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Lightroom Image Management and Landing the Cover Image of Hudson Valley Magazine

The April 2017 issue of Hudson Valley Magazine features one of my images on the front cover, and I’m really grateful for another opportunity to see my work at the newsstand. This is my third cover image for HV Mag, you can read about the others here, and here.

This is also a good opportunity to share how I use the Library module to organize and manage my images so that I can access any image when I need.

There’s no question that without having a management system in place, I would not have been able to get the cover image. I often get requests from publishers and other organizations asking me to submit images for consideration, and almost always they need the images “yesterday.”

Being able to find specific images quickly is crucial because it makes my potential client happy and I also feel confident about fulfilling requests in the future. That’s important for both reducing stress and generating income!

My approach is fairly simple and based on this strategy which I’ve refined over the years:

  • Star ratings: I use star ratings to rate images from two to four stars. Two stars means it stands out from the majority of the images in a group or shoot. Three stars means it stands out from the two star images. And four stars (my highest rating as of now) means it’s am image I really like and would be willing to share as representative of my work.
  • Labels: I use different color labels to further classify images into specific categories.
    A red label means the image is part of my professional portfolio – images I sell as prints or license for limited use. For example, I have four star images of my family and of trees. The red label separates these further into personal and portfolio images.
    A blue label means the image is part of a stitched panorama.
    A yellow label means it’s an image “in progress” that I haven’t started or finished developing yet.
    A green label means I want to make a print of the image.
  • Keywords: This is where the real magic happens, and once you develop a basic system for how to keyword your images, it pays dividends the longer you use it. I keyword categories, family members, subject matter, locations by park, region, state, and country, clients, seasons, and any other category that is generic.
    I don’t add keywords that I might only use once or twice because that will lead to excessive keywords. But if I can use a keyword on 5-10 images or more, then it’s a good candidate to add. What’s important for me is to limit them so that they are useful, otherwise there are too many to keep track of.
    I also use hierarchical keywords extensively. For example, “Mt Beacon“ is inside of “Hudson Valley”, which is inside of “New York”, which is inside “US.” This means when I add the keyword “Mt Beacon” to any image, it gets all the other keywords automatically.
    This is both powerful and efficient and makes adding and filtering by keywords much less labor intensive.
  • Collections: I use collections to make specific groupings of images. For example, my online portfolio is contained in a collection set with contains collections for themes or subject matter, which is how I have my images categorized on my website.
    I use collections for every yearly calendar I make, especially since I might have to adjust those images differently for printing. I add virtual copies of the images to the collection and now have a separate set of images that I can edit freely just for that calendar, independently of the originals.
    I also use collections to keep track of every gallery exhibition I have done, images that have been displayed at trade shows, or images I have sold to certain clients, especially limited editions.

Finally, I use smart collections to automatically populate a collection based on what I want to organize. Here are some of my most used:

  • Smart collections of my children (matches images keyworded with their names that are two stars or more.)
  • Hudson Valley images (matches images keyword “Hudson Valley”)
  • Images than need further developing (matches images with the yellow label and four stars.)
  • Images I want to print (matches images with the blue label and four stars.)

Quick tip: in the Grid view, use the “J” key to cycle through the different views that show star ratings and labels applied to images.

As you can see, this gives me tremendous flexibility to manage and recall any image I need at any time. So when a magazine emails, I can respond back to them with little delay and have a much better opportunity of being selected, plus it imparts a sense of professionalism and organization that I strive for.

In the case of Hudson Valley Magazine, they asked for an image that would help promote nature and the outdoors. I first selected the Hudson Valley smart collection, then filtered by four star images which brought the number down to about fifty images.

I then looked at each and added candidates to a Quick collection, totaling about twelve. I then switched to the Quick collection, selected all of those and exported them using an Export preset that I made specifically for sharing images in Dropbox.

