I recently switched from Aperture to LR. I want to know what is the best way to get organized.

How do you keep your file structure? I read online that some are using YYYYMMDD-Title as folders.

Also, all readings seems to suggest using collections/sets to organize "events".

So "Trip to London" is an event that I should create as a collection set. And then specific days such as "Visit X" could be set as collection in the set. Problem is, the collection browsing tool has no organization ability. I can't even sort by date or anything. It's just alphabetical. Does that mean I need to name my collections with some sort date hack again (YYYYMMDD-Collection-name)?

What is the best way to organize LR so I can find photos quickly?


4 Answers 4


In short the use of metadata is the most powerful and flexible way to be able to find and organise your photographs and Lightroom is designed with that approach in mind. Adding location metadata and some keywords (as needed) makes it easy to find groups of related photographs - my main filter is by date and location with keywords being used to tag types of events or clients/organisations/people. Both file systems and collection sets are limited to hierarchical structures which are not flexible enough for organising photographs.

The file system is used for storage and is not best used for organisation. The main characteristics you want is a single main directory for all photographs so that it is easy to manage and backup your storage and then split that down into subdirectories so that not any one director has too many photographs as file systems are inefficient if that is the case. I have one directory per month but if I took more photographs I might need to go to one directory per day.

The collections and collection sets are best used for collecting together groups of photographs for "projects" which might be a portfolio or a project for a client. An example is I have a collection set for our local club competition where I then have collections for all possible candidate photographs, those printed and matted and then sets for those to be entered into each competition.


Everyone has their own needs and their own ways of doing things. The trick is to use the tools available to make life easier for yourself in achieving what you want.

Ways I make life easier for myself include:

  • Applying custom metadata presets on import to add copyright information etc. to the metadata. Metadata presets can be applied after import too. If you have not specified a value for a particular field in the preset then the value will remain unchanged (i.e. not overwritten with a blank)
  • Using OSMtracker on my phone to create GPS tracklogs. These can then be imported into lightroom and with a few clicks, a whole day's worth photos will be geotagged automatically. Just make sure the time on your camera is accurate.
  • I make frequent use of John Beardsworth's Search Replace Transfer plugin to manage metadata. It is integral to a very necessary part of my workflow in fact, but while you will most likely not need it to do what I use it to do, I'm sure most people could find some way it could serve their general workflow.

Virtual copies are a useful way of keeping multiple versions of the same photo together.

Lightroom can back up your catalog files automatically on exit. Unfortunately there is no functionality to delete old ones automatically. I recently freed up 70gb of hard drive space that I hadn't realised was being taken up by Lightroom in this way.

You can organise your keyword hierarchy by prefacing frequently used keywords that you don't necessarily want to be exported (such as region, location, mood, activity) with one or more underscores to push them to to the top of the list, then setting those keywords to not export.

You can also create similes, so for example if you add the keyword "bison" to an image, then it will also export with the keyword "buffalo".

Like John I use collections to group photos by intended use/project. For example I use them to create image sets that I then use in galleries on my website. If your photography is client based then this would be a good way of using collections as John says. Though I believe you could also organise your file structure based on client if you wanted to do that, choosing a suitable folder name to create/save to on import. At the end of the day, your file structure is just one way of filtering you photos. Since you can filter photos in any conceivable way, from the content of any one metadata field, to the focal length or ISO used, it would be possible to manage your photos even if they were stored in a single folder!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Though when you filter photos, that filter is actually applied to the photos in the folder you have currently open. So I guess your file structure should reflect the most general criteria that you use most often to find photos. Then you can narrow that selection down by filtering. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 23, 2015 at 14:17

One key aspect of LR, one that many users initially struggle with, is that its organizational features mostly try to abstract you away from the file system and folders. LR invites you to see your photos as a collection or database, and you typically organize them by different dimensions, not by file location.

I cannot tell you which of those methods or dimensions is best, but I'll share what I use: hierarchical keywords. I have a catalog with tens of thousands of photos, and this is how I keep it organized.

The way it works is that you create a set of keywords that make sense to you, and you then place them in a hierarchy. You can create multiple hierarchies. Here's an example of one based on geography:

World -> Europe -> Germany -> Berlin

You can imagine completing those keywords by adding continents, countries, etc. And we'll add a second set of hierarchical keywords:

Wildlife -> Animals -> Mammals -> Herbivores

Again you can complete this set of hierarchical keywords. Creating these hierarchies takes some minor setup effort, but you will appreciate that effort once you start using them.

Using the examples mentioned above, imagine you came home from a session in Berlin where you photographed deers in the forest. You would go into the Import screen and then apply the keywords "Berlin" and "Herbivores".

The magic here is that by applying these low level keywords, LR will automatically tag your photos with both hierarchies, upwards. So you don't have to apply many tags, only the low level ones.

And as you are completely flexible in creating these hierarchies (how many, their depth, their meaning), to me this is the ultimate way to organize photos. It is the primary way. A secondary ways, I also use ratings and labels to indicate the quality of a photo, but I only use this as a filter after first selecting the primary dimensions.

Hierarchical keywords, highly underrated, do give it a try.


TL;DR - The answers by John and Mark tell you what to do. This answer addresses why those are good answers.

I don't use Lightroom, so this may not apply completely. The answers by @john and @Mark are very good. I just want to highlight some fundamental issues that they assume, but don't explicitly state here.

1) To be sane, you need to store each photo in just one primary place (not counting backups and, possibly, symbolic links/shortcuts). This is fundamentally a database issue. If you store data in more than one place, then you run into issues if the data gets deleted or modified in one place, but not in the other. Then you have problems knowing what the "current" or "original" data is. (And it also wastes storage.)

2) Most photos cannot be adequately represented by a single attribute and the attribute(s) of interest (and their hierarchy) when searching for a photo later frequently cannot be known and fixed at the time the photo is "catalogued".

3) Because 1) requires you to store the photo in just one place (i.e. in one place in a hierarchy of folders), that place can only match at most one potential type of query.

So, the general solution is to store the original photos in an arbitrary set of folders - with some consideration given to general file management issues.

(I store mine in folders by camera, then in subfolders named as the date of last photo in each group as YYYYMMDD (so the folders naturally sort by date when displayed sorted by name). I try to keep the number of pictures in one folder to around 700 or less because that's an easy number for me and my system to process. But lots of other systems will work.)

That takes care of storing the photos, but what about finding them?

That's where the metadata comes in. Some of this may be stored directly within the photos and some may be stored in your photo organizing software (e.g. Lightroom).

Some metadata, like GPS, camera data, date and time are automatically added to pictures by most digital cameras. Beyond this, you can define your own tags which can either be flat or hierarchical. E.G.just Person, or Person-Friends-Male-Dave (where any photo assigned the "Dave" tag is also automatically assigned the tags Person, Friends, and Male. (KPhotoAlbum works this way on Linux. I don't know how Lightroom handles it.)

The advantage of this is that a single photo can have an arbitrary number of tags (limited only by storage and software implementation constraints).

And software can be used (sometimes, automatically behind the scenes) to build secondary indexes based on these tags so you can quickly access any category of photos based on your needs at the moment. This makes the photos "appear" as if they were stored in folders which are exactly suited to the the current query - which may be quite different from the very next query you may need to make.


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