Somewhere around a third of the events I shoot end up needing to be processed and delivered to my clients within 12 hours. Some need them ASAP, and if they need the photos fast, I need to get them edited fast. Here’s what I’ve found works for me.

First, bring a laptop with you that has editing software on it. Traffic sucks and sometimes your clients can’t wait, so having a computer that you can travel with to process quickly is crucial.

On the topic of software, you need a way to quickly sort and edit your photos. Of all the programs you might be using Adobe’s Lightroom is probably the most popular. Personally, I prefer Phase One’s Capture One, because it renders files much more quickly than Lightroom, so I can cull down my selection much quicker.  If you’ve made a conscious decision to use something a little more out of the way, like Iridient Developer, you can probably adapt the system I’m about to describe, but if you’re just using whatever came with the camera or you’re using Bridge/ACR because that’s what you’ve always done, you will probably need to get something capable of a faster workflow.

Now that you have your software, the first step is to get your files onto your computer. No! Don’t directly connect your camera. That’s the slow way! Use a USB 3 or Thunderbolt card reader, and be sure to invest in a good one. From here, you can either use your editor to extract the photos from the card to your computer, or you can drag and drop the folder from the card to your computer, then import them into your program. The choice is yours but under no circumstance should you work directly from the card.

Now that you’ve gotten the files into either Lightroom or Capture One, it’s time for the primary cull. We do this for two reasons. The first is that editing massively more photos than is needed, takes massively more time than we should spend. The second is that the person who hired you probably doesn’t want to look at photos with their bosses’ eyes closed. They are useless. Start on the very first photo and give it a 1-star or a 3-star rating. Nothing in between! It’s either a perfect shot for what your client needs, or it will not work. You should have your program set to automatically go to the next photo for rating. In Lightroom, have it only show you unrated photos. In Capture One, have the “None” folder selected. Don’t worry about making a mistake. If you 1 star a good photo, just go into the 1-star folder, select the last photo and change it to 3. If you’re not sure about two photos, give them both 3 stars and we’ll deal with them later. If you have a large number of nearly identical photos (you probably will have a lot of groups like this), go through them before you rate them to see which you like the best, and rate that one a three. Rate all the others a 1 even if they’re otherwise solid.

There are some basic characteristics which I consider instant 1-stars:

  1. It is massively too light or too dark (three or four stops in either direction).
  2. It’s blurry or out of focus (Don’t keep these or deliver them to the client. You are your own quality assurance manager – don’t put out anything you wouldn’t want your name on).
  3. There is no clear subject and doesn’t concisely illustrate the event.

Depending on how many near-duplicates you kept, you might want to go through and do a second culling pass with whatever you’ve got left. Once your batch has been narrowed down, it’s time to edit.

The editing process I use for events is what I like to think of as basic editing, and this process applies to every photo.

  1. Color: The odds are pretty good that unless you shoot with color correction gels on your flash like I do, that you’ve set up a mixed-color environment. It’s very important that you keep an eye on your subject’s color balance and make sure they don’t end up looking too blue or too orange. If you find a good value, copy it and use it as a starter value for future images.
  2. Contrast: Unfortunately there is no easy way around it – people just keep putting lightbulbs on the ceiling. This tends to create a hard and unflattering light, and casts shadows on faces. Keep an eye out for shadows that get too bad and adjust accordingly.
  3. Exposure: As much as I’d love for all my shots to be perfect right out of the camera, it’s very rarely the case. Events tend to have highly variable light, especially if you’re using your flash to fill rather than as a main light. You will play with this value a lot. I personally like to get the photo as bright as I can.
  4. Cropping: Make sure if you do need to crop that you’re maintaining your aspect ratio!
  5. Noise: Depending on your equipment and how you like to shoot events, you may have a significant amount of noise (especially if you’re at a high ISO). Find a value that doesn’t soften the image too much, but gets rid of the bulk of the noise and keep it in mind as a base value.

Once you get going, your goal should be to process photos increasingly more efficiently as you go along. Check each of the items listed above and tweak as needed. Color tends to be the most time-consuming so I do everything I can to try and get it right in camera. Contrast is something a little rarer. I’ll use the highlight and shadow sliders in Capture One to recover windows or screens, but be very careful! If you push these too far, you’ll get a fake HDR look. Exposure is a big one for me; I usually find that it’s pretty close and definitely usable from the camera but if I tweak it just a bit, it’ll look so much better. As for noise, you should take a few test shots before the event starts to find out what the highest ISO you’re comfortable shooting with is. For the most part, you can mass-apply noise reduction, which will save you significant time.

Once you’ve edited and double-checked your work, export to .jpeg and deliver.