Sooner or Later You Are Going to Lose Your Photographs

Mastering Image Organization with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Cover of document, "Mastering Image Organization in Lightroom"

Well, maybe. If you are taking a lot of photographs, and you don’t have a logical way to store them and back them up–if your desktop is a mess of folders and documents, you are heading for disaster. If you are a photographer, and you have been having trouble coming up with a well-thought-out way to organize your photo library, this document will help you. If you already use Lightroom and have been losing images and have numerous catalogs scattered around your computer, Mastering Image Organization with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom will help you overcome these problems.

I love having an organized photo library, and you will too.

This 28 page pdf on setting up your Lightroom catalog is free for you to download. In it I explain how to set up your filing system for optimum organization, allowing you to overcome issues with lost photographs and too many unorganized folders. You will learn how to pull your images into a logical storage hierarchy that is really easy to understand, makes finding photographs very straight forward, and is built to support a growing library of thousands of images.

The contents include:

Part I
Setting Up Lightroom and Your Computer’s File System 

Six Steps to Achieving Image Organization Nirvana
Some Fundamentals: The Difference Between Browsing and Cataloging
Organization – Setting Up Lightroom
Storing Images on Your Computer

Part II
Organizing Folders, Creating a Naming Convention, and Tagging Images 

Organizing Folders
Naming Conventions
Creating a File Naming Preset
Saving a File Naming Preset
Other Data That Can be Applied During Import

Part III
Creating Collections, Adding Attributes, and More on Metadata 

Collections
Rating, Flagging and Labeling
Keywording and Metadata
More on Maintaining Image Organization
Spawning Additional Versions from Your Original Master Photographs

Part IV
Storage, Backup and Archiving 

One Catalog or Many?
Traveling with Lightroom on a Laptop
Backup and Archive
Spanning Multiple Drives
Conclusion

Even if you already use Lightroom and have a strong understanding of the application, you may still be struggling to find a logical methodology for storing, organizing and archiving your images. If that is the case, I hope that you find this document helpful. Let me know if you do. If you don’t, I don’t want to hear from you – just kidding! I definitely want to hear from you. Especially if you have your own organizational methods or if you have thoughts on improving this one. By the way, I wrote this before Lightroom 4 was released – it really doesn’t matter. These guidelines still apply no matter which version you are using.

If you have questions or thoughts on alternate ways to organize your library, let me know.

Thanks to the following photographers on Google+ for their great comments…

Jim Austin  -  ”Phil Nelson should get a gold medal for Mastering Image Organization. Read it, do it, and then celebrate finding your images faster and easier. Phil’s article was so valuable I immediately referred all my LR students to it.”

Charlie O’Brien  -  ”I’m giving myself a B+ for being fairly well Lightroom organised after reading your good article. Went back and renamed my entire catalog adding yy/mm/dd format to each photo title. Good idea having LR stack all permutations of the original nearby.”

Antony Northcutt  -  ”Can you hear that sigh of relief?… I cannot thank you enough. This document has saved my photo life, and probably my marriage !! I wish you would write another one for the whole of Photoshop !! You are the only writer I can understand !”

Scott Merrill  -  ”You explained it very well. I spent a couple hours today organizing my existing database of photos the way that you described and am already sooo much happier! Finally I can find what I want when I want. Thanks again for the excellent tutorial.”

Ron Zack  -  ”Thank you for making this document available, you provide some excellent advice for file organization.”

This entry was posted in Lightroom, Photo Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

18 comments on “Sooner or Later You Are Going to Lose Your Photographs

  1. Phil,
    With a background in IT of 15 years I applaud the information you provide. By far, the most important aspect of photography is keeping your images organized, accessible and safe. Thanks for sharing!

    Brian Krecik

  2. Phil

    Thanks very much for the share. I sent out a link to your blog to students, and am enjoying the LR organizational thinking you have done.

    Jim

  3. Great post ive bookmarked it on Digg under “Mastering Image Organization | Phil Nelson Imaging”. Keep up with the good stuff.

