Oct 122011
 

I got this question from readers twice in one day last week, so I thought a blog post was in order.

It’s the ultimate in Fall/Spring cleaning — essentially you will build a new closet, put copies of everything in it ( nicely organized), and then throw everything away from the old one.  This may not be a cost-effective way to reorganize your clothes, but it works for your photos!

This particular method will start you over with a new blank Lightroom catalog, and will organize all your photos into shoot (date) folders within year folders within a master folder.   You can choose to organize them differently, but my way allows you to automate the reorganization process.

This process is efficient, but it does have costs: you will lose any collections, flags, and virtual copies you have created in Lightroom.  You will also lose your Develop step-by-step history (not your Develop edits or the ability to undo your work, just the step-by-step record of it shown in the History panel.) If you have question marks all over files and folders, and your photo organization system is a mess, this may be for you.  On the other hand, if you don’t have too many question marks to resolve and your photo organization can be easily cleaned up by dragging and dropping using Lightroom’s folders panel, I wouldn’t recommend this more drastic method.

If working with files and folders makes you uncomfortable, this process also may not be for you.  Read through all the instructions to make sure you are comfortable with the whole process before starting.  (If you like the idea of this, but doing it makes you nervous, I am available for private sessions, either in-person or over the web.)

If you want to start over with a new catalog but don’t need drastic rearranging of your images, see the note at the end of this post for which steps to follow.

Here goes:

1. Save any Lightroom work you have done to photos (keywords, stars, color labels and other metadata, Develop work) out to the folders where your photos live:

In the Library module, click on All Photographs in the Catalog Panel (top left), make sure you are in Grid view (G), select all your photos (Ctl/Cmd-A), and go to Photo>Save Metadata to File, or do a Ctl/Cmd-S to do the same.  By doing this, your work will still be available when you re-import the photos.  (You may see little .XMP files in the folders with your photos — just ignore them.)

2. Make sure you understand where your current Lightroom catalog is, as you are going to delete it later:

Go to Edit (Lightroom on a Mac)>Catalog Settings.  The general tab shows you where the catalog folder is – make a note of this.

3. Decide where your photos and your Lightroom catalog are going to live — on an external hard drive?  In your Pictures folder on your internal hard drive?

I prefer to keep my photos and my Lightroom catalog folder together in one master folder.  I will assume for the rest of the article that you will do this, but you can of course put your catalog and photos in separate places, as long as you make a conscious choice.   (Note that while image files can be stored on a network drive, Lightroom catalogs cannot.)

Using Mac Finder or Windows Explorer/My Computer, go to the location you have chosen and create a new folder.  Call it something like “My Lightroom Photo Library”.  Open up this folder and create a new folder inside it called “My Photos”.

4. Create a new Lightroom catalog:

In Lightroom, go to File>New Catalog.  For the location, specify the My Lightroom Photo Library folder you created above (not the My Photos folder).  For File Name, call it “My Lightroom Catalog“.  Click Save (or whatever the choice is on the Mac).  Lightroom will relaunch with this new blank catalog.  (Your old one hasn’t been deleted, Lightroom just isn’t using it at this point.)

Go to Edit (Lightroom on a Mac)>Preferences>General, and under Default Catalog, When Starting Up Use This Catalog, click on the dropdown and choose the catalog that you just created.

Still under Preferences, click on the Presets tab.  If the box is checked next to “Store Presets with Catalog”, then in order to have all the presets and templates that you created, you will need to copy your Lightroom Settings folder from the old catalog folder to the new one.  (If the box isn’t checked or you don’t care about preserving any presets or templates, skip this step.)   Click on the Show button to go to your new Lightroom catalog folder.  Open it, and delete the Lightroom Settings folder.   Open another Mac Finder or Windows Explorer window, and go to your old Lightroom catalog folder (from step 2).  Open it and Ctl/Cmd-drag the Lightroom Settings folder into the new catalog folder in the first window.   Now close these windows, and close and restart Lightroom.

5. Have Lightroom’s Import Process create a copy of all your photos and reorganize them:

You are going to import photos from everywhere you currently have them, have Lightroom create copies and organize them correctly, and then when this is all done and you have verified that all is well, you will delete the original versions.

In the Lightroom import dialog, on the left, choose a source for existing photos (If there are photos in your Pictures folder, do this one first, then return and do other locations where you have photos.)    Be sure to check Import Photos from Subfolders at the top of the Source panel.  Choose Copy, and on the right, down in the Destination panel, navigate to and click on your new My Photos folder inside your My Lightroom Photo Library folder, so that My Photos is highlighted.  At the top of the Destination panel choose “organize by date”, and from the drop down below this, choose  yyyy/mm-dd or yyyy/yyyy-mm-dd.  (The “/” after the year is important!)    This will put all of your images for each day’s shooting into separate subfolders, within year folders. In the top right of the Import Dialog in the File Handling panel, be sure to check “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates”.  

Repeat with every different source, taking notes on where these photos are coming from.  Because you have “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checked, Lightroom will just put a copy of the photos in your new folder if it hasn’t already.

6. Reveal your folder structure.

The Folders panel in the Library module now most likely just has a list of date folders within year folders.  Right-click (or Cmd-click) on one of the year folders and choose Add Parent Folder.  This will reveal your My Photos folder.  Right-click (or Cmd-click) on My Photos, and Add Parent Folder to reveal My Lightroom Photo Library.  Right-click on this, Add Parent Folder to reveal wherever this lives — now you can be clear where all your photos are.

7.  Rename all your date folders.

This isn’t fun if you have a lot, but it is a one-time investment — don’t skip it!  Click on each date folder to see what’s in it, then right-click on the folder name, choose Rename, and add a description of the shoot.

