How To Organise Photos In Lightroom

How To Organise Photos In Lightroom – The Ultimate Guide!

Organise Photos In Lightroom


One of the most frequently asked questions by most Adobe Lightroom users is – How do I organise photos in Lightroom? What is the optimal structure and system to organise photos?

So if you have been wondering the answer to this ever elusive question…worry not my friend…we have tried to best address this question is the best possible manner.

This is a must read post! Most people are good with Lightroom when it comes to editing, but organising and keeping your images properly backed up is the most critical step of your Post-Production Workflow.

The last thing we want as a Photography Professional is to worry about our images. So we advise you to read this blog post carefully and meticulously. How you organise & store your images might not matter to you in the beginning stages, but as you start shooting a lot of images and photo sessions, you will soon realise that it is absolutely necessary for you to ensure that you have a rock solid system to store, organise and back-up your images.

In this blog post, we are going to look at the 1st two:

  • Where should you store your photos?
  • How should you organise your photos?

In the next blog post, we will be looking at backup systems and strategies in detail.

Let us take up the 1st one…

Where Should You Store Your Photos?

From our earlier discussions, we already know that lightroom has a non-destructive editing workflow. That means Lightroom does not touch your images whether they are JPEG or RAW Files.

Instead, what lightroom does is…it maintains a catalog or a database of all the changes you make to your photos. Since, lightroom does not modify any pixels of your existing image files but maintains a catalog of all the edits, once you have completed the editing of your images, they need to be exported.

In other words, post exporting the images from Lightroom….you have 2 versions of the same image:

  1. Original Images (Untouched)
  2. Edited Images (Exported Using Lightroom)

Once you have shot a Photo Session and you come back home…the 1st thing you do is, you transfer all your images from the Memory Card to your Hard Drive. Now, this Hard-Drive can be an internal hard-drive of your Working Computer or an External Hard-Drive.

We highly recommend you always transfer images to an External Hard-Drive and not your Internal Working Computer Hard Drive. Your working computer drive should be always having sufficient Hard-Disk Space to run Adobe Lightroom quickly and smoothly. If you store all your images inside your working computer drive, the whole system will start slowing down and so will adobe lightroom.

Most Important Tip: Always, always shoot in RAW and NEVER in JPG.

Ideal Setup For Importing Images From Your Memory Card:

  • Your working computer disk drive should ideally be an SSD where you store ONLY your Lightroom Catalog File (Note: The prices of SSD’s has come down considerably over the past few years and we would recommend using a 1TB SSD Internal Disk Drive)
  • Always import your images into an External Hard-Disk Drive (HDD) – (This drive need not be an SSD) This will be your Working Drive where you always import your images. Since the data in this Ext HDD is critical, we recommend a RAID 1 Mirroring Setup. This means instead of 1 Ext HDD, you will be using 2 Ext HDD’s. All the data transferred into 1 Primary Working Drive will be completely mirrored onto the secondary backup working drive. In the case of an HDD failure, since you have two copies of the data, you can simply replace the HDD that has failed with another HDD and all the data will be mirrored back onto the new drive and you would be good to go!
  • Always have only one parent folder for all your images you shoot from all your photo sessions. Viz. Photos / Pictures folder as your parent folder for storing all the images! We shall see the exact folder structure a little later in this blog post!
  • Do NOT use one catalog for editing images for all clients. This will make your catalog file too huge and unmanageable in the long run. Always create a new Lightroom Catalog for every Client for the most efficient & optimal Photo Organisation & Management.
  • Make sure, you have ‘Automatically Write Changes Into XMP’ option checked in the Lightroom Catalog Settings. To check if you have ‘Automatically Write Changes Into XMP’ option checked, go to…
    • To check and change your auto write preference, go to Edit Menu (Windows) / Lightroom Menu (Mac) > Catalog Settings > Metadata tab > Automatically Write Changes Into XMP – Refer screenshot below

Write Changes into XMP

  • Make sure that your Lightroom Preferences are correctly setup to handle file names. To ensure this, go to Edit Menu (Windows) / Lightroom Menu (Mac) > Preferences > File Handling tab > File Name Generation and ensure the settings as below…

Lightroom File Name Generation

Please follow all the above steps as meticulously as you possibly can.

