• Facebook
  • Instagram

© 2021 Austin James Jackson LLC. All Rights Reserved.

  • Austin James Jackson

Lightroom Photo Organization: How I Do It and Why You Should Organize Too.

Lightroom Photo Organization
Note: This tutorial is on Lightroom Classic, not Lightroom.

Organization can either be your best friend or your worst enemy when it comes to post processing photographs. People with high levels of organization in Lightroom can operate much more efficiently than those without much organization. In this week's 5 Minute Photography Blog Post, I'll be outlining how I organize my photos in Lightroom, both in Lightroom's interface as well as behind the scenes on my hard drive. There's many different ways you can organize things, and I don't necessarily claim to have the best way, but the way I organize things works for me and I'll be sharing it with you today!


Inside of Lightroom

The first part of organizing your photos is making sure everything is set up in an organized way in Lightroom. Without organization, you lose efficiency, and you may even lose your photos.

If you click the "Library" module (menu bar, top right corner), you'll see that Lightroom has three ways of organizing photos. The first is "Catalog". Under Catalog, you have different subfolders including "All Photographs", which is all of your photos that are in the Lightroom Catalog, "All Synced Photographs", which is all of your photos synced with Lightroom Mobile, and "Previous Import", which is the photos you last uploaded to the catalog. These aren't really customizable, and I never really use them except for when I am just trying to look through all of my photos.

The next section below Catalog is "Folders". I see a lot of people organizing their photos in the folders section, but I am going to recommend you don't do this. In fact, I never use this section of Lightroom at all. Leave the "Folders" box closed down and don't bother using it. It ends up becoming more confusing than it's worth.

Below "Folders" is "Collections". This is what I use for organizing all of my photos, and I highly recommend you do the same. Here is a screenshot of what my collections look like:

You'll notice that there is two different symbols on my collections. The first, which is the one next to things like Oregon, Arizona, Washington, etc., is called a Collection Set. These hold no photos, but they do hold collections. The other symbol, like the one next to Lost Lake is called a collection, which does hold photos (notice the #28 to the right, this means there is 28 photos in this collection). Under each collection set in Lightroom, I have collections which hold photos. You can create either a collection or a collection set by using the "+" on the right side of the "Collections" box.

To make these changes, you can make these collections and collection sets for whatever you have photos of, and then you can just drag and drop your photos into the collections. You'll also notice I have an "EDITING" collection, which I drag and drop all of my recently imported photos here. Before I move photos into another collection, I will either edit or delete them from the "EDITING" collection.

On Your Hard Drive

Even once your Lightroom is all organized, it's still important to organize the photos on your hard drive incase you ever need to find the RAW files later. One common mistake a lot of people make is just dragging RAW files off a memory card directly into their hard drive. Once you get it set up correctly, it is crucial that you import photos from your memory card to the hard drive through Lightroom. This will make more sense as I explain below.

I'm going to show you the final result first, and then I'll get into explaining why it works and how to do it yourself.

Lightroom Photo organization
(Left to right, top to bottom) On my hard drive: LIGHTROOM > Landscape > RAW > 2019 > 2019-08-19 > Image Files

At first glance, this may look complicated, but we are going to break it all down. If you have an unorganized catalog, I highly recommend making a new one and importing all of your photos into it. I'll explain how to do that below, but when you start from scratch, here's what you'll want to do:

First, on your computer or external hard drive (whichever you prefer to use), create a folder called "Lightroom". Open Lightroom and go to File > New Catalog, and save this Catalog inside of that Lightroom Folder. You can call your Catalog anything you want, but I prefer to call mine "Landscape". Lightroom will generate some files (you can see them above on the top middle photo), and it's important that you leave these be and don't touch them.

In the same folder as the Lightroom files are generated, I like to make a "Landscape" file, and then inside of that "Landscape" file, I create a "RAW" file where all of my RAW photos will go. Now, all of the rest of the files (the year, the dates) are auto generated by Lightroom. You must make sure that your photos are going to the right place when you import them into Lightroom.


Importing Photos to the Right Place

If you want to continue organizing your photos during import (you do, trust me!), you have to be sure your photos import to the right place. I'll walk you through how that's done.

Under the Library Module, go to the bottom left and select "Import". A new box should pop up. I always select Copy as DNG, but Copy works fine too without changing your photos to DNG (I'll write another blog later explaining why I convert to DNG, but that's a song for another time!). Once you have that selected, look at the left side of the screen and find where your images are. For most of you, this will be a memory card, and it should pop up. Once you've found it, select your photos.

Now you need to go to the right side and make sure the destination is correct. Open the destination box (bottom right) and find the folder that your catalog is in. Open the top folder, then open the next folder inside of that one, and then click on the RAW folder. Now you should see a new folder pop up below "RAW" that has a year (whichever year the photo you are importing was taken), and below that, you'll have a date. Once this is correct, click import.

You'll want to make sure that you continue to import photos this way in order to stay organized. As you can see above (bottom middle photo), I've been able to successfully organize my photos this way for easy access later.


My Lightroom is Already So Messy, Where Do I Start?

Unfortunately, if you aren't willing to start fresh with a new catalog, you'll have to go back through and sort things out yourself. This is going to take some time, but I have some tips to help you start to straighten things out. Before you do anything, I recommend making a backup of your photos incase you happen to delete anything that was not meant to be deleted.

First, you'll want to go through your Lightroom and delete any photos you no longer want from the Lightroom Catalog (and the disk too, if you don't mind forever deleting them). The less photos you have to organize, the easier the job will be.

Next, if the photos don't have any edits applied, you can remove them from the Lightroom Catalog and re-import them the correct way. Depending on how many photos you have and if they have edits on them, this might be a good way for you to do it. You'll lose any edits you made in Lightroom when you remove and then re-import them. When you re-import the photos, be sure to select "Move" instead of "Copy" on the center of your screen.

If the photos do have edits, you'll unfortunately have to fix things manually. You can find where the RAW file lives easily by doing Control+Click on a photo and then selecting "Show in Finder". Then you can open another finder window and drag and drop the photo to your new folder. Once you get back into Lightroom, you'll see an exclamation point next to your photo. This is Lightroom's way of telling you that the photo is lost. You'll have to click on the exclamation point and go find the photo manually. If you moved a bunch of photos into one folder, you'll only have to do this once per folder.


If fixing your already messy Lightroom seems like a huge pain, that's because it is! If you can, I highly recommend starting a new catalog fresh and doing things right. If you have certain photos you really like, you can import these into the new catalog individually. If nothing else, I hope you can easily organize your photos inside of Lightroom so everything is easier to find.

Thanks so much for checking out this week's 5 Minute Photography Blog post! If you have any questions, feel free to drop them down below in the comments!