Lightroom Ultimate Guide – File Management

Lightroom File Management is not the most exciting subject. Nevertheless, it is important to get it right! Getting your Folder structure right from the beginning when you start importing photos into Lightroom will save time. Without some form of structure, you can quite easily lose track of your photos, particularly as your collection grows.

When you import photos into your library from your camera or SD card reader using Lightroom; they are loaded into Folders. During import, a Folder is created on your hard-drive in your chosen import location. Also, the same Folder shows up in Lightroom in the Folders menu, and with the exact same name.

In this tutorial, I will cover a method I use to keep everything logically organised. This structure will help you to quickly find photographs in the future. It also enables you to easily navigate between the Folders and Catalogues in your library.

Getting Organised with Folders

When picking a folder structure for your photographs, you should choose a structure that is logical to your way of working. For example, a studio portrait photographer is likely going to organise their folders around clients names. Whereas a travel photographer by locations. I have seen several articles on the web that implore you to do structure your folders in a specific way, or just as bad, tell you what not to do. e.g. I have seen folks go into chapter and verse on not organising by date order, but you know what? If date order works for you, then go for it.

My personal structure is a bit of a hybrid of dates and shooting locations. When I import photographs into Lightroom, I keep a folder for each year and then let Lightroom load everything into date sub-folders, which I then rename with the shoot topic.

Lightroom File Management
Figure 1: Destination Folder

To do this. When you are importing, left-click the radio button ‘into Subfolder’. This is located in the destination tab. Then, left-click on Organization and select ‘By date’.

Lightroom will then automatically create sub-folders with photographs grouped by each day. This is the main reason I like this feature. Lets say you have been on a field trip for a week or two and have hundreds of shots. Rather than all being in a single folder, its really useful for them to be split into days.

Once your photos are imported, you can then go into the folder menu in the library module, and give the folders more meaningful names.

Lightroom File Management
Figure 2: Folder Structure

Lightroom File Management Flags & Ratings

Once you have your images imported into Lightroom, it’s then beneficial to get straight into the business of deciding which to keep and which to discard. Lightroom gives you three tag systems to do this called Flags, Color Ratings, and Star Ratings. I personally only tend to use Flags, as otherwise, things can get a bit confusing.

Star Ratings let you give a photo a rating between 1 and 5 stars. I always find this to be too many choices. Basically, unless you give a photo 5 stars, you are not likely to ever use it for anything. So basically you are spending time tagging photos that you are not going to use with a 1-4 star rating.

Color ratings are similar. You get 5 colour choices. But again, if Green is a keeper, that makes all the other colours another waste of your time.

Flags on the other hand are much simpler. No flag means you haven’t looked at it, then you get a keep flag and a discard flag. Easy!

Once you have flagged your newly imported images as keepers or discard, you can then either globally delete all the non-keepers, or leave them in your folders. The choice is obviously yours. Either way, what I tend to do next is organise the keepers into Collections.

Getting To Grips With Collections

Using Collections in Lightroom is a really powerful way of managing your images. I use Collections so much that they have become central to how I browse and manage my images. The reason is, I only keep my best images in Collections. Consequently, the Folders panel has become the place where I go if I need to see my not-so-good photos. There are three types of Collection:

1) Collection

Collections are a way of creating logical groupings of images from different folders. A single image from one of your folders can even sit in multiple Collections if you want it to. After creating a collection, you can then drop single or multiple images into the Collection from your Folders.

2) Smart Collection

A Smart Collection is just the same as a standard Collection, it is a logical grouping of images from your Folders. The difference with Smart Collections is that you automatically collect images from your Folders based on tags. An example is if you want to collect all of your images with a specific person in them. Smart Collections can do that.

3) Collection Sets

A Collection Set is a collection of Collections. Lightroom even allows you to create a Collection Set within another Collection Set. So basically, you can use Collection Sets to create nested Collections.

How I use Collections

Lightroom File Management Collections
Figure 3: Collections

How you organize your Collections is going to be very much aligned to your personal photography genre and workflow. I have included my collection grouping for reference in Figure 3.

All of my top-level Collections I created as Collection Sets. Then within each of those sets, I have standard Collections for various photoshoots I have done. So for example, under the Collection Set for Landscape, I have a standard Collection for Iceland, Scotland, USA etc.

To create a Collection Set navigate to the collections panel and left-click the ‘+’ symbol (Figure 4). You are then presented with a set of options (Figure 5).

Figure 4: Add Collections
Collection Sets
Figure 5: Collection Types

Left-clicking ‘Create Collection Set’ brings up a window for you to choose a name for your Set.

After setting up a Collection Set, left-click on the ‘+’ again in the collections panel, but this time click ‘Create Collection. Choose a name for your Collection, and then tick the radio button ‘Inside a Collection Set’. From here, you select the Collection Set you want your new Collection to nest within, and click ‘Create’.

Lightroom File Management
Figure 6: Create Collection

If this article was useful to you, check out some of our other articles and how-to guides.


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