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Friday (video) Tip on Folders and Importing

First off, if you didn’t check out the online photo shoot from yesterday ( you’ve got to do it. It’s really cool. Next…
I’ve seen quite a few comments/suggestions to cover more on folders and importing your photos. I started out writing this as a tip and it quickly grew into a long post so I figured it was just easier to make a video out of it. The one question I get a lot when I’m teaching Lightroom is how to store your photos into folders when importing. There’s a few options and if you start out wrong then you can quickly make a mess out of your library and make it difficult to find things later. So this is the first video (probably more to come) about the topic and my take on trying to make things easier for you. That said, make sure you get into the comment area and share your thoughts on how you import and your organization structure. It think it’ll be cool for everyone to see some other ideas.

Well that wraps up another week. I’ve got a quick trip tomorrow that will hopefully spawn some good photos to see next week so keep your fingers crossed. Have a great one!

PS: Don’t forget, I’m still signing copies of my Photoshop Layers book for anyone who buys it from Kelby Training’s website so go ahead and get one before my hand gives out. 🙂 See ya.

Click here to watch the video. (13Mb)



  1. Matthew 28 May, 2009 at 02:00 Reply

    I have a question about Cataloging and Management in lightroom. I’m trying to find the best way to manage all my photos. Currently I have my folder structure setup to be by year, which has worked well for me so far. My photos are stored on a network drive and are backed up regularly, and once every few months, I burn them all to DVD’s. My problem now though is that I have accumulated around 23k photos, so LR is running a bit sluggish for me now, esp since it’s over the network. I am also running in a multi OS environment (Win/OS X) and was wondering if there was a way to share the catalog out between both OS’s. I know that a networked stored catalog won’t work in lightroom, but I thought maybe you might know a good way to work in a multiOS environment.

    Is it better to keep all my photos on my laptop? (i have a 500gb drive that i installed on my MBP)

    Also, because I travel a lot and like to take my laptop with me, how do you deal with adding photos to your catalog while you are on-the-go?

    I have used LR to develop and adjust photos for a little less than a year now, so I am somewhat familiar with it, but now I’m getting to the point where file management is becoming an issue for me. Any info you could give me would be great. Thanks! (and sorry for going off in tangents with my question)

  2. Chris 6 April, 2008 at 09:27 Reply

    Hi Matt

    Just found your website, in a word – AWESOME!! and that for a Brit is a word we don’t often use. I have alot of catching up to do!

    I have a query and haven’t been able to find the answer. On importing I rename/number my images but I can’t seem to get lightroom to follow on from the last number unless a manually type in the last number. Is there a better way of doing this?

    Kind regards


  3. Tony 5 April, 2008 at 01:59 Reply

    Thanks for the tip, very helpful as is the whole website to a new LR user like me.

    I have a supplementary questionwhich concerns transferring photos from a card to 2 or more subfolders (in your Photos folder), for example if you have shot two topics on the same card. What’s the best way to do this?



  4. Sinjin 24 March, 2008 at 22:48 Reply

    Matt – this may be a little off topic, but I am stressing out…probably a simple questions, but I can’t figure this out in Kelby’s new book…

    My computer, with 4,000 photos on it and days worth of lightroom editing, exploded. Fortunately, everything was backed up on an external drive.

    Now, I have a new computer, and I just loaded lightroom on it – which instantly found all those photos, but not the editing…how do I tell my new version of LR where all my editing is?? Please?!?

    Thanks, Sinjin

  5. xtexan 22 March, 2008 at 19:56 Reply

    Great website, I love the podcasts !

    As a new LR user, here’s one feature I’m hoping for in the next version: a way to move photos into an existing directory that (so far) doesn’t have any LR photos.

    Otherwise, it’s a little cumbersome to file photos (after processing them in LR) in an existing directory structure where many of the photos haven’t been imported into LR yet, since these directories won’t show up. (What I do is: import a photo from that existing directory, even if I didn’t really need it in LR, just so the directory shows up).

    Again, thanks for the great web site !


