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!


Welcome to the second part of my massive missive on organising your photos using Lightroom. This article is about Lightroom catalogue management.

Hopefully you’ve read the first part of this tutorial here and are now ready to start properly organising your photos.

The top hierarchical level in Lightroom is the Catalog, hereafter to use the correct spelling. Effective catalogue management will make your life so much easier. This is my strategy. It’s not perfect. Just like me.

Lightroom Catalogue Management Strategy

The “one catalogue” approach to Lightroom is an approach I’ve tried & tested. Due to my general laziness though, this one catalogue quickly became unmanageable, running to several Gbs in size and trying to manage several thousand images from 1940-something through to modern day. All my borders, textures, screenshots and college work were all in the same place as my portraits and landscapes. When I opened lightroom, I never looked back, and finding a “decent” shot was getting harder and harder. My approach of “one starring” anything decent was a great way to filter, but having 1,500 photos filtered from 8,000 was still no help. I was also aware of having all my eggs in one basket. One corrupt catalogue file and I’m dead. Especially if the corruption copies across to the backup. The larger the file, the more likely the chance of corruption. Backup times were increasing, and this unwieldy beast of a catalogue was just getting bigger.

The “one catalogue per job (or many-catalogue-approach” strategy was also not helpful as I’m not a pro photographer. I don’t do “jobs”. I go out with my camera and when I get home, I go through the shots. I delete anything out of focus or obviously crap and keep the rest for that day-that-never-comes when I can sit down and revisit them all. A general “day out” can see me shoot 20-60 photos and keeping around a third. I also shoot HDR so there are occasions where there will be 4-6 exposures of exactly the same scene. None of this is worthy of a whole catalogue.

So I have gone for a middle ground approach illustrated on the right.catalog_settings

First, I have a catalogue for each year. I did this because it was much easier to manage my photos on a year-by-year basis. In one evening, I could complete a 20XX catalogue easily.

I also have an xx_Template folder (the “xx_” keeps it at the bottom of the list) that makes creating a new catalogue simply a case of copy/paste.

I also have separate catalogues for Old Photos and Screenshots. I also plan to add Document Scans and Assets when I get around to it. All of these “types” of work are very different and there is no need to clutter my actual photography work with this stuff.

Lastly, my Portfolio catalogue is my “main” catalogue. This contains ONLY my best work.

So my workflow (once this is all complete) is now

  • Import photos into the correct year (20xx) catalogue
  • Open “20xx” catalogue, go through images and delete the rubbish, “Reject” the OK stuff and mark Portfolio work
  • Export “Portfolio” quality images
  • Open “Portfolio” catalogue
  • Import “Portfolio” images. Compare to existing portfolio images that are similar and have another critique pass (delete unsuitable images)
  • Tag, label and keyword the absolute best.
  • Any images requiring future work get a red label

So now when I want to play in PS or LR, I can open my Portfolio catalogue and my best images are there with a red label saying “Hey – work on me!”

One last word on the “one catalogue” approach. People have said that with multiple catalogues, it’s impossible to find images cross-catalogue. This is true. LR can’t search in any catalogues other than the one that’s currently open. However, my view is that all my “good stuff” from multiple years & events is all stored in my Portfolio. This does mean a degree of duplication but that’s good (for me). If I want to add to my portfolio and spend an evening going through old photos, I can just open (for example) 2007 and flick through them.

This organisational process works absolutely fine for the one catalogue approach. You only have to do it once though and you’ll need to keep track of where you’re up to because you won’t be able to break it down year by year.

Previews & Creating a Catalogue Template

catalog_contentBy having a Catalogue template, I can simply copy/paste every time I want to make a new catalogue rather than having to create the same smart collections and catalogue settings over and over again.

The catalogue folder contains two things. The “.lrcat” file is the catalogue itself and the “Previews” folder contains the previews.

A “Preview” is the image you see in Lightroom. It is a jpeg representation of the original file and it can be really small (like on the filmstrip) or as big as 1:1. Either way it’s still a preview and it’s stored in the “Previews” folder. So if you have 10,000 photos and you have looked at every single one of them full size, your previews folder is going to be big.

