Getting Organized in Lightroom

March 24, 2018  •  2 Comments

Sunset at Brown CanyonSunset at Brown CanyonAs Cindy and I made our way back from picking up a 20-pound bag of Nyger to feed the insatiable finch and siskin in the backyard, we looked at the sky and decided to stop by Brown Canyon to see the sunset. It was the right decision.

I am usually not a fan of HDR images but decided to try it on this shot. This is seven exposures, one stop apart at f8. I will probably re-edit the image using my typical workflow tomorrow. Let me know what you think?
Shoot Date: February 2, 2018
Canon EOS 5D Mark III
Aperture priority f/8.0
Lens: EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM @ 17 mm
ISO: 100

One of my New Years resolutions in 2018 was to get my Lightroom catalog organized. It was also my resolution in 2017, 2016, 2015 and earlier. Whenever I would begin the task, I would quickly become overwhelmed by the over 300,000 images and give up. Not this year.

Throughout the years I have come up with some incredibly complicated organizing plans and read others incredibly complicated organizing plans. I've concluded that, at least for me, they are useless. For this photographer, it has to be simple. Very simple. And, it needs to start at the beginning of my workflow.

I have two goals for my organization framework. Make all images easy to access and keep my catalog at a reasonable size. For a decade I have been importing images without culling the garbage or keywording. The result is a slow, unwieldy and inefficient catalog. There are tens of thousands of useless, blurry photos as well as series of hundreds of servo images with only one or two representative shots that need to be kept.

It was time to make a decision. How was I going to get this under control? I had to make some choices. Did I need one master catalog, or could I go with some version of smaller catalogs? My current catalog has well over 400,000 images in it. Not only is that too many(no matter what Adobe says), but, as I shoot in RAW, it has created the need for terabytes of storage space hanging off of my computer. Add to that my paranoid need to have at least two copies, on separate disks, of all my images and I have a massive, expensive mess. I decided to attack the problem in two phases. The first was to give myself a fresh beginning and create a new catalog with only the current year's photos. This would give me a chance to back or forward organize without getting discouraged. Once 2018 was good to go, I could go back to my old catalog and start the process of culling and keywording.  

But now the question was “How do I create a system that will be easy to implement and help me achieve my goals of fast search and smaller size catalog?” Here is the method I have decided on. It is not entirely original, but it is simple and will work. I welcome you to use it as is or modify it to your needs.

It all begins with Keyword PUX. You might not have ever heard of this, that's good because I made it up. Keyword PUX is a two-part strategy that begins at import. First, you add the keywords and then, as soon as the import completes, you cull the images.

Keywording is essential if you hope to quickly locate images a few months to years after they have been added to your catalog. Selecting a set of generalized keywords, such as state, town, shoot type (Landscape, Nightscape, Wildlife, Birds) that can be added at import makes staying on top of keywording straightforward. Even better, if you frequently shoot in the same locations, or shoot same types of subjects, you can create Metadata Presets that allow you to add the relevant keywords quickly. Metadata Presets are essential for copyright and image protection reasons as well, so I will cover them in a separate post.

Once the images are imported, you can PUX them. What is PUX? It is the acronym for the keyboard shortcuts the allow you to (P) Flag as Pick, (U) Unselect, (X) Set as Rejected an image. For the system to work fast make sure you have Auto Advance turned on (Photo: Auto Advance checked). Now start to go through the imported images hitting the U key for images you want to keep but are unsure about editing, i.e., most images. Hit the P key for photos that just WOW you and you know you are going to want to edit right away; fewest images. Most importantly from a catalog size management perspective, hit the X key for blurry pictures or ones that you know you don't want.

As soon as you have gone through this first pass go to "Delete Rejected Photos..." (Photo: Delete Rejected Photos…) and select "Delete from Disk" in the window that opens. Done! You now have a reasonably sized, searchable result from your shoot. 

I take it one step further for my wildlife images. I shoot birds most frequently and will often have many different species in my import. Typically, they will be grouped. After my initial Keyword PUX, I go back through and add species names to the images. I also quickly go through my servo bursts and X redundant images, keeping only one or two from each burst. I have found that this second PUX pass can often cut my total shoot keepers in half! That is a massive disk and catalog size saving.

I’ve learned that everyone has their own style of keeping things organized. Let me know if these suggestions help or share your comments on how you organize your Lightroom catalog.


Ben Shepard(non-registered)
Thanks, I'm in the same situation as you were, but in my case it's been 22 years of using various approaches. I started with LR whith its first beta release. I talked with LR support a couple of times about large catalog and was advised to keep them relatively small. So, at this point I have many years worth catalog with Photoshop Elements for the years before LR existed, and one LR catalog for each year since. But still haven't completely cleaned up any of the LR catalogs.

I'm an amateur wildlife photographer, but I rarely show my pictures to anyone because they're too disorganized in too many... It would be very nice to narrow down my 248,513 files and reduce the 1,599 GB of disk space used. I keep everything in a couple of SSD drives and they are both about full. It's much easier to and another drive, but it would be so much better to clean house.
Karl Krueger(non-registered)
Thank you for doing this Rob. We can all learn something. I didn't know your PUX shortcuts so now I will use that. I did it the long way of right clicking on the picture and select "remove photo" for each individual one. Another box comes up asking to confirm if you want only to delete the jpeg or all associated files. Imagine doing that for each photo you want to delete. Well that's what I did but no more.

As you have pointed out the most important thing with using LR is to set up a system of how you will organize your photos. This cannot be stressed enough and I don't recommend people getting started in LR until they know how they will do it. Here is how I do mine which should give some good tips to others but of course everyone might have their system that works for them:

First I have a collection of folders that I broadly distribute my photos into. Right now I use only Flowers&Fungi, Scenes, Standard (like family photos, etc), and Wildlife. Of course you know me and Wildlife is by far my largest which includes all animals (including insects). In each top folder the next level of folders is the year. So this year I'm adding stuff to folder 2018 which is in each of the top folders. Next in the year folder I name the subfolders by a date code (yyyy_mm-dd-dd). I will also add location codes where important to that date folder so what I did today will be named 2018_03-23-xx Sugarl HH Polo where xx will be the last date I add things to this folder and the letters after are something that reminds me the locations where I shot those photos. I do all this in Windows. Then in LR import the folder.

Next I add keywords as necessary to each photograph. This becomes important if you ever want to search your library and pull out any photos of a "Yellow Warbler" in your collection for the whole year or any number of years. After adding keywords then use your PUX method to cull the pics you don't want.

After 4 months I have a pretty long list of dated folders and that list gets a bit unwieldy especially since I have finished with those photos and keep adding new ones. So then in LR I create a new folder of months so the first is Jan-Apr second is May-Aug and final one for the year becomes Sep-Dec. I then move all my dated folders into the appropriate month folder as I pass each 4 month period. This keeps my list lengths seen in LR manageable.

In summary my library is organized first by 1) broad categories > 2) year > 3) month/date where keywords allows me pull anything out from any set of folders I want to look at. More often someone will ask me about a specific picture in my online gallery so I can easily look up that picture see what date is was taken and I now exactly where to look in my library for it. Also note that the standard ordering of names for date and month folders will be chronological making it easier to find them.
No comments posted.
January February March April May June July August September October November (1) December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September (1) October November December
January February March April May (1) June July (1) August (1) September October November December (1)
January February March (1) April May June (2) July (2) August September October November (1) December (13)
January (13) February (9) March (1) April (3) May June (6) July August September October November December (13)
January February March April May June July August September October (1) November December
January (1) February March April May June July August (1) September October (1) November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December