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The April 2017 issue of Hudson Valley Magazine features one of my images on the front cover, and I’m really grateful for another opportunity to see my work at the newsstand. This is my third cover image for HV Mag, you can read about the others here, and here.

This is also a good opportunity to share how I use the Library module to organize and manage my images so that I can access any image when I need.

There’s no question that without having a management system in place, I would not have been able to get the cover image. I often get requests from publishers and other organizations asking me to submit images for consideration, and almost always they need the images “yesterday.”

Being able to find specific images quickly is crucial because it makes my potential client happy and I also feel confident about fulfilling requests in the future. That’s important for both reducing stress and generating income!

My approach is fairly simple and based on this strategy which I’ve refined over the years:

  • Star ratings: I use star ratings to rate images from two to four stars. Two stars means it stands out from the majority of the images in a group or shoot. Three stars means it stands out from the two star images. And four stars (my highest rating as of now) means it’s am image I really like and would be willing to share as representative of my work.
  • Labels: I use different color labels to further classify images into specific categories.
    A red label means the image is part of my professional portfolio – images I sell as prints or license for limited use. For example, I have four star images of my family and of trees. The red label separates these further into personal and portfolio images.
    A blue label means the image is part of a stitched panorama.
    A yellow label means it’s an image “in progress” that I haven’t started or finished developing yet.
    A green label means I want to make a print of the image.
  • Keywords: This is where the real magic happens, and once you develop a basic system for how to keyword your images, it pays dividends the longer you use it. I keyword categories, family members, subject matter, locations by park, region, state, and country, clients, seasons, and any other category that is generic.
    I don’t add keywords that I might only use once or twice because that will lead to excessive keywords. But if I can use a keyword on 5-10 images or more, then it’s a good candidate to add. What’s important for me is to limit them so that they are useful, otherwise there are too many to keep track of.
    I also use hierarchical keywords extensively. For example, “Mt Beacon“ is inside of “Hudson Valley”, which is inside of “New York”, which is inside “US.” This means when I add the keyword “Mt Beacon” to any image, it gets all the other keywords automatically.
    This is both powerful and efficient and makes adding and filtering by keywords much less labor intensive.
  • Collections: I use collections to make specific groupings of images. For example, my online portfolio is contained in a collection set with contains collections for themes or subject matter, which is how I have my images categorized on my website.
    I use collections for every yearly calendar I make, especially since I might have to adjust those images differently for printing. I add virtual copies of the images to the collection and now have a separate set of images that I can edit freely just for that calendar, independently of the originals.
    I also use collections to keep track of every gallery exhibition I have done, images that have been displayed at trade shows, or images I have sold to certain clients, especially limited editions.

Finally, I use smart collections to automatically populate a collection based on what I want to organize. Here are some of my most used:

  • Smart collections of my children (matches images keyworded with their names that are two stars or more.)
  • Hudson Valley images (matches images keyword “Hudson Valley”)
  • Images than need further developing (matches images with the yellow label and four stars.)
  • Images I want to print (matches images with the blue label and four stars.)

Quick tip: in the Grid view, use the “J” key to cycle through the different views that show star ratings and labels applied to images.

As you can see, this gives me tremendous flexibility to manage and recall any image I need at any time. So when a magazine emails, I can respond back to them with little delay and have a much better opportunity of being selected, plus it imparts a sense of professionalism and organization that I strive for.

In the case of Hudson Valley Magazine, they asked for an image that would help promote nature and the outdoors. I first selected the Hudson Valley smart collection, then filtered by four star images which brought the number down to about fifty images.

I then looked at each and added candidates to a Quick collection, totaling about twelve. I then switched to the Quick collection, selected all of those and exported them using an Export preset that I made specifically for sharing images in Dropbox.

It converts the images to the sRGB color space, jpeg image format at a quality of 75, adds standard sharpening for screen, and renames the file with my initials at the beginning of the filename. It then saves these images to a folder in Dropbox that I then select and share with the client.

I did the finding, selecting, and sharing of the image in about ten minutes. Not bad for efficient workflow, and they responded that evening with a final selection which I then resent at the required higher resolution and larger color space. Because the image was already in my Quick collection…you get the idea, super easy.

