A Viewfinder Darkly

Photography tips and tutorials

Lightroom Library for Managing Photographs

January 31 2017

by Philip Northeast

Digital cameras make taking photographs easy, and the result is often an overwhelming, but the Lightroom Library can help. A large number of photographs causes two problems. Digital photographs take up a considerable amount of space, so keeping unusable photographs costs in terms of providing and maintaining computer storage systems. The other problem is trying to find a photograph in amongst hundreds of others.

screen view

The Library window in Adobe Lightroom

This is my workflow in Lightroom photography software for managing my photographs. This process makes finding photographs simpler, and stops unwanted images clogging up the system. The first stage is reducing the number of photographs in the library and then adding keywords so they are easier to find.

Deciding on the Photographs to keep

We tend to create cluttered photo libraries because we only see the positive elements of our photographs and ignore any defects. This often comes from an emotional attachment to the subject.  Viewing the photograph triggers emotional memories and these combine with the photograph to produce a virtual image in our brains. The impartial observer has only the photograph to go on and their interpretation is not influenced by memories. Realistically, these photos should be deleted if the aim is to produce good photographs.

Management Workflow 

The advantage of this type of system is the first stage is selecting our best photographs. In the end you do need to let some photographs go. Be ruthless and do not be afraid to delete photographs and acknowledge the faults in the photographs.

Temper the ruthlessness with the unrealised promise in the photograph that Lightroom photo editing techniques can reveal. Analysing why the faults occurred then applying these lessons helps improve your photographic technique.

Mark all the photographs that are acceptable in terms of exposure, focus, and composition with a colour label code . This is my personal code that I use to apply colour labels using the indicated number keys and has no specific meaning in Lightroom:

I try and keep this classification system simple so I can concentrate on the photographs without distraction from complexity in the classification system.  Originally I included the green colour label in my system, but I did not use it. I tended to go from Yellow label indicating needing work to a Blue label for an adjusted photograph.  There are also star ratings that could be used in a similar fashion.

lightroom library attributes

The colour label icons at the top of the Library screen are attributes

To make the process faster set Lightroom to automatically advance to the next photograph on the film strip when you assign a colour.  This is an option in the Photo drop down menu, or use the Caps lock key. To use this feature temporarily hold down the  shift key while assigning a colour label.

The Compare tool activated using the N key allows more than two images to be displayed in the main preview window. It does not have the same detail as the Compare tool activated using the C key.  The N key compare is useful for a quick comparison between a number of similar photographs.

This is not the end of the process. Using the colour labels filters in Lightroom’s Library module to hide unlabelled photographs, allowing an uncluttered view of the selected photographs.  These unlabelled photographs remain hidden until a convenient time for a review. Then using the dark grey colour label filter alone displays all the unlabelled photographs. A quick check to ensure none of these have any possibilities.  Then select all the photographs in the view and mark for deletion to free up disk space.


Finding photographs in Lightroom Library

The process starts when you import photos into lightroom.  I import all my photos into a directory structure based on when they were taken, with folders for year and sub-folders for the month.

Lightroom creates and manages these folders in the standard file system and they are fully accessible by the operating system.  Lightroom handles storing photographs on multiple drives.

Lightroom Library manages folders and sub folders that are spread across several drives

The Lightroom catalogue is an indexing system that uses various bits of information about the photographs to present a selection in the Library window. Including keywords for each photograph in Lightroom’s catalogue allows a filter those being viewed. This can be done temporarily as photographers can easily create instant filters in the  Lightroom Library.  For a permanent filter, I use keywords as the basis for smart collections. Whenever you add keywords to a photograph it is automatically added to any Lightroom smart collection that is based on these keywords.

Adding keywords seems like hard work and takes away from the fun of playing with the photographs. However, it does make future management of an expanding photo library much simpler.

You can add keywords during and after importing into Lightroom. Lightroom makes it easier by remembering the keywords you used before, so they can be reapplied, often with one click.

These classification systems do not alter the operating system’s file structure where the photographs are stored. These attributes are lightroom pointers to the file location and the pointers are stored in the Lightroom catalogue.

When you do this management task is not critical, it can be part of the process of adding photographs to the computer. More likely you will not start until managing your collection of photographs until it becomes unwieldy, like mine. This is when I started thinking about removing unwanted photos and making the remainder easily searchable on terms related to the photo’s subject.

Searching through hundreds of photos looking hoping to recognise a particular one, gets a bit wearing after a while and spending time on Lightroom Library management saves time in the long run.


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