8. Work with your catalog for a while.

If all went well and nothing is missing, you are ready for the final two steps:

9.  Delete the original photos.

Using Windows Explorer/My Computer or Mac Finder, go back to each photo source that you noted earlier and delete your original photos.  Don’t delete anything from your new My Lightroom Photo Library folder!

10. Delete the old Lightroom Catalog.

Go back to the location noted in step 2 and delete the catalog folder (most likely named Lightroom.)

11.  Sit back and admire how organized your photo library is!!

Once you have enjoyed this for a bit, it is time to start keywording your photos!

What if your photos are organized reasonably well, but you just want to start over with a new Lightroom catalog?  In this case, you will do 2, 3, 4, 5,  8 and 10.  In step 5, the Import, choose Add rather than Copy, so that your photos are just added to the catalog, and stay where they currently are on your hard drive.

 

Thank you to Mike Nelson Pedde for his valuable feedback on this article.


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  107 Responses to ““Help! My Photos Are Completely Unorganized and Lightroom is a Mess. How can I just start all over?””

  1. laura, thanks for the very informative article!
    i just bought your dvd by the way, and have found it VERY helpful. congratulations on a great job that is very concise, clear, and to-the-point!
    one question: as i was looking at my folder structure, i noticed that i have a slightly different one than you describe here(i’m on a mac) – part of it on purpose, part of it i have no idea how :)
    i use one catalog for work(which i didn’t custom name), and one for personal(which i created recently to separate personal/work photos going forward, and named “personalcatalog”). they both reside under a master folder i named “Lightroom”.
    in that fodler, i noticed that i have *four* different lightroom catalogs(and related previews): one is lightroom 2 catalog+previews, and three lightroom3 catalogs+previews(numbered with -2, -3 at the end, and sized 901kb, 877kb, 398Mb, respectively; curiously lr3 catalog#1 doesn’t have a preview file there).
    my question is:
    *can i safely delete the lr2 catalog, now that i’ve been using lr3 for a long time?
    *any idea what those extra lr3 catalogs might be, and how to safely consolidate them? lr shows ~20,000 images when my work catalog is open.

    sorry for the long message, but i am fairly confused&wanted to relay the right info to you. any pointers would be highly appreciated. thanks so much in advance!

    • Hi murat, I’m glad the DVD has been helpful. Yes, you can delete the Lightroom 2 catalog and previews. I am not sure why you have 3 Lightroom 3 catalogs, but I would first understand which one is your current one (by looking at the date modified, or, in Lightroom, the name will show at the top of your screen, above the menu bar.) Then I would open up the other catalogs by double-clicking on the .lrcat file. I suspect that they are just old versions that can be deleted. If not and you want to incorporate them, reopen LR with the main catalog, and go to File>Import from Catalog, and choose one of the older ones. In the dialog, I would choose not to update anything that it finds in both catalogs.

  2. laura,
    Great site the clearest explanations of LR Ive found.
    My question is: Ive made a mess of my filing system though I use Keyworks to keep track my images not folders. However I’d like to clean it up and also combine 4 catalogs into one. Would the your above method work?

    • Blaine, yes, since this method starts with a new catalog, it would work — you would follow the instructions above (saving your work) for all 4. However, if you really don’t need to clean up your folder system, then just combine the four catalogs into one. Decide which is going to be your main one (or set up a new one as described in the post), then do a File>Import from Catalog to incorporate the other three into the main one.

      • Laura
        Somehow I have many duplicate images files on different catalogs – so probably the best method for me would be to cleanup folder system even though I use keywords instead of folders to keep track of images.

  3. Laura,

    My LR3 Catalog was going fine with folders for the years, etc. Then something happened and now when I download they don’t show up in any folder. I can only find them by going now by going to all photographs ans scrolling to the bottom of 5000 images.

    Second question, it seemed in your article that you said you kept all your images on your computer and did not put them onto an external hard drive. It seems this would overwhelm your storage. Maybe I misunderstood.

    • Hi John, to find out what folder your images are going into, once you find them in All Photographs, right-click on one and choose Show in Folder in Library. This will select that folder in the Folders panel. Going forward you will need to fix your import settings. Go to the Destination panel in the bottom right of the Import Dialog, click on the master folder that your photos go into (Pictures?), and then at the top of the Destination panel, choose Organize by Date, and one of the year/date formats.

      On your second question, I have a 1 TB internal drive, so it has worked fine for me up until now to keep my catalog and images on it. However, in fact I am now getting close to running out of space, so I will be transferring my library to an external drive.

      • Great tutorial until:-

        “….I have a 1 TB internal drive, so it has worked fine for me up until now”…

        Just in case anyone reading this misunderstands it as meaning Laura has only one hard drive.

        Please read Laura’s excellent write up on how to backup your photos and Lightroom catalogue.

        See here: http://wp.me/p1LPrN-fG

  4. […] Help! My Photos Are Completely Unorganized and Lightroom is a Mess!  How Can I Just Start All Over? […]

  5. […] Finally, Larura looks at how to organize yourself (man do I hear this alot.  Its like the digital version of Hoarders sometimes). […]

  6. HI Laura,
    Great site and i have just brought the DVD.
    Two questions. I have lots of images Is it really the best to have LR catalog on and external hard drive. What happens when I want to work on location? I understand I can’t keep my images on my laptop but could I keep my catalog on it and images on hard drive?

    Would you advise using different catalogues for different jobs?

    THank you!

    • Hi Kate, if you regularly work offsite, you could keep both your images and catalog on an external drive, and take it with you. This way you always have everything.

      I advise against separate catalogs for each job. What if you want to pull together all your 5 star photos? Separate catalogs means you can’t without recombining all the catalogs — there is a brick wall between the jobs.

  7. I’m very new to lightroom, thought I was rearranging folders (within lightroom!) to be better organized and somehow I managed to mess it up more, getting question marks all over the place. I felt I just needed to start all over again and came across your blog. I have not tried it yet, (will have to wait until I get home from work), but I feel my sense of dread after screwing up is slowly fading away. Thanks in advance. There may be hope for me yet in Lightroom 3.

