Lightroom can be a tremendously powerful tool for managing large volumes of images effectively and efficiently. Actually, that’s one of the things that separates it from Photoshop. But to really benefit from this management power, you need to learn some things first, and ideally, you should learn them before you delve into working with Lightroom.
In this video by Tim Grey, you will learn 15 important tips that will make your life a lot easier today and in the years to come.
The tips in a nutshell
If you don’t want to watch the whole 2 hours, here are the tips in a nutshell for you. I have included direct links to the respective section of the video, so that you can jump right to the part that interests you most. Simply click on the red icon to the right of the respective item in the list. But I really do recommend that you watch the workshop in full when you have a few moments.
Alright, here we go!
#1 Slow down
Most users make the mistake that they start importing all their images right away without having fully understood how image management works. Before you start, it is a good idea to learn the features that Lightroom has to offer. This can save you from a lot of pain later on.
#2 Consider different opinions (Then ignore them)
There are many different approaches to optimizing your Lightroom management techniques. You should listen to a few of them and then pick the right ones for you. Photo management is such a fundamental thing that you should not rely on any single opinion. Moreover, any single approach to managing your photos is tailored to a specific workflow, and you have to find one that resonates with you and matches your own personal workflow.
In that sense, Tim Grey tells you that any of the tips below may be disputable.
#3 Consolidate your storage
You should try to have all of your pictures in one place. Do not start and add hard drive after hard drive. Having all your images on one drive will make it easy to find them (outside of Lightroom). It will simplify your backup, and it will also simplify your work within Lightroom as it reduces the number of drives displayed.
#4 Consolidate your catalogs
If at all possible, use only one catalog for all of your images. You may create temporary catalogs that hold images for a specific trip, for example. But ultimately, all images should end up in one catalog. The same basic arguments can be made here as in the case of the single hard drive above: A single catalog is simply easier to manage. The prime reason for having multiple catalogs may be ease of organization. But there are some many ways to filter and organize your photos even when they are in a single catalog that putting them in different ones basically does not make sense.
#5 Clean up your folders
Create a consistent folder structure and stick to it. You may come up with any folder organization concept you like, but the first important thing is to stick to it to be able to find photos again. You may name your folders according to places or date or anything else. Just be consistent. Tim Grey suggests that you name your folders according to places and events.
#6 Leverage the import
The Lightroom import process is actually pretty powerful and smart. You do not need to move images around before you start Lightroom. The software makes it easy to import directly from your memory card that stored the images in your camera. Lightroom also offers you to convert your Raw files to DNG files automatically which has many advantages. There are many other things you can do while you import your images and it’s worth looking at those options in order to make your import work much faster and more effective.
#7 Opt for star ratings
Star ratings are a very simple and powerful way of categorizing your images according to quality. Lightroom gives you three types of rating system: the pick flag, color labels and star ratings. The pick flag and color labels are generally to restrictive and do not give you the power of the star ratings. Star ratings are stored inside the metadata of your images. So, you can use them in other software (e.g. Adobe Bridge) too even if you have assigned your ratings in Lightroom only.
Tim also give you a brief introduction into his personal multi-pass rating workflow.
#8 Review early and consistently
Import and rate all of your photos as soon as possible after the shoot. Otherwise, you may fall behind and pile up a lot of work that may fall victim to procrastination. Moreover, you should try to be consistent with your ratings. Use one method (star ratings, pick flag or color label), and be consistent with the way you apply your ratings and with the meaning of a specific rating. This will help you a lot and make your ratings work even after some time has passed.
#9 Apply (some) keywords
Apply at least basic keywords upon import. Later, you should really take the time to keyword your images properly. Even if this takes time and may be a chore, it is really the only way to keep track of all your images and be able to find them quickly through the keyword search in Lightroom. Any image that is not properly keyworded may not be found ever again.
#10 Add location data
In Lightroom’s Map module, you can associate every photo with a location (typically the location where you took it). Depending on your genre of photography, this can be very useful information that can be used to find your photos later on or just to remember where you took your photos. Tim Grey shows you a simple method for quickly adding location information (GPS coordinates) to your photos even if your main camera does not have a built-in GPS receiver.
#11 Clean up with stacks
Stacking is an effective method for keeping together photos that have some connection without having all of them being shown in the Library module. This reduces clutter, and it is useful, for example, if you shoot bracketing series for doing HDRs. Other scenarios include shoots where you took many similar photos for focus stacking projects with the same subject shot multiple times while moving the focus plane.
#12 Employ collections
Collections are a bit like virtual folders where you can put photos from many different locations and keep them together. They are one additional tool that can help you organize your photos. However, unlike real folders, they do not require your photos to be stored in a particular location, and unlike keywords, collections show up in your Library module so that you can browser them directly. The disadvantage of the Collection concept is that they only live inside Lightroom. So you cannot make use of the fact that you added a photo to a collection in any other software. If you need that, you may assign a common keyword to all the photos in your collection as keywords are visible outside Lightroom.
Smart collections allow you to gather photos automatically based on their attributes.
#13 Leverage mobile
If you have a Creative Cloud account, you can access the photos in any synchronized collection in Lightroom Mobile. This offers another way to sort, rate and even process you images. And it’s handy when you’re on the go.
#14 Safeguard your metadata
A good way to stay independent of Lightroom’s proprietary features is to let it store as much information as it can inside the standardized metadata for your images. This metadata is represented in a so-called sidecar file (extension XMP) for each of your Raw images, or inside a DNG file. This gives you the freedom to work with that information in other software products and have, for example, keywords available. But you have to note that only the standardized data can be written out to the metadata.
#15 Backup your photos
Backing up your actual photos is, of course, a vital part of managing them. If you don’t create backups regularly, a crash may cause the complete loss of all your precious photos. There is a huge range of tools and techniques for backing up your photos. The easiest and simplest one is to mirror all your photo data to a second hard drive. If you do that, a restore process simply comes down to unplugging the failed drive and plugging in the backup.
What is important to note is that backing up your catalog(s) via Lightroom does not backup the actual photos. They need to be backed up separately.