Lightroom Tips

4 Signs That it's Time to Start From Scratch In Lightroom

It’s inevitable. Every time I teach a seminar or workshop I have some one approach me with a catalog problem. It’s usually gotten so bad for them that they’ve sworn off Lightroom by this point because of it. Unfortunately, my advice isn’t something they want to hear but it’s really the best advice I can give them – Start from scratch in Lightroom. Sometimes it’s just more work to try to go back and fix things. That being said, here’s 4 signs that it may be time for you to start from scratch in Lightroom. Before you get mad at me though, I’ve also included links to videos that I’ve done over the past couple of years that talk more about organization and catalog management in Lightroom. They also talk about how to move photos into other catalogs so starting from scratch isn’t really starting from scratch – you’ll still get to save your settings. So I’m not just telling you to start from scratch but hopefully leaving you with a little bit of information on how to make your Lightroom life easier.

4 signs it’s time to start from scratch:
1. You started using Lightroom and just started importing your photos from all over your computer and external hard drives (basically where ever you could find them at the time). You were excited right? I don’t blame ya. But there was no real organization to the process and now its a mess – you feel like you’re constantly seeing little question marks telling you the file can’t be found and you have no idea where your photos really are.

2. You eventually got the hang of this “catalog” thing but only after you’d imported thousands of photos in haphazard ways. So now your catalog is half organized and half chaos. Almost like #1 above but not quite as bad – but still bad.

3. You started using Lightroom 2 and created a new catalog to import your photos into because you were afraid to commit and upgrade your catalog at the time. But eventually you upgraded your Lightroom 1 catalog to Lightroom 2. Now you have 2 catalogs and don’t really know why or which one you like more. All you know is that there’s 2 and you wish there were one.

4. You have 2, 3 or more catalogs in Lightroom because some one told you to create multiple catalogs. Now you hate it and find yourself really only using 1 catalog most of the time but don’t know what to do about the others you created. Or worse yet, you’ve imported photos from those other catalogs into the main one you like so now they’re in two places.
(note: I’m not saying multiple catalogs is a bad thing. I’m only suggesting that having multiple catalogs and not using them them is)

As promised, here are a few videos that talk more about catalogs, and folders, and organization and all that fun stuff:

• Lightroom Folders and Hard Drives

• Moving Between Laptop and Desktop

• Merging Multiple Lightroom Catalogs

• Organizing Photos By Date (and why not to)

• Moving Existing Folders

• Where to store your photos in Lightroom

Finally, do me a favor and leave a comment with your thoughts on the topic. What kind of catalog issues/problems do you have (if any)?



  1. Keith Benoist 2 January, 2015 at 11:44 Reply

    I cannot even find the damn catalogs I want to get rid of so I CAN start over. I’m totally at the mercy of those of you who do this on a day to day basis.

    A larger problem I’m having right now is this. Yesterday I was watching and listening to a video of Lightroom organization and file handling and in the middle of following along (LR 5.7) the File Handling option in the Library Module vanished. It just went away. I cannot get it back. I’ve reinstalled LR 5.7 three times now, rebooted the system three, four times, I can’t keep count, and still, the File Handling option is gone. I am about the uninstall Lightroom and then try to reinstall it and see if that will do the trick. Luckily, I have found my Lightroom purchase agreement and I do have the order # as well as the serial # to prove I’ve paid for it so I won’t have to re-purchase it for future abuse.

    Thanks, I’d love to get some feedback and help from you on this.


  2. susan bokos 28 July, 2012 at 14:06 Reply

    I definitely qualify for starting over….all my photos are organized on an external hard drive. How do I start a new catalogue saving all the keywords etc.?

