Organizing digital photos: Adobe Lightroom

I was forewarned early on – and I’m passing this on to you, guys (new digital photo hobbyists) – to start organizing your digital photos in your computer as early as possible, otherwise time will come when the overwhelming number of files accumulated will own your life and put your sanity to test.

This happens when: 1) you start to forget where you stored your last edited photos and your BP goes up a bit as you’re unable to locate them; 2) your available hard disk space falls below 2GB; and, 3) you consider yourself a fairly organized, systematic and reasonable guy; not necessarily in that order.

Hey, it happens. Having had a so-sorry experience before of losing thousands of photos when my 80GB working drive crashed, I made sure it won’t happen again.

So I got a 200GB as its replacement. AND, eventually, a 320GB external hard drive for backups. Hmm, can I sleep soundly now, please?

Apparently not. My 320GB got filled up in no time! So, I got another external HD. This time, a 500GB.

For those uninitiated, searching for a specific photo from over thousands of photos stored in a disorganized way in your computer can be a nightmare.

I’ve realized how important it is to have some golden rules to live by. Among others, I strongly suggest you:

  • adopt a systematic workflow and follow it consistently (specially in the file-handling and naming department – a filename like IMG_1234 or PC2087 is meaningless unless you have a photographic mind 🙂 )
  • use a photo managing software to maintain your photos (aside from your sanity) like Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoalbum Starter
  • attach tags and keywords to your photos for fast retrieval
  • delete, delete, delete useless photos: the earlier you do it, the better (best when you do it when you first download your photos from your camera to your computer!)

I’m now in the process of streamlining my filing system and photo management workflow. Upon advise of a good friend, my folder hierarchy in windows explorer for photos consists of 3 main folders (which I’m currently updating/reorganizing, now that I’m using Lightroom):

  • Canon Master
  • WIP
  • Canon Final

where Canon Master contains raw (meaning untouched, unedited) photos, WIP meaning “work in progress” containing a set of photos currently being edited and worked on, and Canon Final containing the edited photos. Folders and photos in WIP, once editing is done, are moved to Canon Final. One important change I’m considering is creating the Edited (final) folder within the Master (a subfolder, i.e.) – that way, the final, edited photos are not detached from its “mother” folder containing the raw, unedited ones.

So far so good, right? But how do you use a photo organizing software like Lightroom with this windows explorer set-up?

Adobe Lightroom is a photo management and working software made especially for photographers (unlike Photoshop which is designed for a wider market segment, mostly media-related practicioners – advertising, graphic artists, broadcast personnel, etc.)

You import photos first into Lightroom’s catalog (sort of a library database), tag them, before you can do any fast photo search and retrieval.

Lightroom lets you import your photos to a folder of your choice (in my case, into the Master folder), back-up your files, rename your files (with so many options for you to choose from), apply tags and keywords to them, assemble them into Collections which you can process (this takes care of the WIP folder but without actually copying the photos physically into a folder – Lightroom is a database program, saves you disk space). Saving in Lightroom is done by “exporting” them into a folder you create/select (in my case, into the “Final” folder.)

Lightroom has its own editing tools – they are basic ones but not at all inferior, although different from Adobe Photoshop. However, since I’ve been accustomed to using Photoshop, I just right click on the photo I want to edit (while in Lightroom) and choose “edit in Photoshop” which launches the pixel-level editor.

I don’t mean to discourage newbies but Adobe programs are well known for having very steep learning curves. Hard to learn, in plain English. In my case, I’m still struggling with it. I still have to figure out how I can make my final edits automatically imported into Lightroom.

Lightroom, which has an auto-import feature, only allows you to “monitor” one folder which it copies and sends over to one “destination” folder you create/select. I would like to segregate my final, large-sized edits from my for-web edits into two separate folders in one sweep without having to go all over the process again of importing new edits into Lightroom. Maybe the only way I can do this is by creating another catalog (with another auto-import settings) which Lightroom allows you to do – a good feature, if you ask me.

I’d like to share some more but for now, this might seem more than a mouthful to chew already… I’d welcome any comments and suggestions, specially on how to come up with the most efficient way of organizing digital photos using Lightroom.

Update: Organizing digital photos: Adobe Lightroom Part II 

~ by gerryruiz on 12 November 2007.

3 Responses to “Organizing digital photos: Adobe Lightroom”

  1. Great tip! I was into the same predicament, too! Now, since I have a very limited storage, I keep my digital photos (edited and master) in CDs. I labeled them according to place and dates. So far, so good. Your file management is better. I might as well apply it into my file management as well soon…

  2. Hi Dodong! My concern w/ CD storage is, contrary to common belief about them lasting a lifetime – they don’t! Some say they last up to 5 years, others say about 1.5-2 years (some even less than a year, I heard), depending on the kind of CD you use. Check your old, old CD’s which contain music files you burned yourself (not the pre-recorded ones) – your CD player might not be able to “read” them anymore.

    I’m referring here to the blank CDR’s (writables) which do not have a protective layer unlike the pre-recorded music CD’s and VCD’s sold at music & video shops. I would suggest you burn your files to DVD’s instead, although I have no idea yet how long DVD discs last. One advantage is DVD’s can accommodate more data (up to 7GB, I believe.)

  3. very interesting.
    i’m adding in RSS Reader

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