11 Replies Latest reply on May 9, 2012 5:21 AM by gpichler.com

    Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction

    kitjv Level 1

      I recently made the decision to abandon ACR in favor of LR4. I am presently using the trial version of LR4 & am absolutely delighted so far. Coming from ACR, the transition to the Develop Module in LR4 has been quite smooth.


      One of the enticing attributes of LR4 is its organizational flexibility. However, having spent many hours familiarizing myself with Catalogs, Folders, Collections & the myriad of options available to organize my images, I have become completely overwhelmed. I think that my problem is that I am so used to using Adobe Bridge/ACR that I am trying to adapt the image organizaton tools in LR4 to my old ways of thinking. I probably need to start thinking outside of the "Abode Bridge/ACR" box. With that said, I need to come up with an organizational structure that will work best for me.


      Since I am sure this is a worn-out topic, I don't want this thread to go on forever. However, could I impose on some of you LR veterans to point me in the direction of some resources (e.g. stickies, past threads, blogs, tutorials, etc.) offering suggestions for organizing my images? I would truly appreciate it.


      In the meantime, a wee dram of single-malt scotch might relax my spinning head.


      Thank you kindly.

        • 1. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
          Cornelia-I Level 4

          Hi kitjv,


          It is important to note that the folders you use are of little meaning in terms of organization.

          Choose one option and stick with it, don't move other than from working storage (e.g. on a laptop or main computer) to live-archival-storage (e.g. a NAS). Do this move inside LR, not from your operating system (windows Explorer or Mac Finder).


          For all other organisation you better use collections and keywords.

          You can't do much mistakes there, as it is very easy to decide differently, drop a collection and go for something else. Collections enable you to organise from all possible view points, such as date/time, subject, content/persons... and you can have as many as you like.

          Smart collections work as filter results, you just do not need to enter your filter criteria again.


          For folders it depends how much you shoot. Generally I would prefer to have *handy portions* inside, e.g. ca. 100-3000 images.

          My chosen structure is:

          One folder per Year

               underneath one folder per shoot, named "YYYY-MM-DD short description"

          So I have a sort of mini-diary, viewable even from OS, but I have to indicate the destination folder for each import.

          I could have it automatically created by LR import options if I would go for



          There are also options to go automatically down to date, but as I am not earning my livelihood with photography that would be overdone for me.


          I have learned most of my LR knowledge and organizing concepts from Victoria Bampton's "The missing FAQ":

          If you are looking for free downloads you find them for LR3 here: http://www.lightroomqueen.com/books/adobe-lightroom-3-missing-faq/book-excerpts/

          If you spend 14.95 British Pound, go for LR4: http://www.lightroomqueen.com/books/adobe-lightroom-4-missing-faq/


          ...the single-malt scotch dram is an excellent idea! Which (brand or type) are you drinking at the moment? Enjoy



          • 2. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
            dj_paige Level 10

            I probably need to start thinking outside of the "Abode Bridge/ACR" box. With that said, I need to come up with an organizational structure that will work best for me.

            You definitely need to stop thinking of organizing the way you did with Bridge. Just toss those ideas out of your head now that you are using LR. Changing your thought patterns is a must if you are going to transition from Bridge to LR and truly take advantage of Lightroom's powerful organizing capabilities.


            Before Lightroom, organizing was done via folders, and perhaps via file names. This was necessarily limiting, as a photo could only be in a single folder, and there was also a limit to how much you could do with file names.


            Now that you have Lightroom, organizing is not done via folders. Let me say that again. Now that you have Lightroom, organizing is not done via folders. It is done via keywords and metadata, and searches are done via several tools in LR (filter bar, keyword list panel, smart collections). The limitations of folders (a photo must be in a single folder) is gone with LR, a photo can have as many organizing pieces of information (multiple keywords plus a caption, a title, etc.) as you wish. I advise you to use folders only as a storage location, and do not give folders any organizational value in your mind. Use simple, default folder names (I use capture date) for new imports. Leave existing photos in their existing folders. If it bothers you to have some existing folders named (for example) Boston 12-08-30 and new folders named simply 12-11-18, throw that idea out of your head, think out of the box, thing new. Lightroom doesn't care about the folder name formats being "mismatched", once you keyword and add other metadata, you will not be searching via folders. (Note: On day 1 of your Lightroom use, you have little or no keywords, and little other metadata, you will still need to search by folder name. As your use of keywords and other metadata increases, you will stop searching via folder names and folder locations).


