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10 Steps To Organize Your Photos In Lightroom

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Lightroom is one of the most powerful and popular image editing applications for amateur and professional photographers alike. Whether you are editing personal photos or working as a professional photographer, having a system in place to find and access images quickly is a must. Not having a proper organization system in place can turn into a tedious and time consuming process when looking for a specific image like trying to find a needle in a haystack. This article will teach you how to organize Lightroom images in only 10 easy steps:

Step 1: Create a folder system on your computer

How images are organized will most likely depend on whether you are a professional photographer, an amateur or just a regular person taking photos for personal use.  Either way, a well thought out system even for casual users means that should you wish to progress into more professional photography, a system will already be in place that will support your growth.

1. Create a general folder

It’s a good idea to create a general folder that will be the starting point for saving all your images. Think of it as having one room in the house to store all of your images in. Where the folder is created is completely up to the user for example on the “Desktop” or in a subfolder of the “My Pictures” or “My Documents” folders already on most computers.  For professionals, it is advised to create a folder straight in the root folder of the computer’s harddrive. It might also be a good idea to purchase a separate harddrive exclusively for saving images. 

2. Organize images by year

Once the general folder has been created, create subfolders by year for example “2020”, “2021” and so on. These will be used to save all the images you have taken within that specific year.

3. Create event folders within the year folders

The subfolders created within the year folders will need to have detailed descriptions of the project or event that the images are from. Many do not like the date system, but if named properly it can be very effective in finding your images quickly.   A subfolder name example would be “2020-04-12 Sam and Eva wedding”. Adding the exact date and a short description of the event is key to this method of organization.

Create 3 subfolders within the “event” folders

Within each of the event folders, you will create 3 subfolders namely:  
    • Catalog: The catalog folder is where all of the Lightroom catalogs will be saved. Create a new catalog for each event.
  • Originals: In this folder all of the RAW or original images will be saved.
  • Edits: As the name suggests this folder will be used to save all the final edited images.

Step 2: Create a catalog in Lightroom

  One of the first items you will see when opening Lightroom is the catalog “Import Dialogue “ box. Lightroom has a default catalog and location system, but it is a good idea to create your own. For amateurs or those who do not take pictures that often it really is only necessary to create one catalog. However, professional photographers would benefit from creating a new catalog for each event.    To create a new Lightroom catalog simply go to “File > New Catalog”.  

Step 3: Customize preferences

For every Lightroom catalog created the preferences can be set up to meet the needs of the user. This does not have to be set up at the beginning and can always be adjusted later, but it is better to get this step out of the way before it becomes something forgotten.   Customizing the preference allows users to streamline workflow. Go to “Edit > Preferences” and then select the “General” tab. From here you can set which catalogs are opened when Lightroom starts up. The “Presets” tab allows you to set whether Lightroom stores presets with a catalog. Lightroom can store presets in a general folder or within each of the catalog folders created. The “External Editing” tab is where you can set the file format if other programs such as Photoshop are also used in the editing process.      “File Handling” is an important setting that allows you to control how files will be imported into the catalogs. These settings will depend on the preference of the user. Lastly the “Interface” tab is one which usually is left at its default settings by most users.  

Step 4: Modify Lightroom Catalog Settings

To get to the catalog settings press “Edit > Catalog Settings” which will bring up the catalog box as per the below. Going through all of the tabs, you will be able to set up how catalogs will be backed up. It is important to note that images and presets are not not backed up here, but only catalog settings and any edits made using various models.   Setting up regular backups is crucial to ensure that information isn’t lost when critical disk failure occurs.

Step 5: Import images into the Lightroom catalog

Once the catalog settings and preferences have been set up, images can be imported using a few different methods. The easiest is to go to “File > Import Photos”. The left side of the screen is where images can be selected or grabbed from and the right side of the screen features as the destination with import settings that can be modified. The middle section shows all of the images that will be imported.   Lightroom can recognize the difference between a permanent storage, card reader or actual device plugged into your computer. When a camera is directly connected to the device, it will show up on the left hand side. Once the camera is removed from the device, so too will the available device folder disappear from view.   Creating import presets can speed up this process and is highly recommended.

Step 6: Pick images with a system in place

There might be a mountain of images to choose from and using a process of selecting the images you want to use versus the images to be discarded is going to make this process a lot smoother. An effective process to use is to flag the images that need to be rejected. Right clicking on an image and selecting “Flag > Set Flag” will gray out the image and add a black flag in the left corner. This process makes distinguishing between the images that must be kept and the images that need to be discarded simple and effective.

Step 7: Use collections and smart collections 

This step is an optional one and not necessary depending on user preference. Collections can be set up when import presets are being adjusted. Using collections or smart collections is an added step for further filtering images, but collections only exist in Lightroom. Actual images will sit in the import folders and collections are merely a way to identify images faster within Lightroom. For example, smart collections can be used to identify newborn images within a family shoot.  Collections are an effective way to improve workflow and are useful for professional photographers that deal with many images.

Step 8: Set up export settings

Lightroom offers a variety of export settings depending on how the image will be used. Some images may be for social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram where others might need to be printed. Once all of the images to be exported are selected, go to “File < Export”. The settings box will allow you to customize the image export settings as per the requirement. Whether it is for print, social media or the web, Lightroom allows the user to customize the settings for the best optimization of the image.

Step 9: Backup catalogs and images

As mentioned previously, Lightroom will only backup catalogs. Images will require a manual backup. Below are the steps to backup images:
  • Copy – Ensure all files are copied from your camera and computer onto an external harddrive.
  • Clone – Hard Drives do not live forever and are bound to fail at some point in time. Cloning files is one way to ensure that even if the hard drive fails, the files will still be recoverable.
  • Cloud Storage – Cloud storage is the final step in ensuring your files are retrievable. Again, because hardware has a lifespan, cloud storage is a great way to keep images safe. In an emergency, files can be easily downloaded from the cloud storage as long as you ensure that files are synced to the cloud on a regular basis.

Step 10: Get rid of unwanted images

Keeping all of the RAW files can take up a lot of space, so cleaning up images that are no longer needed should be done on a regular basis. Client RAW images should all be kept at least until the client has signed and approved all of their images. Images can then be saved as jpegs in order to free up space or if preferred, only the keeper RAW files can be kept and the rejected ones can be deleted from the catalog.

Final Words

Organization is key if it comes to image editing and there are many other organization systems out there. In the end it comes down to what system is going to work best for you. Follow these 10 Easy steps to  help you to streamline and organize your Lightroom photos for easy access. To recap, it does not matter whether you are a professional photographer dealing with thousands of images or someone just taking images for personal use. Organizing images in lightroom can save a lot of time and make the whole process a lot more streamlined. 

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