Today’s question is from Adam asks:
Table of Contents
- Creating a file system to store your photos outside of lightroom
- Having a sound back up solution is key
- Maximize the performance of Lightroom
- What is the Lightroom Catalog?
- What can the Catalog do for us?
- Searching and filtering your photos using Exif and Metadata
- Scenario 1: One big Lightroom catalog and using keywords and collections to organize
- Scenario 2: One big Lightroom catalog and using the rating & colour coding system
- Scenario 3: Using many smaller lightroom catalogs
- Scenario 4: One lightroom catalog with the best of the best and using keywords to find your photos
- Scenario 5: All family photos in one catalog , using collections and flags to sort the best of the best
Should i put my photos in one big catalog or is it best to have lots of smaller catalogs?
We discuss the topics –
- What is the Lightroom Catalog?
- What can the Catalog do for us?
- Searching and filtering your photos using exif and metadata
- Collections, different wasys to use collections to organise our photos in Lightroom
- Having a sound back up solution
- Makeing sure your have a consistant file system to store your photos outside of lightroom
- Tips to maximize the performance of Lightroom
Hey Adam, Thanks for your question. This is a very good question because we all would have asked ourselves what on Earth do we do?
Do we chuck all our photos in one massive catalog or do we break it up into smaller catalogs?
If we’re in business we could have a per shoot or if we’re just managing our home photos, or photos for our family, I should say, it could be per vacation or someone’s birthday or something like that.
What do we do? It just depends on how you want to manage your photos and what really works best for your workflow.
Today I’m going to go through just some information about the Lightroom catalog, some scenarios of how myself and some of my colleagues use Lightroom. There’s many ways you can do it and it just comes down to what you feel comfortable with Adam.
Before we even think about the Lightroom catalog, let’s talk about file structure and backup. If you’ve read the blog long enough, you’ll know that I’m very into workflow and I’m very particular of how things are set up on a consistent basis.
Creating a file system to store your photos outside of lightroom
If I put my photos in one location with a particular file structure, I expect all photos to be done that way. That way just allows us consistency and also allows me to find photos easily if I ever want to find them outside of Lightroom.
I put links into the show notes about the file structure that I use. I’ve mentioned that before in the past. I won’t repeat it now.
Having a sound back up solution is key
Also, backup system. You need to have a very sound backup system, irrespective if you’re using Lightroom or Photoshop Elements or Photoshop or any other software. You need to have a good backup system.
Having your photos in three locations, and this could also apply to your documents within your business or even family documents, electronic documents, you got to have three copies. One on the computer, second on an external hard drive and then, a third copy either in the Cloud or in another external hard drive or system that’s different from the location that you’re in so it’s location dependent.
I know. Could that be going a little bit extreme? Well, if your computer crashes, something happens, right? Then you’ll have the external hard drive. Well, if something extreme happens to the house, right? Touch wood that doesn’t happen. Then you’ve got a third copy.
That’s just how it is these days. The same thing would apply if you had paper copies or photos. If you’ve only got one copy of them, well then, you’re opening up to disaster there.
Maximize the performance of Lightroom
That’s just a couple of things to think about before you even go into the catalog. You have to have those things set up and just one more thing. A lot of people talk about Lightroom getting slow and getting bogged down and that.
It can happen. I’ve had long editing sessions where it could be for hours. Start in the morning, don’t finish til night. It does tend to slow down. You have to open and close it throughout the day to keep it going.
Sometimes it could be for a couple reasons. One, if you’re using a lot of the noise reduction, that does slow it down. Also, if you haven’t gotten your system resources set correctly, and also preferences within Lightroom set correctly, that can slow you down.
I’ve written articles about tips to speed up your Lightroom. What I’ll do, I’ll put a link in the show notes and hopefully that will help you. Things like the raw cache and where you should have kept the catalog, the top resources, RAM and hard drives that you can use to have the optimum performance from Lightroom.
What is the Lightroom Catalog?
All right. Enough of that Adam. Let’s go onto your main question here and should I put my photos into one big catalog or is it best to put it into smaller catalogs? First of all, what on earth is a Lightroom catalog? Quite simply, Adam, it is a database. It’s a database that has information about the photos that you import into it.
Now, I should note you don’t physically put the photos inside the Lightroom catalog. They do simply reside on your hard drive. Lightroom simply just has a link or a reference to them. Now, because you’re importing your photos into Lightroom, it knows information about your photos. Things like the EXIF data, your serial number, camera, did the flash fire, lens, metering, all that good stuff that is normally embedded into your photos from your camera.
