How to organise your photos in Lightroom – how I am going to manage an ever expanding Lightroom Catalogue

I wrote a post in July of this year called Organising my images in Adobe Lightroom.

This is such a fundamental issue in my photography business that I have decided to return to this post and review my thoughts. And at the end of this post you will find my step by step guide to how to organise your photos in Lightroom. Think of this as a thank you for getting all the way to the end of this long post!

This is a massive subject to me. I was going to title the article

Question – How do you eat a large elephant?

Answer – one piece at a time!

But I thought better of this!!

But seriously,

I have been working for the last three months on my two portfolios, and now that this work is complete one of my next major tasks is to sort through the images in my Lightroom Catalogue. This is a winter job for sure, and one of the outputs of this process will be the production of new sets of images for stock agency submissions. And I have absolutely no doubt in sorting out these images year on year I will be stopping regularly to edit some new work – things that I have forgotten about over the years.

And this is the point of sorting out my catalogue once and for all. There is some good stuff in there that I want to identify, and mark for editing whenever I want.

There will also be a post on picture stock this winter as well, so these two should subjects will combine nicely and meet at the end with new stuff for stock. Yeay!

And then there is my online store that I will be creating shortly.

Lots to look forward, but let’s get back to the subject in hand now.

I will include the text from each section, along with my revised thoughts a few months further on.

The issue when I wrote the post was this.

“I am an architectural photographer. This is my specialism. I also carry out commercial photography work, but architectural, building, construction, industrial, property and of course interior photography are my main areas of commercial photography work. I also enjoy travel photography, and landscape photography in Dorset and Hampshire.

So, I take lots of photographs. And the number of new images I am producing is increasing week by week.

As of now, June 2016, I have well over 40,000 images in a single Adobe Lightroom catalogue. These images occupy 908GBs of space as of today.”

On November 1st, 2016, I now have over 47,000 images in my catalogue. So, the problem is an ever increasing one. The more work I do the more my catalogue expands.

This catalogue is my photography business, and it needs managing, curating and looking after.

“I need to improve my digital file management in the future. I also need to address the back catalogue, which has never been properly sorted. This is in part because it has taken me up to this point to think about the whole subject in a structured, organised way.

The outcome of this structuring of my work will be that I will be able to be more productive, giving me more time to take photographs, giving me greater opportunities to improve the standard of my photographic work.

What is the point of having over 40,000 images if I cannot find what I want quickly? This post is my plan for how to manage my images, not only the ones in my catalogue now, but also future images not yet taken.”

So, that was the issue then. Blimey.

Now let’s get to the specifics.

The issues I must contend with are as follows (as I wrote in July 2016);

  • “General organisation of my catalogue
  • The number of images in my catalogue
  • The folder structure
  • My Collections structure
  • Keywording
  • Rating
  • Stock images
  • The process for going through my existing catalogue
  • The process for new images.
  • Videos
  • Duplicate images
  • Backups – catalogue and import backups”.

I can add to this list the following

  • Rating of images that is relevant and helpful to me
  • Key wording of images for stock use
  • Better use of collections

I will go back to each of these headings and deal with each one in turn.”

General organisation of my catalogue

My catalogue is a single catalogue. That is fine. The images are stored on my external hard drive. The Lightroom Catalogue is on my laptop hard drive. I have an off-site hard drive backup, and a permanently updating cloud backup. I have written separately about my backup strategy.

So, my data is secure – I am happy with this. And still am in October 2016.

And because of the way I have structured and implemented my back up strategy this will not be affected by the changes I am going to implement within Lightroom, other than the fact that there will be less images to manage.

And if I improve my data management at the time of import and sorting I will be more efficient in the future.

This change has worked well going forwards, so my data is secure and the structure can accommodate future expansion of my Lightroom Catalogue.

My Lightroom Catalogue is organised as follows

I have an Import folder, which is the default folder where my images are imported to. This, and all the other folders, can be viewed in Windows Explorer. They are in a conventional folder structure.

I have created several folders (within Lightroom) to break up my Lightroom Catalogue.

