Lightroom – Import & Organization

In Learning Center, Post-Processing, Tutorials by jfischer3 Comments

Every photographer has a process for how they get their photos from the memory card in their camera to the finished edit and then on into storage.  I’m not going to say my process is better than any other way of doing it, but it is how I’ve come to do it after years of evolution and learning.  The most important thing is to have a system and a process to maintain the organization of your work.  I welcome you to read and take what tips and ideas from how I do it and integrate them into your work flow, and I’m also very keen on learning on what things you do differently that might help continue improving my workflow.

Camera to Computer

A 32GB card filled to the brim with CR2 RAW files from my Canon 6D holds some 1200 photos.  Getting those photos to the computer is handled by a Kingston brand high speed USB 3.0 card reader.  With a much faster transfer speed than running a cable from the camera with no draw on the camera’s battery, meaning it’s ready to go when you need to run out the door on a moment’s notice shoot.

I import all of my photos via the Lightroom Import Module, I have my Windows file system setup to detect RAW files and open the Lightroom Import dialog automatically.  First tip for time saving – setup an import preset with your basic Copyright and contact information setup.  Have the Import module set to use this preset automatically, cutting time and ensuring all your photos have this important information attached to their EXIF information.  All photos are imported into a working ‘PhotoTemp’ directory on a large storage drive.  The Import module is set to put each day’s photo into a separate folder in an YYYY-MM-DD format keeping the oldest working folders at the top of the working directory.  For major trips or specific shoots I’ll use the Lightroom import ‘sub-directory’ option to further organize the working photos.

The import step is also a great time to add tags and other information that is common across the entire import set.  Remember though, if you are importing multiple days’ worth of photos from multiple shoots, only add tags common across everything.  You can bulk add tags to each folder, group of photos, etc., after the import.

Stars and Rejects

With all of the photos now into a temp folder organized by date and if needed shoot, I quickly scan through the photos, what I call the first pass.  Any photo that is technically flawed: out of focus, blurry, poor composition, wrong exposure beyond saving, etc – I hit the ‘X’ key and move on to the next photo.  These are the rejects.  I do not worry about deleting each photo as I can quickly delete them all in one click at the end.  Any photo that stands out from the crowd gets a star rating, I use 2-stars as my default ‘good’ photo, I typically use 1-star to denote a set of photos for panoramic sets, long exposure stacking, etc.  Really good photos that I want to make sure get noticed above the ‘good’ shots get 3 or maybe 4 stars so I know to go back to those first.  This is also useful when I take 5 or 6 of the same composition and 3 are good and one is spot on perfect, I will not have to go back to each of the starred photos looking for the best of the best to work on.

Non-Flag Meta Filter Enabled only shows non-rejected photos since I do not use the ‘Flag’ attribute


While the purpose of this first pass through the photos is intended to separate the wheat from the chaff.  However, there is nothing wrong from taking a break from this first pass to process one photo that sits well beyond the 5-star category.

Filters disabled showing both stars and rejected photos in folder

With this first pass complete, under the Photo menu, down at the bottom you will find the ‘Delete Rejected Photos’ option.  Poof all rejected photos disappear in a single go.

With the worst of the photos gone off to the Recycle Bin, now it is back to the top to find those photo worthy of getting the royal treatment.  My processing workflow differs greatly depending on the photo, my various workflows will be covered in future tutorials.  If you want to see behind the curtain, check out my Show & Tell series for specific photo processing details.

After the work is done

All of my photos start and end in Lightroom.  While some never get out of Lightroom, only needing a simple edit well within the scope of what Lightroom can do, others go on into Nik Silver Efex or Color Efex, while many these days go all the way through Photoshop.  Once the final edits are made, I move the finished TIF files (if edited in Nik or Photoshop) along with the original CR2 RAW files to into the storage archive.

How you choose to organize your photos for storage is very personal, and will vary greatly depending on what type(s) of photography you focus on.  My top level is simply a root folder in my large storage directory, this is the only other root folder other than the ‘PhotoTemp’ working folder in the directory structure in Lightroom’s Library module. Under the root I have folders for each primary type of photography or event type. One for transportation type photography, one for portrait shoots, landscapes, one for big photographic trips, etc. Below that level I have a higher level granularity of folder for specific shoots, locations, etc.  On occasion I will create final folders for year for locations I visit very frequently.


