Lightroom and Photoshop – Organising Catalogs (Revised)

Lightroom Catalog.jpg

It’s been around 18 months since I switched to using Lightroom and Photoshop for my workflow and editing. In January 2015 I wrote a post about how I intended to organise my catalogue in Lightroom and in December documented my workflow.

Having worked with both of these tools for over a year I have not only learnt a good deal about how to use them but also realised that my cataloguing and workflow need a bit of an overhaul. This and the next post will document the new process I now follow. Let’s start with the catalogue structure I use.

  1. Each year I create a new catalog with that year as the name. On the Mac OS this will go in the folder Users/<user name>/Pictures/Library/<yyyy> as an ‘.lrcat’ file. So, currently, I’m working with the catalog file 2016.lrcat which is located in Users/<user name>/Pictures/Library/2016.
  2. The actual images themselves, for the current year, I store in a folder called Images, a subfolder of Pictures. They too go into a subfolder with the year name. So, Pictures/Images/2016 for this year.
  3. For every shoot I do I create a new folder, under the year folder, of the form <yyyy-mm-dd> <shoot name> e.g. 2016-06-18 City of Colours. I know a lot of people don’t like using dates for folders saying they can never remember when a shoot was. I reckon a date with a shoot name overcomes this issue however.
  4. For each shoot folder I have four sub-folders: Camera Raw, SelectedProcessed and Output. This is the main difference between the 2016 and 2015 versions of my catalogue strategy. I have introduced a new folder, Selected which stores developed RAW files. The folder Camera Raw now just stores unedited RAW files. This allows me to keep those files which I have developed in Lightroom, separate from both the straight out of the camera files and those I have processed in Photoshop.
  5. Camera Raw is where the captured RAW files from a shoot go. The only images that would not go here are complete disasters I know I’ll never use. I save these as the native files from my camera (i.e. Olympus’.ORF’ files or Fujifilm ‘.RAF’ files).
  6. Selected is a new folder I have introduced as part of my 2016 catalogue strategy and is where I keep the files edited in Lightroom. The first thing I do when I import the RAW files into Lightroom is go through them selecting those I plan to edit. I mark these with a single ‘*’. Once I have selected all I want to edit I export the RAW files as ‘.DNG’ files into the Selected folder. DNG is an Adobe archival ‘digital negative’ whose specification is published and which is independent of manufacturers RAW format and supposedly more future proof. Having this additional folder means I can develop files in it (i.e. using Lightroom) without affecting in any way the original image. Even though 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) it’s useful to be able to open the original file without having the edit applied, hence the reason for separating out the original RAW files from those I develop in Lightroom. Once I have selected which files I wish to edit, and have backed up the original RAW files, I may delete the Camera Raw folder from my Macbook to save a bit of disk space.
  7. Processed is the folder where I store those images I edit in Photoshop. Once edits are done in Lightroom and I want to make further changes in Photoshop I export a copy of the file into the folder Processed as a ‘.PSD’ format file. I then make edits in Photoshop and save back to this format.
  8. Output is the folder where images ready for printing or uploading to the web get exported to. These will be ‘.JPG’ files sized according to the output media.
  9. In order to track of files I keep the same name as the camera gives them. The files therefore all have same file name, just different file types, as they move through the workflow (i.e. ORF -> DNG -> 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.
  10. In terms of back up I replicate this folder structure on two external drives. I currently use Western Digital Elements 1TB drives. The images all go in a folder Library/<yyyy>. For the Camera Raw folder I copy images into this as soon as possible after completing a shoot and don’t touch them again. For the other folders I need to keep them up to date as I do edits in Lightroom and Photoshop so will periodically update the backups on the external drives. I currently use two duplicate 1TB drives which I swap around occasionally to avoid too much wear on any one. I also export the Lightroom catalog file to both these drives as backup (as well as using Time Machine for more regular backups).

So that’s my updated catalogue structure using Lightroom. 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. I’ll cover this and more detail on my actual workflow in the updated section on this topic next time.

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