Organizing Lightroom By Date illustration
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Organizing Photos In Lightroom By The Date–I do, Should You?

Lightroom is one of a category of software for me that is limitless. Not in its editing capabilities but in organizing. It is very full, super full, featured. When I start putting together information for today’s article I realize how much there is that I do not use. It’s not that I need to use other features, it’s thatt there are so many options to cover many different ways to organize.

It’s easy to start your Lightroom catalog with a project and file the shoot that you are starting with as a newcomer to LR. Street Photography, Landscape, or Weddings can become the file organizer for today and next week add whatever is needed as an addition to the Library module. Organizing by date becomes a much better basis on which to grow. The changes or categories which you want to maintain can change by making use of the detail of the Collections section.

I will give you the details of my experience. Which is best for me? I’ll share some facts so you can decide what’s best for you.

Organize image files by the date captured in Lightroom’s Library. Support this by creating Lightroom Collections, in addition, for the topics that categorize specific areas of photography. That makes the Catalog searchable by time, place, or subject. Example Collections could include Roadtrips, Family, Business, and Friends. Easily cross-referencing with the files safely in the date-based Library.

Think of playlists and how you can load your copy of a great rock guitarist like John Mayer in a playlist for your exercise routine but also place the same song in guitar greats playlist. The song is only in your music player once but can be in playlists for multiple categories of your creation to organize and retrieve as needed.

Lightroom is similar, in that you upload your files into the Library/Folders Section by the date of your vacation. Then as you go through the images you may add them to your Roadtrips Collection and also take some of the family images and place them within your Family Collection. All this put’s you in a very organized Catalog of your memories or work.

Why “By The Date” Answers the Puzzling Questions

When I organized my earliest catalog of images one of the hurdles I kept bumping into was this example. I would be shooting a wedding on a Saturday, easy on the LR system, then I’d get home and my wife and kids would be doing some memorable something. I’d capture some momentos. Those shots are in with the wedding for filing purposes. It could be a problem but NOT with the system of choice today! By the date rocks!

Another element, for me, in the decision-making has to do with my history of shooting film. Although it applies long beyond film to today. I could see an image months or years after captured as a lone image, without the rest of the “roll of film”, or now the rest of the days shooting, I’d have no recollection of the image or the story that may go along with it. When I see images in their context, as they were shot chronologically, I can tell a lengthy story about what was taking place around the making of the image. I like those stories.

So, I decided to give it a shot, organized by the date, and I’ve never felt it was a bad decision. In addition to the technique that I suggest by organizing by date is to re-number the image files, also, with the date. And further, place the images in folders named with the date. Wow, it sounds like a lot of work but we’ll set it up step by step and most of the detail will be in some setup about importing the images in LR. Once done, from shoot to shoot is a breeze.

Create the Catalog

Let’s jump in with creating a catalog. You may be creating or just making some changes to an existing catalog. If you are realizing how wonderful Lightroom Classic can be for organizing your photographs, here is where you can get your copy of Lightroom.

In Lightroom Classic under File, click New Catalog. Name the Catalog in the finder window that appears. “Save as” allow you to name and place the catalog where you want. For me, the Pictures folder, named something about “Main”.

Importing and name changing

As images are imported, add the name in this form. YYMMDD-001. From the Library Module, hit the button “Import” and the import dialog window opens. On the left is all to do with FROm. In the top middle select to copy. This keeps a copy on the card in addition to the files you’re about to add to the Catalog. On the right side is all to do with TO. Where the files copies are going and how they will be changed. So if you’ve plugged the camera in or a card reader, it should show on the left. .Highlight the Card and images previews will populate in the middle.

On the right, from the top. I prefer to have 1:1 previews, but do the Pro Tip to be sure they do not overcrowd your system. Detour to Catalog/File Handling at Home, under Lightroom Classic. Find Automatically Discard 1:1 Previews and select “Alter 30 days”. This way you’ll have a beefy good size preview in addition to other sizes but they’ll be gone after 30 days. If you need these for editing beyond that time you can select and re-create the 1:1’s. 1:1 previews you’ll need to check focus on your images.

Then check to Rename Files. Select the Template YYMMDD-001. If it is not available click to edit and create the template with the provided editor. Start at “1” and the extensions “Leave as-is”, Check the sample to be sure things look the way intended.

Importing to Folder by Date

Lightroom Classic/Destination to illustrate

Below this in “Destination” Select “Into SubFolder” and date format. Organize “By Date” and Date Format: 2022-02-03. Select the folder that you created for your images. If you are not creating a new catalog then select the current year.

Hit Import. Folders are created for each day represented amongst the files you’re importing.

Adding to the File Folder Name with specifics

So let’s fast-forward to a point where you have files in place. Let’s add a short description. Right-click (or control-click) on one of your files and select “Rename”. When the dialog box appears the date will start the name. Leave it and click past to add.

For me, if it’s a headshot, I put the name. If it’s commercial, the client. If it’s a trip, where we went. Personal, then what is the subject. etc.

Moving to External Hard Drives

A plus of this organizing came up when I had a computer hard drive that was approaching it’s max. Had to free up some space. I realized that some of the photos could be moved to an external and that would accomplish my task.

The detail extra of doing this is to be sure to do that IN Lightroom Classic, not by using the Finder, directly. Yes, drag the folder of a whole year to a connected hard drive within the file structure of Lightroom Classic. I’ve done this before with part of the year. You may have more imagery and need to do it once a month.

By organizing this way, you have maintained your paired previews and the connection to this wonderful tool. Any Collection that you’ve created or existing collections that you’ve added images to are still there. The images are visible but not much can be done with them beyond browsing. Most of the tasks you may need to do in the way of editing or even some of the exporting can be enhanced by selecting a group of images and creating smart previews. Smart Previews allow for editing. When the smart preview re-connects to the home file, the image file updates. Library Module/ Library/ Previews/ Create Smart Previews.

Organize in The Collections

Use Collection Sets as your general categories. The sets icon is a File box and images cannot be added directly. Once you’ve set up the Collection Sets add Collections. Drag images from the filmstrip to multiple collections to organize to your heart’s desire.


“I don’t remember things by the date.” That’s what is many times given as a reason why not to organize by date. Your catalog when in full swing becomes somewhat organized “in the background”. The importing is all set with options checked in the import dialog so all you do is hit the import. When an image is viewed in your organized collections its capture date is readily visible in the filename. Therefore, you know where the folder of images is located. Filename=File Folder name.

Try this! When you see an image in the filmstrip, control-click (right-click) and select “Go To Folder In Library”. You’ll be taken directly to the home of that image file. This is something I use when I remember the additional images shot at the same shoot and realize maybe I’d like some of the others. Images that don’t reside in the collection but can easily be connected to in the Folders

Happy shooting!

Above Featured Image: Denver, 50mm, 1/15th, f5.6, Nikon D750

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