The Lightroom Database

When Lightroom first came out, there was a lot of discussion in online forums about the need for importing your photos. Many people argued that it was unnecessary. They wanted to browse their folders, just like they were used to before Lightroom. As a result, many people did not change their filing system after they installed Lightroom, and, even today, first import their photos into a folder, then import them into Lightroom.

Let’s take a look at how efficient this this.

Creating a filing system is probably as old as the art of writing. We needed a place to put something we wanted to keep. And we needed a way to find it again when we wanted. We’ve all had to deal with such “systems”. We have filing cabinets, telephone directories, recipe books and of course, PCs with copious amounts of folders.

Everyone “files” their stuff differently. Some people are extremely organized and methodical, others are sloppy and undisciplined. Sometimes the information itself dictates the way it should be organized. Whatever the system however, the larger the amount of information to be filed, the more complex the system becomes and the more prone it becomes to failure. In other words, misplacing something in a filing system that only contains 15 items is a recoverable problem. Misplacing that same item in a filing system with 100,000 items is a different problem altogether.

Lightroom has a database and databases were explicitly designed to manage large amounts of data. To take advantage of this database, we need to remove ourselves from “thinking in folders” as this metaphor does not apply to databases.

Lightroom excels at indexing all metadata associated with the photo and that includes the date and time of the shot. Why then, would someone download the images first, into a folder structure of date and time, when Lightroom already does that, automatically?


I highly recommend therefore that you let Lightroom “do its thing”. Once you commit to Lightroom, you should use Lightroom for all your work.. Trust me, Lightroom will know what it did with your photos, where they are stored, how to find them and how to manage them, much better than you can. Here are some do’s and don’ts.


  • Use Lightroom to download photos from your memory card. Lightroom will automatically create folders for them and indexes all EXIF data including the date and time. If you create folders by date, you are, actually, wasting your time as Lightroom does that automatically.
  • Use Lightroom to move and delete photos.
  • Specify keywords when you download images.
  • Do use presets for Copyright and Metadata information. It’ll make your life much easier
  • Use Lightroom’s “Edit in External Editor” function to launch a 3rd party application. If you do, files will automatically be managed and stacked with the originals, greatly reducing the chances of misplacing them.


  • Create your own folderstructure and expect Lightroom to function efficiently. Lightroom can index your images in far more sophisticated ways than you can organize them in folders.
  • Work with images outside of Lightroom. In other words, do not navigate to the folders with images and open them in ACR, edit and save them back. Lightroom will not know about these edits and you will get mightily confused when using Lightroom.

It does take a little getting used to, but once you dicipline yourself in using Lightroom as main “view” into your database of images, life will be much more efficient.

Even if you use Photoshop a lot, there is a huge benefit is using Lightroom as your “raw converter” instead of Bridge and ACR. Using Bridge and ACR, a typical workflow would include the following steps:

  1. Open the photo in ACR
  2. Make edits as appropriate
  3. Open converted photo in Photoshop
  4. Make adjustments using adjustment layers
  5. Save PSD in designated folder with layers in tact (for future use)
  6. Copy layered PSD and flatten image (now you have the original plus a layered copy)
  7. If you are going to print – Sharpen for output
  8. Save as JPEG (if you are using a lab) or print to inkjet (now you have 3 copies, more if you also create versions for email or website)

With Lightroom managing your images, many of these steps become totally redundant. This is because the Lightroom recognizes Photoshop files.

PSD files in Lightroom

PSD files in Lightroom

In the example above, you can see a PSD version next to the original raw version (Canon’s CR2 format) . I used Photoshop to straighten the photo caused by the distortion of the wide angle lens. Now that this layered Photoshop file is in Lightroom, I can use all of Lightroom’s features. Export to JPEG or TIFF, sharpen for whatever output medium I am targeting, etc.

I have omitted the need to save a flattened copy, and any additionalĀ  JPEG copies.

My new workflow looks something like:

  1. Open the photo in Develop Module
  2. Make edits as appropriate
  3. Select “Edit in Photoshop” (click “edit a copy” and “stack with original”)
  4. Make adjustments using adjustment layers
  5. Save
  6. In Lightroom, I can now see the PSD and do several things: Export to JPEG, put in WebGallery, Print, etc.

By using Lightroom to find my picture, open it in Photoshop for editing, II effectively use Lightroom as my raw converter and have saved significant diskspace and cut out several steps in my workflow without any compromises.

That is the power of Lightroom.


[amazon-product align=”center”]B0018VH8S2[/amazon-product] [amazon-product align=”center”]0321555562[/amazon-product] [amazon-product align=”center”]0321555600[/amazon-product]
Share Button
This entry was posted in Lightroom Tips.

One Comment

  1. lia.bianchi May 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm #

    molto utile – grazie

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *