Lightroom and Photoshop – Organising Catalogs

So like I said I’ve finally taken the plunge and signed up to Adobe’s Creative Cloud for Photographers for one year. If by the end of it I’m not creating images like this I may well rescind my membership!

Here’s the first in my Learning Lightroom and Photoshop posts – my attempt at documenting the learning process I go through to get to grips with these two, not insignificant, software packages. Let’s be clear however, these are not tutorials. Rather they are my own meanderings as I learn these two tools. I fully expect a lot of what I say to be wrong and may well need to go back and correct myself as I learn more. Please treat everything I say with a liberal pinch of salt and don’t blame me if anything I say leads to something disastrous happening if you follow my ‘advice’. You have been warned!

Around about this time last year I finally got my Aperture workflow sorted out. That was just before Apple announced they would no longer be developing Aperture any more and hence why I am starting to learn to use Lightroom and Photoshop. It struck me however that a good place to start with these two tools would be in figuring out a workflow as well as a good cataloging system.

There are numerous videos and other bits of guidance out there on how to organise your catalogs however one I found most useful was this one by Aaron Nace from phlearn.com. The workflow and cataloging I’m going with for now is a variation of Aarons scheme (I actually use one less step in the saved files). Here’s my plan:

  1. I’m going to create a new catalog (that’s the Aperture equivalent of a Library) every year. It’ll be called whatever the year is. These will go in the folder Picture/Library. To begin with therefore I’m going to have two catalogs: Picture/Library/2014 for some of the images I want to work on from last year and Picture/Library/2015 for this years images.
  2. The actual images themselves I plan to store on external media. I currently use Western Digital Elements 1TB drives. The actual images will go in a folder Library/2014 etc as well. For every shoot I do I create a new folder of the form <YYYY-MM-DD> <shoot name> e.g. 2015-01-21 Lucy Portrait Shoot. I know a lot of people don’t like using dates for folders saying they can never remember when a shoot was however I reckon a date with a shoot name overcomes this issue. For now I’ll be using two duplicate 1TB drives which I’ll swap around occasionally to avoid too much wear on any one. I also plan to export the Lightroom catalog to both these drives as backup (as well as using Time Machine for more regular backups).
  3. For each shoot folder I have three sub-folders: Camera RAW, Processed and Output.
  4. Camera RAW is where the captured RAW files from a shoot go (I always shoot in RAW). The only images that would not go here are complete disasters I know I’ll never use. I would save these as Olympus RAW files (ORF files) though there is a case for storing them as DNG files which you have the option of doing when you import your images from your camera card using Lightroom. DNG is an Adobe archival ‘digital negative’ whose specification is published and which is independent of manufacturers RAW format and supposedly more future proof. I may switch to this in the future once I’m convinced nothing is lost in the conversion from ORF to DNG.
  5. When edits are done to RAW files in Lightroom they do not change the original image. The edits are kept as a series of steps (in the catalog) and applied each time the image is opened. The RAW files in the folder on the external media are not changed therefore. Once edits are done and I want to make further changes in Photoshop I save a copy of the file (that is the file is exported) into the folder Processed as a PSD format file. This is where edits are applied using Photoshop. It’s worth saying at this point that Aaron Nace recommends a fourth folder where the results of a Lightroom edit are stored before they go through Photoshop, he calls that Selects however given Lightroom does not actually change the source RAW file I’m not convinced of the usefulness of that. I may change my mind later though.
  6. Finally once the image is processed fully in Photoshop and is ready for printing or uploading to the web it gets exported into the third folder, Output. These will be JPG files sized according to the output media.
  7. In order to track of files I keep the same name as the camera gives them. They would have the same file name, just different file types, as they move through the workflow (i.e. ORF -> PSD -> JPG). I used to change the name to be more indicative of its content but cannot be bothered with that anymore, preferring tags to do this.

So that’s pretty much it as far as workflow and catalog/file naming is concerned. The only thing to add is that when I import files I apply metadata. Lightroom has a nice feature that allows a metadata file to be defined and different metadata types to be applied during each import if you wish.

Here’s my first ever image created in Lightroom. It’s of the sculpture A Real Birmingham Family by Gillian Wearing which is outside the new Library of Birmingham. Nothing too fancy just a bit of cropping and obviously making black and white. This actually did not have any Photoshop editing done to it so was exported directly to my Output folder as a JPG (to fit 1024 x 1024).

A Real Birmingham Family

A Real Birmingham Family

Here endeth the first lesson!

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