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How to Manage & Backup Lightroom Photos (Fast & Easy)

Lightroom Workflow Simplified

How to Organise, Store and Categorise Your Images in Lightroom
Managing your images in Lightroom does not have to be a chore. Follow these simple workflow tips and tricks and you will have fun organizing, editing and saving your images in Lightroom.

In this 8 step tutorial, we will teach you how to secure your images in Lightroom (LR), organize your folders / hard drives and manage your collections. If you don’t have Lightroom yet, you can try Lightroom for free here.

You will also learn what NOT to do in Lightroom, like editing your photos in the folder structure or unnecessarily keywording your images.

Once you go through these 8 Lightroom tips and tricks and implement them, you will be a pro in organizing and backing up your images.

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1. Store Your LR Images on 2 External Drives

Don’t save your photos on your computer or laptop, but copy them from your camera SD card to an external hard disk.

We recommend you get the WD MyPassport 1 GB or 2 GB External Hard Drive.

WD 1TB My Passport Ultra USB 3.0 Secure Portable External Hard Drive, Blue...
WD 1TB My Passport Ultra USB 3.0 Secure Portable External Hard Drive, Blue...
Secure portable storage with up to 3TB capacity; Optional 256-bit AES hardware encryption; Automatic local and cloud backup. Stylish design with a range of exciting colors
WD 2TB Blue-Black My Passport Ultra Metal Edition Portable External Hard Drive - USB...
WD 2TB Blue-Black My Passport Ultra Metal Edition Portable External Hard Drive - USB...
Sleek, stylish aluminum design; Automatic, local and cloud backup; USB 3.0 connectivity. 3-year limited warranty

You will be needing two hard drives so you can back up your Lightroom images to a drive which you keep at a different location (e.g. your workplace), just in case one of your external hard drives stops working or (God forbid) your house burns down.

Related Post: Best External Hard Drives for Photographers (10 Top Picks)

2. Syncing Your two Hard Drives

You want to regularly sync your two hard disks so all your photos are on both your external hard disks (depending on how many pictures you take, you should do this once a week, once a month or after any major photo shoot). This way, you create an ongoing backup of your Lightroom images.

Doing this is easy and can even be automated.

  • If you are a Mac user, you can use a software called Carbon Copy Cloner.
  • For Windows users, you can get Backupper by AOMEI, which seems to be the best alternative to Carbon Copy for Mac.

The sync software only checks for new photos on each of the drives, so it is a fast and easy process.

Carbon Copy Cloner: An Easy Solution for Backing Up all Your Images
Using the Carbon Copy Cloner for Mac makes cloning and then syncing your external hard disk a very easy task. Your can download the latest version here.

3. Additional Security: Cloud Backup

Don’t be scared of the cloud! It is the way to go, and as long as you are not a celebrity or politician, nobody actually cares about your photos. You better have a secure cloud backup of all your Lightroom photos rather than losing them because you were too scared about your privacy.

Plus, it’s very easy, secure and cheap to update your entire computer and unlimited external hard drives (with all your photos on it) to the cloud. We recommend Backblaze, a full backup service which runs quietly in the background of your computer and costs only $5 a month.

Related Post: Best SD Card Recovery Software

4. Create a Folder Structure

This tutorial requires that you have the Adobe Lightroom Software. If you don’t have Lightroom yet, we strongly recommend that you get the Adobe Lightroom Creative Cloud Subscription.

On your external hard drive just make ONE folder! Call it “LR Photos”, “Lightroom Photos,” or something similar. Call it “LR Photos”, “Lightroom Photos,” or something similar.

Within that one folder, your primary folder structure should be simple and focus on the main categories. You can choose topics like:

  • “Vacation”
  • “Family Events”
  • “Sports Events”
  • “Landscape”, etc.

This structure will be different for each hobby or enthusiast photographer, and pros may want to add classification by the type of work they are doing e.g. “Wedding Photography,” “Product Photography” etc.

In each folder, you then add one folder for each photo shoot. E.g. “Venice Trip with Jack 2014” in the “Vacation” folder or “Samanta’s Wedding in Hawaii” in the “Family Events” etc.

Name the folders so they are easy to find in the future. If you have been to Venice only once, write e.g. “Venice Photo Spots“. But suppose you have been there a couple of times, you want to make sure you add some further details.

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Don’t sort your images/folders based on a date (month/year). This is unnecessary work. Lightroom lets you sort images by date (go to Library Filter > Date > Year > Month). You may want to add the year to your folder, but don’t catalog your pictures based on the date.

5. Keywording: No Thanks!

Don’t waste your time keywording your images.

Keywording takes a lot of time and unless you are a stock photographer, don’t do it!

The time it takes you to keyword images will never justify that (maybe) in the future you type in a keyword in Lightroom and your picture you were looking for is going to pop up.

Rather spend a few seconds searching the photos you are looking for than spending hours keywording your images (if you have a good file structure finding your image is going to be a job of a few seconds!)