It converts the images to the sRGB color space, jpeg image format at a quality of 75, adds standard sharpening for screen, and renames the file with my initials at the beginning of the filename. It then saves these images to a folder in Dropbox that I then select and share with the client.

I did the finding, selecting, and sharing of the image in about ten minutes. Not bad for efficient workflow, and they responded that evening with a final selection which I then resent at the required higher resolution and larger color space. Because the image was already in my Quick collection…you get the idea, super easy.

The key to taking advantage of the full potential of Lightroom’s management and cataloging features is:

  1. Setup a system that is simple to start with and works for your needs.
  2. Commit to using the system-make it a habit. Add keywords in the import dialog, and then keyword soon after import. Get it done first, and it pays off big time later.
    Have some free time and a glass of wine? Sit down, put on some good music, and keyword older images which often leads to surprises and discoveries.
  3. Evaluate and modify your system over time as your needs change and your proficiency and experience with Lightroom improves. I tweak my system often to improve and make it more effective for me. But it’s mostly on automatic mode now which gives me the confidence to know I can find an image when I need it with little stress or time wasted.

I hope this behind the scenes look at how I use Lightroom inspires you to explore its great management capabilities. It is one of its core strengths that I think many do not take full advantage of.

Soon after I wrote this article, a request came in for images of ferns and similar vegetation, and farmland. Using keywords and ratings I was able to send a few images for review in about ten minutes. The client selected four. 

Questions or comments? Let me know below, thanks for reading!

My Top Five Favorite Mac Applications


It’s no exaggeration to say that my 5K Retina iMac is the hub of my business, and to a large extent my creative life as well. But the applications I use are equally important in getting quality work done, so I choose them very carefully.

In a recent workshop I was asked what some of those applications are, so I wanted to share my top five and why I like them so much.

But first a little personal history.

I started using computers around 1982 when I was 15, so that tells you how long they’ve been a part of my life in some way or another. I’ve probably owned or used every generation of Apple computers going back to the original Mac Plus, which I regret selling to pay part of college tuition.

Fast forward 30+ years, and I’ve integrated computers into almost everything I do professionally. That’s encouraged me to use computers as efficiently as I can so that I can spend as much time as possible away from computers, out in nature, or with my family.

So with that said, these are the applications that have remained on my computer(s) while others have come and gone. They play important roles in my ability to run a successful business, teach workshops, write articles and books, and manage my digital photography.

For me the measure of a great application is one that manages to be both powerful and flexible, yet doesn’t get in the way of what I want to do. It needs to be intuitive and feel like a natural extension of my mind and how I think. These are high ideals for sure, and no application that I know of yet achieves this completely. But the closer they come the more I commit to using them over the long term.

A big part of success with any tool is the commitment to mastering it’s power. Going deep with an application requires an investment of time and patience, but the rewards can’t be measured if you value the creative side of your brain. It helps you move forward instead of getting in the way.

So here are my favorite five applications on my Mac.

Adobe Lightroom

As the central hub of my photography, I spend a lot of time in Lightroom, yet it always feels like time well spent. I rely on LR to catalog and manage all of my photography (DSLRs, aerial, iPhone), and also edit and develop my images, print them, share them online, and even make books. I also use it to manage all of the images I create for my website and promotional materials. When I get commercial requests for my images, I can find the images I need with a few key strokes, and that means I keep current and potential customers happy.

No software is perfect and LR has several shortcomings. But as an overall photography platform, I think its workflow and increasingly powerful toolset is hard to beat.



The power and flexibility of Evernote continues to impress me even after using it regularly for over five years. It’s my digital filing cabinet where I store all sorts of information that I rely on daily. Workshop itineraries and logistical information, favorite quotes, field notes for specific images, blog post ideas, reference photos, print sales, receipts, and the list goes on.

Because it’s available for every platform (web, iOS, OS X, Windows, Android) and stays in sync across all of them, I can capture things on my iPhone and find them waiting for me when I return to my laptop or iPad. I’m working on a separate article on how to use Evernote specifically for photography and printing, so stay tuned for that.



