5 Great Tips from Adobe On Keeping Your Lightroom Catalogs Organized & Efficient

Whether you’re just diving into Adobe Lightroom or have been using it for a while and are simply in need of some productivity tips, the above video on keeping your catalog as clean and structured as possible will likely come in very useful.

Created and narrated by Adobe Evangelist Terry White, the video runs through 5 things that you should know to get the most out of your Lightroom image catalogs.


You may know all of these tips already, but if you don’t, even just one of them could dramatically affect your workflow for the better. Below is a summarized list of the tips White shares in the video:

  1. Your Lightroom Catalogs can be stored anywhere. This means that, so long as you know you’ll have Internet, they could technically be stored on Dropbox, Creative Cloud, or the upcoming iCloud Drive to make for easy syncing across computers.
  2. “Automatically write changes to XMP” preference makes sure that edits in Lightroom carry over to other Adobe programs such as Photoshop and Bridge.
  3. “Optimize Catalog” command removed unused caches to speed up catalog performance.
  4. Advice on how to make the most of Adobe’s impressive Smart Previews feature.
  5. Move media across your drive directory using only Lightroom, not something such as Windows Explorer or Finder, both of which can leave data behind.

The video is just over eight minutes long, so it might be an after-work watch, but it’s definitely worth it if you’re an avid user of Adobe Lightroom.

(via Photography Bay)

  • Theo Lubbe

    Something which causes me endless frustration is that one not only cannot undo moves, but once you perform a move operation, you cannot undo anything you’ve done before that move operation.

    Also can’t undo file deletion, have to manually access the recycle bin/trash to retrieve the files and then add them back into the catalogue.

    Anyway. Something for everyone who’s still as amateurish as myself in using LR for file organization and performance; don’t use collections. Use folders and tags, instead.

    When working with the folder view, you can change the order images appear in. As far as I’m aware, collections doesn’t allow you to do this for some strange reason. Additionally, unlike collections, you know that if you’ve got your photos in a specific folder because they have a specific purpose, that’s where you’ll find them if you ever need to build a new catalogue.

    Which is the next thing I’ve only begun doing recently; build separate catalogues.

    There’s no good reason to have hundreds of your cat photos, your food photos, your baby photos and your selfies all in one catalogue when they’re four distinct things. Keeping them separate, your catalogue in general will perform better, you won’t lose as much if you’re not saving to XMP, not backing up your catalogue and have landed with a corrupted catalogue/lost it, and the folder view and collections will only contain folders and collections which are actually relevant to that catalogue’s contents.

    Just by doing this I managed to sort through 10k photos of many different kinds spanning two years, all in one day, and it didn’t feel ‘intimidating’ at all. Thanks to separating everything into the folders and/or catalogues they belonged, I actually managed to get rid of hundreds/thousands of photos which had no good reason to exist anymore.

  • NickGHK

    I used to do that, because I have 50K+ images, and I thought that splitting them into several catalogues would make things easier; wrong. That’s what keywords are for.

    A well thought out and well-formed keyword set is one of the major assets of your image database, second only to the images themselves. I have well over 4,000 keywords, and the list grows every time I add images. I back it up after every session of key wording by using the Export Keywords command.

    The reason I switched to a single catalogue is that I discovered you can’t copy the keyword list from one catalogue to another without it becoming a bloated mess.

    I don’t understand – why wouldn’t you save to XMP?

    And why on earth wouldn’t you back up your catalogue/s? I do it at least once a week, and more often if I do a major session of sorting, key wording or editing. Catalogue backups *don’t* duplicate image files – only the database itself, which is well under 2Gb for my 50K images. I have single image files bigger than that. You can delete older backups as you go.

    I also back up all my images to a mirrored drive, and copy my catalogue and keyword backups there as well.

    Your catalogue will certainly become sluggish if you never optimise it – just like any large database. But if you optimise as part of the backup function, it will run smoothly at many times the size of your current total image archive.

