I’ve been teaching Lightroom for a few years and one of the most frequent frustrations revolves around how images are organized and linked. Before fancy image editing software, most people (myself included) organized their images in named folders. If you went on a trip to France, you would save the pictures in a folder called “France 2008”, stored within your images folder. The downside of this process is that you may want the same image in more than one location. If you make a copy of that image and edit it at a later date, it leaves the other locations you saved it to with an old version; not to mention the extra hard drive space wasted.
How Lightroom stores images
When you import images into Lightroom they are not saved within the program. Instead, Lightroom creates a link to the original image’s location (usually [pictures] -> [year] -> [date that the image was created] ). If you look at the screenshot on the right you can see a view of how Lightroom is pulling in my images. Nearly all of the photos are being pulled in (linked from) my pictures folder. The desktop images are coming from the Digital Scrapbooking folder from the video you’ll see down the page. The folders with question marks are old folders that at one time had images linked from them but are no longer being used by Lightroom. At the bottom you can see some external hard drives, these are left over reminders from some image editing projects I did for other people.
Once an image is imported into Lightroom you can then organize these images into “collections”. I am notoriously bad about calling these collections “albums”, because I think of them as a photo album, since that’s essentially what they are.
If you look at the left side of the screen when you’re in the library you’ll see a little “+” sign next to collections. Click on that to create a collection set or collection. A collection set is like a bin to store a series of collections. I use collection sets to organize my albums by year, but I also make collection sets to organize again by season. You can not drag an image into a collection set, but if you click on a collection set you will see all the images from the collections housed inside.
Want to add to a collection? Simply select one or more images from the “all photographs” view, select the image or images you want to move and drag them into a collection. You’ll see a little “+” icon appear when you’ve dragged them onto the collection name. Just remember, you can only put images into a collection, not a collection set. In case you’re wondering what that Navigator thing is, it’s just showing the image that is currently selected- which happens to be Teddy, the cutest wheaten terrier ever (no bias).
Importing your photos
A little backwards, but now that you know how the organization works it’s worth pointing out some options that appear when you import images into your Lightroom catalog.
If you click the import button you’ll see an option to import photos from your hard drive. Importing images from your hard drive is your way of telling Lightroom how to make that image link described at the beginning. When you’re importing from the hard drive you’ll notice that the default option at the top is “Add”, this is because you are adding the images to the Lightroom catalog, you don’t need to make another copy on your computer.
Once you’ve been using Lightroom a while you’ll always end up selecting “Copy”, because you need to make a copy of those images you’re pulling in from your camera card and saving them to your hard drive. I show you some of the other import options available at this stage, but mostly you just need to remember to let Lightroom save these images in your standard pictures folder unless you have a compelling reason not to (and if you have a compelling reason not to you’re a Lightroom expert who really shouldn’t have made it this far in my post).
Lightroom virtual copy
In my video tutorial I brush past a little tip about making a virtual copy. Lightroom is fabulous in that your original image is never touched, the software is simply showing you a preview of what the image would look like if you applied the proposed editing tasks selected. You can have a lot of fun playing without fear of destroying the original, and the virtual copy lets you go a few different directions.
With a photo selected, go to “Photo” then “Create Virtual Copy”. I usually use this to create a color and black and white version, shown side by side below. Clicking on both versions and then selecting the “X/Y” view option is how I brought up the screen below.
Understanding Lightroom’s File Structure
Since a video makes this topic so much easier to understand, check out my YouTube tutorial below. Be sure to “like” it or share the link with others if you find it helpful.