Automating Your Workflow

By Gene McCullagh
April 18, 2011

There are quite a few features in Lightroom to help you automate your workflow. In every module you will find things to make your life easier! Well, workflow-wise anyway. Publish Services offer a streamlined way to keep your catalog and remote sites in synch. Develop presets let you quickly apply settings you have honed over time. Publishing a website? The Web Module assists you in putting it all together and even has FTP built in to get your masterpiece up on the web in no time! And so the list goes. 

Still. There are opportunities to take your workflow to the next level using other technology in concert with Lightroom. We took a look at one technique in a previous post Abbreviating Lightroom. There we leveraged the power of text expanding utilities to make text entry quicker. Let's take a look at another way to automate and streamline our workflow. 

Before we begin I have to apologize to the readers who use Windows. The sample workflow solution I am writing about will only work on a Mac. But please don't stop reading if you use Windows. Take a look at the workflow automation here and let us know if there is a way to accomplish something similar on the Windows platform. Use the comments section. 

On every Mac you will find an underutilized yet powerful application called Automator. Automator is kind of like using AppleScript building blocks. You can choose various actions to create a workflow. The resulting workflow can be turned into an application or used as a folder action. If you are well versed in AppleScript you can create more powerful routines. But, Automator is easier to learn and will suffice in many more situations than you think. 

Here is the workflow premise we'll start with: you have several clients to whom you have given access to folders on your web server. After a shoot these clients like to download JPEGs and use them in layouts. Once they decide which shots work they contact you for full size TIFFs. Your workflow right now is:
  • After the shots are in Lightroom you use Export to create a folder of JPEGs on your drive
  • You then open your FTP client and upload the JPEGs to the client's folder on your web server
  • Once the upload is done you delete the JPEGs from your drive since you have the originals in your catalog
  • Finally, you email your client to let them know that the new images have been uploaded
So let's see how Automator can make this workflow a breeze! Open Automator and choose Application as the template to use for your workflow.
   Click for full size  image Now you will be in the main interface for Automator where you can begin to build your workflow by choosing actions from the list on the left and dragging them to the workflow on the right.
  Click for full size image Aside from the action that come with Automator, other programs may install actions to make them accessible to the Automator workflow. My FTP program is Transmit from Panic and it adds several actions to Automator. Here I am using the Upload action.

Continue to drag over the needed actions and entering the parameters to complete your workflow.
  Click for full size image Now that we have the workflow setup let's look at the steps:
  1. upload files passed to the workflow to the indicated server and folder
  2. delete the files from the drive after the upload is finished
  3. create a new email message to the client letting them know the files have been uploaded
  4. send the message
Save the workflow application. In this example I've called it Now let's return to Lightroom and see how we can use this new application.
  Click for full size image In the Post-Processing section of the export dialog you can run an application when the export is complete or you can choose an action/application from Lightroom's Export Actions Folder. I moved the to the Export Actions Folder but the choice is yours. (To find the location of the Export Actions Folder click the last choice in the dialog from the Post-Processing section; Go to Export Actions Folder Now. This will open Finder/Explorer to that folder.) 

When you have everything in the Export dialog ready then why not save it as a preset by clicking the Add button under Presets.
  Click for full size image If you do this for each of your clients that use your FTP service then all you need to do is choose the images and run their Export preset. In our example we wind up with the files upload, drive space reclaimed and email sent. All these steps are now accomplished by running an export preset from Lightroom!
  Click for full size image This is just one example. If you sit down and think about the repetitive parts of your workflow they could very well be excellent candidates for automation. Spend your time being creative. Repetition is what computers are good at so hand those menial chores over to them.

A short note for those Mac users who are wondering why I didn't set ClientUploader as a folder action: when the number of files increases some of them may not be uploaded. The folder action begins shortly after the first few files hit the folder. As they keep coming into the folder from Lightroom, the folder action may become overwhelmed and stop running. By using an application we are assured that all of the files are already in the folder before the upload begins. 

So try out some automation and see if it helps you get your work done quicker so you can get out there and shoot some more! And don't forget my invitation to our Windows readers. Share with us in the comments how to automate on the Windows Platform.

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