  6. charlie curry 17 March, 2008 at 23:13 Reply

    When I download photos to Photos folder in Pictures how do I download that folder into Lightroom. I need several more videos on the downloading possibilities to Lightroom which is really poorly covered by the books. Thanks.

  7. Charlotte 17 March, 2008 at 14:57 Reply

    Hi Matt and all

    Great video on this subject and love all the comments, which are all very suitable for me!

    I have a growing library in LR and arrange it like this:
    Use import presets to number/name folder and files in a 4 digit accum. way_projectname, ex (heard that numbering instead of dates are more safe, you will always see where you are missing a folder): photos/000x_projectname/000x_projectname_filenumber.cr2
    Now I am tired of the long pile of folders and I had to put the folders year and month in between photos and 000x_projectname folders. So my structure became hieratical eventhough I really tried otherwise 🙂 Well it works.
    But what I am more interested in, is the structures of edited photos.
    After import, I reject and rate.
    The best I make virtual copies of, as I in my work want to make at least 4 copies of the same photo. I have tried different solutions, and now I take the 3 virtual copies and move them to a similar folder in collections. That is because I cannot move the virtual copies to a folder beneath the main folder, without bringing the master there as well.
    So I have 3 virtual copies in a folder in collections. I even put the 3 VC in a folder each, as I tone them differently.
    So, to exporting. What I do is exporting them to folders beneath the main folder, always keeping the mainfolder in untouched raws. But they only live in LR in the collections.
    Is this an ok workflow or could I be more efficient in any way?????
    I really could delete the exported VC’s after delivery to save HD space as I will have them in my collections, only as “photo directions” ?????

    Thanks again for this addictive site….


  8. Christian K. Ibsen 12 March, 2008 at 18:29 Reply

    Hi Matt

    From your latest video tutorial, I noticed that you seems to be using Time Machine. Can you please comment on how you use this in conjunction with Lightroom, given the writings that this might lead to “unpredictable results”?

    Have you simply discarded all Lightroom related files from your TM configuration, are you only backing up your Lightroom Database Backup files, or just making sure that TM isn’t running whenever you’re using Lightroom?

    Thank you for sharing your extensive Lightroom knowledge with the rest of us.

    Thanks, Christian

  9. Brad Styron 10 March, 2008 at 23:46 Reply

    Hey thanks for that video…I am on the right track except that I have a home computer and a shop computer. How do i get two libraries all updated as one?

    I know I can export the missing shoots as a catalog…im curious is there a better way to sync the two libraries.

    Thanks Brad

  10. Bob Singleton 10 March, 2008 at 07:19 Reply

    Matt – I really enjoy these tips thanks for the good work.

    One thing that a lot of the comments refer to is organising the folders after import. This is easier that a lot of the posts suggest. The library module works much like windows explorer or finder and you can rename folders create new ones and drag and drop photos and images into them. If you do this inside Library Lightroom keeps track of everything. No need to re-import track down red folders etc. You only start having issues if you move or rename stuff outside light room.

  11. Kendy 9 March, 2008 at 20:56 Reply

    Matt – I totally get the folder thing and use that now with all my photos – so my question is basically… where do your photos LIVE?
    Would it be best (if just starting out) to have all of your photos “live” on an external hard drive (backed up to either a CD or another external drive.

    Could you then plug in the external drive into either a laptop or a desktop?
    Since the changes are non destructive – could you have one type of change on the laptop and one type on the desktop?

    It looks like your photos live on your laptop. What will you do when your hard drive fills up? What will happen to your “photo directions” (the changes you made to a photo)?

    Thanks for giving us so much of your time and direction. It is GREATLY appreciated.

  12. Jeroen 9 March, 2008 at 11:36 Reply


    What do you dou with your developed jpg’s once exported? Is there a way to automatically add these to the LR catalog? Or do you choose not the put your jpg’s to the catalog?

    Thanks! and thank for your superb website!


  13. Geoff Vane 9 March, 2008 at 08:59 Reply

    This is a nice start, but I’m still looking for a good database strategy before I’ll use Lightroom. For those who are patient, I’ll explain how I work now.

