Capture One Organizing Workflow: Start to Finish

This time around, I’d like to explore Capture One’s (C1) cataloging features more in-depth. An essential part of your workflow will be importing, culling, rating, organizing, and, eventually, exporting your imagery.

There are a few good things you should know about if you’ve chosen Capture One as your go-to RAW converter, that is a great quality of life improvements.

Session window of Capture One. You can change all of the folder names, but I personally, like them as they are.

To illustrate these best, I’ll walk you through my workflow and explain along the way. There are many ways you could go about this process, of course, but my preferred method is working in sessions first.


Starting with the Import dialog window, you’ll see most things you’re used to seeing. Usual stuff like import source, import destination, backup to (conveniently named copy to second location in LR), renaming field, adjustments upon import, and summary tab.

Making Tokens Part of Your Capture One Workflow

We’ll go through these individually, but something you must remember here is that tokens are your best friend. What are tokens you might ask? Tokens, or as they call them – dynamic structures, are Capture One’s automation feature designed to turn the process of creating folder structures, renaming, and sorting into a no-brainer. But more on that later.

Download a FREE e-book: 25 Techniques All Photographers Should Master

Default look of the Import Window in Capture One.

So let’s say you just came home from a shoot, you put your card in the reader, and the import window of Capture One pops up. You have your import source, and two checkboxes one to include subfolders, if you have any, and one that will scan through your images and exclude any duplicates.

All the tokens in Capture One. You can click on Group and filter them, so you find what you’re looking for easily.

Under that, you’ll find the Import To box. It shows you the destination where your images will be imported; in my case, the Capture Folder of the session. You can change that to whatever you like, depending on where your photos live on your hard drive.

The next option is really important. That is where tokens become handy, especially if you have a strict folder structure like me. Instead of typing the name of the subfolder every time, you can use tokens based on metadata to create the structure for you.

For example, my folder structure starts with a folder of the camera I shot with. Sometimes I’d shoot different cameras or shoot photos and video, and I like my structure separated by the model of the camera. Then in this folder, I sort my images by day. When I shoot on location, I know exactly which day I shot what, so if I need anything, I’d like to be able to navigate between days quickly. In the end, I place them in a folder called RAW, as there I’d store the raw images/footage. The tokens automate all of this.

You can choose any structure you like and base it on tokens. Maybe you only want them sorted by date or perhaps by lens? Then you just choose the token that suits your needs, and you’re good to go. The other info the Import to box gives you is the sample path for your import to location and how much space is left there.

The next section in line is the “back up to” box. Not much more to it than that. If you back up your images on an external hard drive that might be in handy, but if you’re using a RAID or time-machine, like me, you can altogether skip this box.

The naming tab is the next best thing you’ll find in the Import dialog window. It can automatically rename all the images you’re importing and again, with the help of tokens, you can completely automate this process. As you see, I use the classical year/month/date counter, followed by the Job Name and topped off with a four-digit counter. Use the metadata copyright window to import your work with copyright information directly, so you don’t forget later down the line.

Here you see the use of the Model (camera model) token. I’ve also added “/RAW” as I like keeping all the RAWs in one place. More often than not, I’ll also work in Photoshop on some of them, and then, for convenience, I’d save them in a separate folder, next to the RAW folder.

Other than that, the adjustments tab speaks for itself, although I don’t see many scenarios you might use it. The last few options are the eject card tick box, and the erase images after copying (which I don’t recommend using, at least not until you’re sure you have everything backed up. Press Import!

Capture One will start the importing process and will generate previews for your images at the same time. You can choose what preview size to have from Preferences > Image > Image Size. Bear in mind this may have an impact on your computer performance. The benefit of higher resolution previews is that you can still edit and have a good idea what’s going on, even if they’re offline!

Culling & Rating 

Okay, your next natural step would be to cull your images, go through them, delete the absolute worst, chose your picks. Now, Capture One doesn’t have an option like flagging in Lightroom, there are, however, many other ways you can go about that. I for once, give them color tags. I use green for my picks, yellow for the ones I’m not sure (for now) and red for the once I’d like to get rid of. A significant difference between Lightroom and Capture One is that Capture One allows you to create custom shortcuts and change the whole workspace altogether. In this case, I’ve already added 6 to be red color flag, 7 to be yellow color flag, 8 to be green color flag, and 9 to be none.

Capture One allows you to change and assign any key you like.

You can also change your keyboard shortcuts to best suit your workflow if you go to “Edit” then “Edit Keyboard Shortcuts.” In the search bar type “Red” and assign it to whichever key you find most useful.

After that, I’ve created two smart folders, one for green and one for red flags. That way, I will be able to separate the picks from the discarded images easily. By the way, if you click to add a smart folder then go to presets, you will find all the basic things you might need a smart folder for, already done and one click away.

From there on, you can go about in many different ways, depending on how you like to work. You can rate your images, make smart folders for any rating or rating and color tag combined, overall you can go through the smart folder options in the folder menu and choose whatever will fit your workflow the best. 

An alternative way you can use for creating smart folders is to go to the filter menu at the bottom of the Library tab. There you can choose a filter that will sort out everything in the selected collection and shown in the viewer. Choose a filter to your liking go to the “…” sign next to it and create a smart folder. This is a super-smart way to filter through lenses, camera models, and everything more technical. It will save you a lot of time by just clicking the filter instead of typing in the correct lens name. And by the way, if you cannot see a filter which you’re looking for just go to the “…” next to filters and click on the “show/hide filters” option. There you can select all the filters you’d like to have at your disposal, all based on metadata.