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6. Only Work with Collections

Next, in Lightroom create collection sets which have identical names as the main category folders on your hard drive. Then import one folder at a time into Lightroom. In the catalog section, you will be seeing your main folder name and under that, your single shot folders will show. Now select those and drag them down on top of your previously created collection set.

Then import one main category folder at a time into Lightroom (with your single photo shoot folders). In the folder section, you will be seeing your imported main folder name and under that, your single shoot folders will show.

Now select those and drag them down on top of your previously created collection set in the Collections section.

Once you are done with importing and dragging your photos to the collections menu structure, all your single photo event folders will be showing as collections categorized by collections sets in the collections sidebar.

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From now onwards don’t touch your hard drive or move photos around there. In Lightroom, click the little arrow on the right of your “Folders” Section, so it collapses.

You only want to go back to the “Folders” Section after you have imported new photos and you need to drag them into your “Collections” Section again. That’s it. Otherwise, stay away from your folder structure.

Feel free to add main categories in your folder once a while before (e.g. you start shooting wedding pictures and want to add a “Wedding Folder”). Just make sure you update your Collections Set in Lightroom so your Folder Structure always stays the same as your Collection Sets.

7. Renaming Your Photos

Once you have imported your photos into Lightroom you should rename your photos.

Note: Lightroom never copies your photos – unless you specify that you want LR to create an additional copy somewhere else – it rather adds them as thumbnails within the Lightroom Software.

To rename your images of a collection, select them all (Command + A) and in the menu bar click “Library” > “Rename Images”.

Give your poorly named images (normally something like “DSC0020987.ARW”) a nice custom name, e.g. “Colorado Trip John” and select add a Sequence Number. Doing this will also change the file names on your external hard disk and it makes it easier for you to find them in the future.

Related Post: How to Set-up the Best Lightroom Workflow

8. Create 3 Collections for each Shoot

Once you start working on individual photo shots. Create new collections within your collection sets:

  1. “Full Shoot”
  2. “Picks” (Pictures you flag as picks by clicking “P” in your first round of looking at your photos)
  3. “Selects” (The pictures you select from your Picks and you decide to edit and share, post, sell, etc.)
Simplified Lightroom Image Workflow Management
Organize Your Collection Sets into Collections named: “Full Shoot”, “Picks” and “Finals”.

This structure is only meant for Lightroom and will not be saved on your hard disk. But it is part of your Lightroom catalog file.

Storing Your Catalog in the Cloud

The catalog file can be stored in the cloud (we highly recommend you use Dropbox because it works fast and is very reliable).

Once you close Lightroom on your desktop and you open Lightroom after some time on your laptop (let some time pass so all is synced, especially the first time), you will be having the same collection structure on your laptop (or any other device your use and has Dropbox installed).

Since your images are always on two external drives which are synced you never need to worry about on which device your photos are!

Master Your Lightroom Workflow for Good!

If you follow these Lightroom photos backup system and the cataloging & editing workflow you will never have a problem of losing your pictures.

Plus, you will always have the best shots selected and at your fingertips. So the next time your friends ask you to share some of the pictures of that trip or event, you don’t need to spend hours and days searching, sorting, rating photos.

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Just go to your collections, find what you are looking for immediately, select your best “picks” or “selects” order prints or export them in the relevant format/resolution and share them on Dropbox, email or Social Media.

We hoped you liked this Lightroom Backup and Workflow tips and tricks (and take the time to implement them, because it’s going to make your life much easier!).

About this system: The PhotoWorkout.com team has used and tested this workflow system described above and it is based on the advice given by the pro photographer Scott Kelby. He termed this process the “Simplified Lightroom Image Management” System. We highly recommend that you check out Scott’s detailed class on Lightroom and other photography lessons over at Kelby One.  

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6 thoughts on “How to Manage & Backup Lightroom Photos (Fast & Easy)”

    1. Agree, it’s a long and complicated process. But worth it, if you want to keep your images 100% safe.

      You can follow the intro video of the workflow here: https://members.kelbyone.com/lesson/introduction-402/

      The intro video is free. The detailed videos require a KelbyOne Photography Class membership. You can get the KelbyOne Membership $20 off here.

      Or just subscribe for one month and watch the most relevant videos or select the free membership and watch up to 5 courses.

  1. what if I have not been following this practice but importing photos directlly from camera cards into Lightroom CC and storing in folders created within Lightroom CC (renaming as I import). Then I backup the photo folders outside of Lightroom CC.

    If my catalog file and primary photo storage get destroyed or corrupted, do I need to re-import all my photos from the backup?

    1. Hi, it depends. If only your Lightroom catalog (storing your image edits) is lost or broken, then you just need to restore the catalog backup and point Lightroom to to the folder where your images are stored.

    1. Yes, agree. Just using Dropbox is actually enough. Blackbalze is just another layer of backup for the very worse case scenario where you loose access to Dropbox and you computer/hard drive breaks.

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