These are

  • 1 – Import
  • 2 – Sort, name, keyword
  • 3 – Edit file
  • 4 – Commercial work
  • 4 – House Simple
  • 4 – KKL
  • 5 – AFCB
  • 5 – Bournemouth
  • 5 – BU
  • 5 – Cornwall
  • 5 – Dorset
  • 5 – Hampshire
  • 5 – London
  • 5 – Poole
  • 5 – Sandbanks
  • 5 – West Berkshire
  • 5 – West Sussex
  • 6 – Google
  • 10 – Worldwide
  • 11 – Other
  • 99 – Personal

Many of these folders are sub-divided by subject matter or date. The import folder is where images land now when imported, subdivided into folders by date.

This is the evolution of how I organised my images when I started using Lightroom, back in version 1.0!

But now I use Collections in Lightroom more and more, mainly when I started to use Lightroom Mobile on my IPhone 6 Plus. Before then I did not have much of a use for Lightroom Mobile, as I always had my laptop with me and all my images fitted onto my laptop hard drive.

That was until my hard drive filled up, and I had to do something completely different. If you go back to my blog posts on the 15th February you can read all about this, but basically I had to put my entire image collection onto a new, separate, external 4TB hard drive. For the first time, I did not have all my images with me.

Using Smart Previews, and keeping the Lightroom Catalogue only on my laptop, I can still view and indeed edit images remotely from my external hard drive. And this has made Lightroom Mobile even more useful for me, as I can access collections from my phone and Ipad anywhere in the world.

And so far, I have not found a limit to the number of photos you can add to Lightroom Mobile. On my IPhone I have (access to the Smart Previews of) 32,881 images, but Lightroom Mobile is only using 4.03GB of the 64 GB memory available.

I still can’t work this out but it is incredible how fantastic the Smart Preview feature is.

It does not make sense. How can that possibility happen?

Collections are amazing. They are the way forward, and make editing more efficient as well.

I had the following Collections, containing anything from 3 to 1500 images, some of which are synced with Lightroom Mobile, some not.

  • Web Pages 2015
  • About
  • Architectural Photography
  • Bournemouth
  • Building Photography
  • Commercial
  • Commissions
  • Construction
  • Dorset
  • Freelance
  • General
  • Hampshire
  • Home
  • Home 07072015
  • Home 07092015
  • Home 08062015
  • Home 18082015
  • Industrial
  • Interiors
  • Landscape
  • Panoramas
  • Poole
  • Property
  • Sandbanks
  • New
  • Archives – 4 sub-folders
  • Commercial Work – 2 sub-folders
  • Dorset –
  • From LR Mobile
  • Image Brief
  • Image Sets
  • Kendall Kingscott
  • London
  • Loop
  • Portfolio 2016
  • Sandbanks
  • Smart Collections
  • To do

And another 50 collections.

You get the idea…..

Wow. What have I done? Interestingly in my November update I have loads and loads more collections, and I find I am using them more and more.

I have not changed this structure, as I have not done what I wrote about doing as I have not had the time. So the Collections have grown more, without much consideration. But they need sorting now more than ever!

The number of images in my Lightroom Catalogue

This is an ongoing problem. 40,000 images take up 908GB of hard drive space. There are 123,224 files in 68,679 folders.

Now I have over 47,000 images. And another memory cards worth to add when I have finished writing this post.

The Lightroom Catalogue itself takes up 75GB of laptop hard drive space, 82,437 files in 61,367 folders.

And to put the issue into perspective, I came back from Rhodes 1400 images, which on their own filled 2 separate 16GB memory cards and a bit more on a third card!

Obviously, this is a problem for the future which needs addressing now. I need to be more brutal with my culling of images, and also my bracketed sets of images. Basically, I need to delete some stuff now and in the future.

Bracketing is fine – it just needs to be managed – as part of my sorting I need to remove unwanted bracketed sets. This needs to be dealt with at source going forwards, on import of the images into Lightroom – well at the sorting stage that is anyway.

I am still not doing this.

Again, due to time available to carry out this extra work the situation has worsened. I have more images, but thankfully my strategy for storage and backup has kept up with the increase in the size of my Lightroom Catalogue. All my data is secure and backed up so the first part of the exercise was a huge success.

The folder structure

I have described my folder structure, but need to decide about this for the future. Do I stay as I am, come up with a new structure, or abandon it completely and let Lightroom do this bit for me, relying solely on collections?