    As for folders v collections – I agree. If you keep your folders well organised on your HD, collections are handy for subsets, but nothing beats good housekeeping.

  • Chester A. Arthur

    I think splitting catalogs thematically would just be confusing. What do you do if you have a photo of your cat sitting in the lap of your child, who is eating a hamburger?

    If one splits catalogs for the sake of efficiency, then I think it’s more intuitive to do it by time span.

    If you’re a pro, then split them up by job, if you rarely need to go back to past jobs. But, for everyone else, split things up by year. Or maybe keep a master catalog for total history with one catalog split off for just current year that ends up being integrated back to the master catalog when a new year starts.

  • Marc Grandmaison

    I split my work in catalogues only because I do photojournalist work and I have another catalogue for my personal work. Also create a new catalogue for a new hockey season as I cover 50 games per season for one team and I find it makes things a lot more snappy when I need to edit and file a few shots in between périodes.

  • Peng Tuck Kwok

    For me everything has to be fast. A catalog with 200k photos to me is
    a large database that will involve lots of disk activity just by searching and loading. Of course that means everything is spread out so I try to find a balance between size and number of catalogs

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    The suggestion to put your catalog in Dropbox or the like should be made with some HUGE caveats. If you intend to share a catalog among machines, as he does, you absolutely must never open Lightroom on the two machines at the same time, and furthermore, before opening Lightroom on one machine, you must be absolutely sure that the Dropbox sync on the other machine has fully completed, and also that once that’s done, the Dropbox sync on the second machine has completed as well.

    Utter havoc will ensue if this dance is breached even once.

    Oh, and about the first point, he says that your catalog can be stored on any local drive, not “anywhere” as this article summarizes. They can’t be on network drives.

  • Theo Lubbe

    That’s kind of how I go about things already. I have a ‘general’ catalogue which contains absolutely everything, into which I import files after they’ve been placed into their appropriate folder(s) for other catalogues.

    Splitting by year doesn’t work well for me though, as there’s already some overlap in photos from specific places or of specific things between different years, and I can use filters to check for photos in a given catalogue/tagset from a specific year already.

  • Theo Lubbe

    “That’s what keywords are for”
    Well, I did say “folders and tags”.

    My photos aren’t only in folders most appropriate for their content/theme, they’re also tagged to include information for whatever else is in them.

    “I don’t understand – why wouldn’t you save to XMP?”
    It’s not that I don’t, it’s that I forget to. I turned off the automatic saving as I noticed that by the time I have several dozen changes made to a photo, every subsequent change took exponentially longer to effect, to the point where I was quite literally waiting 2 minutes from where I would dial in a single change on a new adjustment brush to where it would actually render it.

    Admittedly, I last tried using ‘automatically save to XMP’ in the LR5 beta, so maybe it’s a non-issue now on 5.4, and is worth trying again in my case.

    As for copying over the tags/keywords, in my experience Lightroom extracts the available keywords out of the files when they’re imported to a different catalogue anyway? Or am I misunderstanding?

    “And why on earth wouldn’t you back up your catalogue/s?”
    I didn’t say I don’t back them up. I said they could become corrupt. I kept two backups on two separate drives of the catalogue for a wedding I shot, and somehow those backups and the catalogue I was working with on my main drive managed to all become corrupt. This is, of course, where writing to XMP would hopefully have saved me from a processing perspective at least…

    Though at the same time, it’s where keeping files in their own folders is also of use. For a job like that I now move files into ‘unused’ and ‘sorting’ subfolders, keeping only the best in the main folder, then doing another pass at the ‘sorting’ files thereafter. No need to worry about a corrupt catalogue that way. After all, do you back up your catalogue every 30-60min to effect any changes you’ve made in the past hour’s sitting session?

    “But if you optimise as part of the backup function, it will run smoothly
    at many times the size of your current total image archive”
    I’d been doing this and trying everything else I could just to get LR to not slow down to a crawl when navigating all my photos, and nothing helped as much as simply separating things into their own catalogues. That I’m using a standard HDD might have something to do with it from a seek and read performance perspective, but even if I let it load everything in, performance would still be slow once actually working on an individual photo.

