Posted by: In: Lightroom, Post Processing 02 Jan 2015 0 comments Tags:

Welcome to my third article about re-organising your photos. This session is all about your first lightroom catalogue. Once you’ve done this once, just repeat it for all your catalogues with the exception of your Portfolio which we’ll come on to at the end. My introduction article was here and my second article was here. I’d suggest reading those first to avoid reading this out of context.

Here’s the post-it process for the tl;dr crowd:-

  1. Import dialogue: Convert to DNG, Add copyright metadata
  2. (Optional) CTRL+A (Select all), Remove colour labels, keywords, star ratings.
  3. 1st Pass : “X” all obviously rubbish photos
  4. Delete all 1st pass images from hard drive OR give them all the keyword “rubbish” & Remove them
  5. 2nd Pass : “X” all the shoulder-shrug-it’s-ok-I-suppose images
  6. Give all the 2nd pass images the keyword “average” and Remove them OR Delete them
  7. 3rd Pass : “X” anything left that’s not very good.
  8. Remove the third pass images – keyword optional
  9. Colour label / Star rating the remaining images R/Y/G/B/P (also doubles as a 5th pass for weeding out more rubbish)
  10. Spraycan the keyword “Portfolio” to your absolute BEST images.
  11. Save the Metadata
  12. Optimise the catalogue
  13. Export Portfolio shotslightroom_import

Still here? The rest of this post implies a reasonable familiarity with Lightroom. If you’re reading this, I’m jumping to the conclusion that you’ve been playing with it for a while. If that’s not the case, please take the time to do a bit of research on each step by clicking my LMGTFY link…

The first step is to copy the template catalogue into a new folder within the Lightroom Catalogue folder called “2006”. Then open that in Lightroom.

Importing Photos into Lightroom

(More info on importing)

This step was quite straightforward. I had already organised my images into the correct photos, so I started with the first year. In my case, this was 2006. I don’t need to move any of the photos but I do want to add copyright information to the metadata of every photo. In the “Apply During Import” section on the right hand side of the LR window, I edited the default preset with a new one (called “Basic”) which had the copyright information embedded (see image to the right).

It’s a pain having to put the year in and edit it for every year (had to edit for 2007, 2008, 2009 etc) but copyright stamps need to have the year in them to be valid. Fortunately it’s not a big job to just edit & rename as you go through the years. Once you’re caught up with yourself, you’ll only need to change it once a year.

Once your copyright information is set up you can import your photos. When you’re done, you’ll have an annual catalogue with all your photos from that year sat in it.

Cleaning The Photos Up

The next step is to prepare your images for reviewing. I made the decision to start again with colour labels and star ratings. My three methods for cataloguing photos are

  • Stars: Star ratings tell me how good a photo is
  • Labels: Colour labels broadly categorise my photos
  • Flags: 3 states – Flagged, Unflagged and Rejected. I use this to mark photos for removal

To remove all of these states, go to the Library module, hold CTRL+A to select all the photos and then click on Photo>Set Flag, Set Rating, Set Colour Label to remove all the stars, labels and reset all the flags to “Unflagged”.

You should now have a catalogue of images that are readyn to be properly catalogued.

Reviewing and Critiquing Your Photos

lightroom_deleteNow the  best bit. We’re going to make three passes through all the images and get rid of the rubbish. I am a huge hoarder for photos and have kept lots of photos of the same scene in case I ever need them. Many photos I haven’t looked at again since I took them, so I don’t see the point of keeping them.

I’m also going to be using the word “Delete” and “Remove” a lot in the next section. Disk space is relatively cheap these days. I think over 8 years of serious photography I have around 300Gb of images stored. My data storage at home is a 1Tb hard drive in my desktop PC and 5Tb (2×3 Tb & 2x2Tb RAIDed) of Network Attached Storage (NAS). My photos are stored on my PC and backed up to the NAS.

So when I say “Delete” an image, I mean completely get rid of it from the disk so that it is unrecoverable. When I “Remove” an image, I’m removing it from the Lightroom Catalogue. It still exists (I could go find it in Windows Explorer) it’s just not shown in Lightroom.

Every time you look to get rid of a photo from your catalogue, Lightrooom will ask you if you want to delete it or remove it (see screenshot). I’m going to tell you what I did, but you may need to do it differently.

1st Pass – The Bad & The Ugly

In the Library module, shrink the side modules of Lightroom by clicking the little arrows. You need as much screen space as you can get and you don’t need those flaggingsidebars for this part of the process. Use CTRL+Mouse_Scroll_Wheel to make the images in the module a size you can reasonably see them at. Sort your images by Capture Time so that photos of the same thing will be together.

Set up a filter that will remove “Rejected” photos from your library view (see screenshot on the right)

Start to go through the images slowly performing the following tasks

  1. Anything that’s utter rubbish, out of focus, or simply dreadful, press “X” on the keyboard to flag it as rejected (with the above filter set up, it should remove it from your view)
  2. Anything that fits the label “Panorama”, “HDR”, or “Composite”, then label it appropriately
  3. If you’ve got lots of photos of the same scene, see below.

Images that are part of a series (Panoramas/HDRs) may not look good on their own but may shine when processed/stitched. Leave them for now with just a label unless you can tell that they are all rubbish – in which case “X” them.