    1. On my drive there is one main folder, “photo archive”.

    2. In that folder are two subfolders, “not backed up” and “backed up”.

    3. All shootings (like say “France 2007”) first arrive within the folder “not backed up”.

    4. When I have the time, I copy “not-backed-up” shootings to a tape streamer. Afterwards, those shootings are moved to the “backed up” folder.

    5. When my harddrive gets filed up, I delete the “backed up” shootings, since I have them on tape.

    All my shoot-folders are called after the subject and the year. This stops impossible levels of folders and keeps it understandable outside of Lightroom. Inside Lightroom one should use the metadata matrix with alt shortcuts to quickly name the subjects of each photo.

    Now within Lightroom:

    1. Should I create one big mega-database in Lightroom, or should I create one per shooting and include it with the actual photos in their folder?
    2. When can I add a shooting to Lightroom, when its in the folder “backed up” or can I add them allready when they are in “not backed up”?
    3. What happens to my library when stuff is moved or deleted? Does it pose a thread to the Lightroom working method?
    4. My feeling is, I should create a database per shoot, when I’m done printing and making websites, write the LR catalog and actual photos to backup medium and delete stuff from the harddrive. Do I have everything then, or am I missing something/making a mistake?

    As you may have guessed, my mind is too murky to solve this problem.
    If you can help, please do.

  14. Randy Smith 8 March, 2008 at 22:21 Reply

    I got my macbook back in 06 and have used iphoto, but now that i have lightroom and i love it. how do i go about eliminating iphoto from the equation or is there a way to use them in conjunction? i like the way iphoto displays my photos but as u know the editing features are limited. and i also hear that “moving” photos in and out of iphoto can create problems. Thanks for your time Matt.

  15. Dennis Dwyer 8 March, 2008 at 14:59 Reply

    One other key piece I use to organize and manage my photos within Lightroom is copious use of “Keywords”. I like Matt’s idea of a single main folder with multiple subfolders within the main folder (I’ve been using a similar method since I started using Lightroom) but that may only get you in the ballpark based on theme, location or however else you choose to name your subfolders. I find that “Keywords” associated with the images makes it very easy to find anything I might be looking for even though it may not exactly fit my subfolder names. For example, I have a folder for each of my kids and most photos I shoot of them individually go in there and I also list their name as a keyword on the image. But what about group shots where both of them might be in the photo along with their friends? I import them into a subfolder that best describes the occasion and I keyword each image with the individual names as well as some other descriptive keywords about the event, the location or whatever else might help me find those photos a year from now. Although it seems like a lot of work up front, I feel it will pay off big in the years to come when I go looking for something I need.

  16. Scott Rogers 8 March, 2008 at 11:56 Reply


    NOW you need to followup this with SO WHAT, NOW WHAT… how do I take LR stuff that is all over the place (not me ofcourse), and nicely copy and move them into the nicely organized system you explained here. Also, how do folks use DIFFERENT Libraries (work, home, vacation, clients), Since we don’t do the Library move, copy, rename, erase thing often… I am reluctant to make changes (without your help ofcourse!)

    I appreciate your teaching style – especially the WHYS and WHY NOTS of doing certain things….

    Thanks, Scott

  17. Tore Jonssen 8 March, 2008 at 07:16 Reply

    Matt, how about an article / video on the way Lightroom handles backup files etc? The “Lightroom” folder on my PC is now occupying a major part of my hard drive and all it contains are backup files, catalog previews, a couple of temporary folders and the catalog ifself. Is there an easy way to clean up all the temporary files and old backup files I don’t really need anymore?

  18. Ronald 8 March, 2008 at 06:50 Reply

    As an addition, if you like Matt’s idea of having one top level folder for all your LR work (like I do) and you currently do not have one (like I did), it is really easy to change this:

    – make sure LR is not running
    – suppose you have a load of subfolders in My Pictures that contain all your LR work. Then create your top level folder as a subfolder of My Picture
    – move all your LR folders into the top level folder
    – start LR
    – LR will find the new location of these folders by itself!!

