Welcome to part 1 of an unknown length series(!) detailing how to go about organising photos in a sensible fashion.
If you’re anything like me, you take your camera out, you come home, you upload them all into Lightroom, you might go through and delete the rubbish, and maybe you then get called down to spend some time with your family. Repeat this over a few weeks, months or years and you soon end up with a huge catalogue of images that you “might someday” get round to properly organising. When that day finally arrives, you feel overwhelmed by the task because you’ve got x years worth of badly organised, unkeyworded images spread across different folders. Some are great and they have a star. The rest you’re not sure about but don’t want to delete them because… well… you might need them. The problem is that your Lightroom is chock full of images and it’s hard to see what’s good and what’s bad. So you do something else other than organising photos. I don’t blame you. That’s exactly how I felt and so I decided to do something about it. I did a bit of research on the web, and came up with this process which actually worked!
Main caveat: This post is NOT intended for professional photographers who shoot for a living, and also not intended for people who are already great at organising! This isn’t the “right” way to do it either. This is simply an overview of how I did it, and of how I can now find the images I want. The biggest part of this whole process is learning the ability to self-critique.
Let’s get cracking…
Before We Start Organising
Before you start making any changes though, my advice is to back up your stuff. More importantly, your settings, configurations and your photos!
If you have already done work on images in Lightroom and want to save this work, you need to save those changes within the LR application. If you don’t do this regularly, then go into your catalogue(s) and do CTRL+A to select all your images followed by a CTRL+S to save the metadata. This will force save things like ratings, labels, keywords, flagging and anything else you’ve done to the image files. We’ll be stripping most of this when we re-organise so you might ask why bother? Well, this just gives you a “saved state” to go back to if everything goes wrong.
Once your work is saved, you can move your photos and Lightroom settings somewhere safe. I’d suggest a remote hard drive, but moving them to a safe part of your hard drive is ok too. I just dumped a backup copy of my entire “Pictures” folder to my external hard drive. I also moved copies of my catalogues.
In Lightroom, a catalogue is just that. It’s a pictorial representation of all the photos in it. I could have 5000 photos on my hard drive but only 500 in my catalogue. So when I open the catalogue, I only see 500 photos. The other 4500 are still there on the drive, but I can’t view or do anything with them in Lightroom unless I import them.
You can see the location of your catalogue by clicking Edit>Catalog Settings. Under the “General” tab you can see the location. Clicking “Show” will take you to that folder in Explorer and you can copy/paste it to the same backup location as your photos.
The last thing you might want to back up are your Lightroom settings. These will remain until you completely uninstall Lightroom from your PC. The work we’re doing won’t require a re-install of Lightroom, but it’s probably good practise to back this stuff up anyway. Losing your presets can be a pain!
Lightroom settings are found in Users>YourName>App Data>Roaming>Adobe>Lightroom.
So there are three things that make up your image collection.
1. The Photos: These have the actual image data, and all the metadata (when the photo was taken, EXIF data, keywords, etc)
2. The Catalogue: A collection of settings in LR that apply to a group of photos. (Pointers to the photos in that catalogue, smart filters, preview sizes, etc)
3. Lightroom itself: All the settings that remain constant all the time (Export functions, filter presets, develop presets etc)
Once you have a safe backup of all the data and you’re in a position to be able to restore everything in case of disaster, you’re ready to make a start. The first thing we’re going to do before we even open Lightroom is sort out our images into a decent folder structure.
I like to keep all my pictures in one place, no matter what they are. So my actual digital photos that I’ve taken sit alongside all sorts of other stuff.
I have a folder for each years worth of images, and then separate folders broken down as follows.
- “Export_” folders are all generally empty. My Lightroom export presets are set up to export to these folders and when I’m done I remove them. “_Digital Frame” is the digital photo frame I bought for the in-laws. They’re not computer savvy, so when I shoot something I think they’d like, I just export to here. When they come over, and bring their USB stick, I just delete/replace with the new files. “_Photoshop”, “_Print” and “_Wallpapers” are all different quality exports.
- Assets are all my… Assets…. Website PNGs, icons, gifs, borders, textures, stock. All that stuff goes in here.
- Events are specific events. For example, my daughters’ proms resulted in a lot of photos. Weddings (there-as-a-guest) also generally get a lot of shots in them, and they clog up my catalogue. By having a “portfolio” folder, I send the absolute best to there and just basically archive the rest in Catalogues that will rarely be referenced again.
- Gaming is all my gaming screenshots. War Thunder and Kerbal Space Programme feature highly on here, and I have War Thunder skins and Battle for Wesnoth maps as well as Neverwinter Nights portraits. There’s a lot of gaming art here and as I will likely work on that separately, I don’t want it clogging my normal photo folders.
- iPhoneSync is for the phone.
- LR Catalogues is where all my catalogues sit. This was a mess before and I’m determined to keep it simple this time!!!
- Older Images are all my parents (and grandparents!) neg scans. From 1940 through to about 1985. There aren’t many of these.
- Portfolio is where I copy all my absolute best photos. I do this through Lightroom though and we’ll cover this in a later blog, so just set up an empty folder for it for now.
- Scans are literally document scans. They’re for household bills more than any artistic requirement, but Lightroom can make indexing and finding them very easy.
- Lastly, my blog screenies. These are just a dumping ground for the images (mostly screenshots) you see on the blog.
Within each folder there are some categories that have further folders. My 20XX folders all have a subsequent folder relating to the shoot, but it’s not required. Lightroom will be your sorting and “finding that picture” tool.
Once you’ve set up like this, you’re ready to get started. Because all our photos are now nicely organised, our whole cataloguing task can be broken down into bitesized chunks. When I first set this up, I did each year on one sitting in an evening. It was easy to remember where I was up to and the whole task was much more manageable.
Our next step is to look at Lightroom itself, the basic functions you might want to set up, and some talk about catalogue management. We’ll go through that in the next post (which you can find here when it’s up!)
(Edit – part 2 is here)