I’ve been a Lightroom user since version 1 was beta. While I’ve been using it very successfully to edit images I paid little attention to its ability to help manage and edit (sort and cull the best) my images. Over time, my catalog has become a mess, making me feel like a digital hoarder.
Then I saw a brilliant post written by Giovanni Maggiora on the Inspired Eye blog. He’s one organized guy and his system was like a breath of fresh air to me. He’s also an excellent photographer so check out his original post in “The Inspired Eye” to see some of his work.
The basis of Giovanni’s system is this:
- Files are stored in Folders – They stay there and don’t move
- Files are backed up immediately upon import to a separate drive.
- Images and image versions are managed, edited and processed within nested Collection Sets, Smart Collections and Collections within Lightroom
There is one master working folder on your drive for each year with a folder for each month within the year.
There is one Collection Set within Lightroom for each year with sub Collections or Collection sets for individual projects, trips, subjects really whatever makes sense to you. If dates work better for you, then go for it.
Editing and processing take place in a special “Work In Process” collection set, which is a temporary work area to edit (select) and process images. After the work is done, the images are to be moved to their permanent home in whatever collection you deem appropriate.
I’m likely to forget the process so I took some time to study Giovanni’s system and document it in a series of screenshots (hey I’m a photographer so I learn better visually). And I thought I’d share it here in case you find it helpful too.
Here it is:
1. This was the biggest aha moment for me. I’ve been using the default Lightroom folder structure for years and it’s become downright cumbersome. Instead I learned from Giovanni and Don Springer before him to simplify the folders by creating a workdin folder for each year titled M YYYY (i.e. this year is M 2014). Below that is one folder for each month. I chose to label them by month number, so January is 01, February 02 and so on. I plan to go back and put the all of this year and last year into this structure by dragging the files within Lightroom (don’t do this in Finder or File Manager otherwise the link will be broken to Lightroom).
2. Based on Giovanni’s recommendation I set Lightroom to automatically send a backup copy to my Drobo at the time of import. I should have done this a long time ago. This folder is structured the same as the working folder on my computer execept it is B YYYY (B=backup).
I did this in Lightroom 5, but it will work in any recent version.
I’m using some quick snaps I took around the house to have something to import, so don’t expect any high art here.
Here's the folders
Folder Name Options in Lightroom 5
Backup Folder Location on My Drobo
Collection Sets for Image Management
Here’s a screenshots of my collection sets (a work in progress). As you can see they’re broken down by year and subject. The one titled Misc. Stuff are past collections that need to be incorporated into the new system. It’s pretty messy so I kept it hidden.
Work in Progress Collection Set
Once you have your folder structure setup it’s time to create a special collection set to be used as your editing workspace. This is to be used for each batch of images you import then cleared out when you’re finished. In here you will edit (select the best) and process (only the good ones).
1. The first step is to create a Collection Set titled Work in Progress (I put a numer 1 in front so that it will appear at the top of my collection list).
2. Next create a Collection titled All WIP (or whatever name makes sense to you). This is where you drag all your images from a shoot after import.
3. Create three Smart Collections to help facilitate editing. Original, Processed and To be Processed. More on these later.
If you read Giovanni’s post about this you will see he set his up as BW Processed and so on. That’s becuse his street photos are mostly black and white. I do a mixture of color and B&W so I made mine more generic. You can create these anyway you like. You can even create multiple Word in Progress sets. I’m showing it this way to explain the concept.
Following are screenshots of how to set the Smart Collection rules for the four smart collections. It takes less than five minutes to setup all of them.
Create a Smart Collection
Just click the big “+” to create a new Smart Collection, Collection or Collection set. In our case we’ll choose “Create Smart Collection.”
Original Smart Collection Setup
Type “Original” in the Smart Collection box and use the dropdown boxes below to set your parameters. Be sure to stipulate which collection the images are in otherwise it will choose everything.
Basic Smart Collection Setup
Processed Smart Collection Setup
To be Processed Smart Collection Setup
Notice this one includes the Purple label color. This little trick gives you the ability to toggle which images should be in this folder for culling and processing.
Import your photos into Lightroom as usual. If your folders are setup as describe earlier they will automatically be stored in the proper live and backup folders.
Rename your Photos (after import)
When you rename your images after import they will remain connected to the original filename. This can be helpful if you ever need to access an image from your backups.
To rename them all highlight all the images. The quick way is to use keyboard shortcuts CMD+A on the Mac or CTL+A on the PC.
1. Then click the File Name box on the right.
2. The Rename box will appear.
3. Choose Custom Name – Sequence
4. Add your custom text. I took Giovanni’s advice and use the naming convention “M-YYYY-MM” (I’m in the US where we label years and months the opposite the rest of the world). You can use whateve makes sense to you.
