Improve your Lightroom Workflow

9 mins read

I have been using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for over three years, the more I use it the more great features and tools I discover. Lightroom not only manages my photo library it powers my photography processing and publishes and prints my work to a range of platforms. Recently I decided to review my use of Adobe Lightroom over the previous twelve months to investigate both the learning points and more importantly the areas for improvement.

1. Actively Manage your Photos Assets

This year I had the tragic misfortune of importing images to my Lightroom catalogue that “suddenly” disappeared. This wasn’t a software glitch or crash but in a moment of madness I left the images on the media on which they were stored and this disk subsequently reformatted. lightroom foldersFrom that point onwards I decided to strictly check each import session to ensure the photos were being placed in the correct folder and that folder is not only kept tidy but also remains part of the backup routine.

Fortunately if you do find a stray folder Lightroom makes it easy to reorganise your assets, if you find images are not where they should be you can drag the folder to the correct location and Lightroom does the rest. You can see in the screenshot I have had another sloppy import session and 20 images reside in a folder in my main Mac HD that isn’t part of my photographic backup routine and worse, the ‘?’ tells me that folder is now missing, thankfully I had followed the advice in Tip 5 for the most important captures.

2. Backup your Presets

The more you use Lightroom for processing photographs the more developer Presets you will create or collect from other photographers (see our Free Lightroom Presets Post). Although you can store presets with your catalogue this isn’t a great help if you run multiple libraries. Remember to backup your presets regularly. lightroom library On a Mac developer presets are stored in the Library/application_support /Adobe/Lightroom/ folder. Remember you need to back up every folder with the word ‘preset’ I initially backed up the ‘developer presets’ and lost a number of brush presets that I had come to rely on.

3. Add Meta when you Import

When I started out using Lightroom I tended rushed the import process, I added general keywords such as location or camera used but I wasn’t specific, I never added titles, copyright or definitive keywords. As my catalogue grew finding photographs became particularly difficult and when I started publishing to flickr and 500px directly from LR I had to manually start adding the meta detail. Adding the specific keywords as I import means I can find locations, people and events with greater speed and accuracy.

4. Create a Backup Routine

If you were to lose your computer tomorrow how much of the data can you replace? if you are like me probably most of apps can be reinstalled and most of the documents at very worst can be recreated, photos can’t be replaced. For this reason I’ve created a strict backup procedure. I store my LR catalogue and photographs on a GDrive external drive. This drive is then backed up via Time Machine to an 2GB GDrive drive. This means if I am away I can take the main photo drive with me as off site backup. Every few months I also copy the contents of the photography drive over to a second external that is stored off site.

5. Publish your Processed Images to a Harddrive

If you do a bit of post production in the Developer module and share your work on Flickr or Facebook you are most likely not going to publish the full resolution version. I publish my photos at 1200px (long side) at 72dpi. As a precaution I now publish a full quality processed version of each image to a folder on my hard drive to protect against missing masters or missing presets at a later date.

6. Reject bad or duplicate Photos at Import

The Editing process is an art in its own right. Deciding what photos to keep or delete is often a difficult challenge. If a photo doesn’t instantly grab you when it is imported it most likely won’t interest you in a years time. I find when I look back at my 2009, 2010 photos I have half a dozen versions of the same subject that really shouldn’t have been retained. Selecting the 1-2 best images and deleting the rest will not only help save valuable disk space but also create a refined quality catalogue.

7. Review your Library Regularly

It is definitely worth taking a fresh look at your photo library. Sometimes the B-side photos that didn’t make their way to being published can actually show some merit. One such photo is this image taken with the Fuji X100, it was a quick snap and was published for 4 months after it was captured.

In two days it was on flickr explore and in my top 5 favourited images of all times with in a week. You can view it large on flickr by clicking it.

8. Rate your images

Finding the best images from a library of 4000 images six months after they were taken can be daunting challenge. By taping the numbers 1-5 on your keyboard as you preview your images offers a great way to filter the great from the good. Add the X key to reject an image altogether. Use the Photo menu to delete rejected images from your library and the filter option to view just your 4-5 star photos.

9. Optimise your Catalogue Regularly

If you find that Lightroom doesn’t seem as responsive as it once was or it taking 20-30 seconds to load rather than 5-10 it is time to optimise you catalogue (via the File menu). Optimisation can taken 2-3 minutes but close Lightroom and re-open your catalogue to witness a noticeable difference in speed.

10. Learn the Shortcuts

I am really only scraping the surface of Adobe Lightroom. I have worked out my little workflows, processes and actions but it is amazing how you can speed up your workflows by using the keyboard shortcuts. Adobe have produced a full list that I have printed and store beside my computer for easy reference. Download the PDF here.

And Finally……

I currently run two catalogues. One to cater for the current calendar year’s photographs and one master archive library. At the end of each calendar year I import the annual catalogue into the master moving the images to be with the archive library. lightroom import The process is 3 clicks in Lightroom but can take two to three hours to move the images as I shoot 100% RAW. I haven’t included this as a tip as I am not sure this is the best photo management practice, I would be interested to hear how others manage their catalogues.


David is a documentary and landscape photographer covering everything from dramatic long exposure landscape photography through to live music. David is a former Official Fujifilm X Photographer.


  1. Good advises excluding #6 delete photos. Deleting photos takes extra time and my time is more valuable than the cheap storage space.

    Just by rating the better images I can easily hide the “bad ones” but still have an option to see them later. You don’t know today what will be valuable in the future. Several photographers deleted their photos of Monica Lewinsky with Bill Clinton when she was still a nobody. An amateur photographer was able to sell the shot just because (s)he had it!

  2. I keep only the current year’s photos on my laptop and the rest are on a minimum of 3 ext. drives. I just moved 2011’s photos from the laptop to external (though I had at least half of the year already elsewhere too). The scary part is removing a whole year from the laptop. I only use the one catalogue, though I would look into using two and would be interested in a guide on how you do it and manage using two.

  3. Phil, I’ve read of photographers advising of just one catalogue but I run two. The main catalogue is the current year’s photos then at the end of year I open my archive catalogue and use the import catalogue option to merge the two together. I probably should just use one but I find it slows my machine down 🙁

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