this artistic photography thing I do. Anyways, I had gotten some of my work published, I had a two-month art show in a local cafe, I had participated in a couple of local art fairs and I had made a few decent sales of my work. I was feeling pretty creatively charged and motivated to keep at it.

Then the bottom kind of fell out. Between 2013 and now, my full-time career has been a bit of a roller coaster. I was laid off from my job for the first time ever in October 2013 and spent eight months in unemployment limbo. I would find myself there again about a year later after a year spent in a new job that sucked me dry emotionally and creatively. On the brighter side, we welcomed our second child during this period, but raising two kids is a lot more work than I ever would have imagined. Add to that all the usual things that life throws at you — good and bad — and my photography took a major back seat.

But I’ve been working on starting over anew in the recent months. I cut my art photography catalog by half and rebranded my venture. I still haven’t been out on a real photo shoot in a while, but until I can carve out time to do so, I’ve dug back into my photo library to see what kinds of buried treasures I can harvest.

My Lightroom library has more than 16,000 RAW photo files (about 300+ GB worth) of untouched photos in there from the past decade. The thing is, having so much to work with has been kind of a blessing and a curse. I’ve found myself doing a lot more file management with a catalog that large, rather than doing anything creative with those photos. If I wanted to work on photos, I’d have to pull out my MacBook Pro, tether my USB hard drive, open lightroom, dive through the thousands of photos, work on them, then export, catalog, upload and finally publish them online. Getting hands on with my photos was always something that took work.

I’ve since come up with a new workflow that totally revolutionized my process. The first step has been getting my photo library up into the cloud. As a photographer, this is something I really should have done a long time ago. Ten years of my creative life has been teetering on a fragile hard drive that lives in my backpack, and that’s a recipe for disaster. So I’ve been slowly uploading all 300+ GB of photos to Microsoft OneDrive, where I have a terabyte of storage available. The operative word in that last sentence is slowly. I don’t want to get off on a tangent here, but U.S. upstream bandwidth is ridiculously slow for the live-streaming, media-savvy, data-hungry modern digital world we live in.

Once my files live in OneDrive, I have complete and total access to my Lightroom library on any device I wish. I can then call my full RAW files at will onto my iPad and open them with a rotating toolbox of creative apps including Snapseed, Lightroom, Pixelmator and others. The former two fully support RAW photo editing on an iPad, so I have full creative freedom without compromising quality. I can then export them and either upload them to social media or my online store from the iPad or AirDrop them to my MacBook for further manipulation if I so choose. More often than not now, I start and end the process right from the iPad. The simple act of cutting the laptop and tethered hard drive out of the equation has taken virtually all the friction out of the process, leaving me more time to get hands-on with my photos. This has made all the difference in the world. I’ve gone from months of not touching my photo library to working on several new art pieces a night as the inspiration hits me.

It can be all too easy to let the process get in the way of creativity. In the past, I’ve let my own perfectionism and the constant droning on of so-called photography “experts” telling me how things should be done get in my way. Once I was able to harness the real power of technology to let me just get down to business and do my work, the creativity is once again firing on all cylinders.


Originally published at Mark David Zahn.