Most of the albums I create require a custom sort order to tell the story. I also find that I publish the same photos (with different treatments, crops, etc) to multiple albums. I have many albums with 100s of photos, so I would like to avoid republishing entire albums every time I make a small change to a single photo or add a new batch to an existing album from the day's shoot. Friends and family with whom I share these albums use a variety of different devices and services and I'd like the sort order to be preserved when publishing to those.

I am using Lightroom 4.4. Most of my source photos are camera raw. Many of my photos are taken while traveling with limited internet connection, which is part of the reason I'd like to avoid republishing entire albums.

My Wishes

  1. Publish to Folder - Simply publish albums to a folder on my hard drive (so I can distribute them to devices and services from there).
  2. Filenaming by sort - Perform custom sorting of albums inside Lightroom and have that sorting be reflected in the photo filenames when the album is published.
  3. Multiple Albums - Do (2) and include the same photo with different treatments in different custom-sorted albums.
  4. Single Source - Avoid duplicating source photos (because of the disk-space consumed).
  5. Updateable - Be able to update published albums in future with changes made in Lightroom.
  6. Efficient Distribution - Avoid republishing an entire album when a small change or addition is made to an album (because of the time that takes).

What I Have Tried

The obvious two methods for publishing albums from Lightroom are export and publishing services. Both of these methods have major drawbacks.

Exporting Collections

  1. Publish to Folder
  2. Filenaming by Sort
  3. Multiple Albums
  4. Single Source
  5. Updateable
  6. Efficient Distribution

Using one collection per album, it is possible to custom-sort each collection and export the entire collection using {Sequence # (0001)} in the file name. Just set the viewer device or service to sort by filename and everything works.

The problem occurs when publishing small updates or additions to the album:

  • Lightroom doesn't track which photos have changed or are new so you have to re-export the entire album, which takes a long time if you have several hundred photos in the album. (Either that or manually track changes yourself and export only the affected files.)
  • If the update involves re-ordering files, then re-exporting is your only practical option because the file names need to be re-numbered.
  • Because re-exporting involves deleting and re-creating the folder, it requires a lot of bandwidth for the albums to be re-distributed. For example, dropbox doesn't detect that the new files are identical save for their filenames, so dropbox re-uploads the entire album.

Hard Drive Publish Service

  1. Publish to Folder
  2. Filenaming by Sort
  3. Multiple Albums
  4. Single Source
  5. Updateable
  6. Efficient Distribution

Using the "Hard Drive" publish service with one collection per album, Lightroom efficiently publishes changes to the albums. If I change just one file, only that file is marked for publishing.

The problem is that the "Hard Drive" publish service uses some arbitrary (i.e. not user selectable), sort order when publishing. This means that while you can select {Sequence # (0001)} to use in the published file names, the values of the sequence numbers in no way reflects the user order shown in Lightroom.

Renaming Source Files, Hard Drive Publish Service

  1. Publish to Folder
  2. Filenaming by Sort
  3. Multiple Albums <= either
  4. Single Source <= or
  5. Updateable
  6. Efficient Distribution

This technique is inspired by dialex' suggestion to rename source files. This technique might be adapted to work with the Hard Drive publish service, however, if you have multiple albums, you would have to keep one copy of the source file for each album it is published to, which has a terrible impact on disk space usage.

Is there an efficient way to export/publish modifications to albums with custom sort orders?

It doesn't seem like my wishes are that extraordinary and it feels like I'm missing some obvious feature, setting, or technique that everyone else is enjoying. Any suggestions for alternative publishing workflows that achieve the same goals would also be appreciated.


You need a way to get a sequence number into a metadata field you can put in front of your filename on export.

So the sequence number is persistent rather than generated at output.

And you need enough spare fields that you can have a sequence number for every collection.

You might need to temporarily rename the files to initially generate this sequence number. (Rename files with a prepended sequence number, grab that number to metadata, re-rename back to the original.)

And you might need to use custom metadata fields (that you can't prepend to filenames), copying them to one of the few fields you can use as needed.

This requires metadata wrangling that Lightroom doesn't support internally, but there are a bunch of metadata plug-ins out there, I suspect somebody has something that can be tortured into working.

  • I'm not quite sure I follow what you're proposing. Are you suggesting to use a numbered metadata field within Lightroom to achieve custom sort order? And then use that same field to prefix exported file names? – alx9r Jun 2 '15 at 20:06
  • Yes, exactly. I know it'll work, and I know it's inherently possible. But the technical details of making it happen aren't trivial. Especially since the Rob Cole metadata plugins are apparently gone for good. – Roger Krueger Jun 5 '15 at 16:54
  • I see. This seems to be both messy and the best option I've seen so far. – alx9r Jun 5 '15 at 19:18

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