Most of the commonly faced photo organisational problems can be avoided if you have all the above aspects taken care of. So please, do not miss a single step and follow all the instructions to the tee!

Now let us see…the 2nd part…

How should you organise your photos?

The Ultimate Lightroom Workflow Schematics – Ideal Folder Structure

01 Lightroom Workflow Schematics Ideal Folder Structure

Do not get overwhelmed by the above infographic. In fact, it is really very simple and easy to understand.

Let us break it down into smaller chunks so that you can get a complete understanding and mastery of the mechanics of our Ideal Folder Structure.

  • The top right-hand side ‘Tower’ section is a pictorial representation of all your Hard Disk Drives that are essential for your ideal Photo Storage, Organising & Backup Systems. It consists of…
    • Internal SSD – This is the Internal SSD connected to your computer on which you would be running Lightroom. This Drive will also have your operating system and other software’s installed. It won’t, however contain your client images. (Ideally, use a 1TB SSD or maximum storage SSD you can afford)
    • Working Drive – This will be your drive on which you store all your client images. As mentioned above, this should ideally be 2 identical Ext HDD’s with a RAID 1 Mirroring Setup. A RAID 1 setup protects data from drive failure by simultaneously writing the same data to two hard drives. Since each drive is an exact duplicate of the other, you can continue working if one fails.
    • Archive Drive – Once all the Images for the client are edited and post-processed in the working drive, all the images needs to be EXPORTED as a Lightroom CATALOG to this Archive Drive. When exporting images as a catalog, Lightroom will prompt you to use a Filename for the Catalog. Use the following Catalog File Name -> YearMonthDay_ClientName_Type viz. 20160318_John_Wedding – The filename will itself clarify when_who_what for you and keep things simple!
    • Portfolio Drive – This drive is only for your absolute best images. Only the best images that you consider from the client photo shoot go in here after the editing is completed. Simply go through all the edited images and mark 5-star rating to your Favorite Images. Please be very critical of marking your images with a 5-star rating as these are the images that you will be adding to your Portfolio Drive. We also recommend having a cloud backup of your most favorite images viz. Dropbox / Google Drive / BackBlaze / Smugmug etc.
  • The top left-hand side, the ‘Working Drive Structure’ section is a pictorial representation of how your folder structure should be organised for your working drive. If you remember from our earlier discussion, your working drive will consist of 2 identical External HDD’s with a RAID 1 Mirroring Setup. The main drive folder will only consist of 1 folder – i.e. Pictures. It will not have any other folder. All the clients folder will be nested inside this main ‘Pictures’ folder. The naming system for the client folder will be the same as the Catalog File Name. i.e. Use the following Client Folder Naming System -> YearMonthDay_ClientName_Type viz. 20160318_John_Wedding – The filename will itself clarify when_who_what for you and keep things simple!

Now let us take a look at…

The Ultimate Lightroom Workflow Schematics – The Workflow Pipeline

02 Lightroom Workflow Schematics - Workflow Pipeline

Here is a PDF Version of both the above schematics/infographic!

The above infographic is a complete breakup of your Image Editing Workflow Pipeline.