I am going to stick with my folder structure in general terms– it does not take a lot of time to put things where I want them, and there is a degree of logic to how I have structured my folders.

And I do sub-divide folders such as those from a two-week trip, where I will have lots of pictures of the same subject taken over a number of different days.

I am however going to revise the structure going forward to the following. When I say am going to revise this has not happened yet, and is something I need to do.

The question is this – is the structure I came up with still valid and the best for me going forward?


I still want the folders to be a part of my photography workflow, so the first two folders I will keep.

1 – Import

2 – Sort (cull/ rate/ keyword)

That is the easy bit. And this needs to be consistent with my image rating system, which is another integral part of my photography workflow.

The other folders I proposed were.

3 – Commercial work

Sub-folders by client

4 – Dorset

Sub-folders by location

5 – Hampshire

Sub-folders by location

6 – London

Sub-folders by location

7 – England

Sub-folders by location

8 – World

Sub-folders by location

9 – Working files (This is where I will put stuff like skies etc that are generic and specific to nothing).

That is it. Simple. Less is more.

9 folders and sub-folders.

Job done. Funny as I have been messing about with this for ages, and once I finally sat down to think about it the answer was clear.

I see no reason to change this – it looks fine for me and has the capability to be added to whenever needed. Happy with this.

I just need to get on and do this!

The next subject is a bit more tricky though…

My Collections structure

I can improve my collections structure I have no doubt. It is about breaking these things down into what you really need. This is what I am going to do now. You can have images in more than one collection, which as you will see will prove invaluable. This is one of the great things about collections.

So, what do I want collections of?

Current projects. Each time I import a new set of images I automatically create a new collection and add them all to it. One slight drawback with this and the way that I work is that I take bracketed sets of three shots as a matter of course. After import, I auto-stack the images. Using my Rhodes trip as an example, I had circa 1400 images, which reduced to 464 once I had put the bracketed sets together. This update was not reflected in the Collection though, meaning I had to remove the images from the Collection, then add back the set so the first of the three bracketed images is visible.

Collections do not contain actual images, just links to the files, but you can work on them just like the actual files. This is how you can have one photo in more than one Collection. And if you change the image in one Collection it changes in the other collection. And of course, the image in the actual folder.

Update on this point. I have more collections than when I wrote this post in July. It is good that I am using them more, I just need to get rid of lots of them, and produce a structure for new ones. A thought comes to me at this point. I can simply reflect the structure of my folders. The folders can be collection sets, with individual collections within them. I will give that a go.

The only problem with this is that you can’t have collection sets in Lightroom Mobile, well you couldn’t at the time of writing. All you get is the collections themselves, but this might not be an issue as in Lightroom Mobile the last collection you were working on appears first automatically, which is a cool feature. This might actually work.

Another problem sorted!


Now this is boring.

Boring but important – especially for stock photography.

I have never needed to use a keyword to find an image to be honest, but stock libraries rely on keywords.

That means I need to keyword everything. You can sort images using Smart Collections that do not have keywords, and that is what I am going to do one wet winters evening this year. And I am going to start keywording images as part of the import process going forward.

Again, it does not have to be complicated, just simple words to describe the picture. Nothing fancy. And my two stock agencies have specific keywording requirements which I have to add to as part of the upload process.

What I need to do is decide on the minimum number of keywords, to account for the following

  • Location
  • Subject
  • Related words

It should be a simple job, again I will become more efficient the more I keyword.

Image rating

The ongoing issue that I never seem to get sorted.  And things have changed again since I first wrote about this subject.

This has caused me issues over the years. I have frequently changed this, never seeming to get it quite how I want it. This is the time for me to review this, think about it, and come up with a system for current and new images from now on.

Lightroom you can rate with stars, 1-5 (and no stars), and also with (6 different) colour labels.

Currently my star rating is as follows

No star – unrated

1* Maybe

2* To edit

3* Quick edit

4* Full edit

5* Edited best

What do I want to do with star ratings?

Good question. This is the fundamental point.

When I import I use pick and reject. If I have a pick then it should have some value. So, having a rating for “maybe edit” should not be required at all.

The one thing I am settled on is this

5* – the best of the best. Pick. Portfolio piece. Star image. Call it what you want. It all amounts to the same.

