Lightroom Don’ts: 6 things beginning Lightroom users should watch out for

The next couple of tips are based on my experience of teaching Lightroom to numerous photographers. If you read them thoroughly, they will prevent you from making many of the typical mistakes novice Lightroom users make when they dive into the program without reading any manual. These couple of minutes might save you hours of frustration further down the road!

1 Don’t think that the catalog contains your images

Your Catalog does not contain your actual images, it contains references to your images. The catalog and the images need to be backed up separately. Actually, anyone working with computers should at least make one full backup of their entire computer (and any external drives).

Specifically with regards to Lightroom, you have to make sure you have at least a backup of your catalog and your images. As far as the catalog backup goes, Lightroom can assist you with that (don’t rely on Time Machine to backup your catalog, because Time Machine does not check the integrity of your catalog when making a backup), but as far as backing up your images is concerned, you’re on your own. It is probably wise to invest in a reliable software application and at least one or more external hard drives to assist you with that.

One of the most common misunderstandings of new Lightroom users is that the images are stored somewhere inside the catalog, and that backing up the catalog automatically also backs up the images. This isn’t the case: as said before, the Catalog only contains references to and information about your images but not the actual images themselves. Both have to be backed up separately! For example, my Catalog contains (references to) some 60.000 images, most of them D700 Raw files weighing in at about 12 MB each. That’s some 720 gigabyte worth of pictures. Yet, my Catalog is only about 1.5 gigabyte in size. So clearly, the pictures are not in the catalog :-)

2 Never move imported images outside of Lightroom.

Moving images outside of Lightroom is probably the single most common beginner’s mistake. If I had a dollar for every Lightroom user who has made this mistake at least once, I’d be typing this from a hammock in the Bahamas. Actually, I guess I probably wouldn’t be typing this at all :-) As the Lightroom Catalog is essentially a database, it makes a note of where your images are at the moment you’re importing them. If you should later decide to move these images using anything else than Lightroom (for example Windows Explorer or Mac Finder or Adobe Bridge), Lightroom gets confused: the images are no longer where it expects them to be and you’ll be presented with annoying question marks in Lightroom.

If for some reason, you want to move images that you already imported into Lightroom, you’re better off doing that with the tools that Lightroom offers: Lightroom has some basic file management options and allows you to move images to other folders, make new folders, and so on. When you initiate these changes in Lightroom, they will also happen in your operating system, but not the other way around.

3 Never rename imported images outside of Lightroom.

In the do’s blogpost you already read that you can rename your images during import. You can also rename them afterwards, but if you do, you should do so in Lightroom, using the command Library > Rename Photos.

Never rename your imported images in another application such as Adobe Bridge. The reason is the same as in the previous paragraph.

4 Don’t look for the Save button: there isn’t one.

This is also a consequence of the database architecture in Lightroom: contrary to other applications, you don’t really have a Save button or command. The keywords you add to your images and the edits you perform on them are all saved on-the-fly and written to the catalog. If, after an hour’s work, your power goes out, you normally don’t lose a thing when you restart your computer.

Yet, Lightroom knows the typical Command+S (Mac) or Ctrl+S (Windows) shortcut to save files. In the case of Lightroom, this command makes sure that the metadata (edits, keywords, etc.) of the selected images, which is already present in the database, is also written to XMP. This is mostly useful to ensure compatibility with applications such as Adobe Bridge (otherwise, Bridge cannot see your Lightroom edits) and is not really necessary from a pure Lightroom point of view (although writing out to XMP does constitute – if only a partial – backup of your metadata).

In short, “saving in Lightroom” does not apply to saving files, but saving the metadata about those files as XMP.

5 Don’t go looking for the Save As command: there isn’t one either.

For the very same reason, Lightroom does not have a Save As command as you might use in Photoshop. When you’re working in Photoshop and you want to save a large, layered Photoshop file as a smaller JPG, you will choose Save As from the file menu. When you want to save an edited raw file in Lightroom as a JPG, we talk about “exporting.”

Exporting really is saving a copy in the file type (such as JPG), file size, resolution, bit depth, and colour space of your choosing. These options are set in the Export dialog, which you can call via File > Export.

6 Think twice before keeping exported images.

In practice, you want to export images to give them to others: you might want to export the images of a party as low-resolution JPGs to give to your friends. Or, you might export photos for a high-end photo book as a highresolution TIFFs so you can give them to the printer. Sometimes, students tell me that they keep these exported files, just in case. However, this is of little use: you already have the best possible quality on your computer by way of the original raw files on your drive and the edits contained in the Lightroom catalog.

Keeping these exported images needlessly takes up hard drive space, possibly even in your backup system as well. That’s why, after having given them to your clients or friends, you can just delete them. You’re better off making a couple of presets of the export settings you plan on using (for example lowresolution sRGB watermarked JPG and highresolution Adobe RGB TIFF). And if ever your friends or clients have lost their copies, in a well-organized catalog it’s only a matter of seconds to retrieve the originals and export them again using the original presets. You could even charge for the service.

Well, maybe not your friends…

This blog post is based on an excerpt of my new eBook ’Lightroom 4 UnMasked. A Complete Guide to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4′ which is available at $20 for over 300 pages (including 60 cases) of solid, no-nonsense Lightroom info. Suitable for beginning and intermediate users. More info about this eBook can be found here.


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