Let us look at it closely…

Image Editing Workflow Pipeline:

  • Create Folder Structure in Working Drive: This step we have already discussed above. We need to create the Ideal Folder Structure on our working drive as shown in the 1st infographic.
  • Import Images into RAW Folder: The next step is to import all the images from your memory cards into separate folders assigned for each memory card. For example…if you shot a wedding on say 3 Memory cards (You shot with 2 memory cards and you had a 2nd Shooter who also shot the wedding with 1 memory card), then you need to transfer them into 3 separate folders. So you might ask, why transfer them into separate folders and not one main folder? The answer is pretty simple…if 2 images on 2 different memory cards share by any chance the same file name, there might occur a conflict and not all images would get easily transferred. And hence we transfer images from different memory cards into different folders!
  • Create New Catalog In Lightroom: So far, we haven’t touched Lightroom. So now is a good time to open Lightroom. Simply open Lightroom and create a brand new catalog for your new client. Yes…we recommend using a new catalog for every new client so that you keep stuff tidy and organised in Lightroom and you do not end up storing all your images of all your clients into the same Lightroom Catalog. This ensures Lightroom will run and process images at its optimal speed without slowing down. To create a new catalog in Lightroom, go to File > New Catalog (See screenshot below). A new dialog box will open in Lightroom and prompt you to – Create Folder with New Catalog. You would need to enter the folder name inside which the new Lightroom Catalog will be created with the same name as the folder. Just like before, use the following Catalog Folder Name -> YearMonthDay_ClientName_Type viz. 20160318_John_Wedding. Make sure that you save this Catalog on your Internal SSD Drive for super fast and easy editing & processing.

Create New Catalog

  • Import Images from RAW Folder into LR: Now that you have created a new Lightroom Catalog, the next step is to import your images from the RAW Folder into Lightroom.
  • Select ‘Add’ Option in LR while Importing: Since you already have all those images on the working drive, you don’t need to import them by moving them. All you need to do when you import those images is to tell Lightroom, where those images live. So, in the Import dialog box, you must choose the option – ‘Add’ as shown in the screenshot below and also choose the folder where your images live so that Lightroom can then reference your images from the Working Drive!

Add Photos on Import

  • Build 1:1 Previews: Since you are accessing your Lightroom Catalog from your Internal SSD, building 1:1 Previews of all your imported images will help you quickly cull your images and later even edit them. See the screenshot below to see how you can choose the Build 1:1 Previews option. By setting up your Catalog & Previews on your Internal SSD and your Images on an External HDD, you will blaze through your images quickly and painlessly. The import process will take a little longer, so go and grab yourself a cup of coffee and once you get back, you will have all the images opening up quickly 🙂

1 to 1 Previews

  • Adjust Capture Time (Optional): This is a very crucial step in your Photo Editing Workflow. When you are shooting a client’s session using 2 or more camera’s sometimes, the time on the different camera bodies may be a little off. Hence you might need to adjust capture time after importing the images so that you have them in the right chronological order in which they were shot. So in the case that you have shot a session on different camera bodies, make sure their time stamps are all in sync.
  • Create an LR Collection for All Images: Once you have ensured that the capture times are precise the next step is to create a collection for all the images inside of Lightroom. The difference between a folder and a collection is very simple. The folder in the Library Module represents their actual path and folder structure on the Hard Disk Drive where the images live. A lightroom collection put simply is your own way of organising those images inside of Lightroom. This structure is independent of the actual folder structure and hence you can modify it to suit your requirements. Lightroom Collections do not change the actual folder structure, but they create a new way of organising those files inside of lightroom so that you can quickly and easily find them as and when the need arises.
  • Cull Images: The next step in the workflow pipeline is to cull and sort the images. A lot of people go a lot fancy here. They star rate, color label, flag etc their images. We have a very simple but extremely efficient method of culling our images. All we do is, either flag the images as pick or mark the images as rejects. The way we do this using just the keyboard is we hit ‘P’ to flag images as pick and hit ‘X’ to mark images as rejects. So we have one finger on ‘P’ & the other on ‘X’ and to ensure that the image automatically advances to the next image and we don’t need to hit the arrow key every time we wish to move to the next image, we ensure that the ‘Auto Advance’ option is turned ‘ON’ in Lightroom. By default, this option is turned off and you need to turn it on. To turn on ‘Auto Advance’ simply go to, Photo > Auto Advance and make sure that the ‘Auto Advance’ option has a tick mark next to it as seen in the screenshot below. That’s all there is to it. Now once you mark an image as a pick or a reject, Lightroom will automatically advance to the next image.

