Lightroom Tutorial Part 3 – File Management Workflow

Landscape Photo for the cover of Lightroom Post

The Basics of Lightroom File Management Workflow

Let’s start with workflow defined. Wikipedia says “the sequence of industrial, administrative, or other processes through which a piece of work passes from initiation to completion.” So, it’s tracking the image as it travels from creation to usage.

What’s meant by Workflow in Lightroom

Let’s step closer to the photo world.  Lightroom file management workflow is all the movements and processes that you make use of in Lightroom.  From importing camera files and uploading; to creating files for a photo-lab or creating inkjet prints.  AND everything in-between.  Learning workflow is learning Lightroom. Please, let’s get to something a bit more fun … Fun is just ahead.

Start the Organizing for Lightroom on your Hard Drive

The beginning of organizing starts with where the photos are kept on the computer.  Yes, you can keep them anywhere you please and everywhere you, please.  But why?   Start with your pictures folder.

From there, add “Incoming Images 2019”, and with each import LR will create a subfolder that is titled with that date.

Consider Renaming to Better Organize

The numbering system that your camera or phone creates serves no purpose.  As the files are loaded into the catalog they can be renumbered.  Great idea! Consider renumbering so wherever they appear, they will include certain information about the shoot date.  It’s easy.  Select files to be changed.  In the Library Module, go to Library, then “Rename Photos…”.  You’ll find a creation tool to create almost anything as a numbering template for your cataloging. 

My Choice is to number in chronological order.  So I create a 6 digit number with 2 digits for the year, 2 for the month, and two for the day. Follow that with a hyphen and then a sequential 3 digit number.  If you shoot larger numbers of images on single days consider making this 4 digits.  So it appears like this – “190116-001” or “190116-0001”.

Why?  If I see an image from the past, even when images have been exported and used on websites or Instagram, I know, instantly, when the photo was made and can easily access the rest of the folder.  That number easily connects to the original shoot date folder..

What’s the Basic Flow of the Images Through Lightroom

Import the images with renumbering to the previously mentioned format, 190116-001, which would be the first image created on January 16, 2019.

On import, place the images in a subfolder of the major folder named “2019 Incoming Images”.  The subfolder is to be named the date. 2019-01-16, as an example, is then home to all the images created on that date.

The work, the editing, the moving to PhotoShop and return, the creation of needed collections, the adding of certain images to existing collection all happen as the yearly folder, Incoming Images 2019, grows thoughout the year with sub-folders for individual days.

The image files move from their original home to external hard drives for long term storage.  I recently moved my 2017 yearly folder to an external.  Realize that all the Collections created from 2017 images are intact.

The image files never leave the safe, cushy pillow, home of the Lightroom Catalog home they have grown familiar with over their lives.  Are they exported? Yes, but always only to fulfill a need.  Never to eliminate their full time attendance in the Catalog.  If an image is needed for online presentation it is exported as a jpg file from the original raw file.  If a hi res file is requested by a client an uncompressed tif is produced on export and delivered.

If PhotoShop is needed, no problem.  From Lightroom, select the image. In the Develop or Library Module go to Photo, then Edit In and you’ll see PhotoShop and some more specific options for external editing.  Pick PhotoShop and go do your thing.  When all done, save the image.  Not Save As or any other of the choices. Save. Then look over your original file in Lightroom and you’ll see an additional file of your PhotoShop edited work.  For me it will be a PSD image file. Lightroom enhances smooth movement of your file management workflow. It’s a great tool.

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Catalogs, Folders, Files and Collections

Chronologically, My Choice.

As I grew to appreciate the organizing possibilities with LR I tried organizing by assigning shoots in other ways. When I adapted the calendar as the thread that runs through the catalog my use and memory was enhanced. I would remember that a certain shot was made the year before last in the spring and I could connect. I could also see an image as I browse through my collections and know that it was part of a trip or job that I could easily connect with.