  8. […] Help, My Photos Are Completely Unorganized and Lightroom is a Mess.  How Can I Just Start Over? […]

  9. I have been searching for a way to create photo albums and use drag-and-drop to resequence the photos. Renaming files to force a different display order is just too much work. I use a PC with Windows 7. I’ve been trying to find out if Lightroom 3 supports drag-n-drop to sequence photos? Any suggestions?

  10. I am about to load a new lap top and re load Lightroom. I am a new user and wondering if it is best to load pictures onto lap top in My Pictures and then bring into Lightroom or bring them straight into Lightroom. I take underwater pictures as well as family and travel pics so would I need 3 catalogues ? I will purchase your DVD that has been recommend by a friend or is it available to download? I have been confused with all this for a while which is why I have not yet thrown myself into it all but just played. One last thing should I load the LR4 beta or just go with my LR 3.

    I look forward to hearing back and also following you on Facebook.

    Sue in Perth West Australia
    (if your ever here I am sure we could get some workshops happening for you as there are very limited available to us!)

    • Hi Sue, thank you for contacting me. I should have a post on the topic of moving to a new computer, but unfortunately it is still on my to-do list. Here is one method, from Victoria Bampton, aka the Lightroom Queen.
      http://www.lightroomqueen.com/2009/02/28/how-do-i-move-lightroom-to-a-new-computer/

      I recommend only one catalog — there is no need for you (and most people, including myself) to have what amounts to a brick wall between your different types of photos.

      Thank you for your interest in my DVD — yes, it is also available as a download.

      I wouldn’t go with the beta, as it will not allow you to upgrade your LR 3 catalog.

      I’d love to visit Australia some day! I will keep your offer in mind – thank you!

  11. I realize this is a bit late, but there is a much easier way of doing this and without losing virtual copies.

    Instead, use the “export as catalog” feature, delete the originals, then import the catalog. I’m not sure that it keeps flags, it might, but the virtual copies should all still be there and the photos should be put neatly into folders according to your settings.

  12. I have all my photos in LR, but want to move them to an external hard drive. I am not sure how to do this. I want to do this in LR so it knows where my photos are.

    • Chris, you will use Lightroom’s Folders panel to drag your folders from the internal drive to the external drive. If you do not see your external drive in the Folders panel, the easiest way to get it to show up is to, outside of Lightroom using Finder or Windows Explorer, put one photo over on it, and then in Lightroom, import that photo.

  13. Is there any way to delete folders in the Destination Panel? I blindly began working away with LR3 with no instructions and now I have the same folders on the right (des. panel) as on the left panel. I want to completely redo my Destination Panel. Thank you

  14. laura
    how do you work on two computors. I travel a lot and can do keywording while waiting at airports. how does this transfer to my home computor. I usually have an external drive. A friend lost it on her travel, now I am not sure if I should take that with me. help

    • Hi jayanthy, thanks for your note. Whether you travel or not, I would back up that external hard drive — multiple times. This way you can travel with it without fear. Alternatively, you can use the approach in this article:
      http://laurashoe.com/2008/11/17/moving-lightroom-work-between-a-laptop-and-a-desktop/

    • Laura,

      You have a great LR explaination site. and I’m going to join your workshop.

      I virtually fall on my face reading paragraph 5. Filing is not my passion and I have to get the date hierarchy straight so Lightroom will finally understand me.

      I have a number of yearly folders I titled NEF.RAW.2012 , and other years, on an EHD. You say to place these into a folder titled My Lightroom Photo Library Folder. OK.

      Inside of the yearly folders are each individual shoot in its own folder titled yy.mm.dd.Joe Jones.

      Now which folders will have to be changed to yyyy/mm-dd?

      I hope not each individual shoot – and thanks.

      • Hi Bob, it sounds to me like what you have is fine — individual shoot folders, already with descriptions, within year folders.

  15. Laura, I just want to say that in a crowd of very good LR tutorials and instructors, YOU really do shine and stand out from the crowd. You provide such clear and concise instructions it’s actually a pleasant learning experience when I delve into one of your many helpful tutorials. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to take one of your classes in person. Thanks again.

    • Thanks so much, Terrell! I am happy to hear that my tutorials have been useful to you, and I appreciate you taking the time to leave this wonderful note!

  16. Hi, thanks for the blog post, I followed every step but it appears all my edits have disappeared. I defiantly done Step one, but now all of my edits have gone, please help. Thanks,

    • Hi Sidney, I am sorry to hear that the process did not work successfully for you. Unfortunately it isn’t possible for me to say what might have gone wrong without doing a private session, seeing your computer and walking through it.

      I would try the following: select your photos, right-click in one and go to Metadata>Read Metadata from File.

      Alternatively, you can revert back to your old catalog and photos. (In the old Lightroom catalog folder, double-click on the .lrcat file to launch LR with it.)

  17. Hi Laura,
    I’m new to LR4.1, so I recently purchased your great instructional DVD The Fundamentals and Beyond. Very briefly, I have managed to import several files which in many cases have not gone into the “Photos Go Here” folder, that you recommended setting up. I think I forgot to make sure that I had highlighted that folder when importing. Is there any way I can correct this so that my Catalog makes sense or do I have to start all over again?
    Thanks again for the clear and concise tuition in the DVD.

    Kindest Regards
    Bill

    • Hi Bill, I’m glad you are enjoying the DVD, and I’m happy to hear that you understand why the issue happened. No need to start over. Once you import something else into your Photos Go Here folder, you will see this folder in the Folders panel in Lightroom (assuming you have right-clicked on your imported folders in the Folders panel and chosen Show Parent Folder.) Once you see it, using the Folders panel, you can click and drag your folder into it. Watch my video on File and Folder Management for more on reorganizing.

