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I've had this discussion with more than 20 photographers so far. At the end, we all agree on the same thing: workflow. Workflow needs to be efficient and the least time-consuming it can be. The whole idea of workflow – from the moment you take the image, to the moment you deliver the final result – is to save as much time as possible.
So what can you do to improve your workflow?
You need to optimize your gigs in the photographing process. Don’t waste precious time on unnecessary steps and items. Plan and prepare according to what you'll need, and bring everything you’ll need. There isn’t much that I can advise you in this process since most everything is learned through trial-and-error. Much of your success in this area can be chalked up to experience. Moving on to consider the rest of the process reveals a different story.
First of all, you should be familiar with the slot speed that your camera has. Canon 7D Mark 2 is capable of writing around 100 megabytes of data on a CF card each second, and around 75 megabytes of data on an SD card each second. You should shop for cards in that are in that ballpark range as far as their writing ability goes. Also be sure that the card you find is not only capable of recording at least that much data, but that also has as much readability as possible. This will help you shave off some serious lenghts of time while importing the images.
Photo by seeweb
As important as the SD/CF cards are, the card readers are equally so. It is essential to have a card reader that is capable of reading as fast as the card can go, and faster. It is safe to aim for 10% faster, just in case. This would be a strong combination, if paired with a fast card. You can have the fastest card on the market, but if the reader is slow, then it is all for nothing.
Photo by Le Ciel Azuré
Since the card reader will read at least 100 megabytes per second, it is wise to have a storage media that is fast enough to write that amount of data without interruptions. A fast SSD/HDD is critical to the editing process as well, so the biggest time boost will come from this.
Make sure all your software is installed on the SSD (or the fastest drive) in order for it to be able to work at its full potential.
Photo by IntelFreePress
If your PC is outdated, it would be wise to invest in a better computer in order to avoid holdups. Each second you lose counts towards more time lost that day.
Make sure you have enough RAM to process your images. The amount you need could depend upon the resolution and the amount of work you usually do, but nowadays eight gigabytes is considered to be the minimum.
Decent processor and graphics cards are also important, especially with Lightroom and Photoshop. So far, Lightroom relies purely on processor, while Photoshop uses both processor and graphics cards to do the work. There are rumors that Lightroom 6 will start using the graphics card as well, but that remains to be seen.
Apply Settings During Import
While you are importing your images to Lightroom (or softwares alike), applying settings to functions you frequently use can save a lot of time. Things like lens correction, noise reduction, sharpening, keywords etc. This will reduce the time you spend doing the adjustments manually, and the keywords will speed things up if you need to filter or search for some images in the future.
Photo by Daniel Dionne
Most people aren’t aware that the majority of internet connections are asymmetric. This means that you can have a decent download speed, but a slow upload speed, at the same time. Having a good upload speed means that you can deliver the images faster.
Photo by acaben
Some of the shortcuts and facts I've mentioned might seem obvious , but most people don’t really see the difference they can make in their work, in the long run.
For example, on my old computer – dual core processor, outdated gpu, two gigabytes of ram, regular hard drive – it took me about six minutes to edit a single photo in lightroom (this I benchmarked by editing several batches of photos, around 2,000 in total, and averaging the times). Once I upgraded the computer, the average time got down to one minute.
Also, I upgraded from a slow class four card (which took one hour to transfer 500 raw files to my computer), to a class ten card, which halves the time. I am aware that the card is far from 100 megabytes per second, but there aren’t readers that fast in my country, so it would do me no good to buy one just yet.
Since I upgraded my internet from a 10/1 megabit copper connection, to a 50/50 megabit optical one, the upload times have shortened drastically. What I used to get done in hours, is now completed in minutes.
For the importing, editing, and delivering of 1,000 photos, I now need one hour to import them, 1,000 minutes (16.6 hours) to edit them, and around 10 minutes to upload them. With the old setup, that would be two hours of import time, 100 hours of editing and around three hours of upload. I don't know about you, but I appreciated the difference between 18 hours versus 105.
Of course, this is benchmarked for images that don’t require major Photoshop edits. But the time-savings is significant even when major edits are necessary, since every action in Photoshop happens faster with a computer set up to handle it.