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Clean up that Lightroom mess


In the last article I focused on the issue of moving your images around outside of Lightroom and how to reconnect them to the catalog. This time we are going to look at the various ways of managing files in Lightroom. This is where most photographers and new Lightroom users get hosed. Remember, Lightroom is just a database pointing to the location of your images. It doesn’t contain them at all.

Three ways to manage your catalogs

Many Lightroom users start out using the initial default catalog, and they never change. Or they don’t know that they can change. Yes Lightroom can have multiple catalogs. You can only have one catalog open at a time. There are a few schools of thought around catalog management.

Default catalog method

In this scenario, you import all of your client jobs in this catalog. If you didn’t change to your Import settings, then your image files are going to be located in your Pictures folder and sorted out by Date. There is absolutely nothing wrong with working like this. It depends on your system resources and the type of work you do. If each job is only a handful of files, and you have lots of hard drive space available, it works well. But if your hard drive is full, or you have hundreds of thousands of images cataloged in this one Lightroom catalog, .your computer is going to be slow, and Lightroom is going to be slow.

Working catalog method

The next method is a viable solution. You place your current client jobs into a “Working” catalog. Think of this as a temporary location while you’re working on the job. Then what happens?

You put your current client jobs into a “working” catalog. Think of this as a temporary location while you’re working on the job. When you’re done, you archive the client images into a client catalog and any portfolio images into a portfolio catalog. The benefit of this workflow is you always have access to all of your open client jobs. So, you could export on client job while you’re working on another job. I don’t know many people who do this because it can hog memory and make editing and exporting slow and frustrating. And it makes extra steps.

Client catalog method (aka what I do)

The last method is my favorite way to work. Each client gets their on nice happy little container, that holds a catalog, RAW files, exported jpgs, etc. This opens up lots of benefits.

1. It’s clean. You know where everything is.

2. It’s much easier to share the catalog with someone else. All you have to do is copy the entire folder

3. There is no additional Archive step to create another catalog so less chance of user error.

The downside is you can work on only one client job at a time.  I still export my favorites out of the client catalog to my own Portfolio catalog. While I am working on jobs they live on my fastest internal drive. When I am done they get moved off to external storage.

Let’s get down and dirty … I mean clean!

Depending on which type of workflow you use, there are different ways of moving images and catalogs around your internal and external devices. The key is to do the file management within Lightroom so you don’t lose the pointers to your files. If you have moved files outside of Lightroom, see my last article on how to find your images again.

One Catalog – Move images to External Drive

dave-doeppel-add-external-drive-to-lightroomPINIf you are using a single catalog and are out of room on your internal drive, you can move your images to an external drive. The catalog itself will remain on the internal drive but its pointers will be updated to the external location. If you disconnect the external drive then you wont have access to edit those images unless you are using Lightroom 5 and have created Smart Previews. Here are the steps to move your images:

  1. Create a location on the external drive for the images
  2. Add the external drive to Lightroom. In the Library Module, click the + in the Folder Panel and select Add Folder. Browse to the new location and then click Choose and the Drive and Folder will be added in the Library Module.
  3. Move your files within Lightroom. You can drag entire folder around or you can select individual images and move them around.

Working Catalog: Archive Jobs to External

dave-doeppel-export-lightroom-folder-to-catalogPINIn this scenario, client files are moving in and out of a single working catalog. When you are done working the job, it gets exported out of Lightroom to its own catalog with the RAW files.

  1. Right click on the folder containing the client images and select Export This Folder as a Catalog
  2. Select your External drive. Check the box to Export negative files. You can check the Build/Include Smart Previews or Include Available Previews if you want. This is optional since this is just an archive.
  3. Give the new catalog an appropriate name, I usually use “year-month-date client name” for my folders and catalog names
  4. Click Export catalog
  5. Verify that the new catalog is good by opening it and also verify that the RAW files have been copied.
  6. If all is good you can go back to your Working catalog, right click the client folder and select Remove. This will remove the folder from Lightroom. You would need to manually delete these files from your internal hard drive.

Individual Catalogs – Move the folder to External

This is by far the easiest method. If you work with individual catalogs for each client, all you have to do is move the folder from your internal to your external drive. The key to this is to have one folder that contains your catalog file and your RAW images. If you organize your catalogs this way they will remain a cohesive unit and you can move them to any drive or even another computer and open the catalog and the pointers will be accurate.

I have some videos demonstrating these procedures on my blog

Feel free to shoot me a question any time.


Dave Doeppel

Dave is the owner of LA Pinups, specializing in Pinup and Boudoir Portraits in Los Angeles. He has always been a fan of Pinup and Burlesque. He is also an Adobe Certified Expert in Lightroom 4/5 and Photoshop CC and loves teaching photographers how to manage their images efficiently from ingesting through export.

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