Adobe Photoshop Lightroom was developed as a workflow solution for photographers who need to import, organize, edit and output large numbers of images, particularly those in Raw file formats. And as with most software tools, there are multiple ways to go about achieving these goals. In this four-page article I'm going to show you what I consider to be the most efficient workflow for importing and organizing your images in Lightroom.

Lightroom is of course, a database-driven application which stores information about your photos in a 'catalog'. Upon initial installation, this Lightroom catalog is empty. You have to import photos into the catalog before you can do anything with them. Populating a new catalog with images is an ideal opportunity to carefully consider how you want to manage these files and establish a solid, consistent working routine. And the first thing to consider is how and where you will be storing the physical bits of your images.

Getting organized

Most of us have photo libraries that have evolved over time, typically with a folder-based heirarchal organization system. Maybe you have files organized in folders by client or subject name. Or you may have diligently created folders which indicate the capture date. Perhaps you have tried following one of Peter Krogh’s recommendations (as described in The DAM book) and used a 'bucket' system to segregate your master files. Or you may have just ended up with a 'total chaos' system that confusingly encompasses all of these approaches, perhaps with images scattered across multiple hard drives.

Lightroom can adapt pretty well to nearly any way you wish to structure your image storage. Note that the Lightroom catalog does not house your original images; instead it contains links or 'pointers' to where they physically reside on a hard drive or removable storage device. Having said that though, the more methodical and consistent you are in the way you import your photos, the easier things will be as you seek to manage these assets in the future.

My rule of thumb is that the amount of time and effort you put in to organizing your photos should be in proportion to the benefits you hope to accrue. For many hobbyists, simply being consistent in where they store their photos during import, while adding a minimal amount of star ratings and keyword tagging is likely to be sufficient. Those who frequently sell their images, however, may find the need to rigorously apply lots of keywords to their images so they and/or their clients can quickly sort and search through vast numbers of images.

Less is more

No matter which end of this spectrum you fall along, I strongly recommend that you manage all of your images with a single catalog. This is, in fact, how I handle my own photos. It doesn't matter if I am shooting for work or personal use – every photo gets imported into the same Lightroom catalog. You don't want to get in the habit of using catalogs to differentiate images. Lightroom offers tools that are much better suited to accomplish that. One instance where I absolutely do recommend using a separate catalog, however, is when testing pre-release, beta versions of Lightroom.

Lightroom's import dialog

In Lightroom 3 and later, the Import Photos dialog (shown below) has been much improved, making the whole process easier to understand and manage. You have the ability to work in a full screen view and manage the source and destination folders for any type of import.

The Import Photos dialog lets you easily specify both the source (1) and destination (2) for the images to be imported. You can toggle between full size and condensed views by clicking the 'Show more options' button (in red).

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