I use Adobe Lightroom to archive, and edit the raw-files I shoot. It’s a great tool, but lately my catalog has been getting kind of messy. I’ve had a couple of different storage solutions, and a lot of the files in my catalog have missing paths. I’m also tired of having two ways of sorting my images on my hard-drive; some have been sorted by Lightroom in folders by date, and a lot of pre-Lightroom files I’ve sorted in folders by custom names after locations, events and photo shoots. It was time for spring cleaning my photo-archive! If you’re considering doing the same, or if you’re new to Lightroom, I’ll share a couple of basic tips I picked up during this experience.
Before you begin
First: Make a plan! This was a mistake I did when I started using Lightroom. I didn’t have a plan, and my files got scattered all over the place. So, before you begin consider this: Are you going to have one or several catalogs? Where are you storing your photos? What kind of folder structure are you going to use?
There’s no need to use several catalogs, and no need to worry that your catalog will grow too big. Only reason to use more than one catalog would be your own preference. Some may prefer only one catalog, other may use one catalog for each client or each gig. Me, I ended up with two catalogs; one for work and one for everything else.
As for storage make sure you use something that’s big enough, and durable enough too last. Don’t end up moving your image-files from disk to disk all the time. Moving your images from F: to G: will mess up the file paths and you’ll end with a bunch of missing links. While Lightroom can handle this it causes for a lot of extra work. I’ve gone from a single hard-drive to using a NAS system with disk mirroring. It’s durable, easily upgraded, has a minimal risk of data loss due to disk failure, and has a static IP, hence no change in file path!
Let Lightroom do the legwork!
When it comes to sorting the images on disk, I wanted to sort all of my photos into a folder named “Archive” and sub-folders by year and month. I didn’t see the point in continuing a system where I named the folders with descriptions. I add keywords to all my photos in Lightroom, so if I’m looking for a specific shoot, or subject, I can just search for keywords and right-click -> “Show in Finder/Explorer” to find the image-file on the disk. After all, this is the whole point of Lightroom’s powerful Library.
I figured the easiest way to build my catalog was to start from scratch. The only problem was that I had all these keywords, flags and color labels added, and didn’t want to lose them. The solution to this was simple. I selected all my files and clicked the menu “Metadata -> Save Metadata to File”. This save all metadata such as keyword etc. to the side-car XMP file or sometimes in the file itself. Not to worry though, It’s perfectly non-destructive and works great. Since a bunch of my files had missing paths, and I didn’t bother to re-link them, my metadata was not saved to all my images. I figured it was quicker to add the keywords etc. than to re-link all of those files!
My next step was to create a new catalog. In the Import window I selected “Add”, then just added all the files that was already correctly placed in the year, month folder system. As for the other files in my old system of folder names I selected “Copy”, and let Lightroom copy them to their new location, and sort them into folder by year and month.
Improve your Lightroom experience
In the Import window I also selected to let Lightroom create 1:1 previews, and I also went to the menu “Edit -> Catalog Settings -> File Handling” and selected the option to never delete the 1:1 previews. If you’re not familiar with it, Lightroom uses previews to preview the images, and any changes you do to it. If you zoom in on an image you may have experienced that Lightroom will start loading. This is actually Lightroom generating a 1:1 preview of that file. If you view that same file at a later time, you’ll see that Lightroom skips the loading. Normally 1:1 previews are generated as they are needed, and deleted after a certain period of time. Generating 1:1 previews on import causes it to take quite a bit longer. These are also large files, and they can eat up a lot of hard-drive space. For me space isn’t a problem, however my NAS connection is not as fast as I would like, and the files from my D800 are quite large, so the loading part where Lightroom generate the previews can be quite slow. Very irritating when all I wanted to do was quickly zoom in to look at a detail or check focus. By generating 1:1 previews on import, and keeping them indefinitely, I can zoom in, or make changes, and Lightroom will respond much quicker without the loading time. If you use Lightroom 5, and use Smart Render, you’ll even be able to edit off-line!
The best part about this spring clean was I didn’t have to put a lot of work into it. Mostly I just had to let Lightroom work a couple of hours, and just check in now and then. Then, I had to add a couple of keywords, and other things, because I was too lazy to re-link all my files. The result however, was a much better organized, and easier to navigate, folder system, and a much faster Lightroom catalog!