The key to taking advantage of the full potential of Lightroom’s management and cataloging features is:

  1. Setup a system that is simple to start with and works for your needs.
  2. Commit to using the system-make it a habit. Add keywords in the import dialog, and then keyword soon after import. Get it done first, and it pays off big time later.
    Have some free time and a glass of wine? Sit down, put on some good music, and keyword older images which often leads to surprises and discoveries.
  3. Evaluate and modify your system over time as your needs change and your proficiency and experience with Lightroom improves. I tweak my system often to improve and make it more effective for me. But it’s mostly on automatic mode now which gives me the confidence to know I can find an image when I need it with little stress or time wasted.

I hope this behind the scenes look at how I use Lightroom inspires you to explore its great management capabilities. It is one of its core strengths that I think many do not take full advantage of.

Soon after I wrote this article, a request came in for images of ferns and similar vegetation, and farmland. Using keywords and ratings I was able to send a few images for review in about ten minutes. The client selected four. 

Questions or comments? Let me know below, thanks for reading!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Robert. I recently had to re-set my Computer because of a Virus. I lost many images from my LR Catalog, which I have never understood from the first. Your article went further to explain the practical uses of the tool that I’m still dubious about. You have gone further in “splaining than many of teh You Tubist experts, and have given me the inspiration to re-import the images that still I really havein my MY Pictures Folder. I’ll use your guidelines to make the New LR Catalog more functional for me. I love the HV cover.

    Have a beautiful and photo-generous Spring!

    1. Renzo, the short answer is I don’t. I simply let Lightroom create folders by month, but I rarely deal with folders, nor have I found the need for it because I can find things much faster using metadata. it also makes organization infinitely more flexible.

      As long as the images are imported and “copied” to my image RAID, I don’t really care where they are in terms of folder structure. I rely on Lightroom to manage the images and I focus on the creative aspects of developing and printing. One critical component for me is I backup the entire RAID and LR catalog regularly to another RAID and to the cloud (CrashPlan). Hope that helps!

  2. Thanks a lot Robert,

    maybe I made a mistake when starting with Lightroom. I started using about half a dozen different catalogues. Weddings, other assignments, landscape, friends and family, porträt and so forth.
    Well, I guess it’s because I’ve started computing in the early eighties when everyone was afraid that data grows too fast, becomes too slow and finally quits … Your database must be pretty big I’d guess. No problems with speed?

    Kind regards,

    1. Thanks for the feedback Gero – yes I prefer to use one “master” catalog because then I can take advantage of all the metadata filtering that Lightroom offers. I probably have about 60,000 images in my active catalog, and with a fairly new iMac (5K Retina), speed is not a problem.

  3. Hello again Robert,

    Congrats on making the HVM cover – once again. The LR write-up is so timely for me and the issue of organizing has me STOPPED in my tracks from sheer complexity due to not even introducing Lightroom into my life until it is, seemingly, too late.

    Briefly, I have a large number of “un” images in various locations on various drives. Some nested in sub-folders, etc. By “un” I mean unorganized, un-keyworded, un-named, un … everything. Now, 2 years after starting to take my photography seriously, I want to start over and create a new, pristine LR catalog and “do it correctly” by using LR from my new beginning. I envision finding all of my original raw files, importing ALL and ONLY those through LR – substantially using the techniques you describe above. in doing so, I will eventually be able to have all my originals in one location (a drive) and a secondary location which will be a backup target drive. In order to save time and space, I intend to first find all duplicates without the time consuming, overwhelming tedium, so I want to employee a “duplicate” locator software. Can you recommend such a tool? One that will point or mark all of my paranoid-driven multiple backups, which I did out of an unwarranted fear of losing ANYTHING I shot without a plan to archive, retrieve, or reasonably find. I know I will lose some edited versions on a “do over” but that is fine. I REALLY want to start fresh!

    if you can perhaps provide a name or two of worthy duplicate locator software programs I can possibly cut down my task to weeks instead of eternity. Thanks again for your wonderful images and blogging.

    Curtis Levine

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