So what’s rubbish? It’s going to be your opinion, but anything out of focus, terribly composed (heads chopped off), or boring (that gut feel when you look at it that says “this is boring”).

What about photos of the same scene? By this, I mean maybe a portrait session, or several attempts at a landscape from the same point of view. Best served by example.


The image above shows a portrait session with 21 photos of the same person (and 5 at a different location). I don’t need that many, and I want to thin it down. By CTRL+Click or Shift+Click I can select multiple photos. I’m going to select just the 21 photos from the black & white shoot. If I then press “N”, I can go into Survey mode.


Here you can see something that looks very much like a contact sheet. When you click on an image, you’ll see an x appear in the bottom right hand corner. Pressing this removes it from the survey view. Also, because we’ve got a filter set up, if we press “X” on the keyboard, this will flag it as rejected and remove it from the survey view. As photos are removed from the view, the preview images are shuffled around (and enlarged) to fill the space.

I’m looking to remove images that are out of focus, have closed eyes, silly expressions, bad composition, shoulder or hands obscuring/in the way. And in some cases, shots I simply think are a bit rubbish.


Here’s what I’m left with. 21 shots down to six, and I could probably knock that down to 2 or 3 if I wanted. There’s no “right answer” to this process, but you do need to be ruthless.

The Survey mode was a massive help for me as it focused my attention on a group of similar photos. Give it a go if you don’t take anything else away from this article.

After your first pass through your photos, you will have flagged your “rubbish”. Set up another filter to show your rejected photos and just run through them to make sure you haven’t flagged something you wanted to keep by accident. (press “U” to unflag – i.e. put them back in your picture pool.)

Now it’s time to remove these photos from the catalogue. I opted to Delete my 1st pass photos rather than Remove them. You may want to just Remove them. If you do decide to do that, give them a keyword – “Rejected” or “Rubbish” so that you can easily group them again. Also remember to save your metadata changes so that the keyword sticks (select all images, CTRL+S to save). In the library module, CTRL+A selects all the images, and Photo>Remove Photo will bring up the option to remove/delete.

Once a photo is Removed (not deleted) it’s still on Disk but just not in this Catalogue. You can always go back and re-import these rejected photos back into your catalogue at a later date.

2nd Pass and more… The Good

I’d recommend going for a cuppa (better still, a sleep!) and then coming back to re-evaluate what’s left. Do another pass being more critical. This time, you’re not going to delete the images, you’re just going to remove them from the catalogue. With that mindset, you may find yourself being more ruthless – after all, they’re not going forever.

Before removing these images, keyword them as “average” or “second pass” something that makes them easy to find as a group. Don’t forget to save the metadata before you remove them.

Another sleep, and you can do your third and final pass. This time, as you go, give 1 star to all your favourites and best shots. You’ll probably find that you remove very few images now as you’ve been through them so many times. However 1 starring forces you to “choose” a winner from a selection – the “best from the set”. How do the rest stack up – are they really worth keeping?

Also, at this stage, you can colour label the images too. Red for photos you might want to play with later (crop out that photo frame!), yellow for B&W and green/purple/blue should mostly be done by now.

By the time you’ve finished this pass, you should have a trim catalogue of your best quality images. Of course you can repeat this process as many times as you want. You can also, come back to this year and re-import all those photos you removed and do the process again.

spraycanThe last pass you’ll do is to hunt for portfolio images. In the library view, there’s a spray can (see screenshot). Set this to add the Keyword “Portfolio” to your images. Then do yet another pass through and “spraycan” the Portfolio keyword onto your absolute best images.

You need to be really ruthless here. Portfolio images are shots you think would look good on gallery wall. Your best stuff. If it needs processing to get there, that’s fine, mark it. It doesn’t need to be finished, but it does need to be the best of the best.

Once you’ve portfolio’d your images, you might want to “Spraycan” another keyword of “family portfolio” or “family album”. These (for me) are family shots that are the stuff for a family album. They may not be brilliant photos in terms of composition, lighting, etc, but they have great meaning.

Finishing Up With Your Lightroom Catalogue

Almost there now. Just a few bits & bobs left…

First, make sure all your “rejected” photos are removed from the catalogue. Select all your remaining images (CTRL+A), and CTRL+S to save the metadata.quick_filter

Second, now that you’ve dumped a load of photos, you can re-optimise the catalogue which will remove the database entries and previews for those removed images from the catalogue. File>Optimise Catalogue will do this for you. You now have a trimmed down catalogue that will backup nice & quick.

You may also want to create a series of filters to filter through your photos. You’ve probably already created a “show me unflagged” filter as well as “show me the rejected photos” filter. The screenshot to the right shows some sample ones I set up. The quick filters are great for chopping out chunks of photos.

Finally, you might want to export your Portfolio images whilst you’re still in the annual catalogue. I’ll cover this in the next article, but for now, if you want to just export all photos tagged with the “Portfolio” keyword to a new (Portfolio) folder in your Pictures folder. The reason for two copies will be expolined in the next article.

Now all you need to do is rinse & repeat this process with all your photos.

I would suggest using something like (free tool) WinDirStat to see which of your photo directories are largest (and smallest) and alternate between doing big “years” and small ones.

The next article will be about the Portfolio catalogue and we’ll look at trimming down what we thought were our best photos even more. The final article will look at presenting these portfolios in a body of work rather than just “dumping everything on Flickr” (which is my current strategy!)

Thanks for reading!