London Fashion Week Catwalk Photographer’s Lightroom Workflow

General Photography Technique – WORKFLOW

This post is an in depth look at the Lightroom workflow I use for events such as London Fashion Week. Its been developed over more than 10 seasons of covering LFW catwalk shows for news agencies, photo agencies and designers.

Although it is specific to catwalk events, it can be adapted for other events.

Overview:

I’ve broken the workflow down into the following high level steps, each of which will be explained below.

The key features of this approach, specifically designed for Fashion Week shows with multiple catwalks, are:

  • Much of the work is done upfront in advance of the event, so that the steps done during the event are minimal.
  • Each season, eg SS19, AW19, SS20 etc, is stored in its own folder, with sub-folders for the day and the designer whose show was shot.
  • This storage structure is then reflected in the Lightroom catalog, allowing you to navigate to a specific season, show, designer etc.
  • The use of meta data fields helps to create a consistent file naming convention and can be used by agencies for example for grouping submissions.

The outline of the steps are:

1. Create Storage Structure
2. Create Lightroom Catalog
3. Create Import Presets
4. Create Export Presets
5. Import Photos
6. Update Metadata
7. Picks
8. Export
9. Distribute


1. Create Storage Structure

This is where your photos are going to be stored when you copy them from your memory card ready for import into Lightroom.

During an event, I would use my laptop’s local disk for this, for several reasons. Firstly its a SSD, so its fast. And as mentioned before, when you are under a lot of time pressure to get images out to agencies, clients etc, anything you can do to save time is worth it. Using the local drives also avoids the potential for hardware connection issues, for example a USB drive failing to be recognised by the system.

Later on of course, the whole event directory would be archived to other storage, such as a USB drive.

The actual location on the local disk does not matter too much – you might want to create a dedicated top level folder, or you could just use the ubiquitous “Pictures” folder.

The key feature of this approach is that the storage structure will be reflected in the Lightroom.

Event Sub-Folder

For LFW events, I use the start date of LFW and the season to create a name. So the next event, SS20 on 13th September would be called “20190913_LFW_SS20”.

Using the date first in YYYYMMDD format, will ensure that the folder will be sorted in date order once it has been copied to an archive disk, making it easier to find. Having the season in the name also helps to find the right folder later. Sometimes it can be confusing to relate a season to a date, because we are shooting the seasons effectively almost 6 months in advance: looks from the Spring/Summer 2020 event shot in September 2019 may not be used in consumer publications until February or March 2020. In my experience when dealing with clients, for example magazine picture editors, they can sometimes get the dates/seasons mixed up, so they might be looking for a look from a designer from AW19, but mistakenly ask for something shot in Sept 2019…the directory name helps to avoid this confusion.

So, at the top level, the directory names on an archive disk would look like this:

Here I have created a folder for the upcoming LFW SS20 as an example I will be working through.

Day Sub-Folders

Beneath this top level “season” folder, I create sub-folders for each day, I use a leading number in the sub-folder name to ensure the folders sort in order, include the day number, the day name and the date in YYYYMMDD format. This is probably overkill, but if for example a client contacts you and says they want a shot from particular designer “from day 2” you can immediately open the right folder.

So for the upcoming LFW SS20 event, this is the “days” sub-folder structure I have created:

Designer Sub-Folders

The final part in creating the storage structure is to create sub-folders under each day for the shows you are covering. Assuming you have a BFC pass, this will also let you into some off-schedule shows, such as Fashion Scout and On | Off. You may also have passes for some of the “invite only” shows, and you may have been commissioned to cover specific shows, so bearing all this in mind you need to work out which shows you will be covering by looking at the schedules and locations for each, and the logistics of getting to each. Freelancers might also want to consider which shows are more likely to sell pictures, so missing a couple of less well-known designers in order to attend a well-known name. Of course the well-known show will generally have more coverage, so conversely your strategy might be to cover “up and coming” shows.

So here is how my SS20 “designers” sub-folder would look:

In reality, I won’t be able to cover all of these shows because of the logistical limits as mentioned above, but the folder is there anyway, and if I don’t shoot the show it will just stay as an empty folder, so nothing lost.

We also need somewhere to create the lightroom catalog, and somewhere for exporting images to distribution, so in the final directory structure I have moved the “days” folder below a new folder called raw, and created an export folder. The Lightroom catalog folder will be created when we create the catalog in the next section.

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2. Create Lightroom Catalog

The second step is to create a Lightroom catalog, using the “File->New Catalog” menu option. When prompted where to create the catalog, navigate to your top level event folder, i.e. in this example “20190913_LFW_SS20” and type the name “catalog” in the catalog name field.

This will create a folder called “catalog” under the event folder, at the same level as the folders “raw” and “export” you created above.

You could of course use any name for the catalog, for example you might want to name it after the event. I just use the name catalog since its the default and to be consistent across all events.

At this point Lightroom will probably launch the import photos screen, however we don’t have any photos to import yet. But you could at this point create the import presets, as per the next section.

Even though there are not yet any images to import, you can make Lightroom aware of your event folder by using the “add folder” from the folders panel “+” option, and add the “raw” folder. Then right click and select “Show Parent Folder”.

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3. Create Import Presets

Metadata presets apply settings such as keywords, headline, caption etc to images during import. Setting these during import saves time later. If supplying images to news or photo agencies they will expect a minimum level of meta data to be set, often with specific requirements for some settings.

To create a new preset for the event, use the menu option “Metadata -> Edit Metadata Presets”.

The fields set in the metadata screen will depend on the intended use of the images, and requirements of who they are being supplied to.