I write a lot, and have used many different writing apps over the years. I prefer a writing environment that offers “distraction-free” writing yet has powerful features to edit and export what I write.

Ulysses is great because it has all of this, plus it’s like a “writing studio” where every document I work on is always accessible without having to open and close separate documents. If you do any kind or writing, long or short form, give Ulysses a try.



Task and project management is critical for me in order to stay on top of all of the various projects I have going on at one time. GTD is a very popular system for managing tasks and projects, and Omnifocus is a great app that implements the GTD system.

I rely on Omnifocus to make sure I’m working on what I need to work on, and keep things from falling through the cracks. It’s available for the desktop and all iOS devices, so it’s always with you when you need to capture tasks or ideas, or act on them in the future. The iPhone version is great since it’s always with you ready to capture ideas or tasks. The less you have in your head, the better you can focus on what needs your undivided attention, like making photographs or spending time with family and friends.

While I also like to use a notebook and pen to capture ideas and tasks, it all winds up in Omnifocus if it’s important.



Email is part of our daily lives, like it or not. While Apple’s default Mail app works great for many, I prefer Airmail’s interface and advanced features. It supports Markdown which I use regularly, works better with Gmail accounts (and uses Gmail keyboard shortcuts), and integrates with other apps like Evernote.

Email can easily get out of control if not managed carefully, and for me that’s extra important given how much I communicate with customers, students, and friends online. (Here’s a great review of Airmail.)

Final Thoughts

I hope these apps and my thoughts on them inspire you to think about what apps you use and why. What are your top applications? Let me know in the comments below, as well as your questions or feedback. Thanks for reading!

Apps And Guides For Migrating From Aperture to Lightroom

In the short time since my last post about migrating from Apple Aperture to Adobe Lightroom, several new resources have emerged to make the switch even easier.

First, there is now a dedicated app called Aperture Exporter than retains metadata like ratings and comments, project hierarchies, and image settings and adjustments. It’s available on the app store for $14.99.

Also, Adobe has published a detailed guide to migrating as well, with an upcoming migration tool to be released soon.

While switching from one editing application to another is never an easy thing to do, I think it’s great that these resources are appearing and providing real options for making a switch without going crazy. And if any of you are having a difficult time with Lightroom, I’m always happy to help.

More Reason to Choose Lightroom For Your Photography

With the demise of Apple’s Aperture, their pro level application for managing and editing images, several people have asked me about options and how to migrate their image libraries. There hasn’t been a huge demand for information however, because I think a majority of photographers have been using Lightroom for some time, and it was plain to see that while Adobe has been agressively updating and improving Lightroom, Apple seems to have forgotten about Aperture and serious photographers in general.

I’m a huge fan of Apple and have used Macs for over 25 years. But I always trusted Adobe more when it came to digital imaging. When Lightroom was released in beta form in 2006, I committed to it and haven’t looked back. And with the current version 5.5, I think it’s safe to say that as an overall platform for image management, developing, sharing, and printing, there is no better option available today.

Of course no software is perfect, and Lightroom has its weaknesses. But nitpicking what it doesn’t do well ignores what it does incredibly well. I want tools that allow me to accomplish my creative goals in the simplest, most effecient manner possible in most if not all scenarios. Yes there are times when there is a better tool for a very specific situation, but that may only be a small part of your overall workflow. Photoshop is always on standby when I need lots of editing power, but for me that is a rarer and rarer occurence. 90% of my workflow is in Lightroom, and that makes managing and editing my images fun – yes fun. It wasn’t always that way, but learning Lightroom so that it gets out of the way and lets me think about creative decisions and making the most of my images is hugely liberating. I regularly come home with hundreds of images and look forward to editing them in Lightroom. That only happens when you commit to the software and learn how it works so that it becomes your assistant, not your enemy.

