Lightroom Library Tips

With this second article in our series on Adobe’s Lightroom Classic CC, we are going to look at Lightroom library tips. Hopefully these Lightroom library tips will help speed up your current workflow or help you to actually create a more useable workflow for editing your photos. 

Realize that the way I work within Lightroom is not the way that worked within it a week, month, or year ago. I am continually refining my workflow for better software performance, personal editing speed, and the ability to get new photography out into the world. 

The tips that I am offering up in this article, are not a “my way or the highway” scenario. You need to develop a workflow that works best for you and how you edit your photos.

1. Lightroom Library Tips - Only 1 Catalog

As we already know, Lightroom is a catalog based editing platform. This allows you to edit and adjust photos without destroying your original raw files. I have read about photographers claiming that every shoot should be its own catalog within Lightroom because this keeps Lightroom rolling along smoothly and quickly. 

While there is some truth to this, you really need to consider what and how you are shooting photographs. A new catalog for every shoot works, if every shoot is for a different and specific client. And, in turn, there is potentially zero crossover between photos. In other words, you will never really need to search for a photo subject that could be interwoven between multiple clients. This is extremely important because in Lightroom Classic CC you can only work in one catalog at at time, so you would need to search one catalog, close it, open a new one, then search the new one.

I currently have 233,777 photos throughout hundreds of folders. With one keyword search query I can find all the photos I have shot in a specific location or subject matter. Does Lightroom Classic CC run slower because of this? Probably, but my workflow adheres pretty strictly to my previous article on speeding it up  so I don’t really fret about it at this point. So my first Lightroom library tip is to run one and only one catalog.

2. Lightroom Library Tips - Folder Structure

I have one external hard drive for all of my photos. It is a 10TB drive that is about 3/4 full. That drive is automatically backed up every hour. There are two separate folders on that hard drive that are the starting points of my library catalog inside of Lightroom. One is for Mastered Scans and the other is for all Photos and Footage. 

I then breakdown Photos and Footage into Camera Tests, Commercial Work, Editorial Work, Private Clients. Those folders are further broken down into specific locations and/or clients’ names dependent upon which folder they fit into in the above hierarchy. 

I used to add dates to the folders as well, but this became increasingly harder to navigate as my folder structure grew. I also realized that dates could easily be searched for within the Library Module. Even by simplifying my folder structure to just include a client name or location has generated hundreds of folders with my quarter of a million photo catalog, but I can at least find a series of photos rather quickly with this method. Lightroom library tips number two: simplify your folder structure using one main folder to house your folder hierarchy breakdown.

3. Photo Naming Conventions in Lightroom

My camera names files in sequence starting with the letter “J”. For example, J12345678.dng. This is not at all SEO friendly. I rename my photos at import or just after import dependent upon subject. All my naming conventions are generally descriptive to the photograph. For example, a landscape photo taken in the Tetons of Wyoming would be landscape-tetons-wyoming-1.dng. The number 1 in my file name is sequential. I do not covert my RAW files to DNG either. My Leica shoots a DNG as its native file type. 

I try to keep my file names some what generic within my folders. As I finish adding all of the metadata to a series of photos I will typically add one descriptive word to the file name. In the above example that word is landscape. My keywords and descriptions then get more specific to the subject.

4. Different Process for Ratings

Probably the most important Lightroom library tips in this article is the fact that I use the star rating system in Lightroom entirely different than one would expect. The bottomline is that I would never submit a 2 or 3 star photo to a client. Mentally they would shit their pants. And what is a 2 or 3 star photo? Why would I want to keep it? Photo editing is a very black and white book for me. A photo is either a keeper or one for the trash—this is an entirely separate article by the way.

With that in mind, I use ratings as position signifiers in my editing queue. 

1-Star = a photo is initially accepted into my catalog.

2-Stars = a photo is mastered within the Develop Module. If I cannot make a 1-Star photo look good, it becomes a reject at this point by hitting the ‘X’ key.

3-Stars = a photo has keywords added to it.

