Dade Freeman
Photographer & Trainer


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Top tips for Lightroom

Organising your folders

After running my 'Getting to grips with... Lightroom' course. I quickly saw where most people were still making their own lives difficult within Lightroom (LR). Their folder structure was a mess and listed confusingly by date, rather than event.

I changed the way I organised my folder structure several years back and have never regretted it. So I thought I would pass on the way I structure my folders. This is by no means definitive, it is just the way I find simpler and think you will too.

On the left is the typical option that most people have never changed, as a consequence your files are organised by date structure. This tells me nothing about the shoot, and to be honest I am not likely to remember what date I did a particular shoot, especially if I do a lot of shoots or several in one day.

On the right is my preferred method. To set this up you need to make a few changes on this tab. Click the Organize (Organise) tab so it reads 'Into one folder'. I then tick the box 'Into Subfolder' and name that folder according to the event being imported. In the case below Coca-Cola is the new subfolder being created inside of the Commercial folder.

A word of warning - At the import stage, you can only create one sub-folder inside of a parent folder, slightly annoying!

Therefore, my suggestion if you are new to this way of doing things is, create a folder called 2015, click import, this moves you into the library module. Inside of here you can move the folders around and add as many subfolders as you like. This is where I create my usual folder structure.

ALL my images are stored on an external drive, on that drive I then create a main folder, inside of that - a yearly folder, and inside of that I create subfolders by genre. So it looks something like this - PHOTOS (you could call this My LR Pictures / Images / Imports, whatever you like) / 2015 / Wedding folder, Portrait folder, Commercial  folder etc (whatever genres you shoot). If you photograph generally and not specific subjects you could skip the genre step.

It might sound like a lot, but once you have created this initial folder structure, all future imports will be added in as 'subfolders' within each genre. In terms of file structure it would look like this - Drive/Photos/2016/Weddings/Sue&Dave.

I would suggest you ONLY make and move folders inside of Lightroom, so it knows where they are. If you move them around in Finder/Explorer, Lightroom will give you a '?' symbol next to the image - meaning it cannot find the catalog/image/folder. Of course, you can search for it and tell LR where it is, but this can be avoided. 

To demonstrate what this folder structure looks like in Finder/Explorer, it would appear something like this.

The Big One (my external drive where the images are stored) / Photos (parent folder) / 2015 (year folder) / Landscape (genre folder) / Brighton (event) / images. As you can see it is not complicated and in terms of finding what you are looking for, it makes the whole process simple. Hopefully from the Lightroom image above, you can see that within Lightroom you have instant access to your images and folders. 

Multiple Catalogs

Multiple catalogs are something I see people creating all the time for each job, especially wedding photographers. This is something you don't need to do - and it doesn't really help you in the long run. A new catalog is just that, totally new. You lose all your keywording etc, and it means you have to open and close Lightroom as you switch catalogs from wedding to wedding. LR is smart enough that you can have just one catalog and work from there, it doesn't have a top limit for photos, it no longer bloats or slows down like it used to. So consider just using the one catalog, if only for each year.

Flagging Images

And now for my final tip.

Making your selections is another stumbling block I see often. Should I Pick (P), Star (1,2,3,4,5), Colour (6,7,8,9)?

For me I don't like the idea of (P) and (X) - Pick and Delete. Yup, it's simple, but I could, especially after going through 1000 images press 'X' by mistake and delete an image I meant to keep. On top of that it is a one level choice system. What do I mean by that? Pressing 'P' means I like it, thats it. When you filter your images, sure you now have 300 out of 1000 images 'picked/liked' but you may then need to go back through them to pick the best of the best, and at that point you have to switch to another selecting system, as you cannot re-pick an image. 

Now, with the star rating you can at least grade your images by pressing '1, 2, 3, 4, 5'.  Why is that better? Because it is multi-layered. You will have to decide how you would grade your shots, but for me I keep it simple '1' is basically 'P' (I like it) and '2' would be, I really like it - and I should edit it further. I don't select rejects, why would I? I simply look for the images I like and really like. If they don't get graded effectively they are rejected. What about 3,4,5? I typically don't use them. But, you might want to use '5' to signal - the best of the best shot, fully edited and good to go! As long as you have a system and understand how, and why you use it, you are heading in the right direction.

Ohh, I nearly forgot, colour labels (6,7,8,9) - I use these to show me quickly which images are for my website, which images are for publication and which go to my client. If your client gets all the images, then no need to colour code them, but if they get 6 of 20 chosen images, it is a quick reference as to which ones you decided to send them. To create your own unique colour set go to Library/Metadata/Colour Label Set/Edit - and name the colours what you wish and save that as your preset.

Hopefully that all makes sense. As I say, it is MY way of using LR, you don't need to adopt it, but if your way isn't really working for you consider switching.


One last thing... 

If you would like to know the keyboard shortcuts and secrets within Lightroom, then click HERE.