            The best book I have seen on organizing your photos, and taking full advantage of the Lightroom database, is not a Lightroom book at all. It is The DAM Book. I have not seen any Lightroom specific books that really talks in depth about organizing in a database like LR, compared to folder based organizing that you did in Bridge. In particular, Kelby's books on Lightroom don't address this topic at all (I admit I haven't seen his LR4 book). He will take you through the mechanics of adding a keyword and the mechanics of adding captions, but he doesn't address why, or the benefits of a database, or any overarching concepts about organizing.


            Lastly ... one catalog for all your photos unless you have clear subject matter reasons to separate them (e.g. work vs personal). Do all of your photo management inside of LR. Do not use your operating system to manage your photos. Do all of your photo browsing and searching inside of LR. Do not browse or search for your photos in your operating system.

            • 3. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
              gnits999 Level 1

              When starting with Lightroom, especialy when coming from a different workflow, I recommend you read this free download from The Lightroom Queen, paying particular attention to the "The Top 10 Gotchas".


              http://www.lightroomqueen.com/downloads/bookexcerpts/lr3excerpts/lr3sample-quickstartessen tials.pdf


              Ths refers to Lightroom 3, most still applies (but be careful of changes to flags in LR4).


              Victoria Brompton has produced an ebook for each version of Lightroom which is in the format of answering the most common questions asked.

              • 4. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                kitjv Level 1

                Thank you, everyone, for your advice & recommendations. Much appreciated. As I continue to sort this all out, undoubtedly I will have some general questions prior to setting up LR4 as my workflow hub. I hope that I can impose on all of you again.

                • 5. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                  CSS Simon Level 3

                  What everyone else says!  There's no "right" way to organise folders, but whatever you choose, if you want to move files or folders about after you import them into LR, then do the moving in LR.  You can drag individual files or folders around in the folder window in Library view.  That moves them on the disk and keeps the LR catalog updated at the same time.  If you do it outside LR, it gets confused, as files aren't where it expects them (though fairly easy to fix). 


                  Like Cornelia, I use folders by year, and then by shoot.  So in LR, it looks like this (taking a screen shot from last year):



                  Personally, I reckon it's a good idea to put your photos in a top-level folder on the system.  Not sure about Macs, but in Windows, the default is something like the Pictures library, which is actually in somewhere like "C:\Users\<user name>\Pictures".  I keep mine in a top-level folder called "D:\Photo Album".  The advantage of that is that the folders look identical inside LR and outside.  So my drive D looks like this, the same as in Lightroom:


                  The only difference is that LR sees only those files and folders you've chosen to import. 

                  • 6. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction


                    sorry for hijacking this thread, but i've got a similar question for Simon about the use of the folder view. I'm actually an Aperture3 user but on my way to switch over to LR4. In Aperture i use exactly the same method: project-folders with years, month-day as subfolders.

                    what if i want to keep all the images i shot in "11-01 Ashfield", but put the processed of them in an extra virtual folder "edited"? am i forced to work with collection sets?

                    it's rather confusing having the project in the folder view, and the subselection of it in the lower part (collections).


                    or should i see a collection as a project and completely forget about the folder view?


                    thanx for any input



                    • 7. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                      Cornelia-I Level 4

                      Hi gpichler,


                      in LR there is no such concept as "edited": LR is a database with records which point to your images residing *somewhere in 1 or several folders*.

                      This record contains all instructions how to interpet a RAW or DNG format, along with all metadata.


                      If you export some as jpgs it is not worth while to keep them - use them and delete them afterwards. You can recreate them any time again from LR if wished. This will cost you far less storage space. [Of course LR would let you add those export results to its catalog... but what for?]


                      If you want to export in several ways you can create snapshots or virtual copies, that is just another instruction set how to interpet the same image file.


                      "Forced to work with collections sets": I would not call it "forced". It is an additional option, one that frees you from having to put some metadata-meaning into a folder naming.


                      Yes, I would rather forget about the folder view. One folder per year could suffice - my comfort level is around 3000 images per folder, but you may well call that old-fashioned . Then you organize your projects with collections. Combining smart with dumb collections is a really strong feature.

                      It allows you to apply several orga methods or view points.

                      A collection set lets you group them.

                      You can even copy a collection and then change something in the second version while preserving your first - this will not duplicate your data.


                      Collections are accessible from every LR module, while folders are not - another advantage of this method.


                      So find a minimal-effort way of defining folders and forget about them. Put your diligence in collections then.


                      Have fun, Cornelia

                      • 8. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                        gnits999 Level 1

                        Using and learning Lightroom is an evolutionary process.  Can I suggest some thoughts from a slightly different perspective. (ie Outputs)


                        You should become very very very  familiar with the Export function.  A lot of queries fill discussion boards on imports, folder structures, workflows, collections, etc.  The Import and Develop help get you to a point where you have an image that you want to do something with.  If you are only going to print your own images on your own printer connected to your Lightroom catelog and images then you will only need the print module.


