Moving to Adobe Lightroom – System Preparation

System preparation

Before installing Adobe Lightroom, your image storage structure should be refined. The first suggestion would be to create a single folder called “Digital Images’ on a portable USB drive of 500 Gb or greater, dedicated exclusively for this purpose. Lightroom 5 is capable of working on your images even if the portable USB drive is not connected at the time. It stores thumbnail images and data from which 1:1 high-resolution previews can be generated on demand in its database stored on your local hard disk. These generated previews are capable of being edited. Once the removable USB storage drive is reconnected these edit changes are then applied to the physical master files.

Once you have created the “Digital Images Folder” as a top-level folder you may wish to create several sub-classification folders like:

  2. Customer work
  3. Freelance work
  4. Awaiting Dispatch
  5. Personal
  6. My stock

Within these sub-classifications you can create further levels of sub-classification. Within the customers sub-classification you might create folders in the names of the customers. Within Freelance sub-classification you might create folders in the names of the events.

Under “My stock” you might create sub-folders that further categorise your collection by:

  1. Region
  2. Environment
    1. Natural
    2. Human modified
  3. Human World

All categories of nature (living, geological and cosmos) would be stored under the primary sub-category of “Environment”. A natural landscape image with no indication of a human presence comes under natural geological environment. However if evidence of a human presence is shown, such as a wall or fence, then it should be catalogued under human modified environment images. The primary reason for this is to be able to quickly find natural environment (nature) images if you enter photo competitions under the nature category, where they reject images showing a human presence.

Most images will probably fall under Human World. This can have a number of sub-categories like:

  1. Graphic Art
  2. Art Concept
  3. People Study
  4. Product
  5. Human Environment

Categorise your images in the hierarchical order of your categories. If an image can be categorised under both “Region” and a subcategory of “Human World”, put it under the first category in your hierarchical order. That would be “Region”. Remember this categorisation is going to help you find your images again when you need them.

There is no need to refine your image collection too finely, as Lightroom has a special feature called “Collections” incorporated into it that does the fine classification using its intrinsic database technology. Many images will fall into more than one classification category, such as an iconic building in some city, where it can be categorized under “Region – city”, under “Art Concept” and under “Human World – architecture”. Instead of copying it three times to store in each category folder, it can just be stored in the “Region – city” folder. Lightroom collections can then be created for the other categories and the single physical file can be assigned, rather than copied to these new collections.

Lightroom does not duplicate the physical file; that remains solely in the “Region – city folder”. Instead it just creates a database link entry linking this single file to all the other categories you assign it to in the Lightroom collections assignment. This is one of Adobe Lightroom’s greatest features. It saves huge amounts of storage space on your disk as your collection grows and minimizes resources, speeding up searching for and finding any of your images later. Any alterations done from any instance in a collection modifies all the other instances including the physical file at the other end of the collection link as soon as it can. Lightroom was built with professional work flows and libraries in mind.

As well as restructuring your workflow filing system (preferably on a portable USB drive), your backup systems should be checked. By default operating systems are stored on the local C: drive of your PC, along with your user folders such as “My documents”, “My pictures”, “My videos” etc.


You should have your local drive partitioned into three drive volumes. This can be done using disk partitioning software, or the inbuilt Windows disk partitioning utility, but should only be done by someone who knows what they are doing. However not having more than one hard disk drive (even if it is just a partition volume drive) is very risky to file integrity and up-time. It would be nice if all computers were sold with their physical hard disk partitioned into two or more partition drives, but they are usually not sold this way. It is up to buyers to have this done as part of purchasing the PC or have it done by a technician later. It can still be done even with Windows or any other operating system already installed and user files already created, as long as no more than about 20% of the total disk space is currently in use.

A single drive partitioned into 3 local drives:

The operating system will remain on C: but your user “My documents”, “My pictures”, “My videos” system folders (Windows) should be moved to one of the other new partitions using the move folders function available on Windows system controlled user folders like the folders mentioned above. Just right-click on one of these folders for the drop down menu to appear, where you can select the “Properties” option:


Everything should always be regularly backed up. While disk imaging (discussed next) must be used to backup the whole operating system, conventional file backup techniques can be used for everything else. Your physical digital image files, your Lightroom catalogue files and your applications configuration and preference files can all be backed up the conventional way. They can be backed up to portable/removable USB drives, network drives, cloud storage, or any storage area outside of your local hard disk drive. In Windows 7 and later, application configuration (pre-sets and preferences) files are stored in the “AppData folder” under each “User folder” on the operating system drive. By default they are hidden folders. To back these folders up they first have to be made visible by the system administrator before they can be added to the backup program schedule.