5. Click OK
Drag all images into the All WIP collection
Make sure all images are highlighted and drag an drop them into the All WIP. If it doesn’t, that’s because you have to click on an image and not the big fat grey border around it (I always make that mistake).
Add Copy Name "Original" to all photos
Go into the All WIP collection and go to the Metadata section on the right side of the screen and add a Copy Name to all images (they should all be selected, but if not select them first). Just type the name “Original in the Copy Name box and then “Apply to Selected” button in the popup window.
Set Metadata on Multiple Photos
This one here.
The magically appear in the Original folder.
This is for safekeeping. You may not need it.
Create Virtual Copies
At this point we want to work on virtual copies and not the original versions we imported. So be sure all images are still selected, right-click on one image and choose Create Virtual Copies.
By now this is probably starting to sound tedious. Trust me, once you do it once or twice it’s really fast.
Add Copy Name "Basic" to Virtual Copies
You can see that the virtual copies are all selected because they are lighter than the other images (1). Use this as an opportunity to quickly apply a Copy Name to all of them. Click the Copy Name box and type “Basic.”
Set Metadata on Multiple Photos
Then click this again.
Go to the Basic Smart Collection toFlag your Favorites as Picks
GO TO THE BASIC SMART COLLECTION. Now it’s time to quickly walk through your photos and pick the good ones. Don’t worry the others will still be there in case you want to revisit them. Step though them one at a time and click the “P” key. Giovanni says a good rule of thumb is to pick only 25% (or less). Don’t overthink it at this point. Go with your gut.
Apply the Flagged Filter
After you made your selection apply the Flagged Only filter to hide the crappy ones.
Look at this, you’ve narrowed it down. Nice work.
Before you move to the next step select all the picks. We’re going back to the All WIP folder for the next step and this will make things much simpler.
Return to All WIP Collection
All of the picks you selected in the previous step are still selected in the All WIP collection. Next you’re going to make another set of Virtual Copies. You need to do this in the All WIP collection because the copies will automatically be given the name “Copy 2” which will cause them to be dropped from the Basic smart collection. Here you can see that they’re all still selected.
Create Virtual Copies
Apply Copy Name "Processed"
Just like an earlier step apply the Copy Name Processed to the selected copies. This will cause them to appear in the Processed folder.
Set Metadata on Multiple Photos
Do this again.
Processed Smart Collection
Here they are in the Processed Smart Collection
Set color label to Purple
This will cause the images to appear in the To be Processed smart collection where you will do your processing and further editing. While the images are still selected right click on one image choose Set Color Label then select Purple from the dropdown box.
Process your images
Go to the “To be Processed” smart folder to process your images . This is where you do your work away from the other folders. Apply your favorite presets, adjust contrast, color,curves, etc to your taste.
Cull Images Again
While in the To Be Processe folder and after you’re finished processing, it’s time to select only the best. Do this by applying One Star (just to keep it simple) to the best 25-33% in this batch.
Apply one-star filter
When you’re done apply a one star filter to hide the rest.
Continue to Process if Necessary
Now you only have a handful of images to work with. Continue processing if you like, add titles an captions. It’s a lot less work when you’re doing it to just a few good ones.
Clear the Purple labels
When you’re finished and still in the “To Be Processed” folder remove the one-star filter to reveal all images. Then select all images by pressing CMD+A on a Mac or CTL+A on a PC. Next Right-Click, select Set Color Label and None to remove the purple label from these images. This will automatically remove these images from the folder.
You’re finished with the To Be Processed folder and can move back to the Processed folder.
To Be Processed is Now Empty
Use Processed folder to export or publish images
Remember all of your best images are labled with One Star. To select them to export or publish just apply a one-star filter in the Processed folder.
Post to the Web
I have my Lightroom setup to publish to Flicrk. So all I had to do is drag my images to the Flickr collection (that’s a subject for another post).
Same wih exports. You only have a few so it’s quick.
Move All Images from All WIP Collection to the Appropriate Collection
Once you’re finished with your editing and processing you need to clear the workspace for your next shoot. Remember this is a work area and not a long term storage facility. To do this just drag the images to the collection where they belong. In the case of these photos I dragged them into the “Texas 2013” collection which is inside the collection set “Work 2013.” Becuase my keepers are all labeld with a single star I only have to apply a one-star filter to this collection to find them. If I want to continue working with this collection I have the option to create the same work in progress smart folder inside my long-term colleciton set.
See…All Gone and Ready for the Next Batch
That’s it. As I said before it looks tedious. But I like how it imposes order on what was (for me anyway) chaos.