How to Set Up a Digital Photo Editing Environment in Windows

As film has given way to digital media, photographers have moved from the dark room to the computer. This transition has been going along for more than a decade and in that time professional photographers have been learning how to come up consistent and dramatic photos. Editing photos have become a much larger part of what a photographer does and, as a result, the pros have developed some best practices when it comes to setting up an environment that allows them to do their work easily, efficiently, and well. In this article I will try to share with you a few minimal best practices that you must do, to get yourself started in the right direction.

Pros, Pro-sumers, and the Hobbyist

There are many best practices when it comes to setting up a proper environment to edit your digital photographs. Many of the practices used by professionals aren’t affordable, or necessarily needed by the pro-sumer or the hobbyist market. That’s why I plan to touch some practices from the professional realm just to give an idea of what they are, but I plan to focus on “best practices" a hobbyist can incorporate into their workflow. As with most things, the first consideration in getting the most out of your workflow, is the environment you work in.


I have seen some photo editors go to extremes when setting up their environment. As with taking pictures, the process of editing pictures can benefit greatly from the proper lighting. Some photographers spend a great deal of time choosing proper paint for their editing area and placing the computer in right angle to their windows. For people with less resources, the key here is getting the best lighting. Eliminating glare is important; computer monitors shouldn’t face windows that can cause reflections. Perhaps the best test of lighting is by taking a photograph viewed under natural sunlight and viewing it in your editing space. If the color is not the same it might be time for a lighting change. Generally you want to have a lot of indirect light, and it’s okay to mix fluorescent and incandescent lamps if that’s what it takes to get light of similar quality to natural light.

Another important part of setting up your environment is to keep your tools at hand. If you edit with a tablet, keep all the accessories in easy reach. Spare media and your camera might also find a good home near the computer you will be using to edit with. Another good idea might be to keep a second way to access your media nearby. If you use your USB cable, for instance, it might be a good idea to keep a memory card reader nearby should the USB cable not work.

Color calibration

Professional photographers spend a lot of time setting up shots to get the lighting just right, so the colors come out just the way they want. As we’ve discussed in How to Install a Color Profile, all this would be a waste if colors didn’t match when they went to edit photos in the computer.

Since every monitor ages and acts slightly differently over time, photographers use expensive color calibration devices to make sure their monitors are showing the truest color possible. The simplest of these are USB devices that plug into your computer and hang off the monitor. These devices generate a color profile file that allows your computer to compensate for the specific qualities of a monitor. One example is SPYDER3EXPRESS from ColorVision.

Hobbyists don’t always have the luxury to buy new products, so there are ways to calibrate your monitor in a more economical way. Many camera shops offer rental options that give the everyday photographer access to professional tools, and this may include calibration devices. In short, it’s always good to talk to your local camera shop and find out all the services they provide.

Additionally, many monitor manufacturers develop baseline color profiles for their monitors. While each monitor is different, a baseline color profile will still get your monitor closer to showing true colors than no color profile. Finally, Windows 7 has a manual color calibration wizard which we covered in Why & How To Calibrate a Monitor in Windows 7.

Setting up a temp workspace

In a previous tutorial, Create Panoramic Pictures by Stitches Photos in Windows Live Photo Gallery, we created a temporary workspace. We went through the mechanics of this very quickly without touching on a few good rules. As a general rule, it is good to keep a back up copy of your originals on a USB drive, that you only hookup up when copying photos into your work-space or when copying photos to the drive for archiving. This way, you are not in danger of accidentally making changes to your original and loosing the ability to start over. You can also configure your editing programs to keep a copy of the originals, so that you can always revert back.

Another helpful guideline to remember is to make your temporary workspace on a second physical hard-drive or at least a second partition. This can give you a small speed advantage as you are accessing programs from one drive and your photos from another. Also, it helps keep your work safe. If your operating system gets broken, your work is on a separate hard-drive or partition that has less chances of being affected by the problems of the operating system or by you needing to format the system drive in order to reinstall things.

Setting up a different partition for your workspace

We covered how to navigate and use the Disk Management tool in a previous tutorial: How to Manage Your Disks using the Disk Management Utility. We also expanded the topic with another useful tutorial, in case you are considering creating a more special setup: How to Hide or Dismount a Partition in Windows.


Photography is a hobby that can eat up a lot of time and resources. While you can do all of the steps that the pros do, it’s not necessarily the best option for those on a budget. A lot of useful and free tools have been presented in our articles. With this information, you can choose what are some of the best ideas that can help you get the shots you want, while letting your hobby remain relatively inexpensive and pain free.

Even though I tried, I might not have been as complete as I possibly could. Therefore, if you have other good tips, especially ones that don’t require financial investments, don’t hesitate to share them in a comment.