Getting to work with Adobe Lightroom, Part 1

Maple leaf on red rock, Zion National Park

Maple leaf on red rock, Zion National Park (Canon G9, raw file interpreted in Adobe Lightroom)

For almost two weeks, I have been toiling away with exploring Adobe Lightroom. I have accomplished a few actual tasks with it, like opening RAW files from the G9, like the one above, but mostly I have been studying the software, and planning/prepping for the big task ahead.

My goal is to keyword ALL of my digital files by the end of the year. Using other functionalities of Lightroom to speed up my workflow would be a bonus, but aren’t the motivation for this project.

First, think “diasporal” to describe the Lightroom documentation, and I mean what’s on the web and in print, officially from Adobe, and from third parties. The upgrade from 1.0 to 1.1 rendered much of the third party books obsolete. As an example, Martin Evening’s book, the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Book, includes a free 177 page PDF download from the publisher. What you get is an unwieldy on-line-only appendix of material that really should be integrated into the main text. It’s an embarrassment, as if Adobe surprised all the publishers with an upgrade while the 1.0 books were still on the press. And that’s an official Adobe Press imprint!

The web is in a similar shambles, as the information in the forums and reviews can refer to any one of FIVE versions (betas, 1.0, 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3) of Lightroom that have appeared in the last two years. Maybe more than five, if you count all the betas. Not to be too harsh: the basic information is out there. The installation instructions were Mac simple and the process was lighting-quick.

A Best Practices Strategy

What’s missing anywhere is a “best practices” strategy of how to get Lightroom to up and running for a photographer with an extensive catalog distributed over several drives, a mish-mash of keywording legacy that needs to be redone, and a desire to get it organized properly. Over the next weeks and months, I will describe my approach to integrating Lightroom into my workflow. I can’t promise that they will be the best practices, but I will set out my thoughts and experiences as I work my way through this project.

I installed Lightroom on the 9th of January; while I was reading the documentation and working my way through the menus, I had some prep work to do. I plan to import all of my image files created prior to 1 January 2008* from their existing locations. So I had some file management to do, copying files to their proper drives, separating them into named folders, making DVD back-ups. That took much of the last two weeks.

In the meantime, I realized that I have to make three decisions:

  • Am I going to convert my Nikon and Canon proprietary files to DNG format at this time?
  • Do I want to retain my existing folder structure?
  • What should my keyword hierarchy look like?
  • NEF/CR2 or DNG?

    I have been fretting for a while about the support for legacy Nikon and Canon RAW files by Adobe Camera Raw. Now would seem like a good time to finally convert those files to DNGs, or so I thought. The DNG format records the keywords and other metadata in the file, rather than as a sidecar. That sounds great, until I ponder the process of backing up my DNGs after I finish the keywording project. Every DNG would have to be backed up all over again, if I wanted to have an up-to-date back-up. That’s a lot of DVDs for 500 GB, and a lot of time burning them. I am confident that I can figure a way to back-up all of the sidecar files way more efficiently, to perhaps one or two DVDs per year. In fact, I could probably script it so that I get a weekly/monthly/whatever back-up of just the .xmp files.

    The kicker was the discovery that once converted to DNG, my Nikon files won’t retain their special status in Nikon Capture. I don’t use Capture now, but I don’t want to cut off the option completely just yet. Obviously, I could do a DNG conversion of everything, back it up separately, and have both. I probably will do that in the future, when something like Blu-Ray writable drives makes the back-ups less daunting. I ultimately decided that if I started down the DNG path today, I would lose focus on what I really want to get done.

    Files in Folders

    Once I decided I was keeping my files in their existing formats, I looked at my folder structure. I imagine it’s possible to import all of one’s files from a single folder, but try unscrambling that in the future. I don’t have anything to change here-I’m confident that my existing method will continue to work in the context of Lightroom. Since I first started using the D70 in 2004, I have archived my RAW files like this:

    Mac screenshot photography folder organization

    Screenshot of my 2006-2007 drive’s top-level directory

    Formatting the date as forces a chronological sorting. The text refers to location or event, generally meaningful to me. It’s simple. It’s consistent. It has worked well for the last 3 years. I can’t think of a reason to change it.

    I keep my edited files in another folder, on a completely different drive. Segmenting them as completed tasks vs raw fodder has worked well for me, your mileage may differ. I will import the PSDs into Lightroom later, after I get the RAW files finished.


    Two decisions down. In my next Lightroom post, I’ll share my approach for setting up my keyword hierarchy.

    *I’ll decide whether to import directly from my chips into Lightroom as I gain more experience, but I likely will continue to copy them from the chip using the Finder, then use the “import from disk” method in Lightroom. But I need to buy another archival drive for 2008, so that issue is on hold right now. January’s files are in a temporary directory until I sort it out.

    Getting to work with Adobe Lightroom, Part 2 and Part 3

    Part 4 added 27 April 2008


    1. Jimmy

      Hi. I’ve been doing the same thing and the first piece of the process is particularly daunting… That of importing my photos. You’ve decided to go with the import from current location, but I decided to dive in and used import by moving all the files. Now they are in folders that look like 2005/2005-11-24. Hopefully, that’ll make it easier to navigate and use. Keep this up and let us know of your progress!

    2. Ann!
      Thank you so much. This will be intensely watched I am sure as I fought a couple of months ago with Lightroom for several hours in the evenings to try and figure out just how to integrate Lightroom into my workflow with many, many photographs stored in separate places. Questions I had include: Do I have to store all my images in one place meaning more hard drive purchases? Also, since I store my images in explicitly date driven folders like you, how do I manage that in Lightroom?
      I’ll be looking forward to your updates as I try and decide whether Lightroom is for me or not.