4-Stars = a photo has headline, description, and location info added to the metadata.

5-Stars = a photo is completed with new/adjusted file name. 

Many of my photos never leave the 1-Star stage. This is because there may be a similar photo that makes it to the 5-Star level, thus the like-photos are only needed if someone requests something similar, yet different to an already mastered photo.

5. Color Labels Further Refine

I use color labels as a quick reference to know where my photos are within the licensing domain and as part of my editing queue.

Red Label = A photo is out for publication with an editorial or commercial client with restrictions attached.

Yellow Label = A photo has been published within the last 6 months (the time limit of most of my exclusivity contracts).

Green Label = A photo is available for licensing. 

Blue Label = Is a print file of an original RAW.

Purple Label = Where I have left off editing in a specific folder. I use a very specific color label here because I can enter the library, quickly select the purple color label in the library filters and immediately be taken to the last photo I was working on.

6. Color Coding Folders When Complete

When any given folder is completely edited I add a green color label to that folder. This is a new part of my workflow because until recently, Lightroom Classic CC didn’t have the option to color code folders within the software. (View #1. above.)

7. Preset Mania for Lightroom

Like the import presets that I have created, I also have a series of metadata presets in the Library Module. Basically, I build presets for repetitive tasks. I have metadata presets built for the athletes I typically shoot with, the locations that I have returned to multiple times, and the specific subjects that return to my viewfinder again and again.

Remember, you can create a metadata preset to auto-populate just about any metadata field—keywords, headlines, descriptions, etc. This also works with just one or multiple metadata fields. (View #2. above.)

8. Collections for Lightroom Library Tips

I create a collection every time a photo is exported for a project, license, submission, or stock upload. Remember, collections interact with your photos and thus every other label and field of metadata.

The perfect example is a photo that is marked with a red label can be clicked in the lower right corner in grid view or upon right clicking while hovering over the photo to see which collection it resides in. From there I know who has the photo. (View #3. above.)

9. Smart Collections

Another great Lightroom library tips is to set up smart collections to quickly sort photographs in an automated way. I use them to see how many photos I have running through my rating and color labels. In addition, I use smart collections to keep track of what photos need to go to my new stock website, and which ones are already there. (View #4. above.)

10. Publish Services Brought Me Back

Do you remember when I switched to Capture One Pro? I do. I miss so many aspects of that software. When I decided to build a stock photo site with PhotoShelter though, they specifically built a plugin to work with Lightroom. This plugin resides in Lightroom’s publish services tab within the Library Module. It allows you to create galleries and publish photos directly to your PhotoShelter website. Controlling my stock site from Lightroom allows me to dramatically free up export and import timeframes. Sold. (View #5. above.)

Now I know you may not have a Photoshelter site. Know that there are a bunch of available plugins for the publish services tab. So maybe you want to publish to Flickr or your SmugMug website. Just go to the Adobe Exchange for Lightroom Classic to see the 555 pages of options.

Final Thoughts

The more organized you are within Lightroom from the beginning, the easier and quicker you can navigate through new photos. Hopefully, some of these Lightroom Library Tips help you adjust or speedup your workflow in the future. Next time we will look at how I use the Develop Module to make my photos look the way originally visualized.

Lightroom 5 Library Video

It’s a bit dated from the newer version’s features, but the concepts remain the same.

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2 thoughts on “Lightroom Library Tips”

  1. Thanks Jay,

    I really like the open, sharing attitude that comes with this post. I hope some great developments result from this benefitting you.

    Several years ago I took a workshop with Art Wolf, beginning at his house, then a day at the arboretum, then a critique the day following.
    I know you have lots of reservations about Lightroom and I think a lot of us do, mine being mostly still navigating a long learning curve. Anyway, you worked on-screen with an image in Lightroom, converting to black and white and doing some amazing things with it that brought out a lot of potential in that particular image.! I was struck that this tool could be such a benefit in an artistic process of interpreting a basic capture and realized I needed to learn more.

    Thanks for these tips on Lightroom and the free tutorial. Wow, what a gift!

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