Starting here I could follow the process as follows

4* – not as good as a 5*

3* – not as good as a 4*

etc etc

But what is the point of that?

I want to identify images for stock use. That could be a colour label. One colour for “potential stock image”, another for “image edited ready to upload”, and another for “image already uploaded”.

That works, and as you can only have one colour label per image that is colour labels done.

Which leaves star ratings. What do I want to track?

The process from import to 5*.

So how about this?

0 – Unrated

1* – Imported

2* – Keyworded/ filed

3* – ?

4* – Full edit

5* – Edited best

Hmmm still not working.

Try again. I have 6 potential star ratings (including no star).

0* – Imported/ unrated.

1* – Keyworded/ filed/ sorted/ culled – an important first stage as I don’t always get time to do this at import

2* – No use. I could split 1* further but this adds another process.

3* – Edited – commercial work

4* – Edited – non-commercial work

5* – Edited – portfolio best

I will have a think about that. It sort of works for me. I don’t want to over complicate this after all, but I need to quickly find the following

My best work

My edited commercial work

Unedited images

Unsorted images

I don’t need unedited as a star rating as I used to as that is a 1*

This is what I came up with

1* – To sort

2* – To edit

3* – Edited commercial

4* – Edited non-commercial

5* – Edited best

Simple. Job done.

Rating using stars and colour labels. Again, it should be simple to be usable.

And with my brief trial of the 2004 and 2005 years it turns out it didn’t work.

This is what I changed it to

0* – Unrated

1* – To sort

2* – No edit

3* – To edit

4* – Edited

5* – Edited best

In Lightroom Collections you have what are called Smart Collections. Once you have assigned a star rating to an image it is automatically added to the Smart Collection. I have added text to the smart collection names In Lightroom which is as above, so I know what the stars mean. Yes, this has been such a problem for me over the years, but hopefully it is sorted now.

Lightroom Mobile uses the star ratings, but you can’t see the description for each star rating, which is a shame.

Stock images

I need to identify images for stock. I use two stock agencies, Image Brief in the USA and Loop Images in the UK. I have been very lapse with my stock submissions recently, so need this identification now to allow me to get a grip of this.

Colour labels as described above will be the way forward.

  • No colour label means not considered yet for stock.
  • Red means not suitable for stock (for whatever reason).
  • White means image suitable for stock
  • Blue means edited ready for upload.
  • Green means uploaded to Loop/ Image Brief (I will differentiate in the Collections for each).

I will have a Collection Set of Loop, and one for Image Brief, each with the following sub-collections

  • To edit
  • To upload
  • Uploaded

This will help me keep track of them.

Another thing sorted.

Well not quite.

You can’t assign colour labels in Lightroom Mobile. One of my main requirements is that I can do this anywhere, using collections in Lightroom. Which is why my rating system had to change. See above for that.

This is not a bad thing necessarily. I am confining my organising to star ratings and collections only, which is the least number of combined things I can get away with.

Colour ratings are out for me!

The process for new images.

Import into the import folder onto my external hard drive.

Create a duplicate import back-up set on my laptop hard drive.

  1. Build Smart Previews.
  2. Add copyright data
  3. Add develop presets.
  4. Then once imported
  5. Cull
  6. Rate
  7. Keyword
  8. File
  9. Edit as required.


No changes here. My thoughts on this are fine and this is what I will do. The problem is I was not actually doing it!


I have videos on my IPhone. Simply I need to put these on my PC hard drive, and from here I can upload to YouTube and my Blog. That is all as I am not editing videos, just dabbling in moving pictures at the moment.

And tagging videos in YouTube is much easier from my PC than from my phone.

This is one that I have had a rethink on this one, and have no t decided what to do. I also have a problem with my Google account and YouTube which I need to sort. Video, it is fair to say, is not my strong point, and I feel I need to work on this.

So much to do!!

The discipline I need to adopt here is to post videos as and when I shoot them. The YouTube app works fine now for keywording and tagging so in time this problem will sort itself out. I just must deal with the backlog and then delete them from my phone. Which takes me back to the beginning and putting them on my PC. Or maybe in Lightroom? I will come back to this as video is something for the future for me and I do not want this to hold back the more pressing job of sorting my Lightroom catalogue.

