15 Tips for Image Management Success in Lightroom 5


As a photographer, you’ve probably found that the world of digital photography has opened up tremendous opportunities, but has perhaps also caused you to accumulate many more photographic images than you ever thought possible. You may also feel that you prefer to focus on the creative side of photography, rather than the technical aspects of keeping your images organized.

OK, let’s face it. There are some challenges in creating (and following) an image-management workflow that will help ensure you can always find the image you need when you need it. But Tim Grey has some great tips that will help you keep your photos organized and safe.

In this session, Grey counts down his top 15 tips for image-management success in Lightroom. Whether you’ve been using Lightroom for years or you are considering adopting this powerful software in your own workflow, you’ll find some great tips you can put to use right away. And perhaps, more importantly, you’ll gain confidence that you can, indeed, achieve image-management success in Lightroom 5! 


Tim Grey is regarded as one of the top educators in digital photography and imaging, offering clear guidance on complex subjects through his writing and speaking. He has written more than a dozen books on digital imaging for photographers, including the best-selling Real World Digital Photography and Color Confidence. With the help of video2brain, he has produced several dozen video training titles on a wide variety of subjects. Grey has also had hundreds of articles published in magazines, such as Digital Photo Pro, Outdoor Photographer, and others. He publishes the free daily "Ask Tim Grey" email newsletter, as well as the Pixology monthly electronic magazine. Grey teaches through workshops, seminars, and appearances at major events around the world. For more information about his work, click here.



I haven't yet used Lghtroom, but from watching the presentation, it seems you are somewhat tied to the past and not completely trusting Lightroom to do the heavy lifting for you.  I think too much time in your presentation was spent on folder and file naming, when these shouldn't matter much if you trust Lightroom to do what it is designed to do.

In my opinion, if one is to use Lightroom and other products which rely on sidecar files, it is fairly critical to hand over most of the photo file management to the software.  Spending time on creative names for folders or individual files seems counterproductive.  Instead, spend more time with thoughtful keywords, tags, descriptions etc either in the EIXF part of the file or (again if you trust Lightroom, trust it all the way) in the Lightroom metadata sidecar files (and presumably it's separate datbase with this information indexed and searchable).

Relating to renaming of individual files ... This is safe to do on initial import, but once metadata or edits have been applied, then renaming could be problematic if not done just the way Adobe expects, as the link between the image file and the sidecar file could get broken.

Also realted to file renaming ... I like to have offline copies of my original digital files.  Any renaming of files after the archiving makes going back and retrieving the originals more difficult should the working/production file become corrupted.   In my opinion, all of the conserns you raise with regard to file and folder naming, while completely valid, are better addressed using the file metadata and lightroom database's search capabilities.

BTW  ... with Windows 7 and later, the EXIF data can be modified and the operating system can search on the metadata internal to the image file. 

Anyway, while I'm sure you have your system well under control, it might be less confusing for general users if you would de-emphasize the file/folder naming in your discussion.  I fear too many in your audience will spend unnecessary time and effort thinking about file and folder names -- when essentially all of the concerns you raise in regard to file/folder names become moot when lightroom is relied upon for cataloging and locating individual or groups of photographs.


If I understand you, I agree with your critique.  In light of that I'm hoping you have a patience for a novice's question:  

I'm at the early stage of photo management. I haven't committed to any application or approach, but I have had several problematic starts and here's what I've come to:    I'm thinking the best way to manage a lot of pics, increasing daily from multiple sources (phones, cameras, screenshots, etc) is to keep the original files with the original names (dates, and maybe locations, really) all in one folder, which is easy to back up of course.  And then to use an application to Tag them, as I think you're suggesting.  I am hoping it is possible to create multiple tags for each pic, and then for the application to sort them efficiently.  

It's critical of course that I can create my own Tag names, and that the Tagging process is really easy, like a drag & drop or a 2-finger click drop-down menu on a Mac.

If this makes sense, could you recommend an application to try out?  Thanks a million!

Hey Jed,

I am jumping in here in case Stan is long gone as he posted his comment 6 months ago.

Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to your question as it is really up to you how to proceed and you will come across a lot of folks in the Interweb who think their system is the best. The best file naming/folder structure is the one that works best for you.

Personally, I would not spend time re-naming files as that can become a tedious process. In LR, the default management is to organize by date. That works unless you want to structure folders manually. I do folders as some photo projects span different days, months, and even years.

When you move your images into the Lightroom catalog, you can let LR sort them for you, or just pour them into one (or more file folders). Once they are in the catalog, you can tag, sort, edit, ect. easily.

As another alternative, check out Mylio. I just did a review of the software here.

I hope this answers your question. Thanks for stopping by the B&H blog! I am standing by for follow-ups!

Tim, thank you for the comprehensive video! I am unfortunate to have multiple catalogs and I want to consolidate them into one master catalog.  I have few related questions:

1. Once I consolidate two catalogs as you described, will the unwanted catalog disappear, or I need to deliberately delete it? How do I know if the merge was successful and I did not miss and photos?

2. I have number of old versions of LR on my HDD; should I simply delete these, do I need to do something special before I delete them, or I need to keep them?  

Thank you for your help with this traumatic process! 