Multiple Subjects or Categories of My Mixed Up Shooting

When shooting I’m open to departing from the given plan or personal shooting for some particular shootable subjects.  This is the fun time. So when shooting a wedding if a part of the church architecture is attractive I may make exposures knowing that in the editing process the image may be eliminated from what’s shown the bride.  So, I then may have the wedding in it’s dated folder … also in a collection with other subs like bridal, reception, and grooms family. The additional photo is where it needs to be, in Abstracts Collection, a sub of my Portfolio Collection. A collection set up for those odd, but interesting images.

How do Collections work into the organization.

Collections is the place to Break down more by subject matter.  I have Collections or Collection sets as listed below:

  • Clients
  • Road trips
  • Events
  • Portfolio
  • Stock
  • Family & Friends
  • Self Assignment
  • Posts
  • Staging
  • Projects

So each of the Collection Sets has a very specific use. Clients is my place for work and under the client I may have sub-collections of Bulk, Selects, To Prep, or Delivered.  Roadtrips is for traveling and it could be divided into subs as needed.  Events is the place for a mix of jobs like trade shows or weddings or family things like Christmas 2018.  Portfolio is the place for things that are showable and for me numerous subs like architecture, food, personal, family, and commercial.  Stock is for things that have the potential of being added to an agency.  Staging is my place for gathering images for prepping them for social media possibilities.

Do They Fit Like a Glove?

If a company creates two pieces of software that share a category.  That is — the category of Photography.  You’d expect them to work smoothly together.  They do. .. .…like a glove and hand ..…  Images are stored and cataloged in Lightroom with many of the needed edits are available without moving to the king of image editing, PhotoShop.  The level of editing possibilities is far beyond what most people relate to between these two amazing pieces of software.

Keep in mind that most of the editing you may need happens with the tools included in Lightroom.  That is that if you need to go beyond LR there are menu options and tools to do the connecting to “Edit In” PhotoShop.  I say this because of the comments and tutorials that I’ve read or watched on the subject and a detail from the teacher, numerous teachers, maybe about how they export the file ….then, open in PS.  WHAT?  NO need to do all those steps.  The connections and connectors are there in LR. When finished with PhotoShop, Save the file and you’ll find a new version of the file in Lightroom. My experience is with Raw Files and after editing I have created a layered file and my preference is to have that become a PSD.

I was once in a meeting about the planning of an upcoming catalog project.  I realized as I explained some needed detail that 5 or 6 participants in the meeting all used PhotoShop as the main tool of their expertise.  But, the awakening came upon realizing that nobody in the room knew about the things I use it for.  Conversely, I knew very little about the tools and features that the different players used.  There were folks from the color department — Folks that built pages and, of course, the art director and creative director were all using PhotoShop extensively.  I bore you with my story to make my point. THAT’s how massive PhotoShop and the Adobe apps are for very big creative and multi-faceted works.  When you need to move beyond your comfort zone, know that these Adobe apps can move with you.

How many Catalogs are needed?

I have two.  I prefer to have all the photos in one place so I keep the images on my main computer hard drive and 3 external hard drives – all – in my main catalog. All that has to do with work, family or creative pursuits. They are kept in one catalog.

My recently created additional catalog is home to all the iPhone photographs that my wife and I have acquired over the years.  I bet many can relate to this entanglement. They are in the process of being organized and duplicates are being deleted. Lightroom is a major asset for doing this organizing and highlighting the duplicate files. Allowing for the elimination of duplicates.

My new iPhone catalog probably averages 3 copies of images with anything that has to do with family or travels. I guess, the photo is acquired with one iPhone then sent to the other with accompanying chat or email and at some point, it may be opened on an additional computer. That’s three copies. So with all images imported to the new catalog, they are renumbered. The numbering with date information is used. Images are then sorted by the file name. THAT puts all duplicates and similars together. The last step is to go thru the new catalog and eliminate the duplicates.

