Organize Your Photographic Chaos in Lightroom CC

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Organize Your Photographic Chaos in Lightroom CC

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Working in photography can be chaotic without a certain level of organization. Once the shoots are all over for the week and you are ready to start feeding your images into your computer system, you have to make the decision to be organized. Trust me, the struggle is real. I just want to plug in the card reader, copy the images to the computer, and start culling and editing. Having to worry about storage and backup is not a priority, right? Or it’s just too much of a hassle to deal with—your clients need their images like yesterday! Well, if you don’t have a solid plan and are beyond unorganized, those clients might not get these images because you either lost or accidentally deleted the only copy of them. Get out of your own way and design an easy plan for your files.

Lightroom is a great program for organization, and even a lot of post-production. So stop using Abobe Bridge. Are you still using Photoshop CS1 as well? Stay away from operating system file applications like File Explorer (PC) and Finder (Mac) to copy/move files or build folder trees to organize. Learn to love Lightroom—it’s your friend! By understanding some fundamental components of Lightroom, you will be able to create a plan that works for you.

Import Into Lightroom

Whether you just bought Lightroom and are opening it for the first time, or have used it in the past, we have to start with a catalog. Creating a master catalog is a great way to organize everything into one organized archival space. Let’s do that: Create a catalog and start from there. For current Lightroom users, you may have a file lingering in your Pictures user folder named Lightroom Catalog.lrcat already; if you do, copy that file to a new location and rename it. Name this file “Master Catalog” and open it.

Now we have an empty catalog with which to begin building our organizational plan for the thousands of files scattered across multiple hard drives and memory cards. Take a deep breath. There’s a lot to learn, but it’s simple to execute.

The easiest way to import images into Lightroom is to drag and drop the device or folder from your operating system’s file application, File Explorer or Finder, into the Lightroom Catalog. This quickly allows Lightroom to automatically locate those files. You can even add other folders to the import. By holding CTRL or CMD and clicking on folders under the File section listed in the Source panel on the left-hand side of the Import module, you can add content to import.

I recommend doing this for memory cards as well to enable the ability to import from multiple cards; if you have only one memory card, choose the card under the Devices section in the Source panel. Once the files are selected, we are ready to examine the types of import options available.

Copying Files

At the top of the Import module, we must choose type of import. These options include Copy and DNG, Copy, Move and Add (6). The Copy options are necessary when we need to pull data from one source and store to another.

Ingesting your memory cards is a perfect scenario. There’s a big decision to make: create a DNG or copy the Raw? I avoid creating DNGs because I want the proprietary camera Raw copied so I can work from it, which saves a step and makes my workflow more efficient. I could argue until I am blue in the face with the post-production gurus out there about DNG versus Raw. DNG files embed metadata rather than using a sidecar file like Raws do (called an XMP file). DNGs are recognizable in older versions of Adobe Camera Raw, whereas Raws are less flexible. Read up on it if you want to use DNGs—don’t just take my word for it.

Copying requires you to choose a location or destination for these files. In the right side panels, the Destination section automatically expands. Let the file organization begin! We can create a new subfolder, choose to organize by capture date folders or choose a preexisting folder on the destination source drive.

I have my storage drive setup for clients with a folder tree of Year < Type of Event < Client Name. I create subfolders as follows: Originals, Export and Working. I generally don’t veer from this folder tree organization. For personal work, it’s a whole other monster, partially because my wife and I import images of our son separately. Unless it’s a special event like his first Christmas or yearly progression, I organize by date in a subfolder called “Raw Originals.” We keep things simple for the tens of thousands of images we have so far.

Move is the next option in the Import module; this is available only for folders listed under the Files section of the Source panel. The Destination panel opens and requires you to choose a location for the file transfer. This option is useful when you have imported files to a temporary location on site at a shoot or if you are archiving files to another storage device. The options for the Destination panel are the same as Copy import.

Building Raw Previews

Add is the only option for simply adding files to your catalog without copying or moving them from the source. As you noticed, the Destination panel disappears and you are left with only the File Handling and Apply During Import panels. Under File Handling, you can choose to build Previews. Understanding how Lightroom renders previews for your files is important. Minimal is the best option for a quick import to begin editing; you will notice that each file you click on has to load in order to view or edit it. Zooming into an image can take even longer; we will get into that in a bit . The next option is Embedded and Sidecar, which work similarly to how Photo Mechanic works. These load quickly but do not render the previews good enough to even cull images seamlessly.

Standard previews are the way to go when you want to begin culling images in the fit-to-screen view within minutes of the files being imported. These load quite quickly and actually automatically generate when develop changes are made to your images. Remember that previews in Lightroom are generated based on settings in Lightroom with the Raw file linked. If you edit an image, Lightroom must rebuild a Standard preview.