Examples (note, hyphens used in place of backslash since my editor keeps removing them…):

  • Photos-Landscapes-Oak Point Nature Preserve-2016 – photos from my favorite local nature preserve taken this year
  • Photos-Portraits-2016_ElizabethDeepEllum – portrait shoot of Elizabeth taken in 2016 down in Deep Ellum
  • Photos-PhotoTrips-2016_01_TylerStatePark – January camp trip shots from Tyler State Park in East Texas
  • Photos-Transportation-2015_AllianceAirshow – Airshow at Alliance Airport in Ft. Worth
  • Photos-WorldWidePhotoWalk-2014FtWorth – 2014 Kelby Worldwide Photowalk photos.

In addition to the finished fully processed files, I keep a handful similar frames that came in ‘second best’ to those selected for edit, the rest either receive the reject treatment and deleted once I’m satisfied with the set of photos I have locked away in the archives.  On average I process somewhere around 10% of what I shoot, I save another 20-30%, the rest are simply a learning tool of how to take better photos in the future and are then deleted to make room for future shoots.

Another powerful tool within Lightroom’s Library module are Collections.  Personally, I do not utilize Collections very much, instead utilizing the physical folder structure to organize my photography archive.  However, I occasionally use a collection to keep track of photos for a print order, when I am starting to choose photos for my yearly calendar, or other short-term needs.  I’d love to hear how you utilize this functionality for organization and workflow!

Safeguarding from failures and mistakes

My storage hard drive is a 4TB NAS grade hard drive, which is engineered and tested to higher standards than normal consumer grade hard drives.  This is the first level of protection against data loss.  It is well worth it to me to spend a little extra on a better grade drive.  I also keep all my programs, both the operating system and all other software off this drive.  If anything happens to the operating system or a program that requires me to rebuild the system I can pull the data cable off the storage drive and ensure nothing I do while preparing the other drives for a new operating system will accidentally wipe the data storage drive.  Once everything is back in place I can reconnect the data cable and it’s back where it was completely untouched during the reload.

Second level of protection is a local external backup drive.  Currently, I use Seagate drives; some people will say they have a bad reputation for failures, but so far I have had good luck with them.  Their backup software also works on a real-time backup scheme, meaning as soon as a new batch of photos end up in a folder being backed up (ie my entire photo archive directory) the files start being moved over to a secondary location.  A second 1.5TB drive is watching the photo temp folder, catching each new batch of imported photos as soon as they added.  With this second drive on a second backup plan, again, it’s easier to keep this set of backup files from the main archive set.  Lightroom’s catalog file is also included in my backup set to ensure if anything happens to this all important file it can be recovered.

Speaking of Lightroom catalogs, in addition to the real-time backup of the current file, I have Lightroom prompt me for weekly backups of this file.  I keep 5 or 6 of these files on the local drive, with a mirror stored away on the external drives as well.  The lightroom catalog file is the only thing I have ever had issues with, so ensuring I have multiple sources of recovery for this file with all of its information about my photos is crucial.

Another sometimes overlooked advantage of external hard drives, especially for those of us who live in areas with electrical storms on a very regular basis is that its a lot easier to completely unplug these external drives from anything and everything hooked into the electrical grid of the house or office.  My computer is hooked to the wall in at least 3 different ways, network cable, power cable, and through peripherals which are in turn plugged into the wall.  Pulling two cables out of the back of two drives completely removes all physical connection between the data and destructive power surges.

Final Thoughts

The most important thing is to have a process before you need a process.  Waiting until you accidentally delete files from an SD card before you import them, or after your working files are mixed in with your finished edits, or worse yet spread across multiple drives and folders with no sense of organization.  Aiding in this organization is probably Lightroom’s greatest functionality.  I encourage you to take a closer look at what Lightroom can do for you in terms of your organizational process, allowing you to spend more time taking the photos and editing them to perfection.


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