Professional Photographer Magazine Web Exclusives

Workflow: Checklists and Timeouts

By Chontelle Brown, CPP

Whenever I hear about a business or customer service error, my first thought is, “they should have had a checklist” or “someone didn’t use their checklist.” Checklists are reminders that reduce the risk of error for routine tasks.

For years the airline industry has used checklists and, not coincidentally, now has the lowest fatality rate in decades. Most recently, operating rooms have implemented similar ideas with checklists and timeouts. While we are not in a profession that risks the life or limb of our clients, we do stake our reputation on our performance and run the risk of failing in our business.


When we become complacent, we create a situation open to latent errors—errors that may not become apparent until later. The more we deviate from norm, the more comfortable we become with this deviance, or the new normal. Before long, you may not immediately back up your images from a session because you skipped this step previously without consequence. As we all know, this is a recipe for disaster.

By creating and using checklists, you ensure each step of your workflow is completed, thus preventing errors or having to redo work because it was done incorrectly the first time. Checklists have helped streamline processes in my studio. I have a checklist for my entire workflow as well as a checklist for each session type. This ensures that I am always prepared when my client arrives, no more last minute searching for a diaper cover or fumbling to find that I forgot paper towels and wipes during a newborn session.

Another way I use a checklist is by performing a timeout, meaning a pause in the action. It is my time to stop and think to be sure I am in control and that things are going as they should. Taking a timeout to check my camera settings when I move from one shooting situation to another can prevent errors in exposure. During newborn sessions, I use two separate setups: natural light and a strobe. Before moving to a different setup, I stop and take a very deliberate timeout to check all my camera settings. It sounds simple and mundane, but it will save you the heartache of missing an important image.

Checklists are easy to create. They can be as detailed or simple as you like; just be sure it is something you will use. Sometimes the more complicated a checklist or the system you employ, the less likely you are to use it. Choose the physical form of checklist that will work best for you, whether it is an individual printed checklist attached to each session folder or a whiteboard that allows you to track multiple clients in one place. To create your own custom whiteboard, design your layout in Adobe Photoshop and have your lab mount the laminated print on masonite.

Start by writing down all the steps in your workflow, including the most detail possible, and then begin consolidating steps if the checklist is too cumbersome. For example, you can simply list Back Up Session as a single step, or you can include each part of your backup process as a separate step such as, 1) Copy RAW files to external drives, 2) Copy processed images to external drives, and 3) Burn all files to disk. You may find the need to refine your checklist as you use it more. We all have different work styles, and what works for me may not work for you. Don't be afraid of developing a system specific for your preferences.

One resultant benefit of using checklists is I have become more efficient. When I have a checklist, I tend to complete items sooner to enjoy checking them off the list.

I even have checklists for my clients for each of their baby sessions. I provide the client with a list of what to bring for each session, helping to ensure a successful session, both for the client and for me financially.

Set aside time in the coming weeks to develop your checklists. It’s a great way to start off an organized and efficient new year.


__ Create client in SW

__ Add appt in SW

__ Session confirmation e-mail

__ TY note for sched

__ Mail session booklet

__ Client folder

__ measure/appt card
__ client info form
__ order form

__ Back up disk sleeves

__ TY note for session

__ Download session images

__ Copy RAW files to external

__ Edit session

__ Create Proselect slideshow

__ Ordering session

__ Enter order in SW

__ TY note for order

__ Prep files for lab

__ 4x6 gift prints
__ accordian albums

__ Send files to lab

__ accordian albums

__ Facebook images

__ Final backup disk

__ Copy final images for external

__ Format card

__ Frame order

__ Package prints

__ Package gift

__ Frame work

__ Order notification e-mail

__ Order pick up

__ Enter final payment in SW

__ TY note after delivery