You can choose whichever filter you like to make a smart folder out of.

Creating smart folders will speed up your workflow. You can use them to sort your images any way you please.

To be able to see your images for this part of the workflow best, you can hide your tool tab and the viewer and expand your browser tab. For a shortcut, I have set “§” on my keyboard which lays conveniently right next to number 1. This way, you will be able to quickly go through your images and see which of them to discard straight away.

To further help you, Capture One has designed a tool like the Focus Mask. You can turn it on by going to View > Focus Mask. You can also add it to your toolbar and set a shortcut key to your liking. It will become pretty obvious which of your images are not in focus, but if you’re unsure, you can use the Loupe tool (shortcut default: P).

Here I can see which of my images are in focus. As you can see in the top right corner I’ve added the focus mask to my tools bar (orange icon).

Finally, you can further sort out your photos by moving the best picks to the Selects folder of the Session and getting ready to start away with the edits.

Importing Sessions Into Your Capture One Catalog

By now, most of your work should be already organized in smart folders, culled, rated, maybe even keyworded.

Before we move to the final step of the process – the export, I’d like to quickly go through the part where you’ll import the session into your catalog. After you open your catalog, you’ll go to “File” and then Import Session. What is great about this method is that when it imports your session, it sort of, imports it as a project. So all the smart albums you’ve already created, the green flags, red flags, ratings and so on, are only searching in this Project folder. So it will definitely not mess up with all your other filters.

If you, however, want to have a smart album that still searches through ALL of your catalog images, you can create a smart album outside of any project folders.

Enhancing Your Photos

With your photos organized you will want to enhance some of your images. Either by using C1 styles as a starting point for editing, or by going through your keepers one at a time. Enhancing your images using Captue One, is a separate topic in itself, which we will discuss in other articles.

Outputting Photos in Capture One

Process Recipes window in the Output tab in Capture One. Here you can add, remove and alter any process recipes.

Finally, after doing the enhancements to each of your images, you’re ready to export. You go to the export tab or in C1 terms, the output tab, where you’ll see the process recipes. In our Capture One vs. Lightroom article, I briefly outline the pros and cons, as well as the difference between the two RAW converters. In my honest opinion, Capture One provides a more flexible means for getting your work ready to be delivered.

Starting with the first window, you’ll see already pre-made recipes with the most common settings you might need to use. From there on, you are free to create any recipes you want to have. You can select the desired output format of your file between a variety of JPEGs, TIFF, DNG, PNG, and PSD.

The general Basic tab is all you’d expect – a quality slider, ICC profile, resolution, and scale. By default, all your output is exported in your output folder.

Later on, when we get to the Output Location window, you can select an output for all your recipes altogether. However, if you, for example, want to have an alternative output location, different for each process recipe – the file tab is where you want to go. You can change the root folder to anything you desire. For example, I export all my Instagram scheduled pictures to my google drive. In that case I would select my system Google drive folder, which synchronizes with the cloud and uploads there directly.

As you can see in the Sub Name, I’ve used the Recipe Name token, which will automatically create a folder named “Jpeg Full Size” in my output directory.

The rest of the basic tabs are pretty self-explanatory. We have the adjustments tab which allows you to ignore the crop if you so desire and choose export sharpening for screen or print. In the metadata tab, you’ll be able to select whatever metadata you’d like your image to have. Furthermore, you can add any annotations or overlay you might have applied as part of your workflow earlier in the editing process. The watermark tab will be no surprise either, allowing you to add text or an image, supposedly a logo, as a watermark over your picture.

Moving on to the Output Location window, you can see the general location for all your recipes. When working in sessions, you will find it suitable to be left as it is. However, the subfolder box will be a convenient place to make use of the tokens once again. If you type “Recipe Name”, all your output will be separated in process recipes folders. And you can choose to process as many recipes you’d like at once! Meaning you can process a TIFF, Jpeg in full size, Jpeg for website use, and an Instagram 4×5 all at the same time. This is where Lightroom really falls behind.

Last but not least, the Output Naming is pretty much the same as the Import Naming window. If you don’t like to rename your images or you’d like to name them something else upon export this will be the best way. A sold use of tokens will help you achieve that with as little effort as possible.  

Final thoughts

This is pretty much everything you need to know about Capture One’s organizational capabilities.

It is quite powerful and a wonderful alternative to LR. The introduction of tokens here is the driving power of automation. Tokens are designed to save you as much time as possible and let you think more about your image than how to store, organize, and export it. The use of sessions can easily become your go-to method of working on your assignments, because of its easy use and already pre-made structure. The only thing left there to do is import it in your master catalog and call it a day!

Author Details

Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 


Hey, my name is Krassy Dimitrov. I’m a commercial photographer based in Bulgaria. Among the things I like shooting you’ll see a lot of travel, product, wedding and portrait photography. I’m also an author and contributor to the ever-growing Photography-RAW website here. 

Explore Capture One\'s organizing features. Learn an effective way to use Capture One for importing, culling, rating, organizing, and exporting your photos.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.