Lightroom Project #1: Organise Your Photos

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Cozumel, Mexico

This is the first of a series of articles designed to encourage you to use Lightroom more. I’m writing it because I’ve observed that practical projects encourage people to set aside some time and put some of the things they’ve learnt from my articles and books into practice. Follow these exercises and not only will you learn to organise your photos better but your post-processing skills will improve immensely. It should also be a lot of fun!

Lightroom project #1: Organise your photos

Aim: To organise some photos that you haven’t looked at for some time, and may even have forgotten about (importing them into Lightroom first if necessary). Then bring them together in a new Collection Set and select the best.

Modules used: The Library module

Organising your photos with Collections

The first Lightroom project is to organise your photos using Collections and Collection Sets.

One of the benefits of digital photography is that most of you can fit your entire digital photo collection on a single hard drive and take it with you wherever you want. By contrast, I can’t access my collection of negatives and slides, taken over a period of around 15 years, because they are stored in my parents’ house on the other side of the world. Yet I can fit all my digital photos on one hard drive.

Another benefit is that organising photos has become a lot easier, especially if you use Lightroom to do it. I currently have over 70,000 photos in my Catalog. It includes some taken a long time ago and that have never been organised in more than a haphazard fashion. That’s about to change, and the idea of this project is to encourage you to do the same.

Here are some tips to get you started:

Use Collections to organise your photos

Organising photos is done in the Library module, using the Folders and Collections panels.

The Folders panel shows you where the photos in your Catalog are stored. It contains a heading for every hard drive from which you have imported photos, and lists the folders containing those photos underneath.

Lightroom project

The Folders panel is not for browsing photos, like Adobe Bridge. It is more a record of their location. It only shows folders containing photos that you have imported into the Lightroom Catalog. It doesn’t show you any other photos or folders stored on your hard drive.

The Folders panel is only found in one place – the Library module. Every other module only shows you the Collections panel.

Folder limitations

Folders are limited. Let’s say you have a folder called Paris July 2014 containing photos taken that month in the city of Paris. Let’s also say that folder contains some photos of a person called Nicole. Unless you go down the impractical route of making copies, those photos can only reside in one folder at a time.

However, with Collections the story is different. Those photos of Nicole can be added to a Collection called Paris July 2014, another called Nicole, another called Vacation 2014 and so on. You can add them to as many Collections as you wish, giving you a near infinite choice of options when categorising photos.

A practical example

I bought my first digital camera, an Olympus compact, in 2006. I took lots of photos with it that year, and have been meaning for some time to import them into Lightroom. I finally got around to it this week.

One of the places that I travelled to that year was Cozumel, Mexico. I pulled all the photos taken there, spread across several folders, into a single Collection.

I’ll show you how I organised them shortly.

You can choose any photos you like to try this exercise. I recommend trying it with some photos that you haven’t looked at for some time and may even have forgotten about. If you haven’t added them to your Lightroom Catalog already, start by doing so.

Part of the power of Lightroom is that it can contain all your digital photos in one place (to be clear, the photos are not stored in Lightroom, but the previews you seen in all the modules plus a record of all the changes made to your photos are). All your memories in one place. It’s powerful stuff, and makes it easy to browse through old photos that are otherwise easily forgotten.

Collection structure

I recommend the following Collection structure for your photos:

1. Create a Collection Set with an appropriate title. In this case I used Cozumel.

2. Create three Collections within that Collection Set. Name one Full selection and make it the Target Collection. Call another one Picks and the third Selects.

Lightroom project

3. Add the photos for the project to the Full selection Collection.

This is a simple method for sorting out the photos:

1. Go to the Full selection Collection, go to Edit > Select All and then press the U key to remove any flags. This ensures that all the photos in the Collection are unflagged.

2. With all the images selected, go to Library > Previews > Build 1:1 Previews. Lightroom will create 1:1 previews for any photos that don’t already have them. You can skip this step if you have already created them.

Note: If there are a lot of photos in the Collection you might find it easier to select Build Standard-Sized Previews. It will be quicker to create the previews as they are smaller, but slower to zoom into any of the photos as Lightroom will have to create a 1:1 preview when you do so.

3. Go to the Photo menu and, if it is unticked, tick the Auto Advance option.

Lightroom project

4. Click on the first photo in the Collection and press the F key. If you have Lightroom 5, it goes straight to full-screen mode. If you have an earlier version of Lightroom, use this more long-winded process:

  • Press E to go to Loupe View
  • Press F to enter Full Screen
  • Press Shift+Tab to hide side panels
  • Press T to hide the Toolbar

5. Make your first run through the photos. Hit the P key to flag photos you like, or press the right-arrow key to move to the next one. Ticking Auto Advance earlier told Lightroom to move to the next photo whenever you press a key (other than the left-arrow key, which moves you in the other direction).

6. Go to the Filter Bar (press the \ key if you don’t see it) and select Flagged from the drop-down menu on the right. Now you canonly see the photos that you have flagged as a Pick. Lightroom hides the others.

Lightroom project

7. Right-click on the Picks Collection and choose Set as Target Collection.

Lightroom project

8. Go to Edit > Select All, then press the B keyboard shortcut. Lightroom adds all the selected photos to the Picks Collection. As you can see, I reduced my initial selection of 301 photos down to 159.