  18. Laura, I hope you can answer a question for me. I notice it’s been a month since someone last posted here so I hope you are checking back or being notified when there’s a question. I just found out about your site from a friend today. I am brand new to learning Lightroom and have LR4. I have my photos very organized, all in folders (on a PC) and each folder has subfolders and then some of the subfolders have subfolders. I think this is what is hanging me up in trying to bring them into Lightroom. I would really like to just start over fresh but after reading what you had to say above, I’m not sure if I need to do that or not. Also, I am planning on storing all of my photos on an EHD from here on out rather than on my computer and would like to have my Lightroom catalog folder there as well. I bought a 1G EHD yesterday and haven’t done anything with it yet. I was planning on moving one folder of photos from my computer to the new EHD and then trying to import it into LR on a new catalog and see if that he’s this whole thing make any more sense to me. I don’t have much in the catalog, just some photos from a trip, but I did tag them all with keywords. However, it wouldn’t be a big deal to do that again. Anyway, hopefully you can advise me about which way I should go based on my current folder system. Thanks so much for any help you can give me. This has been keeping me up nights!

  19. Hi Laura,

    (I’m working my way through your excellent DVD – but don’t think this is covered.) My images are in a hierarchy of folders sorted by location, subject or theme (done in Adobe Bridge). In Lightroom, I can drag all of them into Collection Sets so that now photos can reside in more than one category. Great.

    I’m concerned about getting thoroughly confused now that my Folders and Collections are the same.

    I’d like to reorganize all my Folders as Lightroom’s Import does with say the “Organize by Date” feature, but it seems you can’t reimport files already in the Catalog just to move them about. I’d also like to be able to export Collections as a bunch of empty folders with shortcuts/symbolic links so that in times of an emergency I can still find photos outside of Lightroom.

    Any ideas? Many thanks.

    • Hi Confused, I am glad you are enjoying the DVD. To automatically organize by date, you would have to remove the photos from the catalog, and then reimport — at which time you would in fact lose your collections (and virtual copies and pick/reject flags). You would instead need to reorganize them manually in LR using the skills I talk about in the File and Folder Management video.

      I’m not sure what you mean when you say that your Folders and Collections are the same. You presumably would have your folders organized by date, whereas your collections will reflect categories. Your folders will appear on your hard drive exactly as they do in the Folders panel (assuming you have followed my advice to right-click on your folders and Show/Add Parent Folders). There is not a way to export the collection info so that you can find them later as you describe. If you keyword your photos (with the collection names, for example), and write out that info out to XMP (see the video that covers catalog settings), those keywords will be accessible in Bridge, so you will be able to find your photos based on them.

      Another thing to consider is not reorganizing — if your folder structure is working for you as is, no need to switch to organizing by date.

      Laura

  20. Is it easy and not weird to keep the catalog on the computer and the photos on an external? That way you can still see the “ghost” images when you have the external disconnected? Does that freak out Lightroom? Thank you for the article.

  21. Laura, had to say “Thank You” for your post on how to re-organize Lightroom (Oct 12 2011). I found it from a simple Google search after much frustration! It was time consuming but has got me out of a real mess!

  22. Laura,

    Thanks so much for this helpful blog. I have followed instructions to a tea but now I have a glitch. Everything is newly imported but in the year folders there are no dates–just separated by year despite it showing in the import by dates. Did I need to do a sub folder prior to import? Also I cannot find “parent folder” just subfolder or new folder. Maybe I am in the wrong place??!!

    Annie

    • Annie, it sounds like the year folders in the Folders panel may be collapsed, so you can’t see the date subfolders. If so, to the left of the year folder name you should see a sideways triangle – click on it to expand and see its subfolders.

  23. Laura, thank you for so generously sharing your expertise!

    I am following your instructions, but right away as I am saving the metadata, a window pops up that says that “One or more of these photos has been canged in an external application. Should Lightroom overwrite the settings on disk?”

    I haven’t a clue which settings it is talking about. I have many photos that have been changed in Photoshop, etc. Will this change overwrite the original photograph? Or will I lose the changes I’ve made in Lightroom prior TO exporting to Photoshop? Or will I lose the Photoshop changes?

    I’m stumped and can go no farther! So I’ll enjoy a cup of chocolate and await your response. Thank you!

    mary ;-)

    • Hi Mary, this warning is only about overwriting metadata, and not the photo itself (so you won’t lose the photo or any photoshop changes). It could come up if you have edited the photos in Bridge (keywords, stars, etc), or Camera Raw. If you haven’t, or aren’t worried about overwriting that work, then go ahead and overwrite. Sometimes this warning is just due to a bug.

  24. […] lots of work to do cleaning up my library and organize my pictures. I found two great tutorials out there that I hope to use for this purpose. So this is it. For now. Have a great […]

  25. […] Pero si tenemos un uso avanzado de los catálogos, entonces quizás este método –recomendado por Laura Shoe- no es para nosotros. Si es así, tenemos que encontrar una forma de ordenar todo esto, y para eso, […]

  26. […] si tenemos un uso avanzado de los catálogos, entonces quizás este método –recomendado por Laura Shoe- no es para nosotros. Si es así, tenemos que encontrar una forma de ordenar todo esto, y para eso, […]

  27. […] prima della consegna di un lavoro. Per cui se siete imbranati/disorganizzati quanto me, questi due tutorials (in inglese, sorry!) forse faranno al caso vostro. Eccoci qua, direi che ci siamo.Allora, […]

  28. I am having trouble with this step:
    Open another Mac Finder or Windows Explorer window, and go to your old Lightroom catalog folder (from step 2). Open it and Ctl/Cmd-drag the Lightroom Settings folder into the new catalog folder in the first window.

    There is no lightroom settings folder in my old catalog folder

    • Dave, it sounds like you weren’t storing your LR presets with your catalog — hence no LR Settings folder. In this case you can skip this step.