This is how Lightroom works when you install a new version: It doesn’t take your old catalog and “convert” it. It actually makes a copy of the old catalog and upgrades it to Lightroom 5. The old Lightroom 4 catalog is actually intact just as it always was. If you had a copy of Lightroom 4, you could still open it and use it like you always did. So the answer would be that once you’ve upgraded to Lightroom 5 and you’re happy with everything, yes, you could go ahead and delete the older catalogs. Unless you plan on reverting back to Lightroom 4, you’ll never use it.

To remove catalogs in Menu Lightroom>Catalog Settings. In Catalog Settings Menu open General and click-on "Show." The folders containing the Catalogs appear and drag those to be deleted to the Trash.

What is the best way to keep backups of pictures as well as my mac pro unclogged?

What external hard drive do you recommend? Is there a difference between a portable hard drive and a powered one as far as reliability and longevity ?

Thank you



I worked in the IT industry for 35 years and personally observed two failed hard drives, none since the 90s. Based on my experience, three drives for copies is excessive. Note: Your Mileage May Vary. My opinion is grounded in long experience but is just that -- my opinion. That being said, my import to LR includes making a second copy to an external, bus-powered USB hard drive. That's my 'if all else fails' copy. If I were really paranoid, I'd buy some cloud storage and place another copy there; that would actually be the ideal as conceptually, cloud storage will "never fail." My backup of my iMac takes care of backing up the pix on my hard drive on a scheduled basis. My LR is also set up to create a backup of the catalog, once a day, to a different external drive, just in case. If you need to buy an external drive, just take a look at the product reviews on any reputable on-line store like B&H, Amazon, Buy.com and so on. I feel comfortable that I'm not going to lose any source files or post-processed files. 

Both a desktop or portable drive would be ok. The desktop drive is physically larger and is used for larger storage needs. This drive requires its own power source. This doesn't necessarily mean you can't pick up these drives and take them with you. They are larger and more cumbersome. They are ideal for leaving on your desk at home or work. A portable drive has a smaller profile and uses a smaller physical drive. It is bus-powered and doesn't require an outside power source. Since the drive is smaller (2.5 inches instead of 3.5 inches), portable drives will have smaller storage capacities than the Desktop Drives. But they are also small enough and are designed to be thrown in your laptop bag or backpack and take with you.  A desktop drive I recommend is the LaCie 3TB d2 USB 3.0 Professional Desktop Storage Drive. It has a 7200 rpm drive designed to support the browsing and transferring of large RAW files, video files, and much more. When the drive is not in use it spins down automatically for reduced power consumption. I also recommend to choose "Add a Second Copy" to another external drive which will guarantee you having the file stored on two separate drives incase 1 drive fails. Another method for storing the file on two seperate drives is a RAID 1 desktop storage. This is an enclosure with two separate drives. A RAID 1 configuration will mirror the back-up, so files are saved on both drives. If one drive fails, you still have the files on the second drive. The WD 6TB My Book Duo External RAID Storage would be a total of 3TB back-up in a RAID 1 configuration.

RAID 1 is mirroring. If you have two 6TB drives (as I have) you have 6TB storage. RAID 0 would be concatination where two 6TB drives would provide 12TB storage (all numbers are raw storage not taking into account OS overhead). Please note that RAID is not for backup it is for performance/fault tollerance. The highter RAID designations, such as RAID 5 and RAID 6 stripe information across spindles to provide large storage pools with fault tollerance.

I am a retired system administrator with 20+ years of storage/disk experience. The most unreliable component of large scale computing systems are hard drives. I have had USB drives used as "backups" where data are copied to them and they sit on the shelf. More times than you would expect the USB drive failed to spin up losing the data. I have had RAID 5 systems with multiple disk failures on systems that were completely power cycled (shut all the way down then restarted)  I have had multiple TB disk arrays (the average disk array on this system was 46TB) fail due to power surges in the enclosure powere supply and entire palets of drives come in with low level  bad sectors. (The system I was managing consisted of 56 servers with 5 Pentabytes of formated storage)

I have been told by a Computer Expert to download all your Photos to at least 3 different brands of Portable Hard Drives just in case one crashes as I had to spend $560 australia dollars to recover all my Photos.

My LR is a total disaster.  Is there anyway I can start over?  I want to save all my pictures but I started using LR before I really understood it so I would like to start fresh.  Any help would be appreciated.

Do not  discard your current catalog. You will want to use it since one catalog for your photos is recommended and is normally the best way to go. Also, if you re-import your photos into Lightroom, you will lose your development history and other things (and potentially lose your edits as well). Plus, all that effort renaming folders and files would much better be spent adding keywords to your images. This is because keywording is far more flexible than organizing your images in a folder structure. An image can contain any number of keywords, but it can only be in one folder. For all of your new imports, just use a simple date folder structure, since LR will do that for you. Assign keywords and metadata on the new imports and add them to your existing catalog. You can even add additional metadata as needed after import.
As time permits, go back and assign metadata and keywords to your old photos. The goal is to have valid keywords and metadata on all your photos, in one catalog, and at that point, you can use keywords and metadata to search for any photo(s) you want. With keywords, even collections can become ad hoc, temporary things that you build based on keywords and which you can delete when it is no longer needed.