    Please note that the new top level folder is a subfolder of the original LR folder (MyPictures). I’m not sure if this works if you move your LR folders to a totally other folder (not being a subfolder).

    I was quite happy with this and can now work using the same method Matt pointed out.

  19. Jacco 8 March, 2008 at 06:45 Reply

    @Dave P

    Dave, you don’t have to re-import your photos after you decided to create another folder structure. Just move your photos to the newly created folder. LR will show some icons in the top right corner which indicate that the ‘Photo is missing’. Click this icon for the first photo and a dialog box comes up. This gives you the option to locate the photo. Click locate and go to the correct folder. Choose the photo and LR will adjust all photos in that folder.

    No need to delete, import, and develop again.

    Good luck, Jacco

  20. Jason R 7 March, 2008 at 21:15 Reply

    Hi Matt & Everyone,

    I’ve only just stumbed across this site… man where have I been. There’s loads of great stuff here! Thanks!

    This video/tip was timely for me as I was in the middle of resetting the way I use LR and therefore importing everything again. Although I have always used hierarchical folders for file management, I’ve come to realize this is not the best/easiest way to deal with my increasing number of images. I feel my collection of images is becoming like the web and LR is becoming my Google. It’s less about where did I store that image and more about what am I looking for.

    The best thing I have been able to do (and my advice for what it’s worth) is to embrace LR for file management and let go of Explorer (or equivalent). Certainly I still go through a similar process as Matt outlined for storing image files in a structure of folders, but now I use LR to rename the folders, move them create new folders, etc. This way LR is up to date and there is no need for re-importing. I also now rely more on metadata rather than trying to remember where I stored that file (back to the Google analogy). I’ve just got to be better at assigning keywords.

    One tip for when I’m into my old habits of traditional file management, I often manipulate where a folder appears in my list by using a numbering system. For example, I may have three folders:
    05 Working
    10 Family
    20 Wedding

    Without this, LR will order them alphabetically. If I want to reorder how they’re listed, I change the number. Notice that I left some room in between. Of course this makes a little more sense if you’re dealing with more than three folders.

    Thanks to Matt and everyones’ comments.


    One last question: Is there information on where upcoming Photoshop World conferences will be held? I’d love to go but living in Canada as a teacher limits travel. I’m looking for something a little more north east.

  21. David 7 March, 2008 at 19:19 Reply

    Thats what I have been looking for!!!!!
    Ok ,so now that I have a mix(mess) of some folders with Date.some with name,some with who knows….what is now the best way to go back & clean my folders up?Do I go in to lightroom & change or do I have to go to main folder & change? And will LR remember the changes or do I need to re-import everything?

  22. Chris W 7 March, 2008 at 16:04 Reply

    Looks as though I’ve used a combination of the systems above.

    I import using the default date setup with lightroom, but using a new folder for each year. The one issue with that was that if I couldn’t remember the date I took images it was really difficult to find things later, so adding the keywords is a must. Both the files and the lightroom library are backed up, so this takes care of the RAW files.

    However I don’t think you can cover Lightroom import in isolation, you have to consider what you’ll do with the output. So lets say someone wants a print of an image you put on the web for example. How do you find the original RAW, edited, or JPG file ? Sound familiar ?

    So I use:

    A) one folder structure for RAW,
    B) one for edits or work in progress
    C) then another for final JPG’s.

    Only the RAW files are in lightroom.

    The JPG’s are all imported into iPhoto for use on Web pages, and on my iPod touch. ( A great device for showing photos by the way)

    Worth noting that I import the original filenames (4567.cr2) into Lightroom and Export to keyword – original filename (Iceland-4567.jpg), so I can always find the original RAW file if need be, even through a finder search.

    Most of this stuff can be done through presets to avoid you forgetting the process each time. Works for me, but I appreciate not everyone will like this way.

    Oh one other thing, all the images are on USB drives, which are backed up to NAS drives with Memeo. I once thought I’d lost 10,000+ images, and you become paraniod about backing up after that.

    Like Dave P, I’d like Lightroom 2.0 to have some kind of archive process. I worry that the Library just keeps growing.