  29. Hi Laura,
    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Just finished watching your workshop on creative live – GREAT STUFF!

    One quick question, as I am about to embark on this “spring cleaning….”, and I could not find this covered anywhere, so apologies if you have addressed it already: what does lightroom do with photos that either have NO metadata, nor a “Date Taken” associated with the file? Does it use the windows default of file creation/modification, or does it lump them into an “unknown” folder? i have quite a few scans from prints and slides, as well as older digital photos that don’t seem to have any dates associated with them.

    Thanks for the wonderful information

    Steven

    • Hi Steven, I believe it will use the creation date. You can check this out — in the Import dialog, on the left choose a folder that has these scans or older photos, Copy in the top center, organize by date on the right — and in the Destination panel LR will show you in italics the folders it is going to create. You can click on Uncheck All in the bottom center, and then just check a few that you want to see how LR will handle.

      • That’s exactly what it did.. thanks. Now if I could only have it NOT import the jpegs associated with each raw file. (I cant just delete ALL the jpgs in a particular folder, since there were times the camera slipped its setting and was ONLY shooting jpeg, so I don’t want to lose any of those. Any ideas there, or just go one at a time and get the delete key warmed up? (Thanks again for the help and advice…. much appreciated).

  30. Laura;

    I will likely take the plunge and reorganize all my LR Files but I’m thinking that one way to lessen the blow of losing all my editing and collections would be to put all my important collections on a memory stick(s) and then later reimport them after clicking off the “Don’t import suspected duplicates” check box. Does this sound like it would work?

    David

    • Hi David, you won’t lose your edits if you save to metadata as I explain. As far as collections go, you won’t lose the photos in them, just the fact that they were assigned to collections — and your proposal unfortunately doesn’t preserve this — this info is only stored in the catalog. What I would suggest is keywording photos with the name of the collection. Once you get your new catalog up and running you can do a filter/search on the collection namekeyword, and easily make a new collection.

  31. Hi Laura,
    Enjoyed your workshop on Creativelive and had the “ah ! ah !” moment many times.You are a LR Guru 101 ! The features in LR4 and the enlightenment from your class inspired me to take the plunge and catalog my entire digital pics.
    -I store all my images on an external drive.
    -A couple of concerns I have are around the catalog size (for 3GB of pics) on my Macbook Pro and wondering if the catalog should reside in the external hard drive along with the pics ( I plan to make a master catalog as you suggest to prevent brick walling different events and make keyword searching scan the entire drive). Will I have to import the catalog each time I connect the drive if the catalog was created in the external drive.

    • Hi Srini, you certainly can put your catalog onto an external drive, and just have Lightroom launch that when you open the program. However, keep in mind that your catalog takes up much less space than your photos do — so it is most likely not taking up much space on your Mac HD.

      If you do decide to move it, here is an article on how to do it:
      http://laurashoe.com/2008/12/10/how-to-move-your-lightroom-catalog/

      After moving it, be sure to always plug in the drive before opening Lightroom, and be sure to close Lightroom before ejecting the drive.

  32. Hi Laura,

    Your post is very informative. I am moving from a PC to a MAC and I already have a mess without having even gone to a photo management system like Lightroom. My goal is to have a system that will help me organize what I currently have. My situation is that I have an external hard drive that is partly organized in that when I first went digital I was very good about downloading SD cards and putting them in meaningful folders like 2008 and then subfolders like “2008-02-15 Grandma’s 70th Birthday Party”. Then I fell behind and would just copy the whole SD card to a folder with the date in the name with the intention of organizing it later – never happened. In addition, I have scanned pictures and other digital pictures people have given me in random folders and I really can’t tell what is where. At some point I tried to get organized and tried creating a new folder structure by copying pictures over and I know I have duplicate pictures. Anyway, it is a mess and I’m not sure where to start. I’m hoping that the embedded date of when the picture was taken will save me and importing the pictures will organize the pictures largely based on those dates. Am I right? And what about the duplicate pictures? Will there be a log of which pictures Lightroom considers duplicates?

    Also, I read on another website that says to store all photos inside one main folder. It says to do this and THEN import. This was from a list of 10 recommendations but the year was 2009. Is this still valid? Once it is imported, does it really matter where it is imported from? Why does it matter where it is imported from? Doesn’t Lightroom maintain its own folder structure once pictures are imported or are we the people the maintainer of that structure outside of Lightroom? I’m just trying to avoid the mess you are referring to so I’m asking this now before I make a big mistake. Anyway, here’s the text I’m referencing.

    You can have as many sub-folders inside that one main folder as you want, but if you want to have peace, calm, and order in your Lightroom, the key is not to import photos from all over your computer. Choose one main folder (like your Pictures folder on a Mac, or your My Pictures folder on a Windows PC), and put all your photos inside that folder. THEN import them into Lightroom (and if you’re importing from a memory card, have those images copied from the card info a folder within your main folder). Plus, this makes backing up your image library a breeze. Every time I run into someone who’s Lightroom life is a mess, it’s because they didn’t follow this one simple rule. Also, if you’re working on a laptop, it’s totally fine to store your photos on an external drive, rather than on your laptop.

    Thank you in advance!

    • Hi New, you can use Lightroom’s “Copy” or “Move” choice in the Import dialog and have Lightroom organize your photos into date and year folders. You can choose whether to have LR import suspected duplicates or not. One option would be to choose Copy, not import suspected duplicates, and then delete the originals. Regarding duplicates, the risk here would be that the ones not imported by LR end up being the versions that you had done more work on than the ones imported into LR. Otherwise you could have it import suspected duplicates, and then you can later sort through them in Lightroom.

      Note that I prefer “Copy” to “Move” … I just think it is safer to copy and then when you have confirmed that it worked, delete the originals.