    • Need your opinion on this:I’m again lonkiog for a photography software nowadays, switching back and forth between ACDSee Pro and Lightroom which are the best in the business as far as i’m concerned.I’m no professional photographer, just your average guy holding a mediocre bridge (Fuji S5800) and taking quite a few pics from time to time. I do like photography a lot, learning and experimenting everyday, but my photos are no pieces of art. I do try to get the best from my crappy camera and even post-process a lot, but the pixel-altering , destructive editing is much more convenient for me. After all, after all these years, seldom i come back to look at some pic i took on a summer evening, these are not so important photos and there’s no reason for me to keep track on both versions of pictures: originals and edited. I always (and exclusively) need just one version: the final one that gets on the backup DVD . The rest gets deleted.Of course, Photoshop is a great pixel-altering tool, but for batch editing, even considering creating hundreds of scripts for every adjustement i ever make is a no-no.So, ACDSee Pro let’s me do destructive editing in Edit Mode , and the 5th version finally has Dodge and Burn, but i always felt that Lightroom was better in terms of speed and confortable photography workflow. But it won’t do destructive editing. And i know i can easily export the edited versions somewhere on the HDD for sharing and backup, but here we go again: edit originals -> export edited -> share edited -> delete originals, it’s just a pain, if you know what i mean.SOOO, from your experience, is there a way to force Lightroom 3 to easily overwrite the originals with edited, or is there another piece of software outthere i could use that meets my personal needs? You can reach me on my e-mail when you have spare time for a response.Thank you a lot.

      • SuzyApril 2, 2011Hi Kayla! I’ve skipped ahead a bit and have been wainthcg the videos before starting the actual importing, converting and keywording process to sort of see what’s involved and I have a question -would it be easier to convert the .png files to .tif BEFORE we start organizing into Designer and Kit name so that we don’t have to go through all the moving and deleting after we import? As you say in the video, it IS a lot of work to do so I was just thinking if I could save myself some time up front instead of moving stuff around twice .or is it 6 in one, half dozen in the other?I’m thoroughly enjoying the class and your videos are awesome. Thanks again for this!

  4. Thank you for this post, I found it through Flickr. I’m working hard to get my files all in order and wondered if you could elaborate more on how you use the color codes.
    Thanks for the help!
    Judy

    • Judy, I find that color coding images can be really helpful, but how you define your color codes is dictated more by the type of photographic work that you do and is therefore more a personal choice. In other words, I’m not sure that my color coding method is necessarily going to work for you. That said, here is what I do (and frankly now that I think about it, I should probably refine my way of doing things).
      I shoot all my images as Raw files. After optimizing an image in the Develop module, if I determine that the file needs additional work in another application like Photoshop, I’ll use “Edit In…” to transfer a TIFF copy of the image file over to the other app, make the changes, save, and return to Lightroom. At this point, I color code the resulting image as red, which I have labeled as a “Master” (meaning that the file has been mastered in another application). This way I can easily distinguish between the original Raw file and the file that has undergone some significant editing and optimization.
      I also do a lot of my own large format printing. I do not use LR’s Printing module because it is missing some features that are important to my workflow. To prep a file for print, I use Photoshop which allows me to accurately scale, sharpen for print output and put a 1.5 inch trim border around the image. Once I have done this and returned to LR, I color code the image in green which I have labeled “Sized”. This lets me know at a glance that an image has been set up for print.
      That is pretty much the extent of my color coding to date, but by asking your question you have givin me some ideas on how I could be using the other color codes, maybe for images that have been processed in different ways like HDR. I’ll have to work on that. Thanks for asking the question.

      Sooner or Later You Are Going to Lose Your Photographs

      Mastering Image Organization with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

      Cover of document, "Mastering Image Organization in Lightroom"

      Well, maybe. If you are taking a lot of photographs, and you don’t have a logical way to store them and back them up–if your desktop is a mess of folders and documents, you are heading for disaster. If you are a photographer, and you have been having trouble coming up with a well-thought-out way to organize your photo library, this document will help you. If you already use Lightroom and have been losing images and have numerous catalogs scattered around your computer, Mastering Image Organization with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom will help you overcome these problems.

