The challenge of shooting any event is to organize, process and distribute the photos with the least amount of effort possible. Lightroom makes easy work of organizing event photos through its keywording and file renaming options. Lightroom also handles RAW processing and image distribution through web and print media with ease.

I had the good fortune to be the event photographer recently for the 2009 Wheels of Wellness in Phoenix. The event is an important fundraiser for the Arizona chapter of the Wellness Community – which is part of the national non-profit organization that provides support, education and hope to people with cancer and their loved ones. [If you have cancer or know of someone who does, be sure to click through on the Wellness Community link.]

My assignment was to create a library of images to serve multiple masters: magazine and newspaper coverage of the event, prints for the car owners, online publicity, etc. Given that the Wheels of Wellness featured 24 vintage race cars, a dozen or so racing celebrities and loads of interested supporters, preparing the files and prints for hand-off to my client could have put me in the pits for some time. Fortunately, as a long-time fan of Lightroom, I implemented new keyword strategies that got me to the finish line much sooner than I anticipated. If you shoot events, I’m sure that you can adapt the following ideas to fit your needs.

Event Photography Workflow In Lightroom Starts With Keywords, Keywords, Keywords

The first challenge, after importing the files into a new Lightroom catalog, was to sort the photos. I  made nearly a thousand pix and wanted to sort them as quickly as possible. The nature of event photography is that you shoot when there’s an interesting meet-up between people or a moment of great light. The cars and people were not photographed in any specific sequence. Some cars were photographed six or seven times throughout the day. Owners and celebrities were in one frame, but not the next. So, I had come up with a way to gather photos spread throughout the shoot and organize them in a way to facilitate searches in the future.

My post-import Lightroom workflow for events starts with the following steps:

  1. Keyword each photo with a single keyword
  2. Filter the photos by keyword to pull up a specific group
  3. Give a descriptive file name to each image in the keyword group
  4. Regroup all the photos in the catalog by sorting on their file names
  5. Add detailed keywords to facilitate other searches
  6. Use color labels to mark individual frames that have a specific person
  7. Add keywords to these special selections

Step 1: Managing event photos in Lightroom starts with a simple keyword. Fortunately, the vast majority of the Wheels of Wellness photos had at least one car with a number. So the first thing I did was open the Library module in grid view and keyword the cars by their number. For the handful of cars without a number, I keyworded the photos by their color or another unique attribute (one per car). For people shots without cars, I keyworded by the most famous (or infamous) person in the shot. The whole point was to get each photo tied to a single keyword.


Step 2 - filter by keyword

Step 2: In the Library module, I then filtered by each keyword. [Shown above - Library Module / Library Filter bar: Text > Keywords > Contains Words > keyword]. This enabled me to pull up the photos of each car / person as a group. I filtered by the keyword “42″ and came up with the 18 photos of the 1969 Eagle Indy car exhibited by the Riverside International Auto Museum. I filtered on “24″ and came up with all the photos of the 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO. [I did find that #28 is a popular car number as I had three #28s. As I detail below, an extra quick step was needed to sort these shots out.]


Step 3 – rename files

Step 3: I then renamed all of the photos pulled up by each keyword. [Library  > Rename Photo] or [hit F2] then [Custom Settings > Edit]. My file naming sequence was MyName_Event_Car-Description-Year_####. As a standard practice, I now rename all my files with MyName at the beginning. This helps me track web usage of my images. (Yes, pirates will change the file name, but my clients generally don’t.) I included the Car-Description-Year to help others find my images when they are searching for images on the web by car name. I always leave the original #### in so that I can search for images by their “Original number suffix” created at the time of capture. Every once in a blue moon this has helped me locate a file that I otherwise misnamed. (I think there were four or five blue moons during the past year.)


Step 4 - sort by filename

Step 4: Sort the photos by their new file names. [View > Sort > File Name] This is the easiest step as you’ve already done the hard part. Gathering the photos by file name will help facilitate detailed keywording as you now can select any number of photos at the same time and give them all the same keyword with just a couple of clicks.


Step 5 & 7 - add detailed keywords

Step 5: Add detailed keywords based on the file name. Down the road, I’m likely to be asked for photos that have a specific person or car in it. Or maybe I’ll be asked for photos of cars entered into the show by a specific owner. So, I first add keywords that apply to all the images in a file name group. I add detailed keywords for the car and year (in case the file name is changed), the event name, the car’s owner, etc. Again, these are keywords that apply to all the images within that file name group.

Step 6: Use color labels to mark individual frames that have a specific person or group. I then reviewed the catalog again and used color labels in the Library module to mark individual images with a certain person or group in them. For instance, after applying the keywords based on file name, I labeled all the images that had car owners in them with red labels by hitting 6 after each image was selected. This allowed me to instantly gather all the images with red labels by filtering via the Attribute option on the Library Filter bar.

Step 7: Add keywords to these special selections. A quick select all move and I added the keyword “Owners-Friends” to the whole group. I hit the 6 again (while the whole group was still selected) and the red labels were removed and ready to be used for another group – such as all the frames that have a certain celebrity in them. So, when the editor of Vintage Motorsport calls to say “we need that photo of the ‘32 Maserati,” I’ll be able to quickly pull the images up and say “the ones with or without Clive Cussler?”

Talk with your client about how they (and others) are likely to use the images. This will give you ideas about the types of keywords that you will want to include. The word “Trend” in the keywords above is for Trends – a society magazine that wanted celebrity photos right after the event. If I had not queried my client about possible usage, I would have had to burn time by going through the images again to find the celebrity pix.

