10 Things I Would Tell New Lightroom Users: #1

Hi gang: I’m starting a 10-part series here today where I share some basic advice I would give to new users on how to make their Lightroom life easier. Tip of the hat to my buddy Rob Sylvan who inspired me to write my first version of this concept on my blog back in 2009.

SADLY NECESSARY DISCLAIMER: This series is NOT for more advanced users, it’s for new users, so if you’re an advanced user reading this, it will only make you mad because you probably do things very differently than I’m going to suggest. The way you’re doing stuff probably works great for you, and I’m not trying to convince you to change. As I travel around on my tour, and talk one-on-one to literally thousands of Lightroom users, I hear the same problems, the same challenges and the same frustrations again and again, and so my advice is for those very folks struggling with these issues. If I can help them along their path, and help them dig themselves out of a hole, or something that’s got them really frustrated, then I’m thrilled. As they become more advanced, they’ll develop their own workflows, just like you have.

There’s no possible way I’ll write even one of these where some people won’t disagree with some part of it on some level, and that’s OK — if you disagree, you should definitely write a blog post about it. Other disclaimer stuff: Known side effects include: drowsiness, abdominal or stomach pain, changes in behavior, dry mouth, fainting, cramping, and hearing loss. Please note that this material is provided to you for informational purposes only and should not be viewed as investment, tax, legal or other advice. This ride includes sudden and dramatic acceleration, climbing, tilting and dropping. Although we have taken reasonable precautions to ensure no viruses are present in this blog post, the company cannot accept responsibility for any loss or damage arising from reading this post or viewing screen captures with scary sharks. Por favor, manténgase alejado de las puertas!

Now, on to the first in my 10-part series:

#1: Use Collections — Not Folders

When I meet someone who has a totally messed up Lightroom life, more often than not they tell me how they use Folders in the Folders Panel for organizing, sorting and working with their images. Ack!

The Folders panel is where folders full of the original photos you imported from a particular shoot are stored, and if you mess around in the Folders panel, it won’t be long before you get burned (you’ll delete something you didn’t mean to, or move something you can’t find, or break links to all kinds of stuff — it’s the most dangerous place in Lightroom until you really know what you’re doing). It’s where we keep our originals — stuff we don’t want to accidentally erase or move — not the stuff we work with day in/day out. It’s kind of like our negatives from back in the film days. We kept them out of sight, tucked away some place safe, and we didn’t mess with them. We kept them in case we got in a bind — we could always go back and make more prints from the negs. I think of the Folders panel the same way. I just don’t go there unless it’s an emergency (i.e. I deleted something I really need to get back).

School of sharks circling from above

Now, exactly what is in that folder of images you just imported into Lightroom? Well, it’s all your good photos from that shoot, all your bad photos from that shoot, it’s everything—the whole ball of wax. But once we import photos into Lightroom, what do we really care about? Just the good ones. They’re the only ones we show anybody right? Right! (well, hopefully). The rest are just a folder full of “the ones we didn’t like.” So, once you import photos from a shoot, I recommend that you look through them; tag any good ones you might want to print or share (using flags, star ratings, color labels, whatever you like), and put those tagged “Keepers” in a Collection  and don’t mess with that Folder (in the Folders panel) again. Especially since now all your good photos from that shoot are just one click away — you just click on that Collection called “Italy Picks” or “Italy Keepers” or “Best of Italy” and there are your good shots from Italy (provided of course, that you actually went to Italy). If you delete something from a collection — your originals are still safe. If you move something out of your collection — your originals are still safe. If you go to Italy, your originals are still safe.

So, where are all your bad photos located? The photos you didn’t like? Why they’re still in the Folders panel. How often do you find yourself looking for “bad photos?” Not too often, eh? That’s great because I’d recommend that you stay out of the Folders panel altogether until, once again, you really know your way around Lightroom. If it’s too tempting for you — right-click just to the left of the “Folders” title at the top of the panel and from the pop-up menu uncheck “Folders” and then it’ll be hidden from view (just remember how to make it visible again ).

Q. Scott, how often do you go to your Folders panel?
A. Hardly ever. Once a month at best. Maybe less. I rarely need to look at the photos I didn’t like in the first place.

Collections are safe, and will keep most users out of trouble. See how happy this woman is below? You could be that happy, using Collections.

happy and smiling girl with a smile painted on paper

Hope you found that helpful.

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Have a great day everybody! See you here tomorrow for #2 🙂