      I love having an organized photo library, and you will too.

      This 28 page pdf on setting up your Lightroom catalog is free for you to download. In it I explain how to set up your filing system for optimum organization, allowing you to overcome issues with lost photographs and too many unorganized folders. You will learn how to pull your images into a logical storage hierarchy that is really easy to understand, makes finding photographs very straight forward, and is built to support a growing library of thousands of images.

      The contents include:

      Part I
      Setting Up Lightroom and Your Computer’s File System 

      Six Steps to Achieving Image Organization Nirvana
      Some Fundamentals: The Difference Between Browsing and Cataloging
      Organization – Setting Up Lightroom
      Storing Images on Your Computer

      Part II
      Organizing Folders, Creating a Naming Convention, and Tagging Images 

      Organizing Folders
      Naming Conventions
      Creating a File Naming Preset
      Saving a File Naming Preset
      Other Data That Can be Applied During Import

      Part III
      Creating Collections, Adding Attributes, and More on Metadata 

      Collections
      Rating, Flagging and Labeling
      Keywording and Metadata
      More on Maintaining Image Organization
      Spawning Additional Versions from Your Original Master Photographs

      Part IV
      Storage, Backup and Archiving 

      One Catalog or Many?
      Traveling with Lightroom on a Laptop
      Backup and Archive
      Spanning Multiple Drives
      Conclusion

      Even if you already use Lightroom and have a strong understanding of the application, you may still be struggling to find a logical methodology for storing, organizing and archiving your images. If that is the case, I hope that you find this document helpful. Let me know if you do. If you don’t, I don’t want to hear from you – just kidding! I definitely want to hear from you. Especially if you have your own organizational methods or if you have thoughts on improving this one. By the way, I wrote this before Lightroom 4 was released – it really doesn’t matter. These guidelines still apply no matter which version you are using.

      If you have questions or thoughts on alternate ways to organize your library, let me know.

      Thanks to the following photographers on Google+ for their great comments…

      Jim Austin  -  ”Phil Nelson should get a gold medal for Mastering Image Organization. Read it, do it, and then celebrate finding your images faster and easier. Phil’s article was so valuable I immediately referred all my LR students to it.”

      Charlie O’Brien  -  ”I’m giving myself a B+ for being fairly well Lightroom organised after reading your good article. Went back and renamed my entire catalog adding yy/mm/dd format to each photo title. Good idea having LR stack all permutations of the original nearby.”

      Antony Northcutt  -  ”Can you hear that sigh of relief?… I cannot thank you enough. This document has saved my photo life, and probably my marriage !! I wish you would write another one for the whole of Photoshop !! You are the only writer I can understand !”

      Scott Merrill  -  ”You explained it very well. I spent a couple hours today organizing my existing database of photos the way that you described and am already sooo much happier! Finally I can find what I want when I want. Thanks again for the excellent tutorial.”

      Ron Zack  -  ”Thank you for making this document available, you provide some excellent advice for file organization.”

      This entry was posted in Lightroom, Photo Technology. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

      18 comments on “Sooner or Later You Are Going to Lose Your Photographs

      1. Phil,
        With a background in IT of 15 years I applaud the information you provide. By far, the most important aspect of photography is keeping your images organized, accessible and safe. Thanks for sharing!

        Brian Krecik

      2. Phil

        Thanks very much for the share. I sent out a link to your blog to students, and am enjoying the LR organizational thinking you have done.

        Jim

      3. Great post ive bookmarked it on Digg under “Mastering Image Organization | Phil Nelson Imaging”. Keep up with the good stuff.