In the example below a new metadata preset is being created called “LFW_SS20” to tie in with the event. Notice that some fields are using placeholders, e.g. <DESIGNER>. The intention is to replace this with the actual designer before export. You could create separate presets for each designer, but that will create a large number of presets. Using a more general preset but with common settings for the event covers the majority of settings required.

In the example above, the field values have been designed to satisfy  uploads to Alamy News.

In Alamy News, the “Headline” field is used to group images together into sets. In this case all images from the same catwalk show will have the same Headline, this creating the set.

In this case for SS20 I have set Headline to:

“<DESIGNER> catwalk show London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2020”.

<DESIGNER> will be replaced after images have been imported.

The “Caption” field is set to describe the scene. This could be unique for each image, but in the case of catwalk shows a single caption could cover all images, such as:

“London, UK. 13th September 2019. A model walks the catwalk during the <DESIGNER> Spring/Summer 2020 London Fashion Week show at <VENUE>”

Note that Alamy News required the location and date to be the first items in the caption. The rest should be as descriptive as possible to help the image be found in online searches. The look number could be used as a way of making each caption unique, but this will take time to apply. Another option is to bring the emphasis on the deisgner, for example;

“London, UK. 13th September 2019. London Fashion Week catwalk show by <DESIGNER> for Spring/Summer 2020 at <VENUE>”

The “Description” field is not used by Alamy, but is set to be the same as the caption in case the image is uploaded to somewhere that does use description.

Metadata can also be used in the export of images, so to help with automatic naming of exported images, the following fields are set (which will be described later in the export section):

Other fields used are:

IPTC Subject code: 01007000 (the design of clothing and accessories).

Copyright related fields: Copyright, Copyright Status, Copyright Info URL and Rights Usage Terms, such as:

Rights-Managed Editorial Use Only – Licence fee payable before use

The other section that should be filled in is the keyword section:

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4. Create Export Presets

This step could be skipped, because the export dialog remembers your last settings so you could set them the first time you export and then they should be used on the next one. However, it might be that you are approached during an event to do a special export for a client on an ad hoc basis and need to over-ride your usual settings, and you may forget to set them back, so having a saved preset is useful to avoid this.

To create a new user export preset, choose menu option “File -> Export”, and on the export dialog choose the “Add” button near the lower left hand side. This will prompt you for a name, in this case “LFW_SS20”.

The actual settings required may vary for different clients, so you may need fto create different presets for example “LFW_SS20_Alamy”, “LFW_SS20_web”, etc.

The settings you should consider are: format, colour space, quality and resolution.

A setting designed to help with file naming on export is to use the Filename Template – if the metadate import settings have been followed you can use something like this to automatically rename files:

For example, files imported using the import preset described above and with Job Identifier set to “Mark-Fast”, the resulting files will follow the pattern “LFW-SS20-Mark-Fast-01.jpg” etc.

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5. Import Photos

Once you have shot a show, you can now import the photos into your prepared catalog. Ideally you will have time to do this immediately after shooting the show, but as is often the case you may have to go immediately to the next show and so will need to import the previous show later. The speed of turnaround could depend on the client – if you are shooting for the designer they often want images as soon as possible to pass on to their PR, press or for social media. News agencies prefer to get images within one hour of the event. But if it is a low profile show you may choose to defer the import.

If you do defer, you might want to consider using a fresh memory card for the next show and keeping the current one safely aside. This is so you can import or copy to the right place later without having to split the import/copy if there were different shows on the same card. Note that some shows have multiple designers within the same catwalk show, with no break between them, so you may have to split imports in some cases anyway, or import/copy to one place and then move within Lightroom.

My approach to importing is to copy the images from the card into the local hard disk first, into the file structure as described in section 1, and then import by synchronising the folder in Lightroom. You could use the import option with “Copy” to copy the files from the card to the target directory, but there are too many options that in the heat of the moment during a time-pressured import you could get wrong. By using synchronise you can just right click on the “raw” folder in Lightroom and any images you have copied will be imported with no further thought required.

Whichever import method you use, you must remember to use the import preset you created in section 3 to ensure that the majority of the metadata fields are set specifically for the event.

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6. Update Metadata

The  import preset sets most of the metadata fields you need, but uses the placeholder <DESIGNER> for the actual designer name. Once the import has finished for a designer’s catwalk, you will need to update the placeholder.

Unfortunately this will need to be updated in 5 different metadata fields:

  1. Keywords:

2. Caption:

3 and 4.Headline and Description:

5. Instructions

The best way to do this is to update the five fields on the first image and then use the “Sync Meta” option by selecting all photos in the folder.

7. Picks

The picks stage is when you choose the best photos that you want to export. If you are working for a magazine or website, they will probably want to have at least one or sometimes two images of each look of the show. A full length shot and possibly a three-quarter length shot or a shot of any specific detail in a design.

There are preferred positions with regards to a model’s legs and arms, which is why you need to be in time with the walk, and sometimes a model can blink or something else detract from the photo. This is why catwalk photographers take so many images per show, as an insurance to get the best shot.

Lightroom has options for setting the rating of an image, or a colour label. I use a combination of the two to help with picks. For example setting 5 stars to all images I might want to upload to a news agency, and then sub-select with red label those for a magazine.

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8. Export

Have made the selections, the next step is to export the selected images for upload or distribution. You can do this by filtering by rating and label and then using the export feature.

Don’t forget to choose the export setting as created in step 4 above!

I usually export to the “export” folder created in step 1, and set a sub-folder in the export dialog to help track different exports, for example those going to a news agency, those to a magazine, or to separate different designers.

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9. Distribute

Once exported to disk, the chosen images can be uploaded to news agencies via ftp, their own upload system or zipped up and transferred to clients via another transfer method.

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