Adobe Lightroom catalog concept

There are many articles around on Adobe Lightroom, all appealing to different audiences. This version is aimed at simplicity through being very visually orientated. It covers many of the menus found in LR5 giving a brief explanation of when you would use the options available. This first edition covers the library function of LR, starting at the main left sidebar menu.

While the menu LRleftSidebar01gives the impression the Catalog is separate from the Folders and Collections, in fact the Catalog includes all the Folders and Collections.

The catalog is a database that holds collections a user creates. As shown left, there is a Catalog group, a Folders group and a Collections group. While folders exist on the hard drive and other accessible storage media, the Catalog and Collections only appear to be storage folders. They are representations that media files can be linked to without actually copying or moving the physical file there.

LR registers folders imported into its catalog (database) logging the physical location of them and any media files inside these folders.  A user can then assign any of these files to any number of collections. What LR does is store a link back to those physical files and folders in those collections. When a user clicks on a collection it appears as though they are opening a folder of files. Clicking on an image file within shows a preview of the image. The magic is that there is no folder and no files in that collection, just links to them, so very little disk storage space is used.

Collections are great for grouping instances of images into topic, subject, theme or distribution collections without creating new files. All instances are linked to a thumbnail and preview image which themselves are linked to the physical image. Clicking on any instance of an image in a collection ports the user to the preview image. Editing is carried out on the preview instance. Any update to any instance of the master file will propagate to all other instances in any other collections that master file has been assigned to as well as the master image file itself. If the physical master file is on a portable drive that is not connected at the time there is no problem. The physical master file will be updated the next time it is connected.

This allows a user to categorise images or video clips into multiple categories (Collections) using very little storage space. For instance an image of a sports person can be categorised under collections of people, sport, the name of the sports event, the name of a team, or a time period—Five categories in all, but only one physical image exists and it’s in the master folder.  The only limit to how many categories (Collections) can be created is the capacity of the computer system LR is installed on.

Not only does this database based catalog system save space, it is also much faster to use. The only drawback is that if the master file or folder is relocated or deleted from outside of LR, like through the Windows explorer function, it will not update the LR catalog database. This will lead to minor problems in LR. To relocate or remove the physical files or folders registered in a LR catalog, do it from within LR, using LR tools.

Similarly, if new media is added to a folder (registered in the LR catalog) from an external source like Windows explorer, it will not be seen by LR. A user must run the LR import function, selecting that folder as the source, to find any new media files that have been added by external tools in order for those new files to be registered in the LR database (catalog).

Users will get used to this when saving images from a Photoshop editing session into a LR registered folder, as Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Bridge will not update the LR catalog (database) either (at the time of writing this).

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