Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 2: Managing Your Master Catalog

Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 2: Managing Your Master

Step Up Your Lightroom Game – Part 2: Managing Your Master Catalog with Dustin Lucas

Now that we’ve covered how to safely store and manage your RAW files, we can talk shop: managing your master catalog. I have lightly touched on why we have to do everything in a single catalog, but there is so much more to it than just importing, editing and exporting files when it comes to this Digital Asset Manager (DAM). With Lightroom, you can manage all your files in one place and finally get a handle on the chaos of wedding season. In this article, I am going to show you how to properly manage your catalog so you can finally shoot a wedding, import files, and work faster on your edits than you ever have before.

It all starts with a plan and sticking to it. I will show you how in this seven-part series on how to step up your Lightroom game.

Over the next six articles, in order, you’ll learn how to properly manage Lightroom catalogs so you’ll be ready to cull and sort your images while you import. Then, you will learn to Color Correct from the basics to the advanced stuff, leading you to a solid creative edit 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 the most important step in Lightroom when it comes to efficiency: prepping RAW file previews.

Prep With Previews

When you open the Import module, you’ll notice a panel called File Handling on the right-hand side. Drop this panel down, and you’ll see Build Previews as your first option. When I started working in Lightroom, I had no clue what these options meant, and was always told to choose Minimal to save time importing the images into Lightroom. That option is great if you’ve preselected your images and do not need to edit in the Develop module. But why even bring them into Lightroom, then? That’s just not the case for most of us using the program.

My standard process for importing images into Lightroom requires me to go have a coffee or a beer while I wait. Follow these steps to save time: Choose 1:1 in the Build Previews dropdown options, and check the box next to Build Smart Previews. These two options are crucial for fast culling and heavy-handed editing. Your images will import and automatically build 1:1 and Smart Previews.

The reasons you should do this are simple. When you cull, you need to zoom into 100% or 1:1 to check that your subjects are tack-sharp. If you are working on a slower machine, Smart Previews helps with performance and portability, and in the end, you get speed, speed, speed. To give you an idea of how long this process takes, I was able to instantly import 10 Canon Raw files from my MacBook Pro SSD and wait 20 seconds for the Smart Previews and 40 seconds for the 1:1 Previews to build simultaneously. That’s pushing almost six hours to wait on 5,000 files. Once this is done, you’re ready to get set up to select.

Why not use Photo Mechanic before importing into Lightroom and save all the hassle? Well, Lightroom Classic CC frees you from having to wait hours to start culling. Instead of building 1:1 and Smart Previews when importing your images, choose Embedded & Sidecar. Import and preview building takes less than 30 minutes for 4,600 Canon 5D Mark IV Raw files. I love that you can start selecting as it’s building because it builds three per second. A job like this would take me two to three hours to select the best of the best.

Here is a crucial point about using the Embedded & Sidecar previews: They may look different due to in-camera settings, crops made in another program, etc. They are not as detailed and sharp as 1:1 Previews, and when you are ready to edit in the Develop module, you have to generate standard previews and can choose the option to automatically render these in preferences.

Proper Preferences Equals Performance

When working in a single master catalog, you need to keep the catalog at optimum performance and stability. Your first step is the easiest one: Click on File>Optimize Catalog. From here, it’s important to store your catalog on your local hard drive. Make sure you exceed the minimum hardware requirements for Lightroom and set proper preferences.

Opening your catalog preferences can be done from the menu bar by choosing Lightroom>Catalog settings or holding option and command while striking the comma key. These settings allow us to determine how our catalog processes certain functions in the background while we work in Lightroom. Mind you, these default settings can hurt your performance, and the settings are reset back to these defaults whenever you make a new catalog or export as a catalog.

Let’s go into the File Handling tab and review our options. Here you’ll notice that Standard Previews are mentioned—let’s discuss what these are for. Standard Previews are the automatically generated previews that Lightroom constantly is running in the background until all changes have been applied to the image previews. Well that doesn’t sound bad—we don’t have to do anything to generate them at least. However, any processes running in the background can reduce performance, so it’s very important we adjust the size and quality. First, you need to determine the long-edge dimensions of your monitor. My retina screen has a 3360×2100 appearance, so we need to choose an option right above 3360. Size is already set to Auto (3360px), and in order to make previews load quicker I can set it to other options. Keep in mind, we built 1:1 to handle zooming to 100%.