The same goes for 1:1 previews. These allow you to zoom in at 100%, which is important when culling images to check sharpness. Building these larger 1:1 previews can take 10 images about a minute to load. That is a long time when you shoot thousands of images for a wedding. Are you on a tight deadline to get the work out the door? If so, build Standard Previews first and, by changing some of your catalog settings in preferences, you can cut a lot of time out preparing your catalog to cull. Lower the Standard preview size and quality so rendering takes even less time. Then you can build 1:1 previews for the selected files and walk away from the computer for an hour.

We haven’t even mentioned Smart Previews, and these are awesome. You have the ability to build these at import as well. This is a whole other type of preview generated in Lightroom. Smart Previews are actually low-resolution DNG files saved within the .lrdata file to allow you to work offline. No, I don’t mean without Internet; I mean without the original files connected. This makes Lightroom lightning fast and more versatile for mobility or working on multiple machines.

Nonetheless, you still need to build Standard previews like any other image file. Also, the old routine was to unlink the Raws by either disconnecting the drive or relinking to a folder not containing the Raws, so the Smart Previews would kick in. Now, Lightroom finally gave users the performance option to choose how Lightroom uses these previews over the originals.

Thank you, Adobe, for finally doing something about the lag in Lightroom CC. You Lightroom 5 users upset about CC know what I am talking about.

Adding to Collections

This is my least used option at import, mostly because I import large groups of images at once. You can create Collections and Collection sets as well as add images to your current ones. This groups the images together into a virtual sorting option that only reads in Lightroom. This is unlike applying attributes like star ratings, color labels and flags that can be saved with the other metadata of the file.

Backup at Import

Now you have a hidden option in the Import module to back up files to a second source location as well; this feature is so important. It’s listed under the File Handling panel. Check the box and click the file path below to choose the backup location. Not every ingest software has this capability—before Lightroom, I would use Apple’s Image Capture until realizing Nikon Transfer that came with my camera was the way to go. Forget all of that—I can back up in Lightroom along with copying, moving and adding files as I go. There’s no reason not to back up; it’s common sense.

Applying IPTS Metadata and Keywords

IPTS metadata includes copyright, studio name, URL (website), job name, keywords, location and date. This is an overlooked process when ingesting photos into your computer. Copyright, for instance, is a big topic for many of us. Adding copyright information after capture saves your contact information for permissions and usage. Keeping your guard up with digital images becomes difficult when you post them online or deliver thumb drives to your clients. You should get into the habit of adding this information at import.

Post Import File Management

You should never move imported files outside Lightroom. This causes chaos for your catalog. Move, rename and remove files in the Library module of Lightroom. Moving and creating new folder trees on your hard drive can be done in the Library module on the left-hand side under the Folders panel. Click the “+” button to create new folders or subfolders.

Select the appropriate parent folder; access this by right-clicking on the current folder displayed and choose Show Parent Folder. Now click the “+” button and choose Add Folder or Add Subfolder. You can preselect files to move for a fast transfer, or simply drag and drop selected files into the new folder created. It’s very simple, and should be done only in Lightroom.

Collections can be very versatile for organizing files beyond attributes, keywords, dates, etc. Adding these is as simple as moving files in the Folders panel. Click the “+” button in the Collections panel to start making Collections and Collection sets. Think of these as smart folders that exist only in Lightroom. They do not tamper with your file structure outside the catalog. They can be very handy when you need to refine your currently organized folders. I created some for my son’s first year. We add images to Collections each month to make them easy to sort, rather than using the Library filter by date and all the drop-down folders. That is a nightmare.

Quick Culling Process

There are so many ways to cull images in Lightroom. I could write an article explaining how each one benefits the user. I am going to make this short and sweet. Part of organizing your images is to cull out the losers. Flags are the easiest way to keep track of images you want. They also provide a way to signify you have already reviewed these images by giving them a rejected flag. This is brilliant and can remove added work to your already stressful workload.

When culling, I start in Library module. I double-click an image and tap the “L” key twice. It’s lights-out mode for selecting, also known as Loupe mode. I can then add flags by using “x” for rejected flag, “p” for keeper flag and “u” for unflag. Hold CTRL or CMD and arrow down to add a rejected flag or up to add the keeper flag (37). I find it easiest to not have to hold down a button the entire time. To cull, I select out the bad ones only and strike the “x” key. If I make a mistake, I hit the “u” key. Then I choose the Library filter “Flag,” select unflagged, select all and strike the “p” key.

Things to Keep in Mind

Staying organized with Lightroom can mean the difference between causing chaos and controlling it. Beyond the simple time-saving factor involved in managing your files, you can rest easy when it’s all said and done.

I get it: You jump on the computer and you just want to cull/edit already. Starting at import, you set the tone for your entire file management structure. Just remember to make an organization plan that fits your schedule and workflow.

These are simple tips I have developed for myself. They are not meant for every photographer. Any way you do it, get organized to get out of your own way.

 

Want more information on this article? Get access to video content and additional supporting images. Launch the January issue of the magazine by logging in or signing up for a free account by clicking here. Shutter Magazine is the industry’s leading professional photography magazine.