Lightroom – Basic Setup

Also see: Export setup from LrC to Picter

This guide is designed for Adobe Lightroom versions CC 2015 and up, specifically for Lightroom Classic CC
Pradip Malde – August 2020

Lightroom Classic (not Lightroom, which is a ‘light’ version and only cloud-based)

The following instructions will guide you through a basic setup for Lightroom Classic (LrC).

LrC 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. LrC bases all of its activity through a special file called a catalogue.  A LrC 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 LrC to carry out on the image (e.g. crop, rotate, color adjustments). It is important to note that the LrC catalogue is like an intermediary between the user and the images. All activity using LrC 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 LrC catalogue must be maintained. Any changes to image location should only be done through the LrC interface and not the Finder or Desktop.

This guide does not go into the details of the LrC environment. If sustained, this setup will establish a hassle-free workflow and environment. The guidelines stress that

  • all images used by LrC are kept in one core folder  (which may have any number of other folders in it),
  • that the LrC catalogue and its related files are kept in another core folder dedicated to just these and nothing else, and
  • that these two core folders are kept at the same directory level, and within one master folder.

This approach not only creates 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 LrC for web distribution, may also be stored and conveniently accessed from the master folder.

Finally, it is vital that all LrC 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 LrC master folder. Also, if the user expects to work with LrC across more than one computer, then the LrC master folder is best setup on a portable external drive. If the LrC master folder is being created on an internal hard drive, then plan to always have at least 30% of free internal disk space available. Otherwise, expect the computer to function at a less than optimal level.

The following steps refer to a MacOS environment but can easily be mapped to other operating systems. The setup should be carried out at the top level of the external drive or, if working on the main internal drive, at the top level of the user’s Documents folder.
If you have LrC running, Quit it. It may also help to go ahead and quit any other programs.

Master Catalogue Setup

We are now going to create a new master catalogue in LrC.

REMINDER: We are only working with Lightroom Classic (LrC), not Lightroom (which is a cloud based service).
1. Connect a properly formatted and named external drive. Ideally, this is a blank drive and dedicated to your LrC catalogue and storing all master image files.
2. Locate the LrC startup icon. While keeping the Option/Alt key pressed, startup LrC. Release the Option/Alt key when a window opens called Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Classic.
3. Click Create a New Catalog…
4. In the next window, Create Folder with New Catalog,
for Save As:, enter a unique name followed by”_LR” (e.g. “pmalde_LR”).
5. In the left column (if you don’t see this, click the drop down arrow), locate the external drive (Important!), and only click on its icon, i.e. the top level of its directory, and not another folder inside it.
6. Click Create.
7. LrC will take a few moments to create a new catalogue.
8. Quit LrC.
9. From the Finder, go to the external drive. There will be a new folder named according to what you did in step 4 (e.g. “pmalde_LR”). We refer to this as your Lightroom Catalogue folder. At this same level, i.e. beside this folder, create two more folders: “MASTER_IMAGES”, and “EXPORTS”. 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. You may want to color code each of these folders. I do this to clearly identify important items that should not be modified or moved without careful consideration. To do this, control-click on a folder > Label… and select color.
10. Inside your Lightroom Catalogue folder, you will see a file ending in “.lrcat” (e.g. “pmalde_LR.lrcat”. From this point on, always startup LrC by double-clicking on this file, not on the LrC application icon.

Basic Preferences Setup

You are now going to fine-tune some of Lightroom’s preferences.
1. Go to menu Lightroom Classic > Preferences
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 called “Settings” inside you Lightroom Catalogue > Lightroom Settings folder. Jump back to LrC. Close the Preference pane.

2. Go to menu Lightroom Classic > Catalogue Settings in the lower right corner of the pane, select General > Backup > Back up catalogue: Every time Lightroom exits. Close the pane.

Import and Organize Setup

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

  1. In LrC > File > Import Photos and Videos…
    In the left-hand column of the import panel, select a source (a camera memory card or folder in the Finder), then select ‘include subfolders’
    Expand the ‘Source’ arrow if it is not already showing the folder structure of your computer. Upon selecting the source folder(s), you should promptly see thumbnails of all the image files in this folder. They are also all checked by default. Select all, uncheck all, then check about five to ten images for this initial import, for the sake of expediency.

2. In the upper middle section of the import panel, select Copy [which will copy photos to a new location and add to catalog].

3. In the right-hand column of the import panel > File Renaming,
check Rename Files

Select Template: Custom Settings > Date-Filename select Edit…,  and setup the renaming prefix to YYYYMMDD_filename

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.

Still in the right-hand column of the import panel > Destination,
Do not check ‘Into Subfolder’
Organize: By date
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.

Then, in the section below, navigate to and select your external drive > MASTER_IMAGES. 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.

Review the entire process in step 7 before going any further.

You will be taking the contents of the source card or folder(s) and copying them to the MASTER_IMAGES folder in your external drive.

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 to Photographs by date’ (or something similar if you wish to change it – but again, be sensible with naming.) Click Create.

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.

For future imports, and once you are certain that your workflow is functioning as you need, simply go the Import panel, select the preset, check that the following selections are in place:

  • Source
  • Move
  • Destination is YOUR MASTER_IMAGES folder in the external drive, and organized by year/year-month/year-month-day


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