It’s easy to overlook the Lightroom Library module because most photographers want to get straight into using the Develop module.
But it’s important to understand how to use the Library module properly. The work you do here lays the foundation for everything you do inside Lightroom. Get it right and everything else in Lightroom runs smoothly. Get it wrong and your Lightroom experience may become quite frustrating.
Let’s get started with what’s probably the most important thing of all – backing up your Catalog.
1. How to back up the Lightroom Catalog
Your Lightroom Catalog is where Lightroom stores every piece of information it has about your photos.
This includes the location of your photos (i.e., where they are saved on your hard drive), any metadata associated with them (from camera settings to keywords), Lightroom specific information (such as which Collections a photo belongs to) and any developing you have done in the Develop module.
That makes the Lightroom Catalog very important. There’s no doubt it would be catastrophic to lose all this data. It’s essential to regularly back your Catalog up.
You can check your back up settings by going to Lightroom > Catalog Settings (Mac) or Edit > Catalog Settings (PC). Click the General tab. Back up catalog should be set to Every Time Lightroom Exits.
Now, when you quit Lightroom a window appears that tells you where the Catalog backups are saved. Click the Choose button to change the location.
Note that the Library Catalog itself should be saved on your computer’s internal hard drive, otherwise it will slow Lightroom down.
The Catalog backups should be saved on an external hard drive, in case your computer’s hard drive fails or is lost or stolen. The best place for your Catalog backups is the external hard drive where your photos and Raw files are saved.
Make sure the Test integrity before backing up and Optimize catalog after backing up boxes are ticked. When you’re done click the Back up button. Lightroom saves a backup of your Catalog to your external hard drive before closing. This may take some time, especially for a large Catalog, so be patient.
A few more points to make:
- Lightroom 6 and Lightroom CC compress Catalogs backups, saving hard drive space.
- You can delete older backups to free up hard drive space. You only need to keep the last two or three.
- Once a month or so copy the most recent backup to Dropbox, Google Drive or another cloud storage solution. This will protect you if you lose both your computer and external hard drive to theft or fire. Ideally you should keep an off-site backup of your photos as well.
You’ll find the location and name of your Lightroom Catalog in the Catalog Settings.
You can learn more about the Lightroom Catalog in my article What is the Lightroom Catalog?
2. How to back up your photos
You must understand that your photos aren’t stored inside Lightroom or in the Lightroom Catalog. Your photos are saved on your hard drive (or drives). Lightroom doesn’t back them up – it’s your responsibility to do that.
I’m going to share the method I use to back up my photos. There are many ways of doing this and you need to find the method that works best for you. But mine is simple, easy to put in place and doesn’t require any software.
1. Create a master folder on an external hard drive to contain all your subfolders, photos and Raw files. I call mine RAW. The title is not strictly accurate as it contains JPEG files as well, but I know what it’s for.
2. In that folder create a new folder for every year you take photos.
3. In each of those folders, create 12 folders, one for every month of the year. Whenever you import photos into Lightroom, select the correct destination folder depending on the month and year the photos were taken.
4. Place each shoot into a folder of its own. You can either give it a name or organize the folders by date.
This system works because it’s easy to see whether your Raw files are backed up. Want to back up all your Raw files to another hard drive? Just copy the RAW folder. Want to see whether you’ve backed up all the photos you’ve taken this month? It’s easy with this system.
I back my photos and Raw files up to three different external hard drives, one of which is stored off-site. If one of the hard drives fails, I have two other copies.
3. How to use Collections to organize your photos in the Library module
One of the advantages that Lightroom has over programs like Photoshop is that it manages your photos from the moment you import them into the Lightroom Catalog.
Lightroom uses Collections to manage your photos.
A Collection is a kind of virtual folder. Folders are limited because you can only store a photo in one folder. But you can add the same photo to as many Collections as you like. As a result Collections are the easiest and most flexible way to manage your photos.
The Folders panel is only visible in the Library module, but the Collections panel is available in every Lightroom module. That’s a sure sign that Adobe wants you to use Collections to manage your photos.
The clearest way to explain the benefit of using Collections rather than folders is with an example. Imagine that you have a portrait of a friend called Sam that you took in New York City in 2017. You can only save that photo in one folder. But you can add it to a Collection called Sam, another called New York City, another called 2017, or to as many as you like.
Your folders should be set up to make backing photos up easy. Your Collections should be used to organize your photos. My article How to Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Collections explains how to do it.
4. How to search for images in the Library module
One of the reasons that Lightroom stores your photos’ metadata in the Catalog is because it makes it easy to search your photos.
You do this in the Filter Bar, displayed above the Content Window in Grid View (press ‘\’ on the keyboard if you don’t see it).
There are three types of searches you can make.
Text: Search keywords, filenames, titles or captions for text sequences.
Attribute: Filter by flag, star rating, color label or file kind (master photo, Virtual Copy, or video).
Metadata: Search by date, camera, lens, camera setting (ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc.), aspect ratio or any of the dozen or so search options listed there.
The search is applied to the currently selected Collections or folders. You can search every photo in your Catalog by selecting All Photographs in the Catalog panel.
You can also combine the search types by selecting more than one from the Filter Bar. Hold down the Shift or Cmd (Mac) / Ctrl (PC) and click on the Text, Attribute or Metadata headings to add or remove them from the search.
Select None to remove the search criteria.
Play around with the options to see how it works.
Knowing how to use the Lightroom Library module is very important as it makes your entire Lightroom experience run much more smoothly. It’s essential that you understand how the Lightroom Catalog works and how to back up the Catalog and your photos. It’s also helpful to know how to use Collections and search photos.
Do you have any questions about the Lightroom module? Let us know in the comments!
If you liked this article then please take a look at my Mastering Lightroom ebooks. They show you how to get the most out of Lightroom and cover your entire workflow importing to developing and beyond. Click the link to learn more.