Organizing in Lightroom

February 03, 2012--2

I’ve heard so many people say that they don’t use Lightroom because they don’t like the way Lightroom organizes your images or that they like their current organizational structure. The good news is that you can keep everything the way you have it.

If you’re uploading to Lightroom for the first time, you’ll want to add some pictures to your catalog. Think of Lightroom as an index or a database. That database is called a catalog. It keeps track of things like your edits and your previews of your images, but Lightroom itself does not hold your pictures. You have to show Lightroom where your pictures live on your computer and where you want them to live if you’re using Lightroom as your importer (why wouldn’t you?).

It’s April. Let’s say you want to access all of your 2012 images in your Lightroom catalog. Press shift+cmd+I to open your import window. On the left of the window you’ll see Select a source (pretend that these are your January – April images):

Navigate to the folders you want to import. To select more than one folder click the first one and shift click the last folder and it will highlight those folders and the ones between.

Be sure that Add is highlighted at the top. It should be by default. This way your images stay where they currently live.

You will have an abbreviated right panel when Add is being used.

Press import, the import window will close and your images will quickly pop up in Library Module.
Notice on the left of the Library Module, you’ll see your folders that you just added to your catalog.

What you need to remember is that those folders are put into numerical and alphabetical order. So if you name your folders things like Aunt Betty Lou’s 90th, that’s going to be at the top of your folders since it starts with A.

I use a date system. I have a “Picture” folder on my external hard drive and in that folder, I have yearly subfolders, and within those, monthly subfolders named like 01January, 02 February so they stay in order, and then my subfolders are of dates uploaded.

My current catalog holds years 2011 and 2012 so my Library Folders Panel looks like this:

Do you see how it mirrors my hard drive?
Now, to continue that same level of organization with new imports.
Import from your card from devices; make sure that it’s highlighted:

I select convert to DNG, alternatively, you can use Copy:

Now you will want to keep your file structure intact.
I check “Into Subfolder” and I name it by the date of import and organize “into one folder.” I select my monthly folder and you’ll see my new subfolder pops up in gray italics under it’s parent folder.

Import and voila! Your files are in Lightroom just like you liked them BL (Before Lightroom).

WORD OF CAUTION! If you want to do some housekeeping on your system and move images around, use Lightroom to do it. If you do not, you will get the dreaded question mark on your folders and images and you’ll have to point Lightroom to all those images you just moved; doubling your amount of work. You can slide folders around in Lightroom just like you can using finder or explorer and save yourself a headache.

Lynne RigbyLynne Rigby, Florida
Lynne is a lifestyle photographer residing in Orlando, Florida with her husband and their 5 children. Her original goal was to take better pictures of her sons’ football games and get good Christmas card pictures. Her camera bag is loaded with the Canon 5d mark III, multiple prime lenses and the 70-200L.


  • Meredith says:

    Lynne is the best!! Her LR101 workshop was a wealth of information, I can’t believe how much is covered in that class.

  • This is awesome, Lynne (I mean, Lightroom Master!)! Thank you for taking the time to share this with us! Love Lightroom's organizing capabilities!

  • Vikki says:

    Oh my goodness, I swear you guys must have been reading my disorganized mind when you decided to do this tutorial. THANK YOU!! Even though I took Lynne's LR101 course I am still disorganized! Could you do a housekeeping tutorial for those of us who have royally screwed up their LR catalog?

  • Sarah Vaughn says:

    Oh Lynne — thank you thank you thank you for this. It's exactly the information I needed right now. :hp

  • jodi says:

    thanks for making this all so easy for us to understand, lynne! you are an amazing teacher!

  • Jayna Poskey says:

    I normally don’t comment on things like this; however I felt compelled to because your content was so well written and researched – Keep it coming!

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