    In any event, this system works for me now, and I’ll probably find some other way to do things that I prefer over what I’m doing now at a later stage, so what I’m suggesting up top is just that; a suggestion.

  • Theo Lubbe

    Can be on network drives, you just have to map a drive letter for said network drive.

  • Jeffrey Friedl

    Have you had good experience doing that? I would suppose the network-drive restriction is related to file locking, and would worry that tricking Lightroom into working with a non-local catalog could result in corruption. I don’t have any actual experience in this area, though.

  • seorasx

    After some early frustration I now have a catalog per year and create a folder for each month. I can add further specific job folders within those. So far so good. I also find it good and clear when backing up post editing.
    Principally I’m a landscape photographer and find using the map module very important, for tagging and as a visual overview. Commercial/advertising photographers will have their own method though I would still a simple and basic structure as possible.

  • Konstantin Shtondenko

    Would indeed result!

  • Konstantin Shtondenko

    Very good point. Jeffrey, I think, you may like our approach at we create a rich web app to handle raw processing (on a client side) and integrate it with Google Drive using API. So cloud becomes the storage for original files and the server with full-fledged MySQL – a catalog. Still working on raw processing part, but already have things to be proud of (support for Canon and Nikon proprietary raw and demosaicing that’s under 6 seconds of Mark III photos).

  • Konstantin Shtondenko

    Having multiple catalogs kinda ruins the whole sorting and filtering thing across all your photos.

  • Theo Lubbe

    Don’t see why it would result in corruption really. While seek latencies were of course higher -especially in my case since I was working with a total of about 65m worth of network cable through two hops- it worked just fine.

    It’s not something I do as a habit, though; I was merely testing LR on a different, lower-end computer using a catalogue and files stored on my own computer in another building to see how the performance would be if I had to use a lower-end PC as an emergency workstation. Having raw files or, worse, large uncompressed files like tiffs, accessed through the network was an enormous pain though, especially with it being limited to 100mbps due to the cable lengths.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    “The reason I switched to a single catalogue is that I discovered you can’t copy the keyword list from one catalogue to another without it becoming a bloated mess.”

    I have catalogues by year. Every year, I export the keywords from one catalog and import into the next. There’s also a feature to purge unused keywords.

    Just an FYI.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    “I now have a catalog per year and create a folder for each month”

    That’s very close to what I do (^_^). I create a folder for every shoot [i.e. / day]. This way, I feel like I can archive the old ones and only focus on new stuff. Also, I can update to any new rendering processes w/o updating EVERYTHING.

  • seorasx

    For busy studios then having a folder with the job number would also work.
    LR is very adaptable and you could just shove everything into one folder and filter out accordingly but having work neatly and sensibly packaged up makes a hell of a difference.
    ‘Collections’ can then be created from wherever of course.

    Good to hear I’m not alone:)

  • Carol Graham

    If I don’t use the catalogs and my folders are not connected- I cut them to an external after finalizing my clients sessions, can I purge my cache and will it just start fresh with my next import? If I need to work on images I have folders with the raw and exported files.

  • Carol Graham

    To add to my comment below- I import images into LR at that time a folder is created with all original RAW files.
    hen use LR to edit and export my picks as jpeg into a client folder for further narrowing down. I rarely go back into LR. Maybe Im duh- not sure:) but cant I just select my images in the exported folder if I need to do a preset etc.later? I keep getting the message that I am critically low on space in the catalog. My drive are not full- that’s why Im thinking of puring. I have one very huge catalog.
    Do I need to save catalogs?
    I appreciate any advice, I cannot find a smple answer anywhere so I thoughtsharing my workflow would help. THANK YOU I use LR3

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  • Frank

    After changing XMP to automatic I noticed that LR5 was saving the changes and my PE12 catalogue was updating for one hour but after that – no changes that were made in LR5 are visible in PE12 – any suggestion why it didn’t work?