7 Part Series to Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 1: Storing & Managing Files

7 Part Series to Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 1: Storing & Managing Files

7 Part Series to Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 1: Storing & Managing Files with Dustin Lucas

It’s time to step up your editing game and start using Lightroom this year. Like many photographers, I have used other RAW Processing programs, and none compare to the Adobe ecosystem with Lightroom and Photoshop. When it comes to shooting over 100,000 images per year and needing speed on my side, it’s a no brainer: I choose Lightroom. The program is simple enough to use, and I want to show you the best ways to do so it in my seven-part workflow series.

Over the next seven articles, respectively, I am going to discuss storing your files and how to properly manage Lightroom catalogs. Then, you’ll be ready to cull and sort your images while you import. Next, you will learn to color correct from the basics to the advanced stuff, leading you to a solid creative editing workflow with Photoshop. Once you dial in your editing, you’ll be ready to export and finalize your images. After exporting from Lightroom, you may want to take them into Photoshop, and I will show you how to keep things organized across the programs. For now, let’s jump into file storage solutions and a backup plan for your RAW files.

File Storage Solutions

Creating a safe and secure file storage solution is one of the most underestimated part of a digital workflow. If you store every photo you’ve taken on your computer’s local hard drive, or better yet a single external drive, you are in great need for intervention here. Invest in a storage solution and follow the backup rule “3-2-1.” I will get back to the backup rule part of this after we solidify your storage solution first. Now, you may have come across the term RAID and then bought a Drobo storage system to handle your storage. This is a great start, however this is only one copy of your files. You’ll need another one locally and another copy outside your studio. Let’s dig into RAID and why it’s important.

Just because your computer has 1 TB of storage space doesn’t mean you should be storing all your RAW files on it. Invest in external storage. If you want a local-only solution, you can go with Direct Access Storage or DAS; these are very affordable. Another benefit is these can be configured with multiple 3.5” hard drives to make bigger capacity affordable, as well as different interfaces to gain file transfer speed. You can buy faster interface options than your standard USB 3.0, rated at 5 GB/s or actual transfer speed of 625 MB/s. Almost everything has converted to USB 3.1/Type C to give you speeds of 1.25 GB/s using the Generation II version, as well as the next-step Thunderbolt 3 at 5 GB/s. This level of speed is essential when you need to be connected to your images at all times.A Network Attached Storage or NAS system is great if you travel and need access to your storage system while on the road. This type of system is great when you don’t want to tote an external and risk losing data. Next, you need to consider a RAID storage system.

RAID basically means a copy of your file(s) is spread across multiple disks, creating performance and reliability. For your main/working drive, I recommend RAID 10 for the best of both worlds. You will need a minimum of four disks, and keep in mind you’ll lose 50% capacity of the entire set of disks.This means if you buy four 4-TB disks, this would equal 16 TB if combined as Just a Bunch of Disks or JBOD. By configuring them into a RAID 10, you would have 8 TB of useable space with twice the redundancy. This is important, because hard- rives fail, and if you lose one, the other two disks will rebuild to make your storage whole again. Using RAID 0 or JBOD to get twice the disk space and performance means you lose everything if one of the four disks goes down. Another thing to consider is buying at least a USB Type C Gen II disk enclosure to gain performance Read/Write. I am not going to pimp out brands to buy—just do your research and don’t be cheap! Let’s move on to backup.

Your Backup Plan

Remember that a RAID drive is not a backup, which is a common misconception. What happens if your drive gets stolen, more than one or two or three disks fail during rebuild, the RAID software is incompatible with new computer, the interface is no longer compatible—then what? You need a separate hard drive to save a copy of your file on as well as something off-site like cloud storage. For your second hard drive, this will be looked at as cold storage, meaning you won’t be accessing it much, if ever—it’s your just-in-case drive. Separate disk drives are a backup, redundant disks are not.

Cloud storage is a popular topic, and on the subject of security, many photographers fear stolen RAWs. Well I guess the same goes for online banking accounts, using a debit card at Target, buying something off Amazon, etc., as it can all be compromised. To be honest, I struggle with storing massive amounts of RAWs due to upload speeds being slow, and I typically use my client proofing site, where I post JPEGs, as off-site backup. Amazon Photos has an unlimited option for Prime members—it’s annoying to use, but it works for High-Resolution JPEGs.Remember, off-site doesn’t only mean cloud storage. You can get a NAS drive, back up files over the network, and store them on a home server too. Lugging a hard drive around to and from to satisfy the off-site backup is a bad idea—figure out what works for your needs. Above all, I recommend a 3-2-1 backup plan, meaning two copies of the file saved on two different local drives, with the third going to a cloud drive. If you don’t have a backup plan, start with this one and stick to it. Think about it like this: you shoot with two memory cards in case a card gets corrupted, right?

