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File Management in Adobe Lightroom

File Management in Adobe Lightroom

As most people that know me to know, I’m an avid Apple Aperture 2 user.  I’ve always preferred Aperture over other Digital Asset Managers (DAM’s) and RAW “darkroom” software because of how well Aperture handles the asset management functions.  However, with Adobe Lightroom 2, there are some significant time-savers that can’t be ignored and is tempting me to make the switch.  Here are some examples of why I’m tempted:

  • Somewhere along the way in the minor releases of Lightroom, Adobe added camera profiles.  Camera profiles simulate quite closely the picture profiles from the camera vendors.  For example, I can load up the Nikon “Portrait” profile in Lightroom.  Just this alone gets me much closer to a finished image than just the RAW image in Aperture.
  • Global presets.  Aperture has preset, but they are a preset per develop the block.  So, I can save a preset for sharpening, exposure, or colour; but I can’t have a preset for sharpening, exposure, AND colour.  Lightroom allows for this.  So, I can take the combination of adjustments that I usually do to get the look I like and I can save that as a preset.  These presets can be applied to every image on import.  This is a HUGE time saving

However…  Aperture’s DAM features are so much better, it’s kept me from switching… until now.  I set out with a goal to figure out how I could set up Lightroom to mimic the workflow that I currently use in Aperture.  It’s a little more work in Lightroom, but the time I’ll save in image processing will be well worth the few extra seconds it’ll take to set it up.  Here’s what I’m doing.

Adobe Lightroom Folder Hierarchy

Adobe Lightroom Folder Hierarchy

Step 1 – Folder Creation

I have two types of top-level folders.  One is the “+Review” folder, which I’ll explain below, and the “YEAR” folder.

The YEAR folder is simple.  It’s one folder for each year that I have images.  So, for example, this year I have a 2009 top-level folder.  Inside each year folder, I have 12 subfolders.  Can you guess what they are?  Yep, one folder for each month and I label them like, “01 January” or “04 April”.  By putting the number of the month before the month's name, keeps them in order and prevents Lightroom from alphabetizing the subfolders.  In each of the month folders, I have a folder for each shoot or event.  You can see this displayed in this image labelled, “Adobe Lightroom Folder Hierarchy”.   This is a nice structure because as I finish up a month, I can collapse it to save space.  As I finish a year, I can collapse that folder as well.

The “+Review” has the “+” in it to keep it at the top.  That’s optional.  This is where all new imports land.  Each day goes into a subfolder that is automatically created by the importer.  I’ll detail how I set up the importing dialogue below.  Once the import is complete, I’ll have one or more folders under “+Review” that are now ready for me to review.

Step 2 – Import settings

Ok… now you have your basic folders in place, it’s time to start importing some images.  Let me point out the things on here that I think are important:

  • Copy To - This is the path to where I put my “+Review” folder.  Remember… all new imports land here.
  • Organize – I set this to be “By Date: 2005-12-17″ format.  This creates ONE folder under “+Review” for each day of shooting.  If you had more than one shoot in a single day, then we can deal with that later when we process the “+Review” folder.
  • File Name Template:  I set this to “Filename”.  I’ll do all my renumbering later.  If I just shot a wedding with lots of cards, I don’t want to rename them until I have them all on the computer just in case I shot them out of order.
  • I also have a preset called “Auto – D700 Standard” that I use for both my D700 and my D3 as they get me pretty close to where I want to be.  You could do something similar here.  I have my metadata preset also that plugs in basic metadata info into each file as they are imported.

As you can see in this screengrab, I’ve successfully imported the images and Lightroom has created a folder called “2009-09-15″.  Now we are ready to do something with those files.  I can rename the folder to whatever the event was, or I can dump the images into a new folder.  For example, I may have just imported images from three days of shooting, but they are all from a vacation to Disney world that we took in August of 2009.  So, I’d create a folder called “Disney Vacation” under “08 August”, under “2009″.  I’d then go into each of my “daily” folders under “+Review” and drag them to my newly created “Disney Vacation” folder.  Once all my files are where I want them, I clean up (i.e. delete) any empty folders under “+Review”.

Step 3 – Renaming files

Now that I have all my images in their final folders, it’s time to rename them. Until recently, I didn’t rename my images, but then I realized that I was missing out on a big SEO opportunity.

Now, I rename the images so that the search engines can get some meaningful data from the image name.  TLP_12345.jpg doesn’t mean anything to a search engine.  However, “johnson-smith-Jacksonville-wedding-1.jpg” goes a long way to boost your SEO effectiveness.  This screengrab is an example, you could make it whatever you want, just make sure it’s helpful for the search engine robots.

Step 4 – Creating collections

The final step in organizing my images is to create collections.  This is kind of a redundant step, unfortunately.  It’s a step that’s not necessary for Aperture.  However, Lightroom’s folders aren’t available to all the modules.  However, Collections ARE available in the other modules.  So, it’s a bit of a necessary evil to create a similar structure for collections as we did for the folder, minus the “+Review” folder.

In my newly created folder for my shoot or event (i.e. “Disney Vacation”), go through each image and mark my “picks” with a flag or “P” in Lightroom.  Once I have done this, I do a quick filter for all images that are “Flagged”.   Next I “Select all”, then “command-N” (“control-N” on Windows) to create a new Collection.  This is what the dialogue looks like:

I give the collection the same name as the folder that all the images belong to.  Then, I select the parent folder to represent the year and month the shoot was in.  Then, I hit create!  Now, those images that are my “picks” will be available in all of my Lightroom modules.  PLEASE NOTE: Flag settings are not global.  If you set them for an image while in a folder, that flag will not be set in the collection.  If you need a persistent marker of some sort use stars or colours to rate your image.


So… that’s how I’m doing it.  For now at least.  We’ll see how things evolve as I get to know this application a bit better.  If you enjoy this post, please comment.  If you have a better way of doing it, please comment.  If you see a hazardous pitfall to my method, PLEASE comment so I can change my way.  ;-)