Lightroom CC Workflow Part 1: Storage & File Management with Dustin Lucas
In recent articles, I compared Lightroom CC to previous versions and other programs, concluding that Lightroom was the superior total workflow solution for large-volume photographers. I’ve used Lightroom for years, and have continually changed my practices and refined the best ones.
With this article, I embark on a five-part series in which I will break down a simple and powerful workflow primarily using Lightroom CC. Over the next four articles, respectively, we’ll cover catalog management, processing images, output methods and archival/backup strategies.
Storage: In Camera
Let’s start by deciding on the type and number of memory cards you should buy. You need to determine the file size your camera records and roughly how many images you will be taking in a session.
For a wedding, I will have a little over 3,000 images from the primary and 2,000 from the second shooter. Shooting in Raw format, you will average a file size of 30MB for a full-frame camera. Get familiar with your camera’s card slots and in-camera backup options. For weddings, you should be recording to both cards at the same file quality and size. That’s because you are lowering your data-loss potential by having two storage devices instead of one.
If you have only one card slot, I suggest shooting with multiple low-capacity cards. You are decreasing the chance of losing all your photos from one corrupt card. You don’t need two memory slots to be safe from corruption—you just need good practices.
Having two card slots allows you to shoot in multiple formats separately in camera. This means you can shoot a smaller JPEG format for same-day processing and slideshows. You can store these files on a single card throughout the day, which is very handy for editing on the fly. A disadvantage of shooting Raw + JPEG is that you have to import from multiple cards and sort that data. Recording in small JPEG is the answer.
Factoring in about 500 images recorded, you would need two 16GB cards; with 1,000 images, you would be using two 32GB cards, etc. I like to use slot 1 as the “active” slot for swapping out multiple smaller memory cards throughout the day, and slot 2 as a total backup with a 128GB card. This option is limited to 3,500 total shots for the day, but it requires fewer cards to be handled. Of course, for those of you using 36MP and higher cameras, you will need more storage overall.
There are many ways to determine what workflow is best for you. Find out what makes the most sense. Do not base your decision purely on cost, since memory cards are always gaining capacity and going down in price.
Storage: Card to Computer
It can be daunting to figure out what you need to transfer images from your cards to your computer. Let’s start by breaking down how your data can and should be saved in multiple places. Think about on-site and off-site locations. If you have a separate studio space, you should have storage options both in your studio and at home. If you work entirely from home, look into online storage solutions. (Refer to my December 2014 article, “Mastering Your Digital Workflow: Import and Backup.”)
You need to invest in a multiple hard-drive system when working with a large volume of images. This allows for the chance of a drive crashing so you don’t lose your entire collection of work. This is where RAID comes in, which stands for “redundant array of independent disks.” You want copies of copies when storing massive quantities of files.
Keep in mind that we are using multiple hard drives within one storage device. Let’s distinguish storage devices by naming the first one “working” and the second “backup” (or “secondary”). For the working drive, stick with a single hard drive system for portability, directly connected to your computer for the fastest performance. A few options for a backup storage drive are RAID 0, 1, 5 or 6. RAID 0, or stripped drives, give you full capacity of all combined hard drives and up to twice the read and write speed. This is a good option to work off of for the performance increase, and, paired with Thunderbolt or USB 3, you will have little lag. However, if a drive fails, you lose everything on this system. This option is the highest performer but carries the most risk of failure. Not a good option for archiving or backing up.
RAID 1 mirrors the drives, giving you an identical copy, but it reduces your total capacity by 50 percent. So what does that mean exactly? Say you purchased two 2TB internal hard drives for your storage device—potentially you now have 4TB total. RAID 1 configuration chops your capacity down to 2TB. You gain some performance in the read speed, but nothing for writing data. This allows one drive to fail without losing any data at all. This is very important when configuring a backup plan. This is a good starting storage solution for your backup.
I suggest using RAID 5 configuration because it requires at least three drives. If you have three 2TB drives, RAID 5 shrinks your total capacity from 6TB to 4TB. The advantage is that you gain back capacity and still have the safety of a single drive failure. This configuration is very popular among photographers and gives you great reliability at a nonenterprise level. RAID 6 can lose two hard drives and requires at least four total to configure. This is a great option for setting up a server that is continually reading and writing data for your archive of image files. A major issue with RAID systems is that if there is a corrupted file or issue while writing data, both drives will have the same problem. You will need to set up a backup drive to update daily so you can prevent corruption down the road.
You definitely want to invest in data integrity. I see a lot of studios using systems from Drobo, which has created quite a name for itself. The Drobo 5D has given photographers ease of mind with a built-in battery backup for power outages. Drobo’s BeyondRAID technology has given us the next level of RAID protection, with more hands-free maintenance and faster data recovery. Proprietary file software does raise the question of difficulty in recovering data from a crashed drive. Research the flexibility of swapping hard drives into newer systems, and keep compatibility issues in mind.
File Management Within Lightroom
I have adopted a few practices for managing files and folders. Let’s start by ingesting our files directly into Lightroom by first creating a catalog. (Look for my article on cataloging in the next issue.) I create a file named “Short Wedding Catalog” and save it on my local hard drive. From there, I import the images with the Copy option selected to ingest the images from the memory cards or external hard drive to my working and backup drives. Once this process is complete, I move to Library Mode and begin creating my folder structure directly in Lightroom.
On the left-hand side, you can drop down the Folder panel. As you can see, the only folder I have so far is named “short wedding 5.15.” I create an “Originals” folder and move all the files into it. I select all the files and click the plus symbol right above the folder source, and choose “Add Subfolder.” I check the Include Selected Photos option after naming the folder “Originals.” I hit Create to begin moving the files and change the actual location they’re in. In Finder, I am seeing the same folder structure as well. It’s that simple.
If you are importing your files into Lightroom before making these folders, use Lightroom to create your folder structure. Once you begin moving files around, it becomes difficult to relink the folders without losing the organization you’ve created. The alternative is to use Collections to organize files solely within Lightroom so you don’t affect the storage folders. You can import into Collections, but I wanted to demonstrate Lightroom’s abilities for folder structure in this section.
Conclusion and Continuing With Catalog Management
Hopefully now you have an idea for some storage options for your current workflow. A RAID system is definitely the way to go for your working drive so that you have access to all your data when you need it and save yourself from losing files. Invest in a storage solution based on your current and future volume. By allowing Lightroom to manage your file and folder structure, you can control everything in one place. This is a huge time saver.