                        Most people need images in multiple formats for web, local printing, printing via an external service, iphone, ipad, android devices, etc.  Whatever our main outputs are right now, you can bet that the options will increase exponentially. This aspect has the potential to have a bigger impact on your folder / collection strategy than simply the concept of the initial import and develop.


                        In my view putting these into multiple collections 9smart or otherwise) becomes too complicated , too quickly.


                        Spend time with the Export module and build a core set of Export presets that satisfy the majority of your output needs .  Then decide how you should structure your folders, collections, flags and tags.


                        A sample of presets I have include


                        Small Jpg  for web / email (full screen, watermark, low res, medium to low quality)



                        Full tif ( for use in other programs… such as InDesign or Photoshop)

                        A3_Full Title Page setup. (including Titles, copyright, location, other metadata). These are output from Lightroom as Tiiffs, dropped into a templates I have in InDesign and resaved back to this folder as PDFs ready for internal or  external printing.

                        A2 Full Title Page setup

                        A1 Full Title Page setup

                        Publish Services for Zenfolio.


                        I have created these presets so they automatically store the output in a subfolder below my raw images. I just select in the grid view, right click on Export, select my presets an Lightroom does its magic and creates my outputs, nicely filed away.


                        Here is a sample using my folder strategy of Year and Job. If I use multiple cameras then I will have sub folders per camera (ie I do not want duplicate image numbers).


                        If I have large projects, then I create sub folders within my job folder. This could be based on date, photographer, location, or other heading which majes sense for the project.


                        I spent six weeks travelling thru SE Asia, Australia and New Zealand.  For that trip I decided I would create sub folders per card used.  I titled the folder with a name to remind me of where I was.


                        Here is an extract.





                        In my view putting these into multiple collections (smart or otherwise) becomes too complicated , too quickly.


                        Lightroom is very powerful, with lots of options.  I would get a basic folder set up  and evolve your use of collections as you become more familiar with the tools available.

                        • 9. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                          CSS Simon Level 3

                          Well, I guess there are many ways of organising photos, and the right one is the one that works for you. 


                          Like gnits999 I use a year / session folder structure, but 2 differences:

                          • I don't keep sub-folders for A4 print, A3 print etc.  I export to temporary folders, then delete them once I've printed them.  If I need them again, I export again.
                          • And that's why I do make extensive use of collections, keywords, tags etc!  If I want to create a set for the web, or for printing, for example, I probably use star ratings or colour tags to mark them while I'm making my selection.  If it's a set that spans multiple folders (that is, spans multiple shoots or events) then I'll use collections to make the list.  I don't find that becomes "too complicated, too quickly" for me.  And it means I don't have multiple versions of images (except sometimes multiple edits stacked together in the same folder).  I find it easier to keep track that way, and it means if I edit an image, I don't end up with a print version that's now out of date. 

                          However, I think it's all a matter of personal style and preference. 


                          As you say, experiment and find out what suits your style. 

                          • 10. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                            Susan S. Level 1

                            Organisation in LR is still a work in progress for me and is something I really need to think about more - I still keep my photos on the hard drive in folders arranged in a tightly structured  year/month/date tree ( I set up the year/month structure first and then just let Lightroom create the date folders on import) and then have the metadata automatically written to XMP files so I can find things by keyword/colour tagging in Bridge if I need to. I use photos as references for illustrations and as Lightroom won't handle illustrator files, tracking illustrations and matching photo references has to be done via Bridge. If it wasn't for that, I could be a bit more creative with use of collections etc.


                            I use colour tagging extensively to mark images that have either been finally processed for my own use, processed for use in illustrations, or for sale.


                            With LR4, I'm finding I'm using PS less, but I keep copies of any extensively edited tiffs (panoramas, composites) in the same folder as the orignal RAW files they are based on.  Family photos I export as jpegs to a folder and then import them into iphoto periodically (ugh - but the rest of the family already know how to use it!) which can be shared between all the computers in the house, and the ipads. Facebook and Flickr stuff is managed in collections.


                            What I need to work on is keywording structure. At the moment I just keyword on an ad hoc basis, and a lot of older images are unkeyworded.  I need to set up a structure so I don't have similar images keyworded totally differently.

                            • 11. Re: Image Organization Overload - Need Some Direction
                              gpichler.com Level 1

                              thanks for your inputs, really appreciable! so without using the folder view too much it'll be closer to the workflow i already have with AP3.