[Editors Note; we have used the American spelling for Catalog as used in Lightroom, so as not to create confusion with Users.]
I have received questions from several people regarding the difference between “Folders” and “Catalogs.” In our Lightroom Workshops we create Folders and Catalogs with the same name which has led to some additional confusion. To answer this question it is important to understand what information Lightroom keeps in the Catalog. So here goes with my attempt to answer this perennial question: “Images are stored in Folders and the data about those images are stored in the Catalog”. This phrase will become your mantra and from now on, and every time you sit down to use Lightroom I want you to repeat this phrase. Let’s do it again: “Images are stored in Folders and the data about those images is stored in the Catalog.”
When we use Lightroom, the first thing we need to do is import images into Lightroom. It is important to understand that when we import into Lightroom we are not actually bringing the source image file into Lightroom, it remains on the computer hard drive (internal or removable drive). The import process brings the following information into Lightroom and stores it in the Catalog:
- The relative address of the image file.
- The Metadata attached to the file, i.e. filename, date taken, etc.
- A preview of the image (The preview is a jpeg equivalent of the image in its current state; Lightroom can store two different previews for each image; small size and zoomed in as in the loupe view).
Note from the list above that the original raw or jpeg is not actually imported but remains in the folder on the hard drive. This fact is true whether we use Lightroom to copy the images from compact flash card to the hard drive or simply add the image to the catalog without copying or moving it. In all cases, the image files are not located in the Lightroom catalog but reside in a folder on the hard drive.
In the workflow that we teach in the Lightroom Workshops sponsored by the Camera Club, we go through the process of creating three different catalogs, three main folders for storing images (please refer to the Lightroom Tutorial Number 1 in the April 2010 issue of Close Up). One key reason for doing this is to acquaint participants with the process for creating and managing multiple catalogs and maintaining those catalogs outside the default location used by Lightroom. We also keep the image folders and the Lightroom catalogs in the same folder structure to facilitate ease of backing up the pictures and the data.
To summarize our workflow, we start by creating a master folder on the computer desktop; using me as the guinea pig it might be called “Ed’s Photography.” In that folder we would create four folders: namely, Catalogs, Sorting, Processing and Output. These folders are used to store the Lightroom Catalogs and the image files. Inside the Sorting and other image folders you can use sub-folders that make sense to you. The next step in the process is to create three Catalogs: namely, Sorting, Processing and Output.
Our workflow is as follows; first images are imported into the Sorting catalog. Here we sort through the images and separate the keepers from the duds. This task is similar to the film days where people used light tables to sort and select slides or negatives for further processing. In the digital world we are selecting images to be processed in Lightroom and possibly Photoshop. When we have finished the sorting we export the “Keepers” to our processing folder and store them on the hard drive. This is usually done using the Adobe DNG format. At this point we close our Sorting Catalog and open our Processing Catalog where we will import the images exported in the last step to our processing catalog. Here we will use the Develop module to modify our images. This step is similar to going into the wet darkroom to produce a print. After developing our prints we would export the final pictures (jpeg, psd, or tif) to our output folder and then import same into the output catalog.
While this process may seem a bit cumbersome, it has been designed to allow people to concentrate on the current task and to help develop the discipline of sorting and selecting the great images and then when ready developing them into masterpieces. These two processes require different mindsets and it is not efficient to constantly switch from the sorting to develop modes. Keeping the final images in an output catalog and folder is for the convenience of locating these pictures and as a reminder that once a final image has been created it shall not be modified. If you need a different version of the same image, go back to you master image in the processing catalog and create a new output file.
So why do we name our folders and catalogs with the same name you ask? The reason goes back to our mantra (you’ve been chanting it haven’t you) “Images are stored in Folders and the data about those images is stored in the Catalog.” So our Sorting catalog has all the data on the image files stored in the Sorting Folders, the Processing Catalog has the data for the images in the Processing folder and the Output Catalog has the data for the Output Catalog.
I hope you have found this information useful, please send us a comment and let us know what if this article was helpful or if you have requests for future articles.