    Great podcasts !


  23. Johnny 7 March, 2008 at 14:32 Reply

    How come the auto import feature is crippled compared to the regular import? First, it forces you to move the files. It doesn’t allow you to import them in place. Second, if you are going to move the files on auto-import then it doesn’t have the ability to automatically put them in folders by date like the regular importer. It seems to me like the auto import feature is ideal for the case when you are getting your photos onto your computer by some other means, and you simply want them added into Lightroom automatically. Not being able to import in place or at least have facilities for automatically naming folders makes the auto import feature worthless. If I use it I would have to go in and manually organize my photos after the auto import. Am I missing something?

    I prefer Windows Live Photo Gallery’s for importing pictures from my camera. It allows me to automatically group photos based on a variable time between when the pictures were taken. I can vary the time for grouping from seconds on up to days. Then I can see the photos in each group in real time as a vary the grouping. I can also see the thumbnails of the photos in each group when choosing the names. It is a really convenient intuitive way to import photos. When I import my photos this way they are put right where I want them and organized how I want them. However, I then have to go in and do a second import in Lightroom. Is there anyway to import the photos automatically and leave them where they already are? Photoshop Elements could do this with their ‘watched folders’.

  24. Darren 7 March, 2008 at 14:28 Reply

    Hey Matt, your tips are great as always.

    I use a similar method but drill down one more level with subfolders for Main Photos (i.e. stuff I really like to shoot), Travel, Friends and Family, Client Work etc…I’ve always preferred to group photos in themes. Each of these contains photos by shoot/event.

    The one you didn;t show in your video is what your “Folder” panel looks like in Lightroom. Just curious. Are you able to give a quick screen capture?

    Once again, great site. Kepp the tips coming!


  25. Ron 7 March, 2008 at 14:05 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    I have a similar method, but i have a seperate drive for all my photos.
    What I do is #1 download my card to that drive placing them in their own folder ( Photography P:/Raws/and the name I give folder) . I then make a sub folder in the folder and call it JPEGS. I then make another folder EDITED to place what I think are the best shots of that shoot. And if I am going to do any retouching on them in Photoshop I create another folder called RT FULL FRAME along with a folder or 2 for any cropped images (8×10,5×7 ect). after launching LR I choose the import button and import from current location and choose the main folder of the shoot (not the RAWS FOLDER). LR uses that name to import, after making any adjustments or applying presets, I then export to the same folder but to the sub folder that I created for the JPEGS. When all is done in LR and PS, I end up with all my originals (Raws), JPEGS, EDITED and any RETOUCHED, and cropped photos in one location . I find it easier to manage and find all photos and any worked on photos in one location and folder for that specific shoot. One more thing, and this is VERY IMPORTANT ! ALWAYS BACK UP THAT FOLDER WHEN YOU ARE DONE WITH ALL EDITS,RETOUCHING ECT BY BURNING A DISK (CD OR DVD) AND STORING IT IN A CD NOTE BOOK. YOU WILL NEVER KNOW IF OR WHEN A DRIVE CAN FAIL.

  26. Janine Smith 7 March, 2008 at 14:01 Reply

    Great tip about using the subfolder option!

    But I like to backup to another hard drive while importing. Is there any way to avoid getting the subfolder called “Imported on -date-” when backing up?

  27. Dave P 7 March, 2008 at 13:45 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    My problem in importing photos with lightroom comes in two places.

    First is that I add levels to help organize and once I do that the info from lightroom won’t follow to the new level. In your example, from the video, I will start collecting pictures of a band, then of multiple bands so between your PHOTO’s file and your DAVE KORMAN BAND I will add a level called BANDS (this easily lets me go back and see all the band photos I have). Once the new level is added the photos from lightroom need to be RE-imported, and the old file deleted (as far as I can tell) in order to find and develop the photos again. At that point the original, history is gone and all I have is the final version and I have to start from scratch in manipulating the photo.