Others approach it different. I’ve studied other approaches to Lightroom file management workflow and after digging deep to give other possibilities a chance, this is by far the best. For me and maybe for you. As you consider this please comment below with questions or observations that would be helpful to others.

The Main Difference in Folders and Collections

Folders are the place where the treasure resides.  Yes, your creations, better known as photographs.  I may be speaking a bit flighty and exaggerated but it’s to make a major point.  Folders viewed in the catalog of Lightroom are passing through and showing what’s on the computer.  Lightroom is showing the images living in the folder on your hard drive.  One biggy to remember —if you delete something —it’s gone from a folder; it’s gone.  Be cautious. 

Collections are a product of the catalog in Lightroom.  They are not duplicating anything directly in your computer.  They can easily be deleted because, in doing so, it’s only removing the image from that Lightroom collection.  Some organizing is suggested here but also just jump in and try something that may fit well with your journey of photography.  When you do….drop me a note or comment and let me know about your scheme to better organize your treasures.

To take the concept of Collections further we have Collection Sets.  Collection Sets are an organizing tool.  Placing image files in a Collection Set is not possible.  Sets are for groups of Collections or folders.  So the Roadtrip Collection Set can have Collections of images from travels to Florida, the mountains, New York City and unlimited other adventures.  To take it a step further each trip collection can have a sub-Collection for the scenic photos and another for the family pics made on that trip.  And etc. etc. etc.

How Does Lightroom and iTunes Compare

iTunes is a good app to compare to Lightroom because they work in a similar fashion.  Likewise, other music sources have playlists in common. When a piece of music is purchased or copied from LP or CD to the computer it is kept in the Library of iTunes.  I love the Blues.  When  blues music is disected to categorize the tunes they can be attached to similar music in a playlist, The Blues playlist.  

So all the blues in the Library can be together.  When realizing and digging a bit deeper to find Muddy Waters on numerous recordings another playlist can be created gathering all of Muddy’s recordings.  Duplicating in two playlists ( Blues and Muddy), can’t have too much Muddy, but not duplicating the actual music file.

So, like playlists in iTunes, Lightroom has Collections and Collection Sets for all the groupings to satisfy your hearts desire.  But, the image file is on the storage media only once.  That is in a folder monitored and imported to Lightroom.

To take the concept further we have Collection Sets.  Collection Sets are an organizing tool.  Placing image files in a Collection Set is not possible.  Sets are for groups of Collections.  So the Roadtrip Collection Set can have Collections of images from travels to Florida, the mountains, New York City and unlimited other adventures.  To take it a step further each trip collection can have a “Sub” Collection for the scenic photos and another of the family pics made on that trip.  And etc. etc. etc.

Lightroom with PhotoShop and More

Navigating the Lightroom Landscape

What is meant by editing in Lightroom

At the creation of Lightroom. The main use of the software was to organize and eliminate the undesirables.  Secondly, It’s been a tool for tweaking the exposure, the color balance, the contrast and even the faults of the lens. 

It has continued as a fantastic tool to accomplish these tasks.  As it grows the app adds tools to better the images.  Film simulations, straighten the verticals, toning down the noise, simulating grain and more are now available.  Also, dodge and burn with the radial tool is available.  The Graduated tool allows darkening and lightening foregrounds or sky.  The Adjustment Brush allows even more specific tweaking. Lightroom File Management Workflow becomes the behind the scenes tool for organizing and prepping your images.

Further progress with the software allowed combining images to create HDR, High Dynamic Range, photos as well as panoramic images and more. 

All together now!  Lightroom has become the home for the images.  When things need to be done the connection is made from LR to whatever is needed, many times by way of a plug-in.  When the task is done the image takes residence back in the LR Catalog.  So, the starting place, the home, the go-to starter to access your treasured photography.W

Once in – How do I get around my images

I see an image in a collection – where is the file? Click to highlight the file in the filmstrip.  Control-Click (Right mouse click on a two-button mouse) to display some options.  Near the top is “Go to Folder in Library”. The highlighting that has been indicating the collection which the chosen photo is in; will move to indicate the folder which houses the image file. 