  3. Fred Williamson 16 July, 2011 at 07:14 Reply

    You are a God sent angel for me. I was pulling out what little bit of hair that have on my head trying to figure out what to do with all the photos hat I have imported in Lightroom 3. I became more disorganized than before I started using lightroom. Thanks to you, I am starting to get a grip on things. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Laura 20 September, 2010 at 10:54 Reply

    I switched from Aperature to Lightroom when I got my new mac (desktop to laotop). I have all my photos stored on an external hard drive and need to know why I can’t see under the “Folders” section Why I can’t see all of the folders that contain my photos on my external hard drive. Do I have to import them from my external hard drive into Lightroom and if I did that wouldn’t that be creating another copy of each photo? Help…

  5. Chris Hill 12 May, 2010 at 09:14 Reply

    I had about 4,000 images in my Lightroom library (categories, total, and collections) for some unknown reason they ALL just disappeared. Including unedited and edited images. How can I get them back?

  6. Matt T. 26 March, 2010 at 20:36 Reply

    I am in roughly the same situation as Abe. Seeing this problem happening, I did get an external drive and have most of my photos on that, which are cataloged in Lightroom.

    Saying that, there are some are my computer that are in Lightroom, some that aren’t, and some that are in iPhoto. ( I know, I know, I should stick to one program, but after we had our first son, we just got carried away importing pics).

    I just want them all in one place. Again, like Abe asked, what is the best course of action for the files that have been processed and archived, as well as those that haven’t as of yet.

    Thank you for your original post and for the help!

    Matt T

  7. Abe 18 March, 2010 at 00:53 Reply

    Ok, so you linked to some videos, yes. But what you didn’t do is give us advice on how to actually START OVER in Lightroom!

    I have over 2,000 photos in LR2, but they are from all over my computer, totally random, no keywords, nothing. If I want to start fresh, what is the best course of action to take? Keep in mind, most of what I want processed is already processed and saved/backed up. Should I just delete the current (and only) catalog and start over?

  8. Roald 3 March, 2010 at 17:08 Reply

    One… or several catalogs (?), If I choose several catalogs – can i search via metadata/keyword “across” all the catalogs ?

    Why convert all to DNG files instead of keeping it as Jpeg or RAW ?

  9. Gary Duncan 15 February, 2010 at 20:40 Reply

    G’day From Australia Scott.

    I travel Australia quite a bit and do my work on Lightroom on a Laptop and I also make “Collections” which I find are easy if I want to add them to a Werbsite, or similar. That way, they are always the same if I have to do them again. So, at the moment I have about a dozen Collections.

    Now, my question is, is there a way to export those Collections from my laptop to my Desktop when I get home, so I don’t have to double up on my work ???


  10. Gary Williams 15 February, 2010 at 00:26 Reply

    I keep one catalog for my entire collection–35,000 photos– and find that being consistent with keywording makes all the difference. I import, converting to DNG, and then assign keywords. It is a little tedious upfront but pays off in the long run. I do create separate catalogs for work assignments to make it easier to archive the results and remove them from my main hard drive.

  11. Candace 11 February, 2010 at 20:03 Reply

    My lightroom is all crazy messed up. Do I put all photos back on 1 drive, and start again. Do I delete original lightroom catalogs and start again? Do I start new catalog and do it correctly and then what?? Can I merge the two catalogs? I have a main 1Tera and two backup libraries ready to go.I lied I think all images are back on main 1 Tera external hard drive, which has no rhyme or reason. Do I upgrade to 3 first or just start with 2.6. I have your book for 2. Is the book still the way? Sorry I am dork?
    Thanks so much

  12. Kathleen D 11 February, 2010 at 09:51 Reply

    I hate the naming of the LR catalogs. It totally confuses me. Sometimes new catalogs re made under old catalog dates which I don’t get at all. I’ve been afraid to rename it thinking I’ll lose it or something. Do I rename it through the finder? If so will LR recognize it when I got to use it again. Will I just have to search for it and load it by the new name?

  13. Richard 11 February, 2010 at 09:29 Reply

    Do you use hardware or software RAID? If you use hardware RAID then check if you have the latest drivers.
    RAID0 is nice for speed but if one of your disks crashes you lost all your data. RAID in general is NOT the same as a backup. Many people still do not understand. So even with RAID, make backups!

    On topic: One disadvantage of using more than one catalog is that you cannot search using meta data for your entire photo collection at once. I have to open every catalog until I find the photo I was looking for. The reason why I’m still using one big catalog.