        • Need your opinion on this:I’m again lonkiog for a photography software nowadays, switching back and forth between ACDSee Pro and Lightroom which are the best in the business as far as i’m concerned.I’m no professional photographer, just your average guy holding a mediocre bridge (Fuji S5800) and taking quite a few pics from time to time. I do like photography a lot, learning and experimenting everyday, but my photos are no pieces of art. I do try to get the best from my crappy camera and even post-process a lot, but the pixel-altering , destructive editing is much more convenient for me. After all, after all these years, seldom i come back to look at some pic i took on a summer evening, these are not so important photos and there’s no reason for me to keep track on both versions of pictures: originals and edited. I always (and exclusively) need just one version: the final one that gets on the backup DVD . The rest gets deleted.Of course, Photoshop is a great pixel-altering tool, but for batch editing, even considering creating hundreds of scripts for every adjustement i ever make is a no-no.So, ACDSee Pro let’s me do destructive editing in Edit Mode , and the 5th version finally has Dodge and Burn, but i always felt that Lightroom was better in terms of speed and confortable photography workflow. But it won’t do destructive editing. And i know i can easily export the edited versions somewhere on the HDD for sharing and backup, but here we go again: edit originals -> export edited -> share edited -> delete originals, it’s just a pain, if you know what i mean.SOOO, from your experience, is there a way to force Lightroom 3 to easily overwrite the originals with edited, or is there another piece of software outthere i could use that meets my personal needs? You can reach me on my e-mail when you have spare time for a response.Thank you a lot.

          • SuzyApril 2, 2011Hi Kayla! I’ve skipped ahead a bit and have been wainthcg the videos before starting the actual importing, converting and keywording process to sort of see what’s involved and I have a question -would it be easier to convert the .png files to .tif BEFORE we start organizing into Designer and Kit name so that we don’t have to go through all the moving and deleting after we import? As you say in the video, it IS a lot of work to do so I was just thinking if I could save myself some time up front instead of moving stuff around twice .or is it 6 in one, half dozen in the other?I’m thoroughly enjoying the class and your videos are awesome. Thanks again for this!

      4. Thank you for this post, I found it through Flickr. I’m working hard to get my files all in order and wondered if you could elaborate more on how you use the color codes.
        Thanks for the help!
        Judy

        • Judy, I find that color coding images can be really helpful, but how you define your color codes is dictated more by the type of photographic work that you do and is therefore more a personal choice. In other words, I’m not sure that my color coding method is necessarily going to work for you. That said, here is what I do (and frankly now that I think about it, I should probably refine my way of doing things).
          I shoot all my images as Raw files. After optimizing an image in the Develop module, if I determine that the file needs additional work in another application like Photoshop, I’ll use “Edit In…” to transfer a TIFF copy of the image file over to the other app, make the changes, save, and return to Lightroom. At this point, I color code the resulting image as red, which I have labeled as a “Master” (meaning that the file has been mastered in another application). This way I can easily distinguish between the original Raw file and the file that has undergone some significant editing and optimization.
          I also do a lot of my own large format printing. I do not use LR’s Printing module because it is missing some features that are important to my workflow. To prep a file for print, I use Photoshop which allows me to accurately scale, sharpen for print output and put a 1.5 inch trim border around the image. Once I have done this and returned to LR, I color code the image in green which I have labeled “Sized”. This lets me know at a glance that an image has been set up for print.
          That is pretty much the extent of my color coding to date, but by asking your question you have givin me some ideas on how I could be using the other color codes, maybe for images that have been processed in different ways like HDR. I’ll have to work on that. Thanks for asking the question.

          • Thanks, seeing what others do often gives me helpful ideas. Now, the hard part, actually being consistent in carrying them out with each photo.

            • I know what you mean. Your asking the question about color coding actually prompted me to think more about how I’m doing it, and I’m realizing that there are ways that I can improve what I’m doing. So thanks for asking the question.
              Regarding consistency, yes it is key. Lightroom is built on a database, and a database works best when you are as consistent as possible.
              Judy, did you download my “Mastering Image Organization” doc? If so, let me know what you think and if you have questions. Thanks, /P

              • Yes, I did download the document and read through it several times. It was very helpful in understanding the basic principles of how the program works. I had just purchased lightroom a few weeks ago and I’m in the midst of figuring it all out.

                My difficulty lies in the fact that I already had a file system and now I’m needing to convert it all. (Or do I?)

