10 Tips to Create Order in Your Lightroom Classic Catalog

How many photos do you have in your Lightroom Classic Catalog? Thousands, tens of thousands, or perhaps even more? I have 10 tips to create order in your Lightroom Classic Catalog.

There are different programs that can manage a photo collection. I have chosen Lightroom Classic for this task, and I like the way this program works. There are also others available for those who don’t like Lightroom Classic. At the time of this writing I have almost 124,000 images in my catalog. It can become very difficult to find a certain photo between all those others. Having so much photos on your hard drive is like having a large shoe box of old photos in the attic if you don’t have a good catalog.

It is very important to create order in your catalog, and not just adding photos to it. I find Lightroom Classic to have a nice amount of tools to achieve this goal. You can order all those photos in your own preferable way, which makes it much easier to find that one photo you seek.

One Catalog or Multiple Catalogs?

It is possible to use multiple catalogs, each for a different kind of photography. If you shoot landscapes, weddings, and some real estate like me, it would be possible to use a separate catalog for each. Personally I prefer to have one single catalog, which makes working with all those photos much easier. This way I don’t have to switch between catalogs anymore.

I used to have a catalog for every single year, but that is something I wouldn’t advise anyone. A catalog for every photography subject is no problem, but never make the mistake to drown yourself in a lot of different catalogs. Your images will get lost… sort of.

One catalog is perhaps the first basic step I would advise. Let’s look at the other 10 tips for creating order in your Lightroom Classic Catalog.

Tip 1: Use a Good Folder Structure on Your Hard Drive

A good folder structure on your hard drive is very important, even if it seems a bit useless. You could place photos on every random location on your hard drive, because Lightroom Classic will keep track of every single photo. But keeping everything in a logical place makes life so much easier.

If you use a logical folder structure, you know where every photo is located. It will make a good backup of your precious photos much easier. I use a folder structure based on year and date, and I even use the year-date in the file names. This way I always know where the photos can be found, even without Lightroom Classic.

Tip 2: Make Use of Collections

The use of collections is a great thing. It allows you to make a distinction between different photos. A photo can be placed in more than one collection at the same time, without the need of copying that photo on your hard drive to different folders.

Using collections makes it easier to browse through your photos in Lightroom Classic. It doesn’t matter where those photos are located on your hard drive, they don’t even have to be in the same folders. You are also able to group different kind of collections together. This way you can maintain a good overview.  

Tip 3: Add Key Words To Your Images

Adding key words is a time consuming work, which is easy to neglect. But adding key words to your photos will make it much easier to find them. It also prevents the need of a lot of collections.

Choose your key words wisely. Lightroom Classic offers a lot of possibilities to manage key words. It might be wise to dive into this, and to set up a good system. Try to add key words in your import workflow. It will pay off eventually.

There is also the option to add a title and description to every single photo. But I would advice to postpone this until you have made a selection of the best photos. Perhaps after tip 5.

Tip 4: Use Flags in Your Catalog

Not every photo you take will be a keeper. If you import all photos into your Lightroom Classic catalog, you need to select only the best photos for further post-processing. Using flags can be considered the first step. It will allow you to reject the worst, and keep the nominees. By adding flags you can also distinguish the photos you already have looked at.

  • White flag is a possible good photo
  • Black flag is a rejected photo
  • No flag is not yet looked at

Use the short keys for adding flags; P for pick, X for reject, and U for unflag. By pressing Caps Lock when culling, the next image will be selected automatic when you press one of the short keys.

Tip 5: Make Use of Star Rating

By adding a star rating to your photos it is possible to reduce the amount of photos in your selection. Make a logical star rating for yourself. This way it will be much easier to see which images will be the best. As an example you can use something similar to this:

  • 1 star is a potential good photo
  • 2 stars is a good photo, ready for a global post-processing
  • 3 stars is a photo that stands out, ready for further local post-processing
  • 4 stars is a photo that is ready
  • 5 stars is a photo that is portfolio material

Use the numbers 1 to 5 on your key board to add stars. The number 0 will remove the star rating. You can also use the Caps-Lock to advance to the next photo when assigning a star rating by the short keys.

Tip 6: Use Color Rating To Distinguish Photos

Besides flags and star ratings, it is also possible to add a color rating to your photo. There are five different colors.

  • Red (shortcut key 6)
  • Yellow (shortcut key 7)
  • Green (shortcut key 8)
  • Blue (shortcut key 9)
  • Purple (no shortcut key available)

The use of colors is completely to your own liking. You can assign a color for the photos that are already exported for social media, for instance. Or you can assign a color if a photo is chosen by a customer. Just use colors in any way you like to distinguish a photo from all others.

Tip 7: Stack Photos That Belong To Each Other

Lightroom Classic allows you to stack photos inside collections. If you have a lot of photos that belong to each other, just place those together in a stack and you will have a cleaner library. The images are still there, but only one will be visible.

I use this option to gather the photos that belong to a exposure bracketing series, or a panorama series. But it is also possible to stack photos that belong to a time-lapse together. A number in the corner of the top photo will indicate a stack, with the amount of photos that are hidden inside that stack.

Tip 8: Discard Your Rejected Photos on a Regular Basis

There is no need to keep the rejected photos in your catalog. You won’t use those photos ever, because they’re not good. I would advice to discard your rejected photos on a regular basis. 

Still, I wouldn’t advice to discard these rejected photos directly after the culling process in step 4. Keep these photos for a while, until you have processed the complete series. Do a clean up every now and then. Perhaps once a month, or once a year. 

Make sure to remove the photos from the folder panel, and not from the collections panel. The latter will only remove the images from the catalog, not from the hard drive.

Tip 9: Don’t Add Exported Images To Your Catalog

If you export a photo, for whatever use, it is possible to add this export photo to your Lightroom Classic catalog. If you choose this option, you will end up with not only the original image inside the catalog, but the exported image as well. The amount of photos in your catalog will grow very fast if you do. Unless you have a good reason for it, it might be wise to keep exported photos outside your catalog.

Tip 10: Make a Real Backup From Your Photos

Perhaps this tip isn’t about keeping order in your Lightroom Classic catalog, but I do find it very important. If you lose your catalog, all the work of ordering your photos will be lost forever. Don’t rely completely on the backup that Lightroom Classic performs when closing the program.

Lightroom Classic will make a backup from your catalog but not from your photos. So you will have to perform a good backup from your photos yourself. That is why I advise a good folder structure for your photos on the hard drive. This way you are certain everything will be backed up properly.

I would also advise to place the Lightroom Classic catalog next to your photo folders. This way you have everything in one place. This way you can also include the Lightroom Classic catalog with the backup you perform from your photos.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Switch To Another Program

If you like Lightroom Classic a lot, and it suits your demands, then here is absolutely no reason to switch to another program. If it works for you, it works for you. No matter what others may say.

But, if you run into issues, and things that stand in the way of a good user experience, you need to look for an alternative that will work for you. Keep in mind, this is a very personal choice. There is no good or wrong is this. This also applies if you use another program for your photo library. Don’t switch if you find the program you use the best choice for you.

Are you a Lightroom Classic user, and you have additional tips for keeping order in your Lightroom Classic catalog? Please share your tips in the comments below.


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