First, I want to stress the importance of Photo Organization. Please do not skip this lesson now and never skip this step later when you start managing your own photos. We all have a tendency to neglect tasks that are less exciting even if they are important because it is much more fun to jump to something more interesting like editing right away.
But, what happens when you skip this step is that, in a couple of months, you won’t be able to find anything and the majority of your time will be spent trying to locate missing images.
The way Lightroom works is that it does not organize photos for you. It only stores information related to your photos inside the catalog.
Let me explain.
Everyone, at some point or another, has used iTunes and understands how it works. When you import new songs to the library, iTunes copies everything into one folder and creates directories for new albums helping you organize your library. Even though it might look like a useful approach, it does not offer much flexibility.
Since Lightroom is the professional grade application for a wide variety of photographers with all possible types of workflows, Lightroom does not try to limit your photo organization options. Instead, Lightroom gives you full control over organizing your photos.
This means that photo organization is your responsibility and that you can tailor it any way you want.
If you do it right from the beginning, it will be an easy and painless process but, if you do it wrong, it will cause you nightmares down the line.
File Organization on Hard Drives
Organization should begin long before you even open Lightroom.
I follow two main rules for my photo organization:
The worst case scenario (trust me I know because I learned the hard way) is when you have your photos scattered across multiple hard drives such as network drives and external drives. Why is this bad? If files are moved for any reason from one location to another or if an external drive was disconnected, your photos will be lost and Lightroom will not be able to locate them. Plus, the backup process is much easier to perform when you have all your photos in one location.
Below is the directory structure I use and recommend:
Because I am a travel photographer and my trips usually last longer than one day, I use location based naming convention without specific dates (month only). Depending on your workflow you can tailor folder naming for your specific needs. For example, you can make it project based and date specific: 2015-10-29 500px Photoshoot.
Every couple of years or so when I fill up my hard drive dedicated to my photos, I buy a brand new hard drive with the biggest capacity possible and replace the old one. Right now, my 3TB hard drive is almost full so I will be purchasing a new one in the near future.
You can find a sample of the directory structure I use for my photo organization by checking the PHOTO ORGANIZATION folder inside of the Resource Pack you downloaded earlier (check mini course emails for the download link).
The Lightroom catalog is essentially a database where Lightroom stores all the information about your photos but not the photos themselves. Lightroom only stores the references to the location of the images on your computer so it knows where to find them.
This explains why it is better to keep all your photos in one location and avoid moving them around. And, if you absolutely need to move images to a new location, do it from the inside of Lightroom so it can track them by updating the location references inside of the catalog.
Single Catalog vs Multiple Catalog Organization
Should I use single or multiple catalogs for organizing my photos?
This is probably the most common question I get asked about Lightroom organization. I always suggest using a single catalog for all your photos.
I do not use multiple Lightroom catalogs. I have only one catalog for all my photo activities. I know that some photographers use multiple catalogs to separate their personal and professional photography, or even a separate catalog for every project, but this has never worked for me. I tried managing multiple catalogs when I started with Lightroom a long time ago and it was a nightmare. I quickly switched to a single catalog workflow and never looked back.
One of the arguments for using multiple catalogs is to improve the speed of the program. It is true that when you have a high volume of photos inside of the catalog it taxes the performance, but the benefit of having all your images in one catalog overweighs small inconveniences.
Currently I have about 120,000 images in my Lightroom catalog with the file size of the catalog file around 1.5Gb. Since Adobe addressed the Lightroom performance issues in its latest upgrade, I have no problems managing it.
In the future, I might consider creating a separate catalog for my old photos, the ones I hardly ever use but, for now, I am perfectly comfortable with my current setup.
I suggest you do the same until you reach the breaking point.
To make it easier for you to follow the Lightroom mini course, I created a demo Lightroom Catalog which I suggest you use during the course. When you finish the course, you can switch back to your main catalog.
You can find a sample of the directory structure I use for my photo organization by checking the PHOTO ORGANIZATION folder inside of Resource Pack you downloaded earlier. If you did not have a chance to download the Resource Pack, check mini course emails for the download link.
If you have any questions, please use the comment section below, I will be glad to assist you.