Auto Advance in Lightroom

  • Edit Pics (PS Editing Optional): Now we come to the exciting part. The actual editing inside of lightroom. The important thing to note here is, we will only be editing the selects or the picks which we filtered during the culling process. We do not edit the rejects…hence it is very important to do the culling process properly. Some select images would need to be further edited or retouched and for that, you might need to take them to Photoshop and back into Lightroom.
  • Export JPGs For Client (Selects): Once all the images you have marked as flagged or selects are edited, you then need to export them as JPGs for your clients. That’s where the selects folder comes in handy.
  • Export Images: In addition to exporting images for the client, you also need to export images for proofing, social media, slideshows etc. Create separate folders for each of those exports as shown in the 1st infographic.
  • Mark 5 Star Rating to your Most Favorite Images: These next few steps are for you. Go through all the edited images and find the best of the best images. Images that you are extremely proud of. The ones that reflect your artwork & showcase your talent. These are the images that you would need to add to your portfolio. Hit ‘5’ on your keyboard to 5-star rate all of your absolute favorites.
  • Export Faves To Portfolio Drive + Cloud: Export all the 5 star rated images into the Portfolio Drive and add them to your Portfolio on to your Portfolio Drive. In addition to exporting these images onto a physical drive, we also recommend you export them to your Portfolio folder on the cloud. You can use Dropbox / Google Drive / Smugmug / Pixieset etc. as your cloud storage option.
  • Export XMP Files (Optional): This is an optional step but an important one. If you shoot your images in RAW, then you certainly need to save the editing and metadata information in sidecar files. To ensure that Lightroom always automatically writes all the changes to XMP sidecar files, you need to checkmark the following option in your lightroom catalog settings as shown below in the screenshot. If you are someone who prefers converting RAW files to DNG (Adobe RAW format), then you don’t have to bother with this step at all. We, however, prefer to shoot in Native Camera RAW format and hence we need to have this option check marked. Refer instructions above to make sure this option is correctly check marked.
  • Export All Images As Lightroom Catalog To Archive Drive: This is the absolute final step & it needs to occur only after you have completely finished the client job. Once the client job is over, you no longer need all those images sitting in your working drive, gobbling up all the disk space. Simply copy all the images from your client job folder on your working drive to your archive drive. It is very important that you copy all the image files and folders and not move them. Once you have copied all the files, you need to check their integrity using an application such as Delta Walker. What Delta Walker does is, it compares the files across 2 different folders and checks the integrity of the files and also if the files are fully duplicated onto the new location. Once the Delta Walker step is successfully complete, it’s then time to delete your Original Job Folder from the working drive. That’s it. You are all sorted!


So there you have it…a comprehensive look and an Ultimate Guide to organise your images in Adobe Lightroom. Is this the only way to organise photos in lightroom? Absolutely not!

But, what we can ensure is, this is the most effective, flexible and scalable way to organise your images in lightroom irrespective of your current level as a Professional Photographer. It takes into consideration every possible aspect of backing up, reliability, storage and scalability you can possibly think of.

Your image editing pipeline/workflow may be very different from ours because your studio may be different, you may shoot different things or provide different products, but from start to finish, all image editing pipelines/workflows should have major similarities if they are to be working well and efficiently.

Efficiency is efficiency, whether it is in a Photography Studio or a Shoe Factory. We need to follow certain Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) to make sure that our work is efficient and consistent.

So how do you organise your photos in lightroom? Do you follow most of the above steps? Do you have a better workflow? If you do, we would certainly love to know…If you liked this blog post, please comment below and share this post with your friends and colleagues on Social Media. Remember, sharing is caring 🙂

Scroll to Top