As the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”

But as a photographer, you might find yourself stuck in the same old editing routine, sorting through cluttered folders of random photos day after day, wasting precious time searching for a single image.

By the time you find it, you’re mentally exhausted and have achieved very little editing.

This clutter in your workflow isn’t just a minor annoyance—it’s a major obstacle to reaching your goals. It’s like a digital junk drawer where valuable resources and creativity get lost.

Just as we declutter our physical spaces to breathe easier, we need to clear the clutter from our workflows to think clearly and work more efficiently. In this post, we’ll explore simple yet powerful strategies to simplify your editing workflow, helping you achieve more, stress less, and find your creative flow. Let’s dive in!

1. Create a Naming and Storing System

To keep your editing environment tidy and organized—like a perfectly curated Instagram feed—create a system for naming and storing files. This way, you can quickly find what you need without digging through digital chaos. An organized workspace helps you focus and work more efficiently.

Consider some examples of great photographers to emulate:

Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer, was known for his meticulous organization. He kept detailed records of his shoots, including notes on camera settings, lighting conditions, and film development. His negatives were carefully labeled and stored, allowing him to easily locate specific images from his vast archive.

Similarly, Dorothea Lange, the renowned documentary photographer, maintained a rigorous system for organizing her files. She labeled each print with detailed captions, including the subject’s name, location, and date. Her archive is now a valuable resource for historians and researchers, thanks to her dedication to organization.

In the digital era, photographers continue to prioritize organization in their workflow. Steve McCurry, the celebrated National Geographic photographer, uses a robust file naming and storage system to organize his extensive archive. Each file is labeled with a unique identifier that includes the location, subject, and date, making it easy to search and retrieve specific images.

2. Identify and Eliminate Unnecessary Steps

Next, put on your detective hat and scrutinize your current workflow. Write down each step you take when editing—even those you consider crucial (spoiler: they might not be). Be honest, be thorough, and don’t hesitate to get a bit nitpicky.

Once you have your list, examine each step critically, like a chef inspecting their kitchen for unnecessary utensils. Ask yourself, “Is this step really enhancing my editing process, or is it just clutter?” If it’s not adding significant value, consider cutting it.

3. Automate Repetitive Tasks

After removing unnecessary steps, identify any repetitive tasks in your workflow that drain your creativity, such as file conversions, renaming, or organizing files—tasks that make you feel like a robot stuck in a time loop. Use tools and software designed to handle these tasks, and let the technology do the tedious work for you. By automating the mundane, you’ll free up more time for the creative aspects of editing—the fun stuff.

Let’s look at the lives of two renowned photographers who excelled at automating their editing processes.

Margaret Bourke-White, the pioneering photojournalist, was known for her innovative approach to photography and her streamlined workflow. During her time at Life magazine, she relied on a team of assistants to handle tasks like file organization and printing, freeing her to focus on capturing iconic images such as the Fort Peck Dam and the Gandhi series.

Richard Avedon, the celebrated portrait photographer, was famous for his attention to detail. To ensure consistency, he developed a rigorous system for organizing his files and negatives. He used custom designed labels and catalogs to track his images, allowing him to quickly find specific shots and focus on the creative aspects of his work. By automating tasks like file organization, Avedon was able to devote more time to perfecting his craft, resulting in some of the most iconic portraits of the 20th century.

5. Use Templates and Presets

Templates and presets are like the secret ingredients in your favorite recipe, elevating your workflow to the next level of automation. Instead of starting from scratch each time, use templates for common tasks like project files, color correction settings, or audio presets. They help maintain consistency, speed up your process, and make everything feel effortless.

Do top photographers use presets and templates? Let’s look at the workflows of two highly respected photographers:

Ansel Adams, the legendary landscape photographer, mastered the use of templates and presets. He developed custom camera settings and darkroom techniques to achieve consistent results despite varying lighting conditions. By utilizing these tools, Adams could focus on capturing the perfect shot without wasting time experimenting with different settings.

Dorothea Lange, the renowned documentary photographer, also relied on templates and presets. She developed a standard format for her captions and metadata, allowing her to quickly organize and search her archive. This use of templates enabled Lange to concentrate on capturing compelling stories rather than getting bogged down in administrative tasks.

From the life of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange you can tell that they created editing hacks using templates and presets which made their work much easier, find out more on editing hacks in this blog post.

6. Use Proxy Files for Smooth Playback

Even with templates and presets in an organized photo editing system, working with high-resolution footage can feel like running a marathon in quicksand—taxing on your computer and causing lag and slow playback. Using proxy files—lower resolution copies of your original footage—can alleviate these issues, ensuring smooth playback during the editing process.

Consider Eadweard Muybridge, the pioneering photographer known for his motion capture work. When working on his iconic “horse in motion” series, he understood the importance of an efficient workflow and used proxy files to edit his photographs. This approach allowed him to review and refine his work without the burden of high-resolution images, enabling him to focus on the creative aspects that led to groundbreaking motion studies.

Tim Hetherington, the acclaimed war photographer and filmmaker, also used proxy files in his workflow. While editing his Academy Award-nominated documentary ‘Restrepo‘, he utilized proxy files to ensure smooth playback and efficient editing, even with high-resolution footage. This approach allowed Hetherington to concentrate on crafting a compelling narrative, ultimately resulting in a powerful and thought-provoking film.

7. Streamline Communication

When you need to communicate with others while editing, streamline your communication channels to avoid unnecessary back-and-forth. Use project management tools or shared documents to keep everyone aligned. Clear, concise communication can save time and reduce misunderstandings—it’s like wearing a superhero cape, helping you fly through your to-do list.

We can learn from two top photographers about streamlining communication:

Mathew Brady, the renowned Civil War photographer, mastered efficiency in his workflow. He employed a team of assistants to handle tasks like developing and printing photographs, allowing him to focus on capturing iconic images of the conflict. By automating tasks like file organization and printing, Brady devoted more time to perfecting his craft, resulting in some of the most enduring images of the war.

Cindy Sherman, the groundbreaking conceptual photographer, is known for her meticulous approach. She uses software to automate tasks such as file conversion and renaming, freeing her to focus on the creative aspects of her editing process. By streamlining her workflow, Sherman devotes more time to experimenting with new ideas and techniques, resulting in some of the most innovative and thought-provoking images of our time.

The lives of these elite photographers demonstrate that streamlining communication during the editing process is crucial for setting effective boundaries and minimizing distractions. Learn more about how to achieve this by watching our YouTube video.

8. Take Breaks and Review

Don’t forget to take breaks—your brain and eyes will thank you. Working non-stop can lead to fatigue and mistakes. Schedule regular breaks to rest and recharge. When you return, review your work with fresh eyes, like a critic at a movie premiere. This helps you catch errors you might have missed and make better editing decisions.


In summary: create a naming and storage system, eliminate unnecessary steps, automate repetitive tasks, use templates and presets, streamline communication, and take breaks to review your work etc.

There are also more steps required to be successful in a creative buisness like photography which you should check out this video on our YouTube channel.

By applying these steps, you’ll likely improve your workflow and lifestyle; editing your pictures will feel less like a chore and more like a fun, creative activity. What other steps do you think should be on this list?