If the Library is housed totally on the computer then the file shown is resident on the computer, obviously.  If it is on an external hard drive the highlighting will indicate where, and which, of the external hard drive(s) the file resides.

It works both ways so if you’re browsing a folder, in Library, and curiosity takes control.  Highlight a chosen image, control-click to show any collections it may be in.  Select “Go to Collection” and choose one of the indicated.  A shown collection or even a publishing service, click, and off you go to that collection showing the image you chose in a folder.  

These are some examples of getting around.  Nothing can take the place of just clicking around and experimenting.  Click a menu item, find something new, check it out.  What does it do?  When could I use this in my workflow?  Take the time to learn the basics then explore and try out some things.  With each adventure you may find an additional feature that fits your adventure or your visual interest.Zoom, Adjust the Grid or the  Filmstrip Size.

How does Lightroom effect photo work workflow

Headshots as part of my business are accomplished by tweaking the images in Lightroom to prepare the select images to be shown to my client as a gallery.  The selection process the client does to narrow down to the select, choice image. To this point, all prepping is in LR. Once the selection is made the images make a quick trip to PhotoShop and back to prepare for final delivery to Headshot clients. Portraiture/ Commercial People would be done in a similar fashion.

Check it Out!

Best Camera for Professional Photography

Commercial jobs are also prepped in Lightroom, totally, when a gallery is needed for selections. I produce the gallery-worthy images for presentation. When selections are made by me from a days shoot with direction from the client then I will go to PhotoShop for specific corrections or fixes as needed.  80% of delivered work is still a product of Lightroom only. Realize that many art directors and other visual creators have an exceptional ability with PhotoShop and prefer to have just a good quality high res file. I can do that and so can you. Then they do what they may want to the file.


We’ve looked deeply into Lightroom File Management Workflow.  I am puzzled at my title because I have something to admit.  I read and study so many topics with the use of Google and many of my subjects are photo related.  Not because I need to know more… As you see I know it all.  Just kidding…hahaha.  But one thing that always catches my eye is anything to do with workflow.  Regularly, I react by visiting a new place and regularly I’m disappointed that the writer or creator of the information is not what I thought workflow would be.  I feel that workflow is more about the real world, down in the ditches, how the work actually happens.

So, here I go into the area of “workflow”.  I hope this is what you are looking for in your photo journey. I started with a visit to Wikipedia for base definition.  Then we look it into photography and the workflow tool, Lightroom. 

We cover how to place images in one place on your computer.  Organize by years and then by the day.  Something, at this point that I hope, came across is that I am not sharing ideas with you of what all the possibilities are with Lightroom.  I am sharing my way of doing things and I try to communicate how what I do is arrived at.  Gary and Lightroom go way back.  Renaming the files are covered and I’m reminded of an image that I uncovered while telling about that.  GC-1310-219.  This number was to have my credit –GC– then the year –13– the month –10– and finished with a sequential number –219–. I did it for a while and had a hard time remembering where the numbers left off. 219 was probably the second shoot of that month and I decided to start at 200 for that group of images. You must enter the number for which the sequence needs to start in LR. Seems simple, it’s not. So I changed to 6 digits for the numbering to signify the date. That produced a number with the date down to the day. I dropped the GC. Simpler and better. So the mentioned number could be –131006-219– What I described for you is sooo much more smooth.  By the way, whatever you need in the way of help, I’d be glad to help.  The comment space below is for you to ask and clarify all the detail you may need. Or, just say hay. If you’re new to Lightroom stick around for more to come.

Next up, in Lightroom In 4 is the fourth in the series and it is about making photos………. So that you’ll be in touch with whatever is new be sure to sign in below. That will connect you to a couple of things available as downloads and all that is available in the future. Thanks for hanging around on this article. I hope it has been helpful.

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