5 STEPS TO ORGANIZE YOUR LIGHTROOM LIBRARY
(AKA “Your Life”)
It’s time to get your life in order, starting with your Lightroom library, so grab a coffee and check out these 5 steps for photography feng shui.
1. Catalog vs Catalogs
When you first launch Lightroom it will create a Catalog, which is usually stored in the Pictures folder on your computer’s internal drive. This Catalog is essentially a database containing information about the photos in your library, including where they’re kept and their edit history.
Lightroom has the functionality to create multiple Catalogs, either when launching (holding down Option/Alt when clicking the app), or when the app is open (via the File menu). Although there is some merit in having multiple Lightroom Catalogs - for instance to keep 2 distinctly different genres separate, such as wedding and commercial, in doing this you’re also making it harder to locate your photos. For example, imagine you’re updating the portfolios on your website. You’ll have to keep switching Catalogs to locate all the images you’ll need for each gallery, which can’t be done while a process is running, so you’d need to wait for the initial files to export before you can switch to the next Catalog.
With one Lightroom Catalog you have all your images in one place and by using the following recommendations you’ll still be able to organize everything in a simple, easy-to-navigate way. If you still prefer to have separate Catalogs, try to keep these to a minimum and follow the rest of the tips in this post for each.
2. Start as you mean to go on
The import process should be your first area of focus when looking to organize like a boss, though this is OFTEN OVERLOOKED by many. Forming good habits during the import COULD SAVE HOURS of headaches down the line, so it’s worth the consideration.
During import there should be 2 things you’re trying to achieve: FIRST, assigning your photos a suitable name, and SECOND, finding the best place to store them. Renaming your photos on import can be a good practice for creating an organized library - ever shot a wedding with a second shooter and then struggled to find a good way to keep their images separate from yours? During import you could use the renaming feature to add ‘Second” to the file name of the photos taken by your second shooter, you can then use the library filter to search for ‘second’ in the text field to quickly filter their images. You could also rename the photos with the name of the shoot followed by a number sequence, such as Ceramic-Workshop-1, compare that to 668A1550.CR2 and you can see how much easier it is to search for and identify photos. This will also help with SEO when sharing the images online as it will give search engines the information they need to know what your photo contains - WINNING!
The import screen also gives the option to add metadata such as copyright information and keywords to your photos as you import (more on that later). All of these options can be saved as an import preset allowing you to quickly select different options when importing in the future.
Now when it comes to choosing where to import your photos, you could just use the default Lightroom structure of date folders - YEAR/MONTH. This seems fairly organized, however who can actually remember the date for every shoot they’ve done? Try creating top level folders that indicate the genre or type of photography such as Wedding, Portrait, Boudoir etc, then create subfolders within each that are named after the shoot itself.
3. Keywording is key
Keywords are a way to describe details about the photo. These could be the subject, season, time of day, prominent colors, or even your name or business name. These can either be added during the import process as above or from the Library view.
The best way to use Keywords is to organize them into Keyword Sets—a set is essentially a folder containing 9 linked keywords, allowing you to quickly add certain keywords based on the subject matter. It takes a little time to set up, but the payoff is potentially huge.
Since keywords are a form of metadata these can be included in the file when exporting from Lightroom, meaning that when you post them online your images will appear in search results when people are searching for words or phrases related to your photos - YOU SEO WIZARD, YOU!
4. Flagging, Rating and Color Labels
There’s no right or wrong way to use these tools, but the most important thing here is to have a system and stick to it.
Flagging is a great way to select and cull images immediately after import. The easiest way to do this is using the keyboard shortcuts ‘P’, ‘X’ and ‘U’. Pressing ‘P’ will flag an image as a Pick, meaning it’s one you want to keep, meanwhile ‘X’ will flag a photo as Rejected and ‘U’ can be used to remove a flag. A good practice to cull a large quantity of images (I’m looking at you wedding togs) is to grab your keyboard, get comfortable in your chair and simply use the arrow keys to move quickly through your photos, flagging your picks and rejected as you go. You can speed this process up even further by turning the Caps Lock key on before you begin, doing so will get Lightroom to auto-advance each time to flag an image. When you get to the end you can quickly rid your library of all the incorrect exposures, half blinks and out-of-focus shots by pressing Command/Control and Backspace, allowing you to focus on the good stuff.
Beyond the initial culling you may then choose to use the Star Rating and Color Labels to further identify your photos, Ratings could be used to indicate ‘how good’ a photo is, while Color Labels could be used to select which photos are going to be used in a highlights gallery or blog post.
However you choose to use these is up to you, but you must be consistent in order for this to give the biggest benefit long term.
5. Become a Collector
While the Folders view will show you the location of your images based on your file structure, the Collections view allows any number of photos from any location on your drive (or external drives) to be grouped together, without moving or duplicating the file. This makes it a fantastic organisation tool.
There are 2 types to choose from, Collection or Smart Collection - a regular Collection gives you complete control, adding any images you wish and reorganising the images inside as you please. The easiest way to add images to a Collection is to drag and drop from the Library view. A Smart Collection is, as the name suggests - smart, it will automatically add images based on criteria that you set when creating it. The criteria could be anything from focal length of the lens used to keywords added to the photo (told you that would become useful). As soon as any image in your library meet the criteria listed, it will be added to that Collection.
Organization is one of the most important parts of an efficient post-processing workflow. Whether you feel like you’re already the Lightroom equivalent of Marie Kondo or your Library is an embarrassing state, we hope you found at least one tip to help you clean up with these 5 steps to organize your life, er, um Lightroom Library!