                Quite honestly I’m a little frustrated with it as I am having new files going in places I am not expecting. I’ve figured out how to find the files but I need to fix the problem on the import somehow. I’m sure I’m overlooking something. The other issue I am having and have not fully figured out is moving a file from photoshop to LR. I believe the file is supposed to show up in LR but mine is not functioning that way so I have to find it and import it.

                The only things I think you could add to enhance the document would be more on the situations above. Importing an image other than a new images from a card, for example an image altered in photoshop. Also, it would be nice to have something on how to rename already stored digital files when you are just getting started with LR.

                I have very much appreciated the help and I’m sure it’s a document I will come back to until I’m a seasoned LR user.

              • Hi Judy,

                I am copying an email that I sent to another photographer on how to approach restructuring an already existing Lightroom catalog and folders of images. This includes information on renaming. Perhaps this will help some…

                “Hi Ryan,

                I checked out your website to get an idea of the kind of work that you do and was impressed – nice work! I am guessing that you have a relatively large number of photographs that need to be renamed and organized. If that is the case, you may have some work ahead of you, but don’t get discouraged. I am going to make some recommendations that may (from your perspective) be off the mark. If that is the case, just email me back with comments that help me better understand your current organization. So this is what I am thinking. Since you already have a workflow in place, you don’t want to interrupt it until you are ready to cut over to a new structure. This will require having (1) your original set of images, (2) a complete backup (if you don’t have one already), and (3) a copy of all of your images on a separate hard drive that you can rename and organize into a new Lightroom catalog. Here is how I would map this out…

                1 – First and foremost, if you haven’t done this already back up everything – all of your images and your Lightroom catalog(s). You should do this on a separate drive that you can detach from your computer and set aside in a safe place.

                2 – On yet another drive copy all of your images – just your images in the folders that they currently reside. Copy onto a dedicated drive or a drive that has sufficient storage for your photographs and a new LR catalog.

                3 – After the copy is complete, you should have all of your images in the folder structure of your source drive (a copy of the original folders). For the time being keep them in these folders. Eventually after the files are renamed you will move them into folders based on date (YYYY > MM > DD).

                4 – Next you want to go from one folder to the next renaming all of your image files using a naming convention that is consistent and makes sense. I advocate using the date and a serial number in the filename. (The combination of these two things makes the filename a unique identifier for the image.) So how do you rename all of your images without killing yourself in the process???

                I’m on a Mac and use a bulk renaming utility called “A Better Finder Rename”. If you are on a PC there are utilities like “Bulk Rename Utility” which I have no experience with, but from looking at its specs, it sounds like it might do the job. (A Google search for file renaming software will return a pretty long list of available apps.) One of the important critical features of renaming software is its ability to read the EXIF data from your image file’s imbedded metadata, specifically the shoot date. You want the renaming software to build your new filename for you as a batch process without you having to address every file individually which would be a nightmare. Also, LR’s renaming feature is not nearly as robust as these dedicated applications, so I prefer it for this kind of “heavy lifting”.

                The naming structure looks like this: “LName_YYYYMMDD_####.ext” or “Hirschberg_20111115_1234.ext”. Your last name identifies that the picture was taken by you. The date is the day the photograph was taken with the year first. You want the date in the yyyymmdd order so that your files sort by year first, then month, then day. The four digits at the end of the filename are the “original number suffix”. This number is pulled from the camera’s original filename, something that Lightroom can do when importing images from a CF card or the camera directly. Chances are you have already renamed your image files and won’t be able to resurrect the original number suffix. If that is the case, just use the renaming software to generate a unique four digit serial number at the end of each filename. Again, you want the combination of the date and the serial number to make the filename unique. Example: “Hirschberg_20110915_1234.ext” and “Hirschberg_20110915_1235.ext” have unique filenames even though they were shot on the same day. “Hirschberg_20110915_1234.ext” and “Hirschberg_20110916_1234.ext” are unique even though they have the same serial number because they were shot on different days.