Also, if you go to the extent of key wording your photos and adding captions, so things like if you’re a lendscape photographer you can put locations and you can put a caption if you’re, say for instance, a sports photographer and you want to put a caption about the particular player or team or whatever it may be. All that stuff gets sucked into the catalog as well, which is pretty cool.
Also, within the catalog, all your edits. All the stuff that you do to your photos get, of course, stored into your catalog. You know how you can make virtual copies of your photos? Then, of course, you can apply in preset or moving the sliders to get the photos to look the way you want. Then, it’s only when you hit export that those settings are applied to a copy of the photo and exported and made into a JPEG, which is how we get a nondestructive editing of our photos. That’s one of the key advantages of having this database that Lightroom has.
What can the Catalog do for us?
The other thing is the digital asset management. Earlier I mentioned that it has information about your photos, EXIF data and keywords if you go to that extent. Well, did you know that you can search and filter using these attributes? You can put your star rating colours and you can flag. Of course, those are simple filters that we all should be using with our workflow.
Did you know that you can go one step further and search for key words. Imagine if you had one catalog and you had, say I don’t, maybe 20,000 photos in there and this is spanning over a few years and it’s all from your family. You may put a simple key word of family vacation at Hawaii. Jen’s birthday. First day of school. Little things like that to a group of photos.
If you want to find those photos because your wife, grandparents, whatever it may be, they want to, say, get some prints or even you want to make a little book. Well, then, having that information within Lightroom, to be able to simply put one or two words in to search and bring up all those photos is pretty powerful stuff.
Searching and filtering your photos using Exif and Metadata
You can do the same with filters. You can filter your camera serial numbers and lenses and that allows you to say, for instance, if you’ve gotten multiple cameras, you’ve photographed multiple cameras, maybe you can use that to cull photos. You want to colour per camera.
You may have taken 5,000 photos per camera and you want to just go either by lens and cull all the shorter lens first.
I mean, this is just stuff that I’m thinking off the top of my head, but I guess, probably what you would really use that part of the filters is maybe if you’re with multiple cameras, but also multiple photographers and you want to go and maybe look at the photos of the photographer and edit those photos first or whatever it may be.
That’s just some stuff that you can use the Lightroom catalog for. Another thing that comes to mind, now, is as I mentioned, if you’ve got some multiple cameras and multiple lenses. Say for instance, you’ve got zoom lenses, right? You’ve got a whole heap of zoom lenses.
You’re thinking to yourself, “I want to get some primes.” Well, did you know that if you’ve got one big catalog, and this is an advantage for if you have a massive catalog, but if you’ve, say for instance, got all your photos in one catalog, you can filter for the different lenses. Say, for instance, you think to yourself, “Well, I want to get a new prime lens, but I don’t know which focal lens I want to get it at.”
Well, if you filter all your photos and you’re hovering around about the, you’ve got a range of lenses from 24mm to 400mm and you’re hovering around about the 50mm or the 35 mm, about 80% of the time, well, then, you can use Lightroom to help you make that decision go, “Well, hey. If all my photos that I’m looking at here are around about that focal length, maybe I should look into getting a 35 mm prime or a 50 mm prime.”
That’s pretty powerful stuff as opposed to just going and picking up a prime just for the hell of picking up a prime because people say it’s a good lens for that particular type of photography. I mean, that’s just something to think about. We know a little bit about the catalog. It’s a database and allows us to search our photos. It has information about our photos. It keeps all our edits in there and it allows us to do nondestructive editing to our photos.
Scenario 1: One big Lightroom catalog and using keywords and collections to organize
Now, what I want to talk about now, is about a couple of scenarios. I’ve got a couple of friends that do very different photography to what I do.
They’re into landscaping, street photography. I have one friend in particular that has, I’m not really too sure how many photos he’s got, but I know that over 100,000 photos. He’s got photos from film days. He’s scanned them.
Before he even had Lightroom, he would actually scan his photos and bring them into Photoshop and start editing the photos.
What he’s gone and done now, he’s actually put all his photos into a massive catalog, one catalog I should say. He’s gone and key worded his photos.
He’s used collections to segregate the photos. Actually, I forgot to mention that. Collections are containers. They’re like virtual containers. What he’s done, he’s gone and separated, so he’s got one massive catalog.