Once on the backup application schedule they can be hidden again. If there is only one USER set up in Windows, then there will only be one AppData folder to backup. There is an AppData folder for every user set up under Windows on a single PC. Adobe Lightroom has an inbuilt backup utility to backup its Catalog. By default these backups are stored inside the folder that contains the Lightroom Catalog. Not the best idea! Lucky the backup dialog box provides an option to choose where you would like to backup the Catalog to. Read more here: So far the files to backup include all User data folders, the AppData\Roaming folder for each user and the Lightroom Catalog, preferences and photo folders and files. Lightroom does allow preferences to be stored in the catalog primary folder, so that will make backing up both easier, as long as that option is selected when setting preferences as part of setting up Lightroom (more on this in the next part of this article series). Lightroom’s own Catalog backup program also gives options on where this is to be backed up to. It is suggested that the location of these backups be somewhere that is included in your system wide backup, so you have secondary backups of these Catalog backups. As mentioned it is advised that photos and digital media be stored on a separate portable USB drive, so backing this up is a separate exercise.
To backup an operating system like Windows, the whole drive ( the C: drive by default) must be backed up using a process called disk imaging. The disk image file or files created during this process will be large files and must be saved to any other drive but the one being imaged (backed up). Since Windows 7, Microsoft have provided a utility application to do this. To back up your operating system (Windows) follow these diagrams:

Step 1
Step 2
step 3
step 4

If disk space is not a problem, the primary Windows disk image backup file(s) and the regular User backup files can be saved to the dedicated drive partition (F: in this example). It is then advised to backup this “Primary” backup set of folders to a secondary backup on a separate drive such as a portable USB drive. The reasons are that restoration of backups are much quicker from a local hard disk drive than from external drives and DVDs, particularly restoring a corrupted operating system from a set of disk image files. However if your local hard disk drive fails, then you lose everything, including all your primary backups… it is a good thing you have secondary backups on another drive.
If you ever have to restore a corrupted operating system like Windows from a set of disk image files, you will most likely have to boot the PC from the recovery CD/DVD that you will be prompted to make after completing your first disk image backup using the Windows System Image utility presented above. During the restoration you will be prompted for the location of the disk image files, as well as where you want them to be restored. Restoring the disk image backups to the operating system drive (C:), will overwrite all the existing files with good ones that were saved as part of the disk imaging process. Upon completion the recovery boot CD/DVD should be removed and the system should reboot from the restored Windows operating system. However the AppData files recovered in the Windows restore will be old, so should be replaced with the latest ones from the conventional files backups. In particular the whole AppData\Roaming folder should be replaced. This can be done by simply copying and pasting the AppData\Roaming folder from the last backup to the new Windows one overwriting it. As mentioned earlier, the User\AppData folder might be a hidden folder, so will have to be made visible first, then hidden again afterwards. Lets hope a Windows Disk Image becomes nothing more than assurance…

Getting back to Lightroom: By default Lightroom will store its catalogue (database) in the user\My Documents\My Pictures folder (PC) and user/Pictures folder (mac). So it is important to relocate these user folders to the new User Files drive partition location before setting up Lightroom. The Lightroom catalogue can grow in size as your collection grows and could exceed 50 GB in size, particularly if your previews are included, so you need enough free space on your catalogue drive (User Files\My Pictures\LR Catalog folder) for this growth over time.

With this preparation undertaken, you should now have a system that is secure, with any losses quickly restored to their previous state. This sets the foundation for a professional workflow. Installing and setting up Adobe Lightroom should now be relatively problem free. To assist your understanding of the Lightroom set up process as you go through it, visit the next article in this Adobe Lightroom series setting-up-adobe-lightroom.

Researched and written by Gavin Lardner 2014.


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