Keeping your Previews folder small helps the performance of Lightroom (it doesn’t have to load huge files) and also helps your hard drive size, your backup speed, and your backup size requirements. If you’re doing complex backups, you could even exclude the “Previews” folder from the backup without losing anything apart from a bit of time the next time you open the catalogue (Lightroom would have to rebuild the previews). Don’t forget, your original images are stored in “My Pictures\20xx” and are unaffected by the Previews images.

Create a new Catalogue from within Lightroom. Call it “Template” and put it into a “xx_Template” folder (xx_keeps it out of the way at the bottom) inside the “LR Catalogues” folder. Import a single photo into it (we need to put one photo in the catalogue to get some of the settings right). At this point it’s probably a good idea to sort out all your Lightroom settings.

cat_settings2 cat_settings1

These two images show the Catalogue settings page.

For Metadata, I check the box to ensure that Lightroom writes all my changes to the image file. That way, if my catalogue explodes, I still have all my image settings (Develop, EXIF, Metadata etc).

File Handling is also an important box. The Standard Preview Size needs to be set to your monitor size (or bigger). That way, the quality of the catalogue image won’t be impaired. If your preview size is 600 pixels on a 1200 pixel resolution monitor you’re going to get small, blurry previews which won’t help you determine if anything is in focus. In terms of discarding 1:1 previews, you have options. I prefer to discard after a short time. Once I’ve been through the 2006 catalogue and refined it and exported my portfolio images, I’m not going to go back to that catalogue for a while, so 7 days is plenty. Discarding the 1:1 previews will keep the loading times and backup files down.

Remember that the previews are all stored in the Previews folder as miniature jpegs. The larger your previews the larger your prefiews folder, the longer the backups will take and the more space it will take up.

I also set Lightroom to “Never” back up the catalogue, relying on my backup software to pick up the catalogues as well as the images.


Lastly, the “nice” settings. First, I change the name to “My Template” so I remember it’s a template.

I then build any smart collections I want to have available to all your catalogues. I find smart collections really powerful for grouping images together but a pain in the backside when it comes to actually trying to do anything with them (you can’t delete or remove an image from inside a smart collection, you can’t work with stacks etc). I like to have smart collections for my lenses, and to pick out the crop style of my photos. I don’t find a use for them otherwise.

Colour labels are the last Catalogue specific thing to change. I’m going to have different colour labels for my portfolio, but my annual catalogues are all going to be the same.

Red is for photos I want to mess around with later

Yellow is my marker for B&W photos – either ones that are B&W (my film shots/finished digital b&w conversions) or ones that need converting to B&W

Green is for my panoramas. Keep them easily recognisable. Not sure how many times I’ve deleted a “rubbish” image only to discover later that it’s part of a panorama which now can’t be completed!

Blue is for those composite shots. I don’t do many of these, but again, as for panoramas, I’ve deleted things I thought were rubbish but were in fact part of a bigger plan.

Purple for HDR. I take a lot of HDR shots so this is really useful.

These colour labels allow me to open any year and immediately pull up something that might be portfolio worthy to work on it.

So now that we’ve set up our Catalogue template, we can start importing our photos. Create a new folder for your first catalogue. Give it a name that makes sense and paste template.lrcat from your template folder in there. Rename it to sensiblename.lrcat and open it. You’re ready for lesson 3!


Posted by: In: Lightroom, Post Processing 27 Nov 2014 3 comments Tags: ,

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!

Isavemetadataf 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.

Folder Structure

folder_strucTo the right here, I’ve got an image of my folder structure. Yours may look a lot different!

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Assets are all my… Assets…. Website PNGs, icons, gifs, borders, textures, stock. All that stuff goes in here.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. iPhoneSync is for the phone.
  6. LR Catalogues is where all my catalogues sit. This was a mess before and I’m determined to keep it simple this time!!!
  7. Older Images are all my parents (and grandparents!) neg scans. From 1940 through to about 1985. There aren’t many of these.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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)