Lightroom project

9. Go to the Picks Collection, then Edit > Select All and press U again to remove the flags.

10. Repeat the process, this time much more carefully, making sure you only flag the photos that you want to end up in the final edit. When you have done so, repeat the process above to add the flagged photos to the Selects Collection.

You can go to the Selects Collection, look through it and remove any photos (press B again) that you feel don’t belong there. The idea is to edit the selection down to the strongest photos.

I ended up with 85 photos in my Selects folder.

Lightroom project

This is the simplest method I’ve found to organise photos within Collections. I found it on Scott Kelby’s blog (follow the link to read the article).

The point is that you don’t need to be incredibly clever when it comes to Collections. Read around on what other photographers do and use their techniques.

Better still, adapt them to suit your requirements. In the above example, if you only have a few photos to sort, you won’t need three folders. Two will do.

Or if you end up with too many photos in your Selects folder create another one called something like Final Selects and narrow them down again. I created another Collection called Top Ten Photos and selected my ten favourites, which illustrate this article (scroll all the way to the bottom to see the rest).

You can create more Collections within the same Collection Set for almost any purpose you can imagine. Do you want to add some photos to a website? Create a Collection called Website. Add some to Facebook? Create a Collection called Facebook. Want to email the photos to Nicole? Create a Collection called For Nicole. Get the idea? It’s a really easy way to keep your images organised.

What next?

What do you do with your photos after you have organised them? That’s a topic for another project, but here are a few ideas to get you started. The links are to articles on this website or that I’ve written for Digital Photography School.

No doubt you can think of more.

Further resources

Learn more about Lightroom with these articles:

Organising Photo Files for Lightroom

How to Improve the Speed and Performance of Lightroom

How to Prepare Photos for the Web in Lightroom

Creative Ways to Use Keywords in Lightroom 5 (DPS article)

How to Find Your Best Images with Lightroom 5’s Compare View (DPS article)

Use Lightroom Collections to Improve Your Workflow (DPS article)

Make Lightroom Faster by Using DNG (DPS article)

Mastering Lightroom ebooks

Learn more about Lightroom with my Mastering Lightroom ebooks.

Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module

Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library ModuleMastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module  shows you how to use the Library Module to import, organise and search your images. This important task lays the foundation for the work you do in Lightroom. Mastering the Library module and learning to use Collections to organise and sort your photos ultimately saves you time, which you can spend either in the Develop module or with your camera.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos

Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos coverMastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos takes you through ten beautiful examples of photography and shows you how I processed them step-by-step in Lightroom. It explores some of my favourite Develop Presets and plug-ins as well as the techniques I use in Lightroom itself. Learn how to use Lightroom by following along with the practical examples. Plenty of inspiration and advanced technique.

Photo Gallery

Here are some more of my photos from Cozumel:

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

Cozumel, Mexico

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10 Responses to “Lightroom Project #1: Organise Your Photos”

  1. Ian says:

    Andrew, another interesting blog, thank you.

    Can I just ask why you are recommending collections rather than keywords? It seems to me they are quite interchangeable and I was wondering if there was a a reason to prefer one over the other.

    • Hi Ian. Keywords can be very useful but for them to be effective you have to be extremely consistent with their use. Any photos that aren’t keyworded, or not keyworded consistently with others, are invisible in searches. Also, keyworded photos aren’t organised in any way, they are just keyworded. The only way to find photos with, for example, the keyword “New York” is to search for them. You can move between Collections at the click of a button, which is much more efficient.

      Collections are also different from keywords in that they are listed in the Collections panel, which is visible in every module. You don’t have to perform a search to find your photos, you can go straight to the appropriate Collection. The method of editing your photos (as in deciding which ones to process) outlined in this article works with Collections, but wouldn’t work with keywords.

      Does that make sense? In short, keywords are there to help you search your photos, while Collections let your organise them.

      If you’re consistent with your keywording you can even combine the two techniques and use Smart Collections based on keyword searches.

      • Ian says:

        Thank you, this helps. I have got a little bogged down with keywords recently and not keeping up to what is quite a large ask every time I return with several hundred pictures after a day out. I sort of create a collection by renaming the images on import and adding a description to the camera filename. this does make them easy to find.

        Exploring a combination approach does sound like a good idea, I will give it a try.

        • Hi Ian, you might find using keyword sets helps if you find yourself getting bogged down with keywording. I guess the key to consistency is to keep the number of keywords you use to a minimum, otherwise you can quickly lose control.

      • chelin says:

        That’s a very good question and answer! I use keywords as a general tool for an initial search, but – like Andrew says – it is very important to be consistent, and most of the times I am not! I use collections every time I am working on a project: for example, when I come back from holidays I may have several folders with images, but I select the best ones and create a collection which can later be used for a family scrapbook, slideshow or facebook album. It is easier to stay consistent with Collections, and I can create sets with sub collections.

        • Thanks Chelin, that’s how I use Collections and Collection Sets too. They’re extremely useful, even more so for client work and for projects using lots of photos such as my ebooks.

  2. Michael says:

    Hi Andrew,
    great article on Collections, I am now using them for my complete collection (like you back to 2006!).
    I originally (due to lack of understanding on how LR works) used catalogs – I now have the problem of numerous catalogs and was wondering how to combine them into one. Any ideas on this one as it is tedious going through each one to save the image files as either TIFF or DNG to keep the adjustments in tact.
    cheers M.

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