Lightroom Workflow

Lightroom Workflow – Five Top Tips

If you are serious about taking, organizing, and editing your images, then you need to do five things.

  1. Adjust your camera to shoot RAW, not JPEG
  2. Get Adobe Lightroom
  3. Learn how to use Lightroom
  4. Create a catalog structure that works for you
  5. Create a workflow process that works for you

If you have been using Lightroom a long time and already have a workflow process that works for you, this page may not apply.  Let’s go through the above steps point by point.

  1. Adjusting your camera is camera dependent. Just figure out how, then do it. Alternatively, capture both JPEG and raw formats until you learn what to do with raw. I tried that initially, but stopped after a few months. For me,  dual capture was a waste of time and space. It may initially provide a level of comfort as raw images will likely look horrendous when you get started.
  2. Get Lightroom.  I highly recommend Photoshop as well,  but Lightroom is mandatory.
  3. Buy books. Read. Take a class. Take several classes. I am mostly self-taught but there are numerous books and articles on Lightroom Workflow and Lightroom.
  4. I cannot stress the importance of a catalog structure enough. I describe in detail my structure below.
  5. Point 5 is mostly a combination of points 3 and 4. I reiterate the importance.

Catalog Structure

I was extremely fortunate to get started on the right foot. I highly recommend creating a master folder (with subfolders underneath), to house every image that you take.

I call my top folder “My Lightroom Images”, but the name is irrelevant.

Camera Imports

I cannot tell you how import images, they are camera specific.

On import, my images go to a primary folder of “My Lightroom Images” then to a sub-folder that is just a date. As a Canon user, my images are tagged with “.CR2”.

I set my Canon upload preferences to place uploads into “My Lightroom Images”. Backup that one critical folder and you will backup every image you have.

Catalog Structure

My catalog structure looks like this.


Who, What, When, Where

I view things in terms of “where”.

Other  photographers may view things in terms of “what”, for example “what kind of bird is this?” News photographers may see things as date-based, but I am highly skeptical of a time-based structure.

In the above structure, my date-only folders are camera images that have not been renamed, then imported into Lightroom. Other references that include both a title and a date are to images and folders before I finalized the my catalog structure. I no longer put a date into folder names.

I have sub-folders beneath each folder. Michigan, Illinois, California, Germany, etc. all have subfolders. Each time I go to a country, new state,  or a new park or city within a state, I create a new folder.

Subfolder Structure

I move my images from the import folder to their final destination folder before I import them. Here is an example.


You can solve numerous problems by creating a folder based on location. On occasion, I use a generic name like clouds for random non-location images of the sky.

You can make this as detailed as you like. The more images you take and keep, and the more places you go or intend to go, the more folders you need.

In my process, any folder that has a date for a name has not been imported into Lightroom.

Some books and literature suggest folders are not needed. I swear by them. The key is to do what makes sense for you organizationally speaking.

Critical Renaming Point

Renaming images inside Lightroom is tedious. I rename every folder and every image before importing to Lightroom.

If I am going back to the same location a second time, I move the new images to a pre-existing folder, then rename them.

My file image names incorporate the name of the city or park, country, and the specific feature such as the name of the waterfall.

Pre-Lightroom Review

I use Canon software to review or delete images before importing them. I use Windows File Manager to rename them.

One could use name tags and search for those name tags in Lightroom, but if there is any screwup in spelling, or if you leave off the tag name, you will never find the image.

If you are just getting started, think long and hard about organization. If you have been up and running for a long time, it may be next to impossible to change to a better organizational setup.

Post-Import Editing

Once an image is imported into Lightroom, never rename the image outside of Lightroom. If you rename a Lightroom imported image outside of Lightroom, then Lightroom will not find it.

Time Management

Yes, this takes time. And it involves a learning curve. But if you are serious about your work or you take numerous images that you hope to find and use later, a good process will not only save you time in the long run, you will create far better images in the editing process itself than you will ever get capturing JPEG format images randomly stored in locations you may not be able to find later.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock