I recently started taking RAW photos and purchased Lightroom 3 to manage them. So far I have not found the ideal way to manage them. Here's basically how my workflow goes:

  1. Import the RAW files from the camera to a specific import folder.
  2. Edit the RAW files.
  3. Once the pictures look good, convert the files to JPEG and save them to my photo album folder.
  4. Keyword the photos, possibly add comments etc.
  5. Save the original RAW files to external hard drive.

Currently Lightroom does not know my photo album folder exists and I've used it only to edit the pictures in the import folder.

However, I'd like to use Lightroom also to manage my photo album. But what would be the best way to handle that? Is there a better way than to export the photos to my album and them import the album folder? I assume export does not include the ratings etc if I set them while editing the RAW files?

Ideally I would of course keep the RAW files in my album, but my laptop has limited hard drive space, so I can't do that. Besides, I like to keep all the album files in JPEG so I can use them easily anywhere without additional exports.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good question. If you can sort out your workflow, you will have a happier life! \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Jul 15, 2011 at 9:02

6 Answers 6


It sounds like you're fighting Lightroom's natural workflow a bit. Here's my suggestion, which is pretty close to a "standard" workflow for Lightroom:

  • Import your RAW files. As part of the import, you've got the option to move the files to another location -- that would be your external drive. Following the import, then, Lightroom knows about your photos, and the location it knows for those RAW files is the external drive.
  • Keyword tagging and ranking in the Library module.
  • Edit any photos you wish in the Develop module -- it's ok to swap this step with tagging if you'd rather do it in that order.
  • Export your photos to your album folder.

At this point, you can disconnect your external drive and you'll still have the photos in your album. If you want to do any work with those photos, though, you'll have to have your external drive connected.

Regardless of whatever tuning you do to your workflow, you want to make sure that once photos become known to Lightroom, you're using Lightroom to manage moving those photos, if necessary. This is because Lightroom handles all of its manipulations and metadata as additions to your original photo (your RAW files). If you change the location of that RAW file in a way that Lightroom isn't aware of, you're going to end up having to help Lightroom find the new location for that file before it can continue.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Sounds otherwise perfect, but this does not work very well with my backup procedures. Basically I don't want to backup RAW files after they have been exported to JPEG so I need to move then to another folder anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carlos
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:44

Another point is that Lightroom doesn't change the RAW file in any way, so there is no need to save the RAW file.

Another thing to consider is that you don't need to export a JPEG unless and until you actually need the JPEG. Lightroom saves edits as essentially a linear list of commands that are executed when you 'export'. So, there is really no need to export, and store a JPEG, as you can go into Lightroom at anytime and get a JPEG on demand.

For example: I upload my images to Smugmug. Prior to Lightroom, I used to create my JPEGs, and then upload them to Smugmug, saving the JPEG to my photos directory. Now, however, I simply export the images to Smugmug, and thats it. I do not keep JPEG files, only the RAW and the metadata for Lightroom, allowing me to create a new JPEG whenever I need one.

  • \$\begingroup\$ it's off-topic, but how do you find SmugMug? I'm thinking of jumping in with their pro service. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Jul 15, 2011 at 9:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ smugmug.com \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Jul 15, 2011 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think he meant, how do you find the quality? \$\endgroup\$ Jul 20, 2011 at 2:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ ha! perhaps you are correct @rockinthesixstring. To answer the question more specifically, I like Smugmug. Unlimited photo hosting, unlimited viewing, easy customization, with the ability to do CSS edits to my hearts content, if I wish. Granted there are simpler solutions, but Smugmug has the best all around offering, and the people are great too. I have tried them all, but perfer Smugmug. \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Jul 20, 2011 at 17:04
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Carlos: I am saying that you don not need to maintain or store JPEGs. You can create a JPEG when ever you like from Lightroom. Otherwise, you simply have yet another copy of an image on your computer, and more importantly, that likely is not even the 'final' copy of your image, as LR updates the Camera RAW within it to improve images all the time. Most current OS can preview RAW today, using the embedded JPEG in the RAW image. \$\endgroup\$
    – cmason
    Jul 22, 2011 at 21:12

I'm doing something similar and this is how I use lightroom

  • Import RAW Images, move as DNG into lib
  • Reject the bad ones and delete them
  • Pick the best ones and tag them

Based on the tags, I have multiple publish services linked to smart collections that copy the files to directories with different options.

  • Backup, which copies all files in DNG format to an external drive into a set of directories, one per year
  • Photo-Wallet which copies pictures of the wife and kids that I have rated 1+ from the past year plus all others with 2+ stars into jpeg format with 800px max size and quality of 60%
  • Wallpaper which preps images tagged "Wallpaper" to use as the backdrop of my home and work machines.
  • Upload, which copies the pictures into a directory to upload to flickr.

You can set up two services, one for backup and one for your photo-album. Once you have everything tagged you can run publish on both services.

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for BACKUP! Wish I could + another 1 for smart collections! \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Finch
    Jul 15, 2011 at 9:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ I like what you've done with publish services. Backups I got already covered, but I need to think if I can find some other uses for them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Carlos
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:51

My workflow:

  • Choose import
  • Choose the metadata preset - sets IPTC data for all photos
  • Set general keyword for all photos like type of event, location etc.
  • Import (copy) into Lightroom as raw (.cr2)
  • Mark all photos in the grid (library module) and set basic title and caption that apply to all photos
  • Set geolocation data with the jfriedl geolocation plugin (http://regex.info/blog/lightroom-goodies/gps)
  • Pic by pic, mark the best shots as picks and the worst for deletion with keys (P)ick (U)npick (X)reject.
  • By changing the filter, display only picks and unpicked photos
  • Switch to Develop module
  • Mark all photos and apply a lens correction setting to all photos if needed

This is where I start editing single pictures in the Develop module.

  • Start with favorites, least favorites at the end.
  • Apply similar settings to similar photos whenever possible with the
    Sync... or Auto Sync button (white balance, sharpening, effects etc.)
  • Throw away even more photos you don't like by using the X-key (they will disappear immediately because of the filter)
  • Now tagging, keywording, captioning on every photo
  • When done, start an impromptu slideshow by pressing command-return (mac) to check for consistency throughout the photos
  • Re-edit where unhappy
  • Export to whatever needed
  • If sure everything's ok, disable the filter, select all photos and press command-delete to delete all rejects
  • Convert remaining photos to DNG

Done. Best thing in Lightroom: PRESETS. Everywhere. Use it! Hope that helps.


An important part of “manage” is staying organized, and good keywording is very valuable for that. A little discipline here will go a long way. For example, see this question and/or this detailed article by Chuq von Rospach.

However, it’s also easy to go overboard and come up with a tagging scheme that’s too complex, leading to disuse.


I have found the book from D65 to be most helpful in developing a Lightroom workflow. http://www.d-65.com/downloads.html


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