  14. CHI 10 February, 2010 at 19:27 Reply

    when i delete photos from the disk, it literally takes 30 seconds to a minute to delete 30 .nef files. I dont remember it being like this… It only started doing this in windows 7.

    Is it my catalog or windows 7? I have my hd at Raid 0 for speed.

  15. Gene 10 February, 2010 at 17:31 Reply

    Matt, I have used both methods. The problem for me is that I shoot a lot of family type photographs. It became a problem for me to locate a particular photo by family name when more than one individual was in the shot especially with respect to surname. Therefore, I adopted a semi-date method of categorizing folders and if I have a single event, I can add it alongside the date. The date method also allows me to decide when I should archive the folder because, as you know, archiving does not exist as a function within LR. Additionally, I am scanning old photos into digital copies for which metadata does not exist. This lends itself better to a dated folder than by subject or event. I add a simple metadata file to the scanned files with respect to location and approximate year but camera data does not exist. I would prefer your method but I cannot isolate the family type shoot especially when so many are home shots where only the date on the folder is unique. That is why I use the date method though it is often coupled with event data if it was a special event.

  16. DJ 10 February, 2010 at 10:54 Reply


    Try putting your catalog file on the same hard disk as your photos. Then the drive designators will not be a problem anymore for Lightroom..

  17. Atte Rissanen 10 February, 2010 at 08:37 Reply


    Well i looked at the folder organising by date video, and i noticed you use folder structure as “Photos” -> “Shoot Names” …

    well how do u backup your photos???

    iam currenty using “Photos” -> “DVD1” -> “Names type of structure so its easy to just open up dvd burning software and backup my photos since the folders are made the size to fit to a single dvd-r.

    or would there be an easier way to do it? if you have one let me know 🙂


  18. Victor 10 February, 2010 at 06:04 Reply

    I use my laptop as my prime computer (whether on the road or at home, and have two main external drives that I use, one for my current catalog / photos, and one for back up).

    If I travel, I usually use the hard disk to capture the photos, and then export as catalog / import as catalog when I return to get them into my main catalog / hard disk. From watching the videos, sounds like I could short circuit that by simply moving them within lightroom.

    However my problem is not this, but rather the fact that my pc very regularly seems to lose the link to the underlying photos. I have become very expert in re-locating missing photos. Hard to see a precise cause, but what I think is happening is that from time to time the pc is getting confused and reversing the drive designators (g: or f:) for the two hard drives when I reconnect. This then confuses Lightroom which can’t find the files.

    Not a huge problem, but very frustrating. Any one got any ideas.

  19. Ken Z 10 February, 2010 at 04:50 Reply

    Hi Scott — maybe this post will not make it or I will start getting hate mail — but here goes!

    Starting over related question. Apple just released Aperture 3, looks like major strides and it is 64bit like LR. I am interested in taking another look at it, but how would you suggest (if I do decided to move to Aperture) getting my LR library over to Aperture?

    Aperture has two highly valued features (books and integration into OSX) that I sorely miss with LR. However, with all of my tweaks in LR, I would not want to lose my work on my photos if I were to move to Aperture.

  20. Stephen 10 February, 2010 at 01:21 Reply

    @Paige, I use a folder structure and all the other LR features. At the end of the day I can jump onto a computer without LR and go straight to the images I want. That is kinda hard to do if all you have is a bunch of dates looking at you from the screen.

  21. Marcy 9 February, 2010 at 22:56 Reply

    I was busily searching through your blog just last week trying to find all the information I could on this subject. I definitely had a mess of things and couldn’t wrap my head about where to begin. Finally, I started over and it was much easier than trying to untangle the mess I had. Now I know where to look if I find myself in a similar situation down the road.
    I sure appreciate this blog and it is my first stop for LR information.

    Thanks and keep up the great work.

  22. Mike 9 February, 2010 at 20:47 Reply

    Good subject. A suggestion: do a video or tip on how to transfer photos/catalog from external HD to desktop. When I’m travelling I use a laptop and external HD; the external HD has my trip LR catalog and photos. When I get home I import the catalog and phoots on my external HD to my desktop computer. I’ve described this to several folks who are “newbie” LR users and they still struggle with it.
    This might be of general interest.

