Organising my images in Adobe Lightroom

How I manage the images in my Lightroom Catalogue?

This is a long post. But how I as professional photographer organise my images is critical to the success of my photography business. Having an efficient workflow is essential for me to be able to provide a professional, high quality, efficient photography service.

And this also allows me to produce consistency of imagery from one project to the next.

This post is like the minutes of a business meeting I have had with myself. It is a key part of the way my commercial photography business is organised and operates.

The content of this post might not all be of interest to you. I have broken this post up into logical sections up so you can scan through this post if you want and just read the bits that are of interest to you. I would of course be delighted if you read it all though!

If you have any questions about anything related to this post and the subject of how to manage a large and ever expanding catalogue of digital images please head over to the contact page on my website at from where you can send me a message. You can of course also email or phone me using the details on my home page

So here we go.

This post is one where I put my thoughts together and make sense of what is a big issue to me as a commercial photographer. I have wanted to capture all my thoughts in a single post for some time now, but have been waiting for a good time to do this. This post has been written over the course of a couple of weeks, with months if not years of thinking behind it.

The issue is 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. The images occupy 908GBs of space as of today.

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.

The issues I have to contend with are as follows

  • 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 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 also a permanently updating cloud backup. I have written separately about my backup strategy.

So my data is secure – I am happy with this.

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.


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 a number of 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

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

I have started using Collections more and more, mainly when I started to use Lightroom Mobile on my IPhone 6 Plus. Before then I did not really 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 could still view and indeed edit images remotely from my external hard drive. And this made Lightroom Mobile even more useful for me, as I could access collections from my phone 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) 2881 images, but Lightroom Mobile is only using 1.8GB of the 64 GB memory available.

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

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

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

Web Pages 2015


Architectural Photography


Building Photography









Home 07072015

Home 07092015

Home 08062015

Home 18082015









Archives – 4 sub-folders

Commercial Work – 2 sub-folders

Dorset –

From LR Mobile

Image Brief

Image Sets

Kendall Kingscott



Portfolio 2016


Smart Collections

To do

And another 50 collections.

You get the idea…..

Wow. What have I done?


That is where my images are at the moment.


The number of images in my 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.

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

For completeness Lightroom Mobile on my IPhone takes up 1.8GB, giving me 2881 images to view and edit as Smart Previews.

The set of pictures from Rhodes, 1400 of them, 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. So 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.


The folder structure

I have described my folder structure, but need to make a decision 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.

I am however going to revise the structure going forward to the following.


Two workflow folders, then they get filed away

1 – Import

2 – Sort (cull/ rate/ keyword)

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.

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.


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 down 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.



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.

So I am going 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.


Image rating

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.

In 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?


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.


So 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.

So that 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 definitely 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*

So 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 has to be simple to be usable.

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.


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.
  • Build Smart Previews.
  • Add copyrig
    ht data
  • Add develop presets.

Then once imported

  • Cull
  • Rate
  • Keyword
  • File
  • Edit as required.



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.


Duplicate images

This was an issue, less so now with Lightroom Mobile. I used to export images to a folder in Windows Explorer then have to 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 really 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.


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.



I find that writing about things helps me focus my mind. It is writing about this subject that has allowed me to think through and resolve the issue of rating my images, as well as the folder and collections structures.

And now that I have a clear idea of how I am going to manage my digital images going forward, I can adopt this approach every time I import images, stopping the issue building up again. Of course I have to spend time going over old files, over 40,000 of them, but now I have a way forward that I can work to.

This is another issue sorted by giving myself the time and space to think it through, which will save me lot of time in the future.

The other benefit is that I will have more efficient access to better quality images, allowing me to hopefully produce better photography on a more frequent basis.

Thank you for reading this post, which I hope has helped you in the never ending quest to manage digital image files.

Rick McEvoy Photography

19th July 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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