How I Use Lightroom - Part 1 - Basic File Stuff

How I Use Lightroom - Part 1 - Basic File Stuff

I constantly have friends asking me how I use Adobe Lightroom.  Luckily, my cousin George invented it. Single-handedly. Just kidding. But he was one of the creators. Proof: His name is on the Splash Screen (or was, until LR3 came out).  Plug for George here.  This is not meant to be a definitive way to use LR. It's just how I use it, for my needs.  So let's start there.

My Needs

I have two types of photography: Sports, and everything else.  For the Sports photography, I typically do 500~1,000 shots in one event. For "everything else," it's divided into my daily photos (stuff I see when I'm out and about), and planned shoots - professional stuff, trips, etc.

Where I keep my photos

Basically, I keep ALL of my photos in ONE PLACE. I say basically, because actually they start on my computer and then they end up on my external drive. That's because my computer does not have enough space to store the over 50,000 photos that I have, or the over 10,000 that I am taking each year.

What's important is that I keep the same file structure on both my computer and my external drive.

File Structure

My file structure follows LR's default for importing photos. There is a good reason for that: It's the most simple. LR organizes by date, creating a separate Folder for each Year, then sub-folders for each Day of the year. Thus it's possible to have 365 sub-folders if you take pictures every day.

The next two screen shots show how that structure looks in the "Folders" section of LR, and in the "Finder" window of my Mac.

Note how the two look the same. "Folders" in LR are exactly the same as Files that you see in Finder (Mac) or Windows Explorer (Windows).  On the other hand, "Collections" in LR are just that - any kind of collection of photos that YOU may choose, from any combination of Folders.

Tip: After you add your photos, you might want to edit the name of the folder to include a description for that day, as I have done here.

Important: Note that you can move individual photos, and folders, in the "Folders" view of LR.    You can also re-name the folders from here.  When you do that in LR, the changes are also made on your computer. You should always perform renames, moves, etc from within LR because when you do, LR then "understands" what you have done.  If you move a file folder on your computer using Finder or Windows Explorer, then LR will not know what you did!  You will then get the ?? mark, which means "hey, where the hell did you put those pictures?"

For example, go to your Finder window on your Mac and change the name of this folder by adding the word "NewName" at the end...

...then go back to LR's "Folders" column and you'll see that it can't find that folder any longer... can then locate that folder by right-clicking on the folder with the ? and selecting "Find Missing Folder", a shown here:

You'll then get a pop-up to Finder (or Windows Explorer). Navigate to the folder with the changed name, and select it. LR then automatically updates the location of all of the photos contained within, as shown here:

I think you can understand how it's much easier to just change the names of folders, or move them, whatever, from within LR....

To rename a Folder, just right-click on it. To move a folder, just drag and drop.

About LR Catalogs

The LR "Catalog" file is what shows all of your pictures.

I keep all of my digital photos in two specific LR Catalogs, based on my Needs (see top): one for Sports (because the volume of photos is just so huge), and another for "Everything Else."  You can maintain separate LR Catalogs if you wish, but in general it's better to keep everything in one Catalog.

Reasons to keep photos in ONE LR Catalog:

Easy to find everything, never get lost.

Reasons to keep photos in separate LR Catalogs:

(1) Maintain separate Catalogs for separate Clients

(2) LR Catalogs can slow down if you have a HUGE number of photos, say more than 10,000.  But with today's computers, it's generally okay to have a LR Catalog that has up to 50,000 or even more. At least according to my cousin.

Importing Photos to my Catalog, from my Camera

  1. Make sure the Catalog is open. (LR only allows one Catalog to be open at the same time.)
  2. Connect your Memory chip or Camera to your computer
  3. LR automatically opens an "Import" dialog box.
  4. Check to  make sure that the Folder Format and Location is correct. LR remembers your default settings on the right side for Destination (format, and folder location).  I use their default for naming folders by date, and I always import them into the Pictures folder on my computer.  

  5. Click "Import." Done!

Importing Photos from Somewhere Else

Sometimes I import photos into my LR Catalog from somewhere else. When I do this I make sure to first place into my "Pictures" folder - preferably following the format of Year folder then Date. Then, just go to File -> Import Photos, then select the Photos to be imported, from the top of the Import screen choose "Add". This does not move the photos because I have already placed them in the "Pictures" folder, where they should be.

Sharing Catalogs with someone else

There are two ways to do this, but first you have to export your catalog. The cool thing is that you can export a portion of your Catalog, and that creates a new Catalog which someone else can then either View, or Import into their existing Catalog. This is one of the best features of LR.

Exporting a Catalog

Inside my Catalog, from any Folder (or group of selected Folders), I just right-click and select "Export this Folder as a Catalog." If I want to export a group of photos that are not inside a specific Folder, or perhaps a subset of selected photos, then I first create a Collection of photos, then export that Collection as a Catalog.

Important: Be sure to select "Export negative files" from the next dialog box, so that copies of the original photos are included in the export.

The cool thing about exporting Catalogs is that all of the changes and edits that I have made, are included in that Catalog.

I like to export a Catalog (with  full copies of all photos) to my Desktop because then I can grab the folder and drop it into my Thumb drive or my friend's portable hard drive.  Here's what a typical export looks like:

That is my folder called "4Stars". I can drag that into anyone's Thumb drive or hard drive, and they have all they need to view, edit, rank, keyword, whatever. It's all there.

Viewing a Catalog

If you expand the folder, is is what's inside:

The file named 4Stars.lrcat (stands for "lightroom catalog) is the 'execution-able' file. That means, as long as the other person has LR on their computer, they just double-click on this file and it all opens up.

The folders 2008, 2009, 2019 are just the folders that hold the copies of the photos. They replicate the exact same file structure that I had before.

Importing a Catalog

I can also import (add) a Catalog that someone else exported, into my greater catalog.  Here's how I do it:

  1. Open LR using my standard Catalog.
  2. Go to File -> Import from Catalog
  3. Select the .lrcat file from that Catalog.
  4. Done!

More later on actual usage...