    • SeanNY 30 September, 2012 at 12:37 Reply

      I second this suggestion/request.

      That’s exactly how my workflow goes (shoot on trip, develop on laptop, bring home and import onto desktop).

  23. allen chernack 9 February, 2010 at 17:23 Reply

    Matt, perfect subject. I plead guilty of needed to start over.

    But, Start from scratch? What does that mean? Does it mean to re-import all you files? If so don’t I lose all the develop work done on them.
    OR, does it mean re-opening/importing old catologues.
    I’m all messed up and can’t find what catologue have what pictures.
    I’m sure I fall into one or more of your categories and was on the verge of tossing LR2. But, I searched for what was a catologue backup that had the core of my photos and am re-importing folders as needed.
    What about renaming and having sereral catologues, is that a good way to go? Like a 2009 catologue and a 2010 catologue?
    Thanks for reading my rambling and posting the 4 reasons to start from scratch. Now clear up what ‘start from scratch’ means.

  24. Eric Blitz 9 February, 2010 at 16:03 Reply

    Matt –

    I am an NAPP and Kelby training member and a big fan of your seminars, books, etc. I use Lightroom and CS4 in my workflow and I use a RAID array to store all my photos and LR presets and catalogs. Previously, I used a catalog for each project and it was efficient at the beginning. However, I found that having all the photos and projects in collections made it a great deal easier for me to switch back and forth. Recently, I have had a problem with corruption hitting my catalogs and LR says it cannot repair at this time. Do you have a suggestion as to why I am having this problem and a way to fix it. I can restore backups but this should not keep occuring, Any help is appreciated. Thanks!

  25. Barney Streit 9 February, 2010 at 16:01 Reply

    @ Martin, I have thousands of images tightly organized into folders, and have had no catalog issues in LR. I think that a lot of problems occur when you move or rename a file or folder using the Finder in the Mac OS. Use must use LR to do these chores, or else LR won’t be able to locate your files/folders. I sincerely hope this helps!

  26. Matt Kloskowski 9 February, 2010 at 14:25 Reply

    Thanks for the feedback so far. Good stuff.

    Jonathan – I’ll have to check with my wife, but I don’t think I was in the shower with you this morning 🙂

    Simon – Sure the catalog does not indeed contain the photos themselves. That doesn’t mean you should be importing the same photos in multiple catalogs – that’s just confusing.

    Martin – (ouch! Insert cat sound here). Seriously though, let us know how you (and the 7 other people who will do the same) like it 😉
    (totally kidding by the way – well… kinda)

    Thanks again everyone!
    – Matt

  27. Martin 9 February, 2010 at 12:45 Reply

    I am so sick of LR catalog issues that I am going to download the new Aperture 3.0 trial and hopefully never see LR again.

  28. Paige 9 February, 2010 at 12:29 Reply

    I’ll second the idea in the Nikon forum … use simple folder names, like capture date; and then put your photos in these folders and FORGET ABOUT FOLDER NAMES AND LOCATION. Don’t browse your folders; browse Lightroom. Use more powerful tools like keywords and metadata and Lightroom search to find your photos.

  29. Mike Whittingham 9 February, 2010 at 12:14 Reply

    Good timing, thanks for the videos Matt. We’re currently discussing this on a Nikon forum and most of us are currently going with the date structure of folders. Your video points out that you don’t need to because you can view you photos by date through the metadata filter anyway. This is true, the date method isn’t giving you something extra, but instead giving you less to have to think about, helping you forget about folders and use your keywords and collections instead. I’m setting up my folders at the moment, so I’m looking at these tips with great interest.

    1 or many catelogues is possibly a bigger decision. The downsides with using one are speed, and potential to lose everything. The downsides with using multiple are trying to keep track of them, which is not easy. Again I look forward to the tips.


  30. Ryan 9 February, 2010 at 11:44 Reply

    I’ve stuck to the process of creating a new catalog for each year – it’s worked well so far over the past few years.

