From a lifecycle perspective, the term Publish refers to any product or output you create that is sent to someone else. This might be delivery files of your images, a finished multimedia piece, prints, files uploaded to the internet, or some other creative work. This page outlines the features of Publication with respect to digital lifecycle.

Types of Publication
When does Publishing occur?
Manage file export
Publication tracking

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From a lifecycle standpoint, any time you send images out from your system into the world at large, you are engaged in some type of publication. Publication is the goal of the vast majority of professional photography, whether that is the creation of advertising photos, website images, portrait prints, wedding albums, multimedia productions, stock photo libraries or postings to social media sites. Each of these products requires the output and transfer of some version of the visual media.

The concept of Publication is a critical one when using the lifecycle framework to understand workflow. It helps you understand the goals of your image making, and how to create a work-order that serves the task at hand.

Sometimes publication is just delivery

Let’s make a distinction here between the use of the term Publication in lifecycle, and the use of that term in a legal context. The lifecycle definition of Publication refers to any output of a file from your system to someone else. That output may be intended for personal use only, such as the creation of a proof gallery of a family portrait. From a lifecycle standpoint, these images have been published, and that’s an important concept in creating the workflow.

There is also a legal definition of Publish, with respect to US copyright law:

The distribution of ... a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending. The offering to distribute copies ... to a group of persons for purposes of further distribution, public performance, or public display, constitutes publication. A public performance or display of a work does not of itself constitute publication.

Note that when we use the term Publish in a lifecycle context, we always mean sending the image(s) out in some way, but we don’t always mean offering the image for sale in a way that meets the legal definition of publication.

Types of Publication

Regardless of what the final use of your images will be, there are some universal elements to publication, and well as some nearly universal best practices.

File delivery

The most common type of Publication for many digital photographers is output and transfer of a digital file. From a broad conceptual standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether the file output is going to be used in print, for electronic publication, or for use in a multimedia presentation. Of course the end use will have great bearing on how you prepare and deliver the file.

Read more in the File Delivery Section


Images are often printed as the vehicle for Publication. In a lifecycle context, this will generally refer to images printed in-house, directly from imaging software. Images that are exported as digital files and sent to a printing service are really Published - from a lifecycle perspective - as files, rather than as prints.

When does Publishing occur?

Images or footage may be Published at any point in the lifecycle.

  • It’s possible to Publish directly from the Capture phase, using a tool like an Eye-fi card or wireless camera transfer
  • Images, such as in-camera JPEGs, can be output and delivered as part of the Ingestion process.
  • Images are probably most-frequently Published during the Working phase.
  • It’s also quite common for an image to be Published after the source file has been archived.


Many publication scenarios require the delivery of proofs prior to the delivery of finished images. The creation of advertising photos, wedding photos, some magazine work, and many other photographic assignments will employ this two-step process.

From a lifecycle standpoint, the most important element here is the ability to track what has been Published, and the ability to connect an order for final images with the proof copies. Often, this is done by simply making sure the proof carries the same name as the original file. In recent years, however, we have seen the development of tools that can maintain a direct connection between the workflow tool and a web-based proofing tool. These Managed File Export tools are an area of exciting development, as they offers a direct connection between your desktop and the entire internet.

Manage file export

It’s now possible to integrate the software that manages your image collection with web-based tools for publication and distribution. This integration often allows a flow of information from the collection to the publication tool and back again. Your Lightroom or Aperture catalog can now hook onto Flickr, Facebook, Smugmug and more.

When a reader comments on a photo, that comment can be brought back into the catalog to centralize the storage of the information and provide control from a single environment. Master file orders, instructions for further optimization, or questions about the image content can all be exchanged over this channel. This offers photographers an unprecedented ability to publish and make use of their photos. And this capability is growing fast - we expect that before long it will be commonplace for a single photo collection to be published in a bi-directional manner to many different devices and distribution channels.

Managed file export is particularly helpful for proofing and for tracking Publication, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1 This movie shows how the Publish Services in Lightroom offer managed file export capabilities.

Publication tracking

For most photographers, it’s important to be able to keep track of Published images. Sometimes, this is just for simple billing convenience. For photographers who Publish images with limited licenses (such as time-limited use by a company), tracking the Publication history can help make sure that the license is honored, and that unauthorized use can be stopped and billed for.

In general, there are a couple of tools to use to track images.

Tag images before output

It’s best practice to use some kind of metadata tagging to indicate which images are to be Published. This can be done easily with catalog software such as Lightroom, Aperture and Media Pro. You could also use a browser like Bridge or PhotoMechanic to enter the publish history in the file’s metadata. Note that this can start to get messy if the same image is published multiple times to different places.

For photographers who do a lot of stock photography licensing, the best way to track usage is to use a dedicated photo business management software package.

Keep a copy of the Published image

It is often advisable to keep a copy of published images. In general, the higher the publication value, the more important it is to keep the copy. For some publication channels, such as delivery of final CMYK images for advertising, it is extremely important to keep a copy of the file exactly as it was delivered. When the photographer is responsible for the look of the final color, this delivery image can help prove that a file was delivered with proper settings.

For some low-publication value channels, such as uploading to your own Facebook page, it is probably not necessary to retain a publication copy.

Managed file export channels

If your images are published directly from your catalog software to a web service that supports bi-directional communication, keeping track of the Publish history may be fully automated. In theory, this is the most streamlined method for tracking many of your published images.

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Last Updated September 22, 2015