Duplicate images

This was an issue, less so now with Lightroom Mobile. I used to export images to a folder in Windows Explorer, then add that image to a web page, Blog post or whatever. Now I do this mainly from my phone, direct from Lightroom Mobile. Lightroom Mobile does add so much efficiency to my workflow. Blog posts are all done this way now, meaning that I only export from Lightroom client work and images for my website pages.

Lightroom Mobile allows me to post to Instagram, Twitter, 500PX, Flipboard, Tumblr, Blogger, my WordPress Blog, and to my main blog direct, without even having to add an image to my camera roll.

I now save the images from Lightroom Mobile to my camera roll and add post them to my blog, Instagram and 500PX from there. It just worked out better this way. And I can delete the images from my camera roll without fear as they are copies generated by Lightroom on my phone/ iPad.

Backups – catalogue and import backups

These need keeping on top of. They can eat up memory.

I backup my catalogue every day, and delete the backups when I remember. But this is not so much of a problem for me any more now that I have moved to a larger external hard drive.

Import backups are also less of an issue now that I have the extra storage space, as well as having backup copies in three different places. But I still do a copy on import, and delete these from time to time just to keep on top of the volume of data stored.

This has become routine housekeeping now so is not a concern.


Having reviewed my review of the review of the content of my Lightroom Catalogue (sorry this has been a long post) this is my plan going forward.

Firstly, I am going to sort by years. I am going to start with 2004, the easiest year with the fewest images. I did have a trial go with 2004 and 2005, the
results of which are included in this updated post.

In terms of time, this is what I want to achieve

  • November 2016 – 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008
  • December 2016 – 2009, 2010, 2012, 2013
  • January 2017 – 2014, 2015, 2016

I was going to schedule a year per month, but that is not quick enough for me. If I gave myself a month for each year that is all I would get done.

In return for increasing my target I am gong to confine the task to the following

  • Sort
  • Rate
  • Delete
  • Keyword
  • File
  • Collections
  • No editing. Just sorting.

Sorry I need to make a point here. I will find something I want to edit. And I will stop what I am doing and edit it. I know that and must accept it. That is why I have given myself the time I have, to allow for some random image editing, and of course writing about the image I have edited. I have a daily blog to maintain after all!

The editing will be to images I want to edit, which is a big improvement.

And a targeted set of images with specific markets in mind.

This sounds like a good plan to me. Once again the process of writing has helped me organise another major task that my photography business needs from me. I have set aside the time to produce a plan, then try the plan, then review it before committing considerable time to the actual doing.

Another thing I like about my more considered approach is that I am going to sort a major issue to me, and I have a timeline, monthly goals to achieve, and an endpoint.

And when I get to the end there is my reward of an organised Lightroom Catalogue with images to edit.

I will of course at the same time adopt this approach will all new work as well.

So, there we have it – all there is left is to actually do the work now!

Thank you for reading this updated post about how I am going to manage an ever-growing catalogue of digital images. I hope that my thoughts are of use and give you things of your own to consider if you are facing this challenge.

I will provide regular updates on my daily blog so you can follow along as I go from 46,000 images to who knows – maybe 20,000?

And I have no doubt I will come across images I have not seen in a while which I will process and post on my blog just to keep things fresh and interesting.

If you are or are not going through this process please get in touch with any questions, or advice! I am always open to ideas from others on better ways to do things.

As promised here is my step by step guide to how to organise your images in Lightroom

  1. Import to your hard drive
  2. Make a back-up on import
  3. Add to collections
  4. Stack
  5. Sort
  6. Rate
  7. Delete
  8. Keyword
  9. File
  10. Process
  11. Share
  12. Enjoy

I will write another post shortly describing the importing process as I import a set of images from a memory card. Step by step.

Rick McEvoy Photography Blog

Tuesday 1st November 2016

Rick McEvoy

I am Rick McEvoy, an architectural and construction photographer living and working in the South of England. I create high quality architectural photography and construction photography imagery of the built environment for architects and commercial clients. I do not photograph weddings, families, small people or pets - anything that is alive, moves or might not do as I ask!! I am also the creator of the Photography Explained Podcast, available on all major podcast providers. I have a blog on my website where I write about my work and photography stuff. Rick McEvoy ABIPP, MCIOB

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