One of the biggest questions I get about Lightroom is how to organize your photos. As I travel around teaching seminars, I usually come across some of the same mistakes and pitfalls, so I have a few tips on how to get around them here.
1. Moving or renaming your photos outside of Lightroom
Do you ever get those dreaded question marks next to your photos or folders. They usually mean you’ve moved a photo or renamed a photo outside of Lightroom. Trust me, Lightroom didn’t do it automatically At some point, you went to the folder that has those photos and did something. The easy way around this one is to always move or rename your photos in Lightroom. Just right click on a folder or go to the Library menu to rename a photo. Oh, and if you ever do see the question marks next to a folder, you can right click on it and choose “Find Missing Folder” and point it to where ever the folder is now.
2. Organizing By Date
I already know there’s a lot of disagreement on this one. I run in to so many people that organize their folders by date. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why. There’s no way I can remember what I shot back on April 10th from just looking at a date. And then to organize by year as well. I don’t see my photography as an accounting statement. To me, there’s no reason that what I shot in December of 2012 should be separated from what I shot in February of 2013. And if you do store by date, what happens when you go on a trip? Then you have that trip stored in multiple folders because it happened on multiple dates. There’s just nothing about a date that works to help you find your photos.
So here’s what I’d suggest. Organize by some sort of descriptive name. If you absolutely feel you need to find your photos by date, you’ll be happy to know that Lightroom already does that for you. Just go to View > Show Filter Bar. Then under the Metadata option you’ll see you can search for your photos by date.

But if you organize by descriptive names, then you can easily take the best photos from that folder and put them in to a collection so they’re easy to get to. So what happens if you go New York in 2008 and then again in 2012? Put them all in the same folder. The date doesn’t matter. What matters is that you know how to get to your favorites from New York and you can do that with Collections (and maybe even Collection Sets if you need another level of organizing).
3. Mixing Flags, stars, and labels
Unless you have a very specific and advanced workflow (maybe you’re a pro wedding photographer or stock photographer), I’d suggest you don’t mix using flags, star ratings and color labels. Keep it simple. Personally I use flags. That way, I always know how to find my favorites because I can filter by just the flagged photos.
4. Not using Collections because you’re afraid it’s only a “Lightroom thing”
Here’s another common pitfall I see at my seminars. After I teach about collections, some people will come up and ask if other programs “read” or understand Lightroom’s collections. When I say no, they say “Well, what happens when I stop using Lightroom”. If you stop using Lightroom, then yes, any work you’ve done in collections probably won’t be read by whatever program you do. I guess my suggest would be not to approach your start of using Lightroom by wondering about when you’re going to stop. Collections are really one of the keys to getting (and keeping) organized in Lightroom so I’d suggest putting your favorite photos there and using them to your advantage.
5. Using Multiple Catalogs
Here’s another one I hear about a lot. Unless you’re an advanced user of Lightroom, I’d suggest just using one catalog. I actually wrote a post about it recently if you want to read more on it. In a nutshell, keep it simple. You won’t hit a photo limit in Lightroom, so unless you’ve got a very specific reason to complicate things with multiple catalogs, I’d stick with just one.
Thanks for stopping by today. Even if you eventually don’t use all of these suggestions, I hope it at least helps you see where some of the common pitfalls and mistakes happen when organizing in Lightroom (and helps you avoid them). See ya!