    I also automatically include the tag “to process” on every image I import – this way I’ve got a quick and easy way to find what I haven’t looked at/worked with yet. Once the photos have been picked/rejected, adjusted and exported I just remove them from the to process keyword and all is good 🙂

    (Come the end of December I try to steal a few hours between Christmas and New Years to clear out the inevitable “to process” backlog)

  31. Ron Lysik 9 February, 2010 at 11:30 Reply

    When opening a new catalog, or attempting to switch to a different catalog, LR will not relaunch. The Windows Task Mgr. shows two instances of LR running, and only by ending these processes, and restarting LR, can I continue.

  32. Marianne Bush 9 February, 2010 at 11:27 Reply

    OMG, Matt. You must have been inside my head these past couple of days. I have had LR installed for about a year now. Imported all my 20,000+ photos into it and started to get organized which is taking way to much time. I just realized yesterday that I don’t really NEED all my shots in LR, why the heck would I start fiddling with lousy shots from five years ago? So, your suggesting to go back to the drawing board certainly hit home. Which is why I will be spending today doing just that. Thanks so much for the kick in the butt.

  33. David 9 February, 2010 at 11:06 Reply

    I have used lightroom through multiple system rebuilds, and now osx upgrade, which didn’t go so well so I formated and started over… now I have pictures and library/catalog exports all over the place. I have to start all over and try to make it all work.

    Now it might have been added in a patch that I didn’t see, but am I correct in that you can’t use a network drive for your catalog/photos location?

  34. gene lowinger 9 February, 2010 at 10:31 Reply

    Good stuff here Matt. Makes me realize that having been a systems analyst for years while I was honing my photo skills before canning the DP profession for greener pastures of creativity has come into play. Whenever working with some kind of database or catalog, a little planning and forethought never goes amiss.

  35. Giles 9 February, 2010 at 10:11 Reply

    HI as always loads of help so thank you so much.

    One question… i have a good folder structure and folder names on the PC but when i want to import them all (older folders and not the newer ones) i have to do one folder at a time. Is there a quicker way of doing this… e.g. a parent folder (say of 2007) and it would pull in all the sub folders per shoot. I think you have to drill into the actual files first.


  36. Bill 9 February, 2010 at 09:40 Reply

    I keep my pictures and my presets/plug-ins and my catalog on the same USB drive. That way I can connect to any computer with Lightroom and am ready to go. If there is a downside to this setup I haven’t come across it. It has the added benefit of making my Lightroom backup process very easy.

  37. Simon Grosset 9 February, 2010 at 09:21 Reply

    “Or worse yet, you’ve imported photos from those other catalogs into the main one you like so now they’re in two places.”

    Surely the catalogue just contains information about the photos, not the photos themselves?

  38. Jonathan Payne 9 February, 2010 at 09:19 Reply

    Matt, were you in the shower with me this morning? Seriously, I didn’t see you there, thank goodness, but this was exactly what I was thinking about this morning; and I even thought about posting a question to you about some of these topics. So as always, right on time with great info.

  39. Marly 9 February, 2010 at 09:06 Reply


    i have this issue and hope from the bottem of my heart you can help me out.
    I changed form windows xp to windows 7, i changed from old 500gig external hard drive to new tera external hard drive and now my catalog who is well organised, is giving me trouble. I can not brows trough my pictures in library mode, the pics won’t load. I get an image but the image stays unsharp. When i go to develop i can go trough the pics without problems.

    When i first migrated the catalog from one external hard drive to another there was an issue with read/write rights. I guess it’s the same issue that gives lightroom troubles to load the saved previews. Is there a way to remake the previews? of do you know another solution?

    thanks so very much in advance!

  40. Daniel 9 February, 2010 at 08:41 Reply

    Some time ago I started creating a new catalog for every job. Best decision ever! The catalog runs very fast, if something is messed up it’s only several hundreds of images and not several thousands or tenthousands. But the best: I keep all in one job folder (DNGs and LR catalog). So if I want to take a job and work on this job while on the road, I just copy this complete folder to an external harddrive and am good to go. No need to export parts of a huge catalog and later reimport into the main catalog (time consuming and always can go wrong and mess up things and cause headache…)

    A good solution if you don’t need DAM features of LR.

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