      I assume that the writer you quote is assuming that during the import of your photos, you will not be copying or moving them — that Lightroom will just reference them where they are. In this case, I agree — all your photos should be within one master folder. However, since you in fact want LR to copy and rearrange your photos, where they are coming from doesn’t matter. When you specify where you want the copies to go TO, using the Destination panel in the Import dialog, you do want them all to go into one master folder, and then organized by date, into year folders and date folders. Watch my videos on importing for more info on this.

      Best wishes!

      • Thank you so much! This is very helpful and maybe I can save myself from myself!

      • Hi Laura,

        When importing and copying (vs. moving) from various locations from my hard drive, does Lightroom just import certain file types? My reason for asking is that in some cases I have jpeg files in with various other file types like text files, doc files, pdfs, etc… I just want to know if I can point to a top level directory and tell Lightroom to go get all of my pictures or if I have to be more hands on and isolate these files from non-photo type of files.

        Thank you in advance!

  33. Hi Laura,

    Firstly, thank you for sharing your Lightroom expertise, it is much appreciated!

    I’m just geeing myself up to take the plunge and ‘start all over’ but before I do I need a little reassurance..

    Within the ‘Pictures’ folder on my Mac I have ‘My Lightroom Photos’ folder on which (I think) my current Lightroom catalogue is built. Outside of that I have a bunch of random folders and individual files just floating around in ‘Pictures’. On top of that I have even more random folders of photos and files on my desktop!

    Before I follow your instructions should I throw everything into ‘My Lightroom Photos’ or should I just go
    for it without moving anything in preparation? And should I use ‘Move’ or would it be more straightforward to ‘Copy’ and then delete the originals?

    Thanks a lot for your help and advice.

    • You’re welcome, Olly. Rather than Move, I prefer to use Copy, and then verify that all have been successfully copied before deleting the originals. Since you are going to copy (or Move), there’s no need to move the originals into My Lightroom Photos first.

    • Thank heavens I found this site! – I feel I am not the only one with major problems. Hoping to find a solution to my issues soon.

  34. Hi Laura,

    Thank you for telling us how to fix this problem! I’ve used your article as a blueprint and have successfully created both a new catalog and a my photo folder in which to store my lightroom photos in .

  35. Laura – I was following your instructions on cleaning up my catalog mess, and I wanted to delete copies of photographs I had already put in a collection in my new, clean catalog. I hit “remove from catalog” before I thought, and of course it removed both the duplicates and the photos already in my catalog. Where did they go and how can I find them? Dexter

    • Hi Dexter, when you add photos to a collection, Lightroom is not making a duplicate. The collection just references the original. You’ll have to reimport those photos back into the catalog.

  36. Laura, I have followed your outline and everything was going good until I got to Step 4 and the ‘ Click on the Show button to go to your new Lightroom catalog folder. Open it, and delete the Lightroom Settings folder.’ When I go to my new LR Catalog folder and open it, that takes me to the Library module. It’t here I either don’t know or can’t find the ‘Lightroom Settings folder’. What am I missing in this step?
    As your article title states, my Lightroom photos are a complete mess!

    Thanks for any help on this.

    Bob

    • Hi Bob, the Show button will open your catalog folder in Windows Explorer or Mac Finder. Opening this folder shouldn’t take you back into LR. If you don’t see a LR Settings folder inside of the catalog folder, then you don’t have “Store Presets with Catalog” checked and don’t need to do this step.

  37. Laura, thank you so much for answering our questions. I upgraded from LR 4 to LR 5 beta because LR was working so terribly slow on my computer, and the buzz was that LR 5 would be more efficient. I wanted to test it to make sure before I bought it, so I imported all of my photographs, thinking that when I upgraded I would simply integrate the two catalogs.

    Well, as you can imagine, that didn’t work, because LR 5 (which does work so very much faster on my machine with no computer upgrade, thank goodness!) doubled all the photographs, because in the previous catalog the names were changed on import. I have over 165,000 photographs in the LR 4 catalog, and ended up with over 300,000 in the new LR 5 catalog. All doubles.

    If all I want are the photographs that I have actually worked on in LR 4, so that I can have access to their development history, how would I go about sorting them out? I can’t find an option in either 4 OR 5 that will identify only photographs that I have previously worked on.

    my LR 4 catalog was a mess to begin with. Which is another reason I thought it would be a good idea to just start a new one when I first began with LR 5.

    I thought to experiment, but every time I tried to integrate the two catalogs, I ran into the same problem. Now my LR 4 catalog has been renamed by LR 5, and I can’t actually tell which one it is (or was). It’s a mess.

    All i want is to have my original photographs PLUS any photograph that may have a development history out of either catalog. And I’m wondering, can you tell me if this is even possible now without doubling all of them? And if it IS possible, can you help me?

    I used to think I was fairly savvy – but right now I’m feeling dumb as a stump. Or stuck on stupid, as my kids might say ;-)

    Thank you for any assistance!

    Mary

    • is there something about this question that needs clarification? I was hoping for a little guidance, but it looks like i’ve been skipped. I’m still in dire need of guidance.

      like Dolores (below), i have many catalogs with different names, one made for each attempt to integrate. Now i have no clue which LR actually made the catalog. I have every version since LR3.

      again the most important thing to me is the development history. All the other photographs i can manage. But i don’t want to lose the link between the original and the final copies of my best photographs.

      i would really appreciate some guidance. I have read this article and can’t see my situation (the doubling of photographs due to name changes on import in previous versions of LR, and the need to preserve development history of my published photographs.

    • Hi Mary, I hope to write a post soon on eliminating duplicates, but in the meantime check out http://www.lightroom-plugins.com/DupesIndex.php.

      While it isn’t possible to do a filter on “has develop settings”, you can create a smart collection with this criterion.

      I hope this helps. It is difficult to advise on a complete process without seeing everything.

