3 Key Tips To Understanding The Lightroom Catalog System – Lightroom 5 Organization and Workflow DVD

January 7th 2014 12:11 PM


Before you can take advantage of Lightroom’s full potential as a photo editing software, you have to understand how the catalog system works. For someone who has never used Lightroom before this can be quite confusing, but we made 3 tips to make understanding the catalog system easy. Having a good understanding of how the Lightroom catalog system works is the first step in having an efficient Lightroom workflow. Check out the video and article below for the tips.

Lightroom Organization and Workflow DVD

Lightroom WorkflowThe following is an excerpt from the Lightroom Organization and Workflow DVD, the first DVD of the Lightroom Workshop Collection. Designed to give photographers a ground up foundation in the Lightroom catalog system, image management and organization, Lightroom customization and much more, these tips will increase the speed of your processing by 5 to 10 times. Learn more about by Clicking Here.

Watch The 3 Key Tips To Understanding The Lightroom Catalog System Video

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Music: “Celeste” by Les Enfants – Licensed from The Music Bed

Tip 1. Changes that are made to the image are stored in the catalog, not the image

When you import your images to a Lightroom Catalog, Lightroom doesn’t import the images files into the catalog, instead it references the images from the location the images are stored. This is important to understand because if you move the images to another location Lightroom will not know where the images are moved to and the references will break.

broken reference
While this is easy to fix it’s also easy to avoid. If you keep your Lightroom catalog and your respective images in the same folder, and move that folder altogether, the Lightroom Catalog will always know where to locate the images.


In the image above you can see an example of how I include my Lightroom Catalog in the same folder my images are in. This way if I move the “00 Exercise Files” folder from my desktop to my hard drive and onto another desktop, the Lightroom catalog within the folder will always know where to reference the images because they’re in the same folder.

Tip 2. Lightroom’s backup function only backs up the catalog, not the images

When you choose to backup your catalog you’re only backing up the changes you are making to the images, but not the images themselves. Processing changes, attributes, metadata, ratings, and other adjustment will be saved but there are no additional copies of the images.


Many people make the false assumption that backing up their catalog means they are backing up their images, but that is not that case. We always recommend photographers make back ups of their images in case of hard drive failure, so be sure not to rely on the catalog back up as a solution for backing up your images.

Tip 3. Each catalog is independent from one another

In Lightroom you can only have one Catalog file open at a time. This means if you store travel photos in a “Travel Photo Catalog” and wedding photos in a “Wedding Photo Catalog” you can only have access to one of those Catalogs at a time. If the Travel Photo Catalog is open, you wont have access to the Wedding Photos Catalog, and if the Wedding Photos Catalog is open you won’t have access to the Travel Photo Catalog. You will only have access to the catalog that is open at that time, and if you choose to open another Catalog Lightroom will close the Catalog that is open.

Conclusion and Learn More about Lightroom

Lightroom WorkflowIf you’re interested in learning more about Lightroom Organization and Workflow, be sure to check out our DVD Workshop in our store. This DVD lays the foundation of Lightroom Mastery and gives you a faster, more efficient Lightroom workflow. Click Here for more info.



Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography, LJP Studios and SLR Lounge. Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username pyejirsa. Also, join me on the SLR Lounge Community Page where I am frequently posting tips, tricks, tutorials and behind the scenes details.

Comments [2]

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  1. 1

    Hi and thanks for the help.

    I use lightroom for clothing catalouge shooting and I label all my photos with at least 3 key words. Supplier, style number, color. And I always add them in that order.

    On export I have lightroom rename my files to “keywords”

    However, lightroom changes the order on me I think to make it alphabetical. Is there anyway to turn that function off?

    I’m looking for the suppler to always be first then style number then color in the name of the files.

    Like this Avero,1000413,Black
    or Marie Jo, 101332, White

    But it comes out like this 101332,Black,Marie Jo

    I then have an excel function that allows me to import file names into spreadsheet and i break the file name into cells on the comma and I all of a sudden have a perfect list that I can organize by suppler style or color within excel.

    But as of now I get suppler in first row sometimes then second and even third row. Which is a pain.

    Thanks again for taking the time to read this.

  2. 1
    Pompo Bresciani

    I thought you can automatically write files developments to XMP files, can’t you do that?