Setting up Adobe Lightroom

Before setting up Adobe Lightroom, some work-flow file housekeeping should be done. It is advised you read the adobe-lightroom-system-preparation article first.


There are three primary folders that Lightroom links to:

  1. Your digital image folder that contains your folders of pictures
  2. The Lightroom catalog primary folder
  3. The Lightroom presets primary folder, however it is advised to add this to Catalog folder

Three other folders to set up are:

  1. Your digital pictures backup folder
  2. The LR Catalog backup folder
  3. The LR presets backup folder, if separate from the Catalog folder

Preview files are part of the catalog database. By default LR will delete 1:1 size preview files after a time to reduce and maintain the catalog folder size. Your LR Catalog can grow to more than 50 GBs with large image collections. It does not contain any physical image files, just links, thumbnails, previews and other data. After installing Adobe Lightroom you will be prompted for where you wish to set up your catalog.

When an image is edited in Lightroom 5, the edit is carried out on the preview file for that image with the changes made to the physical image file once saved, or later when the physical image file is next accessible. That way LR can edit images without the physical image file being present. After the physical image file is updated, the preview file remains, however it is no-longer necessary to hold a 1:1 high-resolution preview file–its job is done, so it can be deleted. At any time a new preview picture can be created when it is needed. This supports the practice of having your physical images stored on portable USB, network or cloud storage drives, while only thumbnails and previews contained in the LR catalog are stored locally. The catalog database should never be kept with your physical images.

If the physical image files are not connected or have been moved via third party sources, Lightroom will indicate that the link is broken with a “?” on the link and “!” on the thumbnail. MasterfileNotAvailable01 This will disappear when the physical images are reconnected or the new location browse option (left mouse button over image) is used. This allows for easy re-linking with the catalog again where files were inadvertently moved using Windows explorer or other file management programs. It is best to relocate and delete physical image files in the LR catalog through Lightroom’s own tools to avoid having to re-link image files with the catalog.

Setting up

After installing Adobe Lightroom, the first prompt will be to create and save a catalog. It should be saved on a local drive, but not the operating system drive and not with any of your physical images. View the first part of this article at Adobe Lightroom System Preparation. After following the advice of this article, your User “Documents” and “Pictures” folders will now be relocated to another local drive outside of the operating system and your image media stored on a dedicated portable USB drive (no longer in the My Pictures/ My Video user folders), so it is fine to go with the default suggestion presented by LR of storing the Catalog in the current user\”My Pictures” folder. You do get the option to choose where you want to store your LR Catalog if the default suggestion is not desirable. This can be changed at anytime, so don’t panic over it.

Having established your Lightroom catalog, Lightroom will prompt you to import your images into it.

Do not do that just yet.

We will come back to that after setting some of the preferences first.

As mentioned previously, Lightroom 5 can edit images in any LR collection or the primary catalogue locations even without the portable USB hard disk drive containing the physical images connected. It relies on using preview files to do this and will apply these changes later when the physical images drive is re-connected. In Lightroom there is provision to have preview files generated for every thumbnail file, or only to generate selected previews when called for.
Step 1

Step 2


The thumbnails themselves are not of high enough resolution and size to edit. They are primarily used to navigate your collection. Preview files however do take some time to create, so you might want to consider only having them generated when you need them and even then you may have to wait while they are rendered for the first time before you can start editing them. These previews can be deleted once the physical images have been found and updated. Preview preferences can be set to delete high-resolution 1:1 preview files automatically after a predetermined period to save storage space.

Step 1

Step 2

Here is a guide to some other essential preference settings:

First start with the Catalog Settings as shown in Step 1 just above, then from the “General tab” of the Catalog settings you can set how often you want the catalog database backed up. These intrinsic LR catalog backups are archive style backups. They do not delete previous backups, they save each new backup in separate folders by date and time. It is advised to cull the extra ones greater than a month old to preserve storage space. There are two drawbacks with the built-in LR backup. 1) By default, they backup the catalog files to the same drive as the Catalog and 2) although there is an option to locate the preset files within the catalog folder, the intrinsic LR catalog backup does not include the preset files in the catalog backup. It is therefore preferable to backup the primary catalog folder using a third party backup tool. A guide to accessing the LR catalog options follow:


The third tab contains metadata preference settings.


It is a good idea to check the first 3 as shown above. When LR adds metadata, it only adds it to the catalog represented by the thumbnails. To have it added to the physical image files as well so that other image programs can see it, the “Automatically write changes into XMP” option must be checked.

Other preferences to fine-tune your workflow are available from Edit – Preferences below.




Note: The intrinsic LR backup program does not back up the preset files (assuming the destination for preset files is set to the Catalog folder) when it backs up the Catalog files, a third party backup program must be used to do this by backing up the whole primary Catalog folder.

Options for dng conversion from proprietory RAW files can be found on the “File Handling” tab of the above Preferences dialog box.
In summary here, LR creates a Catalog (database), previews, preferences and presets. Previews are part of the Catalog, presets can also be saved in the Catalog primary folder, while preferences are stored in the User\AppData\Roaming folder in Windows 7. Having set everything up you can now start importing your images. There are two types of import.

  1. Import images that already reside where you want them to
  2. Import images that are not where you want them to be yet

The difference is whether you are importing images only into your catalog, or into your catalog as well as moving them into another folder, say from your camera memory card into your downloads folder which is listed in the LR catalog. In effect you are either leaving them where they are, just adding them to the LR catalog, or moving them to a catalog monitored folder while simultaneously adding them to the catalog database. Once images are added to the catalog they can be dragged and dropped into new locations, or deleted from within LR with automatic updating in the catalog. However this should not be done from outside of LR, or you will have to manually re-add or re-import them into the LR catalog. From the main menu click Edit > “Import Photos and Video”. While LR’s Catalog is built upon the underlying folder structure, all files in these folders must be added to the LR catalog to be handled in LR. Files placed in any of these folders by other applications or Windows will not be seen by LR.

Step 1

Image Imports01

Step 2: You get the options to move, copy, or just add as follows:

Image Imports02

Closer view

Image Imports02a


Add to catalog only (Leave the physical images where they are). After clicking the “Import” button, select Add (4) in diagram, then select the folder where new images may have been added by other applications outside of LR. Any images residing in the selected folder that are not already in the LR Catalog will be found and presented with their check box already ticked by default. Other images in this folder that are already in the LR Catalog will be shown as dull (greyed out). The checked images can then be imported into the LR Catalog.

Image Imports02b

Image Imports02c

It should also be noted that when images are edited in Photoshop, or another program, and new variants of the master file are saved back into folders included in the LR Catalog, they will not show up in LR. They must be imported using the LR import, New Files and ADD (to catalog) settings.

Support links: A two hour educational video has been linked here that covers preparation and initial setting up of LR and a workflow system. Enjoy:
Researched and written by Gavin Lardner 2014.


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