  38. Laura, the organization of my photos is the biggest mess because when I initially bought Lightroom I didn’t really understand how to set up the catalog. So, from the get-go it hasn’t functioned properly. By now, I have 15,727 photos on my computer. Any attempts I’ve made to reorganize has only made it worse because connections are broken (I guess); I can find them in various places, but can’t get them back into LIghtroom even when I try to import them.

    When I saw your instructions re: pulling all photos into a new catalog I was ecstatic! My metadata is saving as I write. However, when I looked to see where my old catalog resides, I was once again thrown into confusion. This is what I see in Catalog 2:

    Backups
    Catalog 2 Previews.lrdata
    Catalog 2-2 Previews.lrdata
    Catalog 2-2.lrcat
    Catalog 2-3 Previews.lrdata
    Catalog 2-3.lrcat
    Catalog 2-3.lrcat-journal
    Catalog 2-3.lrcat.lock
    Catalog 2.lrcat
    Lightroom Settings
    Temporary Import Data-2.db
    Temporary Import Data.db

    Will I delete everything above as listed in catalog 2?

    Thanks very much,
    Dolores

    • Hi Dolores, I apologize for the delay. You actually have 3 catalogs here: 2-2, 2-3, 2. Assuming that you have created a new catalog by now with all your photos, then you can delete everything in this list except Backups and Lightroom Settings.

  39. I neglected to say that under Lightroom, along with Catalog 2 I have this list:

    2011-2 Previews.lrdata
    2011-2.lrcat
    Backups
    Catalog 2
    Lightroom 4 Catalog.Ircat

    Should any of this be deleted?

    In addition, along the way, in the same column as Lightroom, I once created a folder that is named Lightroom Originals. This opens to :

    2011-2 Previews.lrdata
    2011-2.lrcat
    Backups
    Catalog 2
    Lightroom 4 Catalog.Ircat

    Finally, along with Lightroom, Lightroom Originals, I have a third folder named Lightroom photos. This folder contains most of my photos in folders named by year, month and day. But these are also included:

    2011 Previews.lrdata
    Backups
    LR Three.lrcat
    Temporary Import Data-2.db

    Did I say my photos are in a mess??? Sigh! I do hope this process will pull it all together; I’m desperate!

    Thanks again.

    • Be sure to keep the Backups folder you are now backing up to (when you close LR and it gives you the prompt to backup your catalog, look in that dialog for where it is backing up to.) Also keep Lightroom Settings, and any folders that actually have photos in them, like Lightroom photos.

  40. Hi there

    I cam across this blog post and thought it looked perfect for my disorganised lightroom library. Everything was going great until I got to stage 4 (the step below) and there is no Lightroom Settings Folder in my old Lightroom Catalogue :-( Any ideas what I might have done wrong and what I should do now?

    “Open another Mac Finder or Windows Explorer window, and go to your old Lightroom catalog folder (from step 2). Open it and Ctl/Cmd-drag the Lightroom Settings folder into the new catalog folder in the first window. Now close these windows, and close and restart Lightroom.”

    • Hi Niccky, this suggests to me that you are not storing your presets with your catalog — the box isn’t checked in Preferences. In this case you can skip this process of copying your Settings folder.

  41. My Lightroom is a complete disaster. I had no training, So didn’t realise that you could import straight into Lightroom. so it’ created all these folders in My Pictures with the date they were imported.
    I think I originally thought, that’ I wanted to save a copy in My Pictures, in case something happened to Lightroom.
    I have recently downloaded Microsoft Codec as the files were being imported as ORF files and I couldn’t view them. Since downloading Codec, it has fixed some, but not all of them which is very annoying. I really don’t know what to do. All my links in Lightroom are broken and have the question mark next to them. Windows has put my files all over the place.
    My work flow, is that I edit a photo in Lightroom, mark it with a watermark, then Export it onto my desktop where I drag it onto my ipad with Category Files. – Now I am thinking about doing a book through blub, or printing them, but because I put the Watermark on (Which is just my name, bottom left right corner) I feel it’s wrong and it would be better without. But now I can’t access the original photo file, because of the broken link. I had no idea how to use Lightroom prior to getting it. And only took up photography a year ago! So I was pretty much relying on Tutorials and working it out myself. I’m abit confused. If you could assist it would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Nikki,

      You have made the common mistake of moving files outside of Lightroom. Lightroom can’t see you do this, and therefore loses the connection to your files. In the future, do all your rearranging, renaming etc, from within Lightroom using the Folders panel.

      At this point you could:
      (1) resolve all the question marks by telling Lightroom where the photos are, using the method in this post. If you have done tons of rearranging and renaming, this will be very tedious.
      (2) Remove all your photos with question marks from Lightroom (select, right-click, delete photo, remove), and start over with a fresh new import. If you have already rearranged them on your hard drive, in the Import dialog you would choose “Add” to just add them to the LR catalog without copying or moving them. This will be much faster, but you will lose all of the Lightroom work you have done on these photos.
      (3) If you would like assistance, I do private online sessions with lots of folks to help them with cleanup. (The process would still be one or a combination of the above approaches.) Here’s the link to contact me.

  42. I forgot to say that I am using Lightroom 4!

  43. Hello,
    LR and I have had an up/down and love/hate relationship for some time. Mostly now it is okay, but I am learning new things about her quirks every day. And she still stumps me. Especially when I am trying to clean things up and get more organized.

    My question is related to the Catalog vs. Folders.
    In the Catalog the total number of All Photographs is 43,246.

    In the Folders on my HD, in the parent folder, I also have 43,246 photos.

    But in the sub-folder, Pictures, I have only 41,896 photos.
    How can that be?

    This sub-folder, Pictures, has many subfolders with different numbers of photos, but none of them indicate missing photos.
    I thought perhaps it was because there were duplicates in the All Photographs. Indeed on a quick look I found one right away. So I deleted it, assuming that it would solve my problem. No, because both numbers went down the same. So they still don’t jibe. ???

