Are your folders in Lightroom a mess because you don’t know how to take charge of where Lightroom puts them? Are you not sure where they are going? Do you have date folders that are meaningless to you because you don’t remember what you shot on any given date? If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone — they are very common issues.
Here’s how to take charge and avoid frustrations:
1. Take Control of Where Lightroom Puts Your Photos
When you import new photos from memory cards, it’s up to you to tell Lightroom where to copy them to.
For a lot of people, including myself, a simple folder structure that works well is shoot folders within year folders within a master folder. This master folder can be your Pictures/My Pictures folder, or any other folder you create.
The good news is that Lightroom has functionality in the Import dialog to help you accomplish this:
- When you are ready to import new photos from a memory card, plug your card reader or camera into your computer and click on Import in the bottom left of the Library module.
- Select your memory card or camera in the Source section on the left. It may be named differently than mine:
- Choose Copy in the top center (or Copy as DNG to convert to Adobe’s raw file format), to indicate that you want to copy your photos from your memory card to your hard drive.
- On the right side, scroll all the way down to the Destination panel. If it is collapsed, click on the sideways triangle to the right of the word Destination.
- Click on your master folder (My Pictures in this example) in the Destination panel to highlight it. Make sure it is expanded so that you can see what is in it — click on the sideways triangle to the left of the folder name.
- At the top of the Destination panel, choose Organize: By date.
- For Date Format, choose one of the top three — year/date. I choose yyyy/mm-dd.
- You have just told Lightroom to put your photos in a folder called mm-dd within a folder called yyyy within your master folder (My Pictures). The actual date used will be the date the photos were taken. Once you are done with the Import, you will rename the folder to include a shoot description.
- Check the folder in italics — this is where your photos are going to go. Is it in the correct place? If not, you have highlighted the wrong folder.
- If so, hit Import in the bottom right. (There is more useful but non-critical functionality in the Import dialog that I won’t be discussing in this post.)
What if instead of clicking on your master folder to highlight it, you had clicked on your 2011 folder? Then Lightroom would put another 2011 folder within this one, with your date-shoot folder within that. This is how folder nesting nightmares begin!
One of the nice things about Organize by Date is that if you have multiple dates on one memory card, Lightroom will split them out into separate folders. But what if you don’t want them all in separate folders? Here’s how to put them all in one folder:
2. If You Chose Organize by Date, Rename Your Folder
When the Import is done, right-click (Ctl-click on a one button mouse) on the date folder in the Folders panel in the Library module, choose Rename, and add a description to the folder name.
3. Reveal Your Entire Folder Structure So You Can See Where Your Photos Really Are
Unfortunately, by default the Folders panel in the Library module only shows you the folders you imported, not also the folders that they live in. Therefore you can’t see where your photos really live on your hard drive. I want to see not only my 2011 folder and shoot folder, but also the folder that 2011 lives in (My Pictures), and even the folder that My Pictures lives in. Right-click on your highest level folder and choose Add Parent Folder. Right-click on the one that gets added, and choose Add Parent Folder again. Do this as many times as necessary to see your complete folder hierarchy.
4. Clean Up Your Folder Mess
Once you reveal your folder structure, you can move your folders by clicking and dragging them to other folders in the Folders panel, and you can move photos from one folder to another by selecting them in the grid, and clicking inside one of the photo thumbnails and dragging them to a different folder.
Note that when you rename or move using the Folders panel, you are making changes to your hard drive — you are just using Lightroom to do it.
If you have a real organizational mess and want to use Lightroom to clean it up automatically, you may want to check out this post on my blog: “Help, My Photos are Completely Unorganized and Lightroom is a Mess. How Can I Just Start All Over?” It’s not an easy process, but it may be easier than manually rearranging everything.
Once you take charge of the Import dialog, I think you will find that you will be a lot happier with Lightroom!
Laura Shoe is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom, author of the popular Digital Daily Dose Lightroom (and Occasionally Photoshop) blog, and author of the widely-acclaimed Lightroom Fundamentals and Beyond: A Workshop on DVD. MCP Actions readers can save 10% on Laura’s DVD with discount code MCPACTIONS10.