    If you tell me that I shouldn’t add this level then my next comment is the same problem at a lesser complication….I will no doubt add a file folder spelled wrong “Dave Corman band” …oops I’ll just change that…. guess what, light room thinks it is in a new place and I have had to re-import everything.

    MY second major problem is that my day to day place that I manipulate files is on my laptop so it fills ups after a while and I need to save off the files to a back up disk (or two). This means that the data bases are totally out of sync. I thought that I was originally going to keep the “lightroom instructions” on my laptop and when ever I needed to manipulate the photos, I would re-import them and it would once again find the pic for development. Good plan until my computer crashed and I needed a new laptop. All is lost at that point and the data base is now in a horrible mess since the actual picture and the set of instructions that lightroom uses to manipulate the file is seperate….infact, as far as I can tell they seem to be stored in files that are un-useable to normal humans in files marked a, b, c etc with long coded files within those file folders that get even more complicated (much the same as ipod music does, no doubt for apple confidentiality reasons).

    I would love to come up with a logical scheme of storing off at regular intervals to disks (when my laptop is full) whereby I can logically find the pictures and the instructions so that when I need them in the future.



  28. Casey Figlewicz 7 March, 2008 at 13:07 Reply

    Hey Matt,
    Not sure where to ask you this question so I figured I would just put it here…Are there any plug-ins for LR or rumors of any Wedding album software like in Aperture?


  29. mattk 7 March, 2008 at 12:47 Reply

    Tom – I don’t name my folders by date anymore (I used to before Lightroom) because of two reasons:
    1) Lightroom let’s me use the Metadata Browser panel (left side in Library) to browse by date
    2) I can search by date as well.
    I’ve found that (for me personally) I usually go back to shoots based on the subject or location of where I was, which makes folders the quick-grab choice of mine. Then if I need to go look by date I have ways to do it but I don’t want dates screwing up my alphabetical folder names.
    In a nutshell, to really “find” photos in Lightroom you’ve got to use Keywords and metadata. If you keyword everything then you won’t care what folder it’s in. You’ll just do a quick keyword search to get to something. Again, this is what works for me.

    Harold – Abso-freakin-lutely! Yep, I’ll be there so feel free to stop me at any point (except in the restroom). After a class is great or after the live PSTV recording is always a good time. I’ll be doing a Layers session in the Peachpit booth on the first day of the expo so that’s probably the best time. I’m fairly certain it’ll sell out early so grab one at the beginning. I’m always floating around though and I’d be happy to.

    Matt K

  30. Harold Blouin 7 March, 2008 at 12:37 Reply

    Hey Matt,
    About the Photoshop Layers book I’ll be in PS World in Orlando will you be doing a book signing?

  31. Tom H. 7 March, 2008 at 12:29 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    First off – love the tips! I check them every week, so keep ’em coming. 🙂

    What about cataloging your photos by date, at least on the upper level of folders? (In your case, this would be the level just below the “Photos” folder.) A friend and I have been struggling with the best way to organize the photo storage on disk. My friend likes to have lots of nested folders with descriptive names (i.e. TripsCruisesCarribean etc) for easy searching at the hard drive level since he uses Photoshop Bridge for organizing photos. I used to use a similar method but since discovering Lightroom I NEVER use Bridge. So now, under my “Pictures” folder I have created folders for each year (“2007”, “2008”, etc) and then have Lightroom create folders by date underneath these folders during the import process. For each shoot I use the Custom Name+Sequence import method and give the files a descriptive name. This allows a little bit of searching at the hard drive level (Windows Exploder), but for ultimate searchability, I then create Collections within Lightroom for each shoot location, subject, etc

    I curious as to your opinion on these different approaches to managing photos and your take on efficient & effective DAM techniques?

    Tom H.

  32. Todd Middlebrooks 7 March, 2008 at 12:06 Reply


    In an effort to clean up my Lightroom folder structure, I would like to add a top level folder similar to your “Photos” folder. How can I add a new top level folder to put all of my existing subdirectories into? If I create the folder in the Finder and then reimport all of my photos with the move option will everything be intact or will it see my photos as duplicates and ignore them all? I’m just trying to figure out the best method….


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