Overview. Every photographer has a particular workflow that they use to process images. I will briefly go over my workflow as an example and provide some reasons for why I do things the way I do. I am constantly evolving my work flow to increase the efficiency of the process and the quality of the final images.
Before going to location. My work flow actually starts before I capture a single image. I, like many others, have found that a bit of time and effort calibrating equipment results in a greater percentage of acceptable images and saves a tremendous amount of time in post production. The first thing I do is calibrate the focus of my lenses with each camera body. Due to variation in manufacturing, it is common for lenses to slightly focus in back or in front of the autofocus target. Depending on your intended subject, this may or may not be a big deal. For much of what I do (e.g. sports) this is important since most of what I am trying to capture with my camera is moving and changing direction. Fortunately, camera manufactures are aware of this and have a focus micro adjustment feature built into many DSLRs to correct for misalignments. This can be done manually, however, I have found that using software designed for this saves time and results in a more accurate correction. I use FoCal Pro and have been pleased with the results. Not only will this correct for autofocusing, but will provide quite a bit more information on the performance of your lens. Lastly, if your camera has a feature allowing you to save your settings to a card, I would recommend this. Not only does this save all of the autofocus micro adjustment information, it also saves all of your other settings (e.g. back button focusing). Now that the lenses are focusing on where you want them to, the second thing that I calibrate is my computer monitor. I can’t begin to tell you how much this improved the quality of my images. If your monitor does not represent color or brightness well or does not match the color profile of your printer, all of the post processing that you do will be for nothing since the output will never look like it does on the computer monitor. For this I use i1Profiler and again have been happy with the results.
Have an idea what you are going to shoot and pack accordingly. Pack lenses and cameras first. Make sure the batteries are fully charged, and that all memory cards are empty and reformatted. Have a checklist and double check your gear before you leave. There are some items that I have with me regardless of the activity. First is raingear, both for me and for my cameras. Weather can change rapidly and having raingear can allow one to capture some interesting images that others might miss. Second, I have camera cleaning gear like a rocket blower and lens paper. Third, I have season appropriate extra clothing and items like sunscreen, insect repellant or hand warmers. These can save the day and make new friends for those who are not as prepared. I have a notebook and pen to keep notes on location. I also like to have a folding stool or seat, these are useful for long events. Finally, gaffers tape, while not quite as handy as duct tape, it is pretty close.
Going to location. Camera gear is expensive, heavy, and while rugged for an electronic device, is not particularly robust. My criterion for gear transportation is that it has to protect the equipment, is easy to carry and does not look like a camera bag. I use three different bags depending on where I am going and what I am shooting. My go to camera bag is an F-stop Loka. I have reviewed it here, and am really satisfied with it. I use this bag for travel by air, and travel by foot if I am off of pavement. My second bag is Think Tank Photo retrospective 10. This is a messenger style bag that is great when I don’t need that much gear. Finally, my last camera bag is not a bag, but a Pelican 1560 case. I like this for traveling by car and boat (it floats!) and for outdoor events in bad weather since it is very protective. Finally, I carry everything else in a waterproof duffle bag. The only other consideration for gear protection is that of insurance from theft and damage.
At location. I just wanted to make a few comments on some camera settings that I think are very useful. First, I shoot everything in RAW. In the images that I keep I want every last bit of data, why throw out data with JPEG? There is so much more you can do with RAW in post production, and as your skills improve, you can keep coming back to that original file. Second, I think that back button focusing provides more control compared to having autofocus with the shutter release button. It takes some time for your brain to rewire to the new button layout, but the training is well worth it in my opinion. Third, this is for outdoor sports only, I use manual mode with auto ISO. This way I can control depth of field and shutter speed and let the camera figure out if a cloud is going overhead or if the sun is setting. I can also control what range of ISO values are acceptable. This really is not a manual setting, but since current digital cameras are still bound to traditional controls this is what we have. Fourth, for shooting sports, stay out of the way of everybody, players, coaches, referees, fans, everyone! The best complement that I can get from an AD is “I didn't even know you were there”, perfect. Finally, and this is for sports shooting, shoot with both eyes open. It is the player you don’t see that runs you over.
Back at the computer. You are back at your computer and it is time to upload the images from your camera(s) to your computer. My first decision is do I upload the entire contents of the card or not? For me, if I am shooting landscapes or nature, I will have hundreds of photos per location many of which are high dynamic range (HDR) or focus stacking series. I will more often than not upload all of the images. Generally from a sporting event, I will have thousands of images. In this case, I edit mercilessly and will only upload the photos onto my computer that I want to keep and will leave the rest on the card to be deleted.
I use Adobe Lightroom CC for photo organization and post processing of the vast majority of my images. While I have used Adobe Photoshop for a greater amount of time, Lightroom was built from the ground up for photographers with a modular design that is much easier to use. I will only cover a minute portion of the capabilities of Lightroom, I would suggest books by Martin Evening that go in depth on what Lightroom and Photoshop can do. These are clearly written and I find them to be invaluable. The first thing I will go over is image importation. Once you have decided which images to import, the next decision that I make is which development settings to apply during import. Adobe has several default presets installed with the program and allows for custom presets from any of the development settings. For example, in my camera settings I have the color balance set to neutral. In my custom import development setting I add some vibrance to all of the images. I also add some luminance, apply lens corrections and build smart previews. You can make as many importation presets depending on your needs. This saves a considerable amount of time. Next is organization. Within a Lightroom catalog you can organize photos based on a standard folder hierarchy. There is only one person that this organization scheme has to make sense to and that is you. I would suggest, however, spending some time thinking about this since once you get a few years worth of images it becomes difficult to reorganize. The second organization tool that I use is keywords. Key wording is a pain to do, however, it can save enormous amounts of time finding images. Like organization, come up with a key wording scheme that makes sense and is meaningful to you. The last organization tool that I use is metadata. With each image a large amount of data is collected along with the image. All of the camera settings, lens focal length, GPS data (if the camera is so equipped) etc. from individual images can be useful in diagnosing technical issues. However, as the number of images increase, the real power of the metadata is that it can tell you something about your tendencies as a photographer. Mining this data can be useful to identify equipment that you should sell or acquire, identifying camera settings that are most used for a given activity or for identifying the most common and perhaps overused locations. Finally, image post processing. Once the images are uploaded with a chosen importation preset, next I will straighten and crop images as needed. When you get tired of doing this on the computer, it makes you become more conscious of composing the image properly in the first place. For any given event, I need to decide how much time I can invest in post processing. Most of what I shoot at sporting events is used in various social media posts and therefore, does not benefit from extensive post processing. For many events, the auto tone function does a good job of providing a starting point. I will go through each photo and fine tune exposure, tone and sharpening. In any given shoot, I may have one or two photos that are worth spending more time post processing. I also spend quite a bit of time working on landscape and macro images. I have been using high dynamic range and focus stacking to good effect and I would suggest consulting with Martin Evening’s books for detail on the particulars. However, I do find that much can be learned by experimentation, especially since many of the post processing functions are non destructive. I use the common 3-2-1 backup scheme of redundant backups of image files to protect the images.