    Where else should I investigate to solve my problem. The math has to work, right?.

    • Hi Audrey,

      You have some photos sitting straight in your Pictures folder, rather than in subfolders. In the menu bar go to Library, and uncheck Show Photos from Subfolders. Now your Pictures folder will show only photos sitting directly in it. Move them elsewhere, then recheck Show Photos from Subfolders.

  44. Hi Laura,

    6 months later and my files are worse than ever. I printed your instructions and went through the process again. But I am so lost. Now, last night, I in moving a file, I broke the link to my raw files. Every photo has a question mark. You mentioned that you could provide personal help. Are you able to “take over” someone’s computer as the Mac people do, so you could try to sort out the mess? Please let me know what you could do to help, how you would do it and how much is your fee. I would give anything, not only to have it fixed, but to know more about what the files mean so that I could keep it straight in the future. I look forward to hearing from you.

  45. Thank you so much, Laura. What I’d like to do is to first is reconnect the photos within Lightroom as per your directions. I know I can do that. Then, I’d like to schedule time with you. At that point, I should be able to tell you exactly where the photos reside. In fact, I could also do the first steps toward setting up a new catalog. Then, I’d like to have you come in to help me import the photos because that’s where I ran into a snag this time around. I’d also like to have your help deleting the MANY peripheral folders and old catalogs. I don’t know if that can be done within an hour, but if not, so be it. I must get this resolved.

    I have a trip planned to the East Coast the 14th -21st, so I couldn’t be ready until the latter part of January. Of course, I don’t know your schedule either, but we could coordinate. I’ll take a look at your form, now.

    I’m looking forward to having your help! :)

  46. I went through the entire process and cannot figure out why my photos in the new catalog are not showing my edits. I followed each step carefully including saving metadata. Also, ‘Store Presets with Catalog’ was not checked and I could not find the Settings folder in the original catalog to drag over.

    Obviously I am overlooking something. I am a newbie at this and would love some insight to what I might be doing wrong.

    Thank you!

    • Hi Audrey,

      I apologize for overlooking your question (things get lost amid the spam). Without being able to retrace your steps, I unfortunately can’t know what went wrong. If you first selected all your photos and then saved the metadata for all, then when you reimport them, the work should be there. Have you figured this issue out? If so, perhaps other can learn from your process.

      • I can’t remember exactly what I did — Like a lot of us, I just move on and make the best of things…. I just know that there are photos for which I no longer have the original import –only the final edits. It’s unfortunate because in some cases, I know I could do a better job in my post-processing if only I had the option to go a few steps back.

        Lightroom is still a challenge for me, but I’m using it and muddling through. I don’t really remember what I did or didn’t do. If I find out more I will let you know.
        Thanks,

        • I understand now, Audrey. You have not lost your edits, and you haven’t lost the ability to undo your edits to get back to as you imported the file (just hit Reset in the bottom right of Develop). What you have lost is just the step-by-step record of the edits you did, shown in the History panel. This unfortunately doesn’t save to XMP.

  47. Thanks, Laura. I’m brand new to Lightroom and was floundering a bit as where to start.

    This article helped immensely. 10,000 images now squarely organized.

    Cheers!

  48. Hi Laura:
    I just upgraded to L5 from L3. What I did right after buying L5:
    1. Backed up all my RAW files.
    2. Backed up the L3 catalogs with the original files (just in case) on to my external hard drive from within Lightroom so it knows where I have moved the catalogs/photos to.
    3. Wiped all L3 catalogs from my internal hard drive (I still have all the original photos stored in a folder in my computer)
    4. Installed the L5.
    5. Import the L3 catalogs

    So far so good. As long as I have the external hard drive plugged in, I can work on my photos. But when my external hard drive is offline, I have the exclamation mark on all my photos. I understand this is a very common problem but I thought that when I exported the L3 catalogs from within Lightroom, I will not have that problem.

    Questions:
    1.What did I do wrong?
    2. I understand that I can build Smart Previews in L5 and move on, but if I have another choice, I would like to know how I can remedy my mistake.
    3. I have no L3 files/catalogs on my computer. What are my options?

    I hope it makes sense.

    Thanks

    • Hi Shinenao,

      You didn’t do anything wrong – when your external drive is offline, Lightroom 5 will show you the exclamation point to indicate this (it was a question mark in Lightroom 3). You’ll need to plug in the drive if you want to develop your photos (or build smart previews before unplugging it.)

  49. […] Pero si tenemos un uso avanzado de los catálogos, entonces quizás este método –recomendado por Laura Shoe- no es para nosotros. Si es así, tenemos que encontrar una forma de ordenar todo esto, y para eso, […]

  50. Hi Laura

    Thank you for this article which is like a Rosetta Stone for me – this is the one area that’s plagued me since I started using Lightroom – I’ve really searched for a complete explanation of how to resolve my folder mess – thanks to this article I now know why the mess is there and how to fix it.

    all the best
    Michael

  51. Hi Laura,
    I found this article by doing a google search. It sounds like just the ticket for what I need. Everytime I think I have my catalog in order, I realize I have folders all over my hard drive that LR doesn’t know about. (I have a Pictures folder in the library, A My Pictures folder under Users, and also Under the C drive), and none of them seem to be identical. I’m so confused. Then I thought, what about my older photos that I have stored on my external HD? I need to organize those as well.
    So my question is, can I do this above procedure with my external hard drive connected in order for LR to find every photo I own and organize them into the correct folder?

    PS-I now know that I can never move photos without doing it through LR, which is probably what caused this disarray.

    • Yes you can, Sheila – you’ll choose your different “sources” in the Import dialog on the left.

      • Thank you Laura for the response. I’m still scared I’m going to make things worse :(
        But I will work up the courage and give it a try since your instructions are do detailed.

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