Benefits of 1 Lightroom Catalog

In Tips and Tricks by Patrick

There are many ways of organizing your photographs and there are many digital asset management programs to choose from. The one that I prefer and utilize is Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom is often misunderstood and under utilized by many photographers in my humble opinion whom I’m sure if they give it a chance, would see the benefits of using this to organize their catalogs. I did a two part series on organizing your catalog in detail which you can read here: Part I and Part II

I get my fair share of questions about Lightroom in emails over the course of a month primarily asking about how to arrange their catalogs in Lightroom. The most concerning thing for me is how many individuals feel like they have to use a new catalog for every shoot or outing they do. There is nothing in the official “Lightroom Rule Book” that says you cannot use multiple catalogs, but if you do I think you are missing out on some incredibly powerful tools that Lightroom has to offer.

I’m not referring to batch editing or anything like that, but the incredible organizational power that Lightroom has in its Library module. Not only can you manage files across several drives, move files from within Lightroom and pull in important images at the click of a button. But you will save massive amounts of time which for me allows more time behind the camera which is the ultimate goal. Let me try to persuade you to use one catalog with these arguments as to why you should.

Must knows about the catalog

  • The catalog stores your edits, every change you make gets logged into the catalog. But the original file doesn’t get changed, ever. It’s fully non-destructive and you can undo any changes you like in the edit history panel. The history stores every single edit you ever make to that image.
  • Lightroom prompts you to backup the catalog every time you exit (unless you’ve changed the settings). You should do this. And you should back it up to a different drive than the one you’re working on. It doesn’t take long, but if your drive fails, you’ll lose all your edits unless you have a backup
  • Adobe have stated themselves that Lightroom is designed to work with a single catalog

  • Easily searchable within one catalog

  • Lightroom isn’t magic, it doesn’t know about anything that happens outside of itself. So if you start moving images around, dragging them to external drives, etc. then it’s not going to have a clue where the images are when you next open it. It’ll pop a little “?” next to the missing folders and you’ll have to select “find missing folders.”
  • Having said that, there’s no need to do this, you can move images and folders around within the Library module of Lightroom, as well as renaming them, creating new folders etc. Not only does doing it this way move them around on your actual drives, but Lightroom always knows where they are, too! Saves so much time and prevents many headaches.


  • This is the whole point and power of Lightroom. It keeps your images organized. With a bit of thought upfront, you can find any image in your library with one click. Think about your folder structure before you start; or, if you’ve not followed a proper structure before now, do so for next year. You can always go back in the library module and re-organize the previous folders. Think about how you would logically break down your folders in a way that makes sense.
  • My structures are as follows: I have one catalog called photos. In the photos folder are my topics. Here you may have any number of topics. I have 10 folders for topics and these are the things that I most often shoot. For example, I have a folder for aviation, architecture, people, landscapes, wildlife and several others. One folder that is a must have is the miscellaneous folder. I will get to that in a minute. In the topics folders are sub-folders with descriptive names. The descriptive names is what I use in place of key-wording. Let me give you an example. Let’s say I want to find a picture of my nephews baptism. I know exactly where to look for this picture. It is in my Photos > People > Johnathon Smith’s Baptism. If I need to search for it in LR I can do so by Johnathon, Smith, Johnathon Smith, Baptism … you get the idea. This file structure seems more simplified to me and makes finding the photographs you want or need much easier. I mentioned the descriptive names for the sub-folders and this is really what makes the system sing. It makes things so easy to find. If by chance you happen to visit the same place again, you can add the year. For example, I would love to go to Colorado again, and if I do I will just add the year to the end of the new folder “Vacation in Colorado 2016” to distinguish it from the first trip. I realize this system may not be for everybody, but it works so well for me that I wanted to share it. I mentioned a miscellaneous folder earlier. This is where I put stuff that does not fit into any other category. I probably have 20 -30 folders in miscellaneous, all labeled with descriptive names for easy reference. This is just what works for me. You can tweak this anyway you wish.

    Rating your images

  • Use star ratings, even if you just use 5 to flag your favorite images.
  • You can use any number from 1 to 5 you wish, but this makes finding your best shots, or clients picks so incredibly easy. Lightroom has multiple ways for you to rate images. As noted you can use numbers, you can use stars or you can use color coding. All super easy with one keyboard shortcut or click making the images you need instantly accessible.

    Smart Catalogs

  • Once you’ve done all of the above ratings, Smart Collections become an easy, and powerful, tool for you to pull images out of your catalog with. Create a Smart Collection with the filters like client picks, 5 star or whatever and drag the images from the collection into your smart collection for easy reference.

  • Rejects

  • This is a space saving wonder in Lightroom. Images that are not crisp or are blurry or you simply don’t like, just hit “x” on the keyboard to tag it as a reject. Once done, simple go to Photos > Delete Rejected Photos and click.

  • Hopefully you can see the benefits of having one catalog that will allow the above mentioned features to be at your disposal instantly versus having to sort through multiple catalogs for images. This is not by any means and all inclusive list, but I think it makes a compelling argument for using Lightroom to house all your images.

    Share this Post