Each year he’s put into a container. It’s spanning many, many years. With all of those photos, he’s also putting location and the type of photo, if it’s a sunset or sunrise and then put other information within the photos that helps him find the photos when he needs them.
Now, that’s one way you can do it. He’s still in the process of bringing all these photos in because as you can imagine it does take a long time.
The majority of the photos that he’s got have already been edited. It’s just from photos now on that he does edit and keyword. Of course, all the photos that he’s brought in from the past, he’s in the process of slowly key wording on these photos.
It’s pretty powerful. If he wants to, say for instance, bring up a photo to put on social media or even make a little book because he wants to make something for a particular area that he’s photographed, like island or he want to New York, or whatever it may have been, that’s easy for him to do. He can bring up photos when he wants to.
Scenario 2: One big Lightroom catalog and using the rating & colour coding system
Now, I have another friend that’s into street photography. What she does is does have one massive catalog, but she uses things like the tagging system, the ability to star rate her photos, and colour code and uses the rating system to say, “Well, these are the photos I’ve used for social media or these are the photos I want to go and edit further on.”
But also use as a colour coding system to say, “These are the photos that are for this particular project, my best and use the different colours to do that.”
As you can see, two very different ways of doing it. There’s no right or wrong. It just comes down to how you really want to treat it.
Scenario 3: Using many smaller lightroom catalogs
Then, there’s me. I use a little bit of both. I have a lot of smaller catalogs that I break up per shoot because the clients that I have, going to edit their photos, export their photos, and after that they’re not really going to come back and ask for photos again for that particular shoot, unless they physically lose their photos.
The fact that I’ve already exported to JPEGs and put them in the folders, I can simply just drag and drop onto a USB or upload it to somewhere in the Cloud for them to download. Very, very easy.
I don’t even key word. I do rate and use the tagging system, mostly the tagging system.
You can imagine that if I have, say, a wedding and I’ve shot 3,000 photos, I would tag the photos that, as I’m editing, the ones that I’m going to deliver and the other ones that I tag.
Scenario 4: One lightroom catalog with the best of the best and using keywords to find your photos
Then, of course, the ones that I export. Now, I have on my sports photography side, where I’ve got 13,000 photos that I have online.
Before bringing them into Lightroom, these were all captioned and keyword within Photo Mechanic, which I’ve spoken about before in the past. These are the photos that are there for media to purchase, the clubs to purchase and also the families and the players to purchase.
You can imagine if a media officer calls up instead of going to my website and going on the search bar, they’ve gone and called me up and they said,
“Hey. We need a photo of, I don’t know, could be Jason Smith. We want him to be in a portrait orientation and we want him to be passing.”
Well, I’ve gone to that nth degree of putting things like passing, tackling, if they’ve been hurt, if they got blood, whatever it may be.
If it’s a different event, gymnastics, is it rings, is it floor, apparatus. If it’s athletics, the type of event. All that stuff has been put into the photo, embedded into the photos that got sucked into the catalog.
That’s how I treat that. It’s one catalog has about 13,000 photos. They’re the photos, the 13,000 are the ones that, they’re not outtakes or anything like that, they’re just the ones that have been edited and brought it. You can just imagine there would have been a lot more taken to get to those 13,000.
Scenario 5: All family photos in one catalog , using collections and flags to sort the best of the best
Then, of course, there’s things like family, which are made into one catalog and I may actually just put them into containers most of the time of different events.
Over a course of a year, may have four or five special things like birthdays or vacation.
If you break it down into special events or even years, that’s a nice simple way of segregating the photos and just using the colour code or the pick key I should say to pick and tag photos that I wanted to export. One way that I treat the family photos.
As you can see, five different ways of using the Lightroom catalog. Some overlap in way of using it. It just comes down to, really, how much time you want to spend to it.
A lot of photos I don’t refer to after. It’s just how the photos are. If I ever want to edit a photo, I usually export it, not really ever want to go back or have to go back to the catalog because I have my exported photos, things from my albums, like for my wedding clients, or portrait albums. I’ve also got exports from my social media and prints.
Yes. There are some duplication of photos, but some are low res, others are high, others have been put to a particular size. They’re already done into a fall structure. I don’t have to go and refer to the Lightroom catalog unless I want to really edit the photos, again, try something different. That’s how I treat my photos in general.
Adam, I hope you’ve got enough information there to make an educated decision for your own workflow.
Thanks for your question. It’s a really good one. It’s something that we all would have asked ourselves at one point or another.