For example, may users do not know how to use the Auto-Sync function. Lets say I had my tripod setup at the edge of the Hudson River  during sunrise, and made a series of images during a 5 or 10 minute span. Maybe I did this a few times during the course of my shoot, so I wind up with 4 to 5 groups of images sharing similar compositons and lighting conditions—all too common for landscape photographers.

When I import these images into Lightroom, I select all of the images in a group, and then develop the one I like the best. With Auto-Sync turned on, any adjustment I make will be instanly applied to every other image I selected in the group. When I’m done editing, I have essentially edited the whole group of images, and only need to adjust an individual image depending on how it’s different from the others. This speeds up processing tremendously, make the time I spend in LR more efficient, and lets me spend more time outside, not behind my computer. This works equally well for portraits, wildlife, sports, or any other situation when you have a similar set of images.

Think about how this speeds up workflow and efficiency. Does it work perfectly 100% of the time? Of course not. But 80–90% of the time is good enough for me, especially when I factor in how much time I spend editing over the course of an entire year.


Here I selected the first image to edit, then held down Shift to add all the other images from the series to the selection, Then I enabled Auto-Sync via the small switch.


Now I edit the main image as usual. Every adjustment is automatically applied to the other images. When I go back to Grid view, all images look identical and I can then make specific adjustments to others if needed. 


BTW – I generally average about 45–60 minutes editing an image I really like, sometimes longer if I can’t quite decide when I’m done. But that may be after some reflection and time. But editing times have dropped considerably since I started doing more in Lightroom and less in Photoshop and other plugins.

For those who were using Aperture and want to migrate to Lightroom as pain-free as possible, I recommend John Beardsworth’s guide found here.

I’ll be writing more about Lightroom workflow in the future because I truly believe it can have a profoundly positive effect on the enjoyment of digital photography and your ability to keep creativity alive and well.

Photo Journal: Trail Light, Hudson Valley With Lightroom Video Tutorial

Trail Light, Hudson Valley / Olympus OM-D E-M1, 1/30sec @f/5.6, ISO 800, 40mm, no filters

Trail Light, Hudson Valley / Olympus OM-D E-M1, 1/30sec @f/5.6, ISO 800, 40mm, no filters

“And what, sir, is the subject matter of that painting?” (Critic) “The subject matter, my dear good fellow, is the light.” (Claude Monet)

I often talk about light as being a subject, not because it’s my orignal idea, but because once I began to look at light in that way, it changed my photography. Many others have influenced me in regards to this idea, from great painters like Claude Monet and JWM Turner, to current photographers like Jay Maisel.
In “Trail Light, Hudson Vaklley”, I certainly reacted to the mood, the fog, the deep greens, the gesture of the ferns in the foreground, and diagonal design of the composition. But it’s the light that makes it come together for me in a way that exceeds all of the individual elements I mentioned. Without that particular quality of light, I probably don’t bother to stop and setup the camera.

I’ve been up this trail countless times, and never felt inspired before to stop and make this picture in this spot before. You never know what’s possible unless you leave yourself open to awareness and discovery, and the possibility of seeing more than what is in front of the camera. Who knows how many other pictures I’ve missed because I wasn’t truly present, aware, and willing to suspend my pre-judgements about what I thought was possible. Lets just say more than I want to admit, and others I just never even had a clue about. I just didn’t see them. And I almost missed this one as well.

This is the path of vision, and seeing, and of maturing as a human being. What experience in life can’t benefit from a little less judgement, and a little more acceptance of what is. Waiting for conditions to be perfect rarely pushes us creatively.

My point is that as landscape photographers we must react to whatever is happening in nature, on an emotional level. Simply reacting to light and shadow is not enough. You must see something in what you’re photographing that others don’t see. That is something only you are capable of, no one else.

Watch my Lightroom workflow for this image in the video below – any questions, please let me know!

Watch on Youtube here