                Using the renaming software rename all of the images in one of your copied folders, changing the current filename to the new filename. If you have different versions of an image (perhaps you have done some retouching in Photoshop so now you have the original image and .psd copy of the original), give them both the same name with the copy having an additional notation at the end. Example: “Hirshcberg_20111115_1234.nef” is the original Raw file. You create a layered .psd from the original named “Hirschberg_20111115_1234.psd” or “Hirschberg_20111115_1234-1.psd” (the file extension will give the .psd a unique name.) When you name the original this way and any version that you have spawned from the original and store them in the same folder, whenever you are searching for a specific photograph, not only will you find the original but also all of the versions that you made from it. This, in and of itself, can be a huge time saver.

                5 – After renaming the files in the first folder, create a new master catalog in Lightroom. Give the catalog a name that identifies it as the new master catalog (there’s nothing more frustrating than having multiple catalogs that are all named “Lightroom” and not being able to tell one from the other). Save it to the same drive as your images.

                6 – In Lightroom initiate an import. Select the the folder with the new filenames in the left-hand “Source” panel. At the top of the Import dialog box select “Move”. In the right-hand panel under file renaming, make sure that “Rename Files” is not checked. Under “Destination”, first select “By Date” in the “Organize” menu. Then select “Date Format” as either “2011/11/13″ or “2011/2011-11/2011-11-13″. Then select a destination – I would use the root/top level of the hard drive you are working on or create a folder for all your photographs. Then click “Import”. If you are not familiar with this process, Lightroom will create a folder hierarchy for you and place your images in the folder based on the day the photograph was taken. Lightroom will also create records for each photograph. The great thing about this is that LR will do all of the file organization work for you as opposed to you having to do the sorting – just shoot me.

                7 – If you have saved your images in folders for a client or a particular job, then when this first import is completed, make a LR collection for the job or client. Even though the files are stored by the computer based on a date hierarchy, LR will help you organize them by client/job/event/whatever with collections.

                8 – Once you have this process nailed down for the first folder, work your way through all of the other folders. Even if the files in a particular folder were shot on different days, when you import, LR will sort them for you into the proper “date” folders.

                When you are done, you will be ready to flip the switch from your old catalog to your new one. Don’t forget to backup the new file folders and your Lightroom catalog.

                OK, I have written this making a lot of assumptions about how you work. If I am way off base, or you see potentially huge complications in this process, please let me know. Feel free to ask questions as they arise. I am happy to lend support as you work your way through this.

                Regards,

                Phil”

                If this seems overwhelming right now, that’s OK. Just file it and refer to it after you feel you have a better handle on Lightroom.

                /P

            • March 2, 2011It does make sense I would import the large floedr. Then as you go through the floedrs in Lightroom, you can remove the floedr from your catalog by right clicking on the floedr and choosing Remove.If you want to delete the floedr and its contents, you would need to click on the floedr, press G to go into Library mode and then press CTRL/CMD + A to select all the items and then right click on the items and choose Delete Photos. Then Lightroom will come up with a dialog and you will choose Delete from Disk. After the floedr is emptied, you can right click on it and choose Remove to remove it from your catalog.

              • I was using godaddy for quite some time and ddieecd to move to Hostgator, haven’t had too much of a problem with them.. yet..Haven’t looked into themYou’re right, migration is a risky process and there are too many things that can go wrong, especially if you’re migrating a VPS or have complex hosting requirements,Thanks for the article, the .htaccess file has caught me out many times. Sydney Virtual Tours recently posted..Fresh Ideas For 2011

          • So I’m curious, are you ohosting in RAW on a Mac? I can’t seem to get tethering to funcion with canon’s software. Near as I can tell from Canon’s tech support, they didn’t offer teathering for the 20D on the mac because Mac 10.4 had it built in — but the Mac software only handles jpegs.If (in lightroom) I still have to shoot, remove the cf card, and put it in a card reader, then having a “watched folder seems pretty useless because I’d have to redirect the software to a new folder everytime I put a CF card in.I shoot primarily product work, and moving the card back and forth every time I shoot a test is becoming more of a pain — thus tethering is a VERY important function to me. If you’ve figured out a way to simplify that using the watched folder, I’d like to know how.

      5. Pingback: The Monday Herd | For the Photogs » Connecticut Dog Photography | Ty Foster Photography

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