If you’re new to Lightroom, understanding the differences between your catalogs, folders and collections is essential to achieving a smooth and hassle-free workflow. Lightroom effectively acts as a database for your images, you can easily get by with just one catalog and a number of folders, or you can combine these with collections for deeper organisation.
Below is the main library workspace you are presented with in Lightroom.
To the left of the main image is the primary image management area, let’s look at those individual areas in a little more detail.
Unless you are a prolific photographer with a huge number of images, I would advise using only the one catalog. To be clear, there isn’t anything wrong with using multiple catalogs organised by year, for example, but this would only really be beneficial to more experienced and confident Lightroom users. Sticking to the one catalog makes things super-simple to manage if you’re just starting out with Lightroom. Note that if you do decide you want multiple catalogs, you can only have one open at any given time.
Folders are the backbone of your catalog. Simply import your image folders from your hard drive (press the ‘+’ button at the top of the folder panel to do so) and they will appear in the folders section in Lightroom. All subfolders will also automatically import from the parent folder, so it’s very quick and easy to add a large number of images, have a look at image below for an example of the folder structure in Lightroom:
Please note that after you have imported your folders, if you move some of the original image files from their position on your hard drive, then you will break the link for those specific images in Lightroom. You can also add subfolders to existing folders, just choose the ‘add subfolder’ option on the menu.
If you edit or add/remove from your photo folders from outside Lightroom, you can keep Lightroom up-to-date by using the ‘Synchronize’ option. To use this, select the folder you want updated, then give a right-mouse click and select the ‘Synchronize’ option. You’ll then be presented with the dialog box shown below.
From there you can select the option to add/remove images, you can also choose to display the import dialog options when you add images.
This is where things get a little more interesting. Collections enable you to further organise your images, you can have images from various folders in the one (or more) collection(s). Please note that by adding images to a collection they are not actually moved from their original folders. There are also ‘smart’ collections that are organised automatically by metadata from within Lightroom (images with a 5-star rating, for example).
To give an example of a ‘regular’ (non-smart) collection, I currently have a street photography series that I’m working on, the images in this collection are taken from various location-based folders that I have on my hard drive, see the screenshot below:
Hopefully this basic guide will help you get up and running with Lightroom quickly and efficiently. As your experience grows you will develop your own style of organising and working with images in Lightroom. Ultimately, there is no single solution that will suit everyone, it all comes down to your personal preference and needs.