As for the Standard Preview quality setting, I always go with low because these are always running in the background, and you simply do not need to waste performance here. The main thing you need to remember is that whenever a change is made to the image in the Develop module, it has to be automatically generated. So if you sync multiple images at once and continue moving through the catalog, you want these to cause as little lag as possible. As for the setting for when to Automatically discard 1:1 previews, this usually stays at the default setting of After 30 days. One last setting I make sure to uncheck is in the Metadata tab: Automatically write changes into XMP. This is another useless process that runs in the background and is hailed by backup fanatics in case your catalog becomes corrupted or your computer dies.

Moving into the general preferences we can start to make additional performance tweaks. In the same menu bar dropdown menu, choose Preferences or quickly hold command and strike the comma key. In the General tab, go to Settings and uncheck Show splash screen during startup. Next, be sure to check both options: 1) Treat JPEG files… and 2) Replace embedded previews… . Now, let’s move into the Performance tab to discuss how to boost our productivity.

When Lightroom implemented this tab in its past updates, the issues surrounding it were terrible. I remember having one of the early 5K iMacs, and it ran so slow I had to boot up my older iMac (non-thinline). Even unchecking the Use Graphics Processor didn’t make much of a difference cycling between images trying to make just basic corrections. This feature supposedly got better and is geared more for 4K and 5K monitors, but I have yet to receive any speed from keeping it checked. As far as I’m concerned, it will be forever unchecked.

The Smart Previews option for the Develop module became a saving grace for many users. The funny thing is, I got the same efficiency out of smart previews, because I knew I needed to disconnect from my originals. Keep this setting checked at all times so you can keep RAWs connected, gain a performance boost while avoiding having to relink files to save XMPs. Be sure to enter 100 GB into the Camera Raw Cache Settings field. This is important to increase, because previews are always generating and being referenced.

Another useful tip is to optimize your catalog whenever you close it. This option can be checked in the backup catalog dialog box along with Test Integrity when backing up. To turn on the catalog backup pop-up box every time you close Lightroom, go back into Catalog settings in the general tab, and choose Every time Lightroom exits as the Backup catalog setting. In the Backup catalog dialog box, you must choose an external location for backup. If you are saving backups on your local drive, this is a 101 mistake.

Export as Catalog

The biggest decision to make when you start working in Lightroom is whether to continue working from your Master Catalog or create separate session catalogs. If you create a separate working catalog per shoot or session, you can quickly cull and apply heavy develop settings without a massive slowdown.

This option is great for outsourcing your work and lowering the amount of data you have to upload. Once you select the specific images, go to File>Export as Catalog. A dialog box appears asking for a location to save to as well as options for Export Negative Files, Build/Include Smart Previews, and Include Available Previews. Export Negative Files makes copies of the RAW files and puts them in a folder. This is a huge time saver versus individually selecting files in Finder. Exporting with Smart Previews packages them with the catalog in a new location. With this catalog opened, you no longer need access to the Raw files. Including available previews in the export is useful only if you are linked to the original files. These built previews save time when viewing and editing the full-resolution RAW files.

Import a Catalog

Once you are finished selecting and editing, you can import this working catalog back into your Master (or what I like to consider “Archive”) catalog. This is a similar process as Exporting as a catalog—simply open your main catalog and choose Import from another catalog. You quickly select the working catalog file and wait for Lightroom to scan for duplicated images and changes made to the images. Once the next dialog box pops up, you can make sure to select all files, see if any new files were found, and choose what to replace on the current files. I recommend only replacing the metadata and develop settings, as well as unchecking both options below this section. That’s it!

Final Tips

In your main catalog, you’ll be making changes to your RAW files like renaming, custom ordering from capture time sync, exporting files, publishing to client proofing sites, etc. Make final output changes in this catalog to keep everything organized. If you have multiple catalogs you want to open at once, you can duplicate the Lightroom app. This becomes very handy as I’m exporting files in the archive catalog and starting to select in another. Go to your applications folder, right click the Adobe Lightroom icon, and choose duplicate. Once it’s finished, you can double click it (notice it opens a copy of Lightroom)—I’d recommend saving it to your dock. I’ve been successful with three copies running at once without corruption.

Wrap Up

Now that you have spent time setting up Lightroom, you will start to see massive changes in the speed of your processing. Managing catalogs is just as important as managing files. Once you import RAW files, render previews, organize folders and sort images, you are ready to edit. It’s that simple. Always start and end in the Master Catalog to ensure all your changes are saved in one place. If you are working multiple sessions in parallel, you can make copies of Lightroom and open multiple catalogs at once. This is massive!

Tune in next month for Part 3: Cull & Sort Your Files. It’s time to start doing everything in Lightroom!

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