BONUS TIP: Sorting Cars With The Same Number – As I mentioned above, 28 must be a popular car number as I had three cars (out of 24) that I keyworded initially as 28. I could have created three separate keywords, such as 28a, 28b and 28c. But then I would have had to remember which was 28a…. Rather I chose to keep moving very quickly and keyword just by the number on the car. After Step 2: Sort by Keyword, I then selected individual shots of a specific car while holding down the Command (aka: Apple or 4-leaf clover on Mac, Ctrl on PC) and went on to Library > Rename Photo (following Steps 3 – 5 above). I repeated this selection process for the other two #28s. Easy.

Lightroom Makes Quick Work Of Other Event Photography Tasks

Once the files were renamed and given detailed keywords, I used many other Lightroom modules and features.

  • rated the photos in the Library module (1-star meant it was a keeper, 2-stars meant candidate for publication)
  • optimized the RAW captures in the Develop module (color balance, black, fill light, brightness, contrast, clarity – are my most common adjustments)
  • created a contact sheet with 4 photos per page and the file name underneath each in the Print module (this was then saved as a PDF, which you find in the lower left corner under the File > Print Settings > PDF > Save As PDF). I include the PDF on my client delivery disk so that they can have a quick index to the individual files.
  • printed portraits of the car owners in the Print module – each 8.5×11 print included my logo in the corner (I want them to remember who I am!).
  • uploaded an event web gallery in the Web module — which you can see by clicking here.
  • exported the client selects as publication-ready JPEGs (quality = 100%, Adobe RGB) in the Library module. Then burned to DVD (along with the index PDF) for delivery.

Lightroom Resources

Great Lightroom Tutorials by Julieanne Kost

Adobe Lightroom 2 Learning Center at NAPP

Adobe Lightroom 2 Learning Center at Photoshop Cafe

Lightroom Journal – tips straight from the Lightroom Development team

Lightroom Killer Tips by Matt Kloskowski

Lightroom-News by the gang at Pixel Genius

Inside Lightroom by O’Rielly Media

Lightroom Help & Support at Adobe

Buy Lightroom 2 – Full Version about $266

Buy Lightroom 2Upgrade Version about $90

When You Want To Take Your Keywording To The Next Level…

The strategies for keywording are about as diverse as the stars in the sky. My guru for all topics uber-keyword is David Riecks. If fact, David takes the dialogue about keywords to such a height that occasionally I get dizzy. But I try to keep up. Actually, he talks and writes about the world of ‘Controlled Vocabularies’ – sets of keywords organized into systematic hierarchies. Advanced keywording is essential to those who license their images as stock photography. Keywords are typically how photo editors search for images. David runs the site where you’ll find great resources on learning about the topic as well as a Controlled Vocabulary catalog that you can use in Lightroom and many other digital asset managment programs. David also moderates the Controlled Vocabulary forum on Yahoo.

16 Responses to Managing Event Photography With Lightroom

  1. Thanks for the details. This is very helpful. This post goes in my reference file as I prepare to start my own event photography practice.

  2. [...] Managing Event Photography With Lightroom (PixSylated) [...]

  3. Daniel Enloe says:

    What a wonderful Blog and insight. I am a photography enthusiast with my first dsrl arriving tomorrow and I am hopeful that my blog can serve the community like yours does.

  4. Stephen says:

    Thanks for the best explanation of an event workflow I have seen. Great job! Hope my town treated you well while you were here. Wish I could have been there with you.

  5. Tim Dempsey says:

    Wonderful help in this post. Thanks a million!

  6. Diane Eugene says:

    Thank you for the very informative work flow. Your advice will improve my workflow nicely. And thank you for being committed to the Lightroom and photography communities.

  7. Ron G says:

    I enjoyed the pictures in the galleries – I am a car guy.

    What kind of lighting did you use? It appears to be fill flash on camera in some shotsk, but I also see a light stand with small strobe, in the corner of some shots.

    • Syl Arena says:

      Ron - I had two Canon 580 EXs — each gelled with 1/4 CTO. Parked each on top of a lightweight light stand. Controlled them wirelessly from a 580 EX parked atop my camera in full e-TTL mode. The master unit was set not to fire during the exposure. The 1/4 CTO helped warm the lights slightly — which is a standard practice of mine indoors or out these days. I typically parked one or both remote lights just outside of the frame (and occasionally just inside the frame as you saw…). The lights totally made the shot of the GT40. Without them, the nose would have been in full shadow. Look at the color – the 1/4 CTO makes an important contribution. Ciao!

  8. Ron G says:

    Thanks Syl,

    That is something I will try.

    I really enjoy your Blog/Site. Keep up the good work.

  9. john says:

    very usefull information…thanks!!!!

  10. kent says:

    When providing keywords for the people in your shots, did you know all these people personally? If not, how did you keep track of who was who, so you could provide their names in LR afterwards?

    • Syl Arena says:

      Kent – Great question. I was not familiar with all of the racing personas at the event, nor the local celebrities, board members, etc. The event PR coordinator played an important part in finding people to photograph. Of course, once the speakers had done their bit, I followed them to get candids with the attendees. After it was all over, I launched a web gallery of selects and the event staff helped me with the names that I did not get on location. Another trick, if people are wearing name badges, is to zoom in and shoot their names just before or after the “real” shots.

  11. Jane says:

    i miss great deal of opportunity working with my lightroom! though i like to pley with colors and so i never imagined organizing them according to a particular sheme.

  12. BTW the link to the WOW gallery near the last section of your post (Lightroom Makes Quick Work Of Other Event Photography Tasks) has changed. I found it on your website.

    Thanks for the tips.


  13. jan says:

    Thank you for posting these workflow tips! I can’t wait to get organized :)

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