When you first install and open Lightroom, you will be treated to the default catalog’s Import Dialog box. We advise that you not actually use the default catalog and location system. Instead, we suggest trying one of two other options.

This tutorial is part of our Lightroom Tips Series, where we give you simple guidance on how to use Lightroom more efficiently and effectively.

Option 1: Create ONE New Catalog

If you are a casual photographer and limit your captures to road trips, pictures of the family, etc., then this option should suffice. Simply create a single catalog and save it to the fastest hard drive on your computer (so long as it has adequate storage).

The benefit of choosing this option is that you can quickly search through your images in a single catalog without having to search through a stack of catalogs. The downside, however, is that the catalog will eventually slow down over time as it becomes bloated with more and more files. The idea is that a casual photographer will not overload the catalog any time soon and likely won’t notice a change in performance.

Option 2: Create a New Catalog for Each Independent Event

If you are a professional photographer (or an aspiring professional) and you photograph multiple events (family sessions, weddings, corporate events, etc.), then we recommend creating a new catalog for each separate event.

The benefit of choosing this option is that separating the catalogs out will keep Lightroom operating at peak efficiency because it will never get bogged down by having to work through too many files. This should also make backing up your catalogs very simple. Another big plus here is that if a catalog becomes corrupt, you will only lose the development settings for a single session and not for your entire library of events.

How to Create a New Catalog

Let’s jump right into setting up a new catalog!

Step 1: File > New Catalog

New Catalog in Lightroom
New Catalog in Lightroom

Selecting “New Catalog” from the File tab will open a finder window that will allow us to choose where we want to store the catalog. While there are several workflow options to choose from, we’re going to share the system that we find works best.

Step 2: Choose Your Fastest Hard Drive

Don’t choose a slow external drive just because it’s large. Instead, choose the fastest drive you have that has adequate space for storing your catalogs. For the sake of this demonstration, we’re going to choose our Desktop.

Step 3: Create a New Folder and Name the Catalog

Set up a clean folder system for storing your catalog and files in Lightroom
Set up a clean folder system for storing your catalog and files in Lightroom

Create a new folder for the event. This folder will be used to store your catalog, as well as your original files and edits, which will each be kept in folders within the main folder. We’ll discuss how to set up your folders for an efficient workflow in a separate article. For now, here’s how we name our main folder as well as our catalog:

Naming the Main Event Folder: We include the date and the event name in this folder. For this demonstration, we’ll label the main folder as follows: “2020-02-22 – Mastering Lightroom Fundamentals”

Naming the Catalog: You’ll notice where it says “File Name” in the dialog box above. That is where you will enter the name of your catalog. We’ve named our catalog “MLF Catalog” for Mastering Lightroom Fundamentals.

Once you’ve named your catalog and chosen it’s location, click “Create.”

Step 4: Choose Back Up Options

Back up catalog dialog box in Lightroom
Back up catalog dialog box in Lightroom

A Back-Up Catalog Dialog Box will appear whenever you close one catalog to open another. It is basically asking if you’d like to back up the catalog you’re closing. You can decide the frequency for backing up your catalogs as well as where to store the back ups. There are also options to test your back ups and optimize the catalogs after they’ve been backed up. Whichever options you choose, we recommend that you back up your catalogs. Once your settings are dialed in, click “Back up.”

Congratulations! You’ve created a Lightroom catalog! From here, your catalog will open and you’ll see the Import Dialog box. You can read more about how to import your images and create standard import presets here.

Missing Catalog

If you move or delete a catalog, this is the dialog box you’ll see when opening Lightroom (see image below).

Lightroom dialog for missing catalog
Lightroom dialog for missing catalog

From here, you can either choose a different catalog or use the default catalog. More often than not, you will choose a different catalog or else locate the missing catalog wherever it’s stored and open Lightroom directly from the catalog. If you choose a different catalog, a new dialog box will open, prompting you to create a new catalog (see the image below).

Create a new catalog dialog box in Lightroom
Create a new catalog dialog box in Lightroom

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