Lightroom – Basic Setup

This guide is designed for Adobe Lightroom version 4.x

Pradip Malde – date modified: 2.13.2013 [see here for most up-to-date and printer friendly version]

Lightroom is a powerful program for organizing, editing and distributing digital images. The program is non-destructive—it does not write or change the original image — but it can manipulate some of the metadata, or textual information, that is attached to all digital image files. Lightroom bases all of its activity through a special file called a catalogue. A Lightroom catalogue is, essentially, a database file that has a blocks of text records for every single image. These text blocks include everything from information about the way an image was generated (e.g. camera type, lens, exposure), the exact location of that image in the computer or external drive, to actual alterations the user asked Lightroom to carry out on the image (e.g. crop, rotate, color adjustments). It is important to note that the Lightroom catalogue is like an intermediary between the user and the images. All activity using Lightroom is recorded in the catalogue file, and all images displayed on the screen or sent out to print are passed through the catalogue file.

The relationship between the location of images and the location of the Lightroom catalogue must be maintained. Any changes to image location should only be done through the Lightroom interface and not the Finder or Desktop.

This guide does not go into the details of the Lightroom environment. The following instructions will guide you through a basic setup for Lightroom 4. If sustained, this setup will establish a hassle-free workflow and environment. The guidelines stress that all images used by Lightroom are kept in one folder dedicated to just images (which may have any number of other folders in it), that the LIghtroom catalogue and its related files are kept in another folder dedicated to just these, and that these two core folders are kept within one master folder. This approach not only lays out a clear and simple directory structure, but also facilitates the process of regularly backing up or transferring the entire collection to another storage volume. In addition, any other folders related to the image workflow, such as files waiting to be imported or files exported from Lightroom for web distribution, may also be stored and conveniently accessed from the master folder.

Finally, it is vital that all Lightroom users have at least one external hard drive for backup purposes. Its size should be at least 30% larger than the current state of the Lightroom master folder. Also, if the user expects to work with Lightroom across more than one computer, then the Lightroom master folder should be setup on another portable external drive. If the Lightroom master folder is being created on an internal hard drive, then plan to always have at least 30% of free disk space available. Otherwise, expect the computer to function at a less than optimal level.

The following steps refer to a Mac OS X environment but can easily be mapped to other operating systems. The setup should be carried out at the top level of the external hard drive or, if working on the main internal drive, at the top level of the user’s Documents folder.

  1. If you have Lightroom running, Quit it. It may also help to go ahead and quit any other programs.
  2. Create a new folder called IMAGE_FILES_MASTER (Note: these are suggested names. You may use any other name, but strive for consistency, clarity, and most important, common sense. You may someday need others to work with and navigate your Lightroom work space, and a directory structure that is intuitive and readable will help collaborative efforts.)
  1. Inside this folder, create the following new folders:
  1. PHOTOGRAPHS_MASTER
  2. VIDEOS_MASTER
  3. TO_PROCESS
  4. EXPORTS

You may want to color code each of these folders. I do this to clearly identify important that should not be modified or moved without careful consideration. To do this, control-click on a folder > Label… and select color.

  1. We are now going to create a new master catalogue in Lightroom. This can be done in several ways. The easiest is to press and hold the alt/Option key while starting up Lightroom.
    In the resulting dialogue, click Create a New Catalogue.
  2. Then, in the following pane, Create Folder with New Catalogue:
  1. Save As: [give your master catalogue a meaningful name, such as yourInitialLastname_LRmaster, e.g. pmalde_LRmaster]
  2. Select the folder IMAGE_FILES_MASTER as the destination.
  3. Click Create.Lightroom will take a few moments to create some folders, and then it opens a new window.

You are now going to fine-tune some of Lightroom’s preferences.

  1. Go to menu Lightroom > Preferences
  1. select the Presets tab, make sure ‘Store presets with catalogue’ is checked. You can confirm this by clicking the ‘Show Lightroom Presets Folder’ button. If all is well, you will jump to the Finder and in a new window, see the contents of a new folder inside the IMAGE_FILES_MASTER > yourInitialLastname_LRmaster (this new folder will have the name you entered in step 4a). Jump back to Lightroom.
  2. Still in the Preference pane, click on the General pane, then on Go to Catalogue Settings in the lower right corner of the pane.
  3. In the Catalogue Settings pane, select General > Backup > Back up catalogue: Every time Lightroom exits.

Close the Preferences pane.

Now, you will establish a workflow and template for locating, importing and organizing your image files.

  1. In the Finder, grab a few image files from any folder, ideally generated by camera, as opposed to a scanner, and copy (option+drag) them into the TO_PROCESS folder. Anywhere between 5 and 50 files is fine for this initial setup stage. Avoid selecting too many though, because you first need to ensure that the import setup is functioning as desired. Once confirmed, a template can be saved, and then used to import larger quantities of files.
  2. In Lightroom > File > Import Photos and Videos…
  1.  In the left-hand column of the import panel, select a source, then select ‘include subfolders’
  2. Expand the ‘Source’ arrow if it is not already showing the folder structure of your computer, then navigate to and select the TO_PROCESS folder. Upon selecting this folder, you should promptly see thumbnails of all the image files in this folder. They are also all checked by default. If there are any folders within TO_PROCESS, their contents will also be displayed.
  3. In the upper middle section of the import panel, select Move [move photos to a new location and add to catalog].
  4. In the right-hand column of the import panel > File Renaming,
  1. check Rename Files
  2. Select Template: Custom Settings > Date-Filename OR if you wish to further modify your filename settings, select Edit…
    NOTE: it is a good idea to add a date to the filename for search and find functionality as well as sustaining an organized archive.
  1. Still in the right-hand column of the import panel > Destination,
  1. Do not check ‘Into Subfolder’
  2. Organize: By date
  3. Then select Date Format: 2012/2012-08/2012-08-08 (i.e. YYYY/YYYY-MM/YYYY-MM-DD. Thus, all your files will be automatically organized in folders by year, then by folders named according to year-month, and inside each of these, more folders named year-month-day. Image files will also have a year-month-day prefix and each will be placed in the corresponding year-month-day folder. As your image archive grows into thousands of files, this structure will save you a lot of time and anxiety.
  4. Then, in the section below, navigate to and select the PHOTOGRAPHS_MASTER folder. You will see now an italicized list of folders appear below and within the master folder, with a set of check marks, and reflecting the structure described in the preceding step.
  1. Review the entire process in step 7 before going any further. You should be taking the contents of the TO_PROCESS folder and moving them to the PHOTOGRAPHS_MASTER folder that is in your IMAGE_FILES_MASTER folder.
  2. You are now going to create a template for this particular Import setup or workflow, and thereby save yourself a lot of time in future. In the lower section of the middle pane, at ‘Import Presets’ click on ‘None’ and select ‘Save Current Settings as New Preset…’. Name this ‘Import from To_Process to Photographs Master by date’ (or something similar if you wish to change it – but again, be sensible with naming.) Click Create.
  3. You are now ready to import files into Lightroom. Click the Import button in the lower right corner. You will see a progress bar in the upper left, with thumbnails appearing in the Library panel as files are rendered.
  4. For future imports, and once you are certain that your workflow is functioning as you need, image files and/or folders needing to be imported into Lightroom may simply be dragged into TO_PROCESS, rather than copied.
  5. A similar workflow and import template may be created for importing directly from camera cards, substituting TO_PROCESS as the source with the mounted data card (or camera).