Once you have a storage solution in place, you are ready to create your file folder structure to keep things organized. I always recommend starting this before you import into Lightroom so that everything is consistent across both drives. This is a very important step considering how easy it is to access these files. You can start with the Year (2019), Shoot Type (Weddings), Date_Client Name (042819_Saleh_W), and then additional subfolders after you import.

Once you have your memory card ready to import, we can finally get started in Lightroom!

Create a Catalog & Import Your Files

First thing first, we need to open Lightroom and create a 2019 Master Catalog. I highly recommend importing files into a single catalog versus creating one per client, and here is why—working in a single catalog makes it so much more simple and efficient to access all your files from the year in one place. I create a new catalog per year so it doesn’t start to run slow and risk corruption. After you create a 2019 Master Catalog, we can go into the Import module and apply our import settings.

When ingesting files from your memory cards into Lightroom, you want to be sure to select the card listed under Source so you can choose multiple cards at once. Now, you may be worried about files with the same names, and you are right that this is an issue if they all go into a single folder. But you can just opt to rename your files so they call all go in one place and no file-naming issues will occur. Now, for the sake of renaming the files again after we cull, I recommend keeping the file names simple, for example SCP_0001.

Next, you want to configure your image previews to build at import based on what you want to do after import: cull, sort, edit, export, etc. I will cover this more thoroughly in the next articles. As we’d like to cull immediately, I would choose Embedded & Sidecar as well as check the Build Smart previews to make editing faster as well. Moving into the Apply During Import panel, we can apply import presets; we will save these for later use as I typically import without them applied. Having an untouched before preview saves rendering time. I will touch on this more in the next articles as well.

Moving down to choosing the destination for the RAW files, we can choose the 01_Original_RAWs folder we created on both storage drives. The second copy location can be selected from the “Make a Second Copy to” option, and we will choose the 01_Original_RAWs folder on the secondary drive. This doesn’t allow us to create a folder inside Lightroom, so I do this prior to import so the primary/working drive has the same folder structure as the second one. This is very important in case the primary drive goes down and the folders are easily relinked, since they are named the same. Once we’re ready, we can click import and watch the files begin to copy to the storage device and import into Lightroom all at once.

Basic File Management in Lightroom

When it comes to basic file management in Lightroom, you want to be in the Library module to set up your file folder structure. On the left side, there is a panel called Folders where you will see the 01_Original_RAWs folder we copied and imported. By right clicking and choosing Show Parent Folder, we can see the outer folder and can now add more subfolders based on the naming structure we decided on: 02_SELECTS, 03_Finals, 04_Creatives, 05_Blog, 06_Album, 07_Print. Here is a huge tip for Lightroom: if you make a change outside Lightroom, you will likely have problems in your catalogs. When creating folders, moving files, renaming, etc., you should remember to always do it within Lightroom.

Another great tool for organization and sorting is Collections, an excellent option for storing images virtually. What I mean by that is that you can add files to a Collection (virtual folder) without actually moving your files on your hard-drive. This is the key difference between working in the Folders and Collections panels. You can keep things simple by creating a Collection and adding files manually or creating a Smart Collection based on specific parameters to automatically add files.  Why would this be important? Well, if you want to sort by whether you cropped, applied lens corrections, or added custom metadata, or search images with a specific dimension or even the location where they were shot, you can create a Smart Collection to automatically add images fitting a certain set of parameters.

This is an awesome way to automate some of your sorting based on the attributes and the Develop setting you apply. With Collections, you can really taking organization to the next level and store your blog, web and image competition images in them to recall later. This becomes massively handy for me when I want to submit image comp work at the end of year, as I don’t have to sift through thousands of images. I will go more into depth on this in the next article—Part 2: Managing Catalogs.


It starts with a solid storage and backup plan to make sure you images are safe and accessible in the fastest way. Once you begin to import your images, remember that Lightroom is a Digital Asset Manager, or DAM—everything else can be done here. Again, it’s simple and easy to do things in one place so you can stay organized. Think about it like this: Lightroom combines the organization of Adobe Bridge and the editing power of Adobe Camera Raw into one program. Stick with a single Master Catalog so you get into a solid routine and aren’t chasing around 100 different catalogs in a year. Then it’s time to better manage your files in Library so Lightroom can keep track of everything. Above all, once you bring images into Lightroom, any changes you make must be done in the catalog.


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