Getting the most out of Lightroom [and keeping yourself sane]

Adobe Lightroom may not have been a full revolution for photo editors and photographers, but it has been a fair shake of the stick.

Unlike Photoshop that requires a lot saving of big files and can be heavy on your system, it works on previews organized in places like Catalogs and Collections, which can be confusing at first glance but is actually very simple and streamlined when you know what goes where and why.

It is supposed to encourage organization, cut out the saving and simplify the process so you can concentrate on beautiful images. So, lets start at the very beginning and the first things you need to do is import your photographs into Lightroom.

lightroom file editor templateImporting, Storing, Tagging and Naming in Lightroom

Tagging and naming as you import and store helps the organization of your photos later down the line.

It’s a great idea to customize a pre-set, and you can do this during the importing process after the previews are visable and you have selected the images to import.  On the right handside you will find a panel with a number of  file handling options. Go to the second one File Rename and click on the drop down window with Template written on it.

The File Editor Template will come up and you can type and choose options such as name, date and a number sequence from the drop down window. Add your name, contact details and URL to help protect your copyright. Once you have added and saved this pre-set you can use it every time you import.

How to use Folders in Lightroom

With photos imported you can now go to the Library (select from the bar at the top right of your page) and begin the fun part . But I recommend you don’t just yet- take a moment for an overview and to organize.

The thing you need know is whatever you move in Lightroom Folder doesn’t just mirror but actually moves the file on your hard drive.  If your photographs were previously saved in a pretty random way on your hard drive you can and should use the Folder sections of Lightroom to reorganize them at this point, remembering that what you do in Lightroom will move and mirror your hard drive.

It’s also important to know that if you move a folder to a different part of your computer on your hard drive, it will remain as a grey shadow that won’t open on Lightroom. You can find it and reattach it easily (use the search option and the name you put in the preset) but  I recommend that once you have Lightroom you get into the habit of doing all your file organization from within Lightroom.

What are Catologs in Lightroom?

Now this is one of the great innovation of Lightroom. The Catolog (in the left hand panel above the Folders) is a kind of library for images, like iTunes is a library for audio. Just like your music catalogue in iTunes your files remain on your hard drive, but Lightroom goes one better than iTunes, because you cannot (unfortunately) edit or improve that awful One Direction download- you can only play it. With the Catalog in Lightroom you can temporarily edit and improve the image files without touching the original on the hard drive.

catalog lightroom
using the Catalog in Lightroom

The images in the Catalog are essentially a data base file which tracks the location of your file on your computer, all the naming and data information as well as the changes you have made. Lightroom’s catalog system allows non-destructive adjustments, the images you are working on in Lightroom are just temporary previews of the original file, which remains intact.

This is where you work, go crazy with filters and create your master piece or disaster, to save and rendered or delete. It can also be where the system of saving and organizing gets unhinged too. Hence, you’ll want to know about Collections.

How and Why to Create Collections in Lightroom?

Collections (on the same panel this time below the Folders) works a lot like the Folder sections but it is organizes the previews from the Catalog into portfolios that you set up (rather than the folders which organize the photographs files on the hard drive).

You use it is when you want to group photographs into themes in Lightroom, without creating portfolios and files on your hard drive. For example you took a trip to India and you want a file of temples, a file of children, a files of food etc. You can work on this photograhs with Lightrooms preview mode without wasting time and committing hard drive space (and confusion) to new files with duplicate and version of photographs.

Maybe you have travelled the world for a few years and want to make a collection of all the waterfalls from around the world. Maybe you are going through family photographs and want complete sets of certain people. Here is how you start organizing into Collections

collection in lightroom, photo editing, organizing images in Lightroom
creating Collections in Lightroom
  1. Go to Collection icon and click on the + icon.
  2. From the drop down window select a Collection Set.
  3. Name it and click create.

Now go to your folder images in the middle of the screen and simply drag and drop any photographs on the theme that you want.

You will then have their preview which you can work on in the Catalog or in the Collection. Any changes you make in Collection will also be made in the Folder version and vice versa, but the original on the hard drive remains untouched.

Target Collections & Other Ways to Organize in Lightroom

Alternatively, you can create a  ‘target collection’ or portfolio by clicking the + icon in Collections and choosing this option. Then whenever you see a photograph that you want to add to your special collection, press ‘B’ on your keyboard and it will automatically be copied there.

Think of the Collections of images that you make as virtual pointers or virtual groupers, that will help you group and find your best shots for print. At the end of the day, you need to figure how to organize your Collections in Lightroom for your purposes and the way your mind works, but it’s really not so complicated now, is it?

If you’re like me an have thousands of images you will find a real benefit in organise your images properly, if you don’t eventually you will end up with a mess of images and it will be frustrating to find what you’re after.

If you have any further tips on how to use Lightroom to organise your photos, I would love to hear from you in the comments below!



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