Multiple Catalogs

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Today’s Question: You say ONE catalog is best [in Lightroom Classic], but I am struggling with this due to my personal situation. I am wondering if it would be better for me to have three catalogs. One would be for personal photos, one for my business (including events from the school), and another for stock photos. Is that crazy to do? If you still think I should only keep one catalog for everything, how would I keep that organized in Lightroom? Would you suggest setting up some sort of Collection structure? I would love your opinion on my situation.

Tim’s Quick Answer: In this particular scenario (and in fact for most scenarios) I would still recommend using a single Lightroom catalog for all photos. You can then use a folder structure, unique keywords, or collections (or a combination of all of these) to help keep your photos organized by categories.

More Detail: The reason I prefer (and recommend) using a single catalog for all photos to be managed by Lightroom is that it streamlines the process of actually locating photos when you need them. In other words, when you need to find a photo, you simply launch Lightroom to get started, without having to figure out which catalog the particular photo might be in.

When a photographer feels that they need to have multiple catalogs, there is generally a solution that enables them to maintain the ability to filter photos by different categories, while still streamlining their workflow by having a single catalog.

For example, you could create parent folders that represent those categories. In the case of the scenario outlined in today’s question, for example, you could create master folders for “Personal”, “Business”, and “Stock”. When importing photos, an appropriate folder could be created within the applicable master folder for the photos being added to the catalog.

You could also use what I refer to as “fake” keywords, meaning keywords used for a purpose beyond the “standard” approach. This could include a keyword based on the category for each photo. I prefer to identify the keywords as being unique in this context, so I might use a category-based keyword of something like “CATEGORY-Personal” as that keyword.

Collections can also be used for this purpose, potentially with category-based collection sets, which could contain individual collections for the photos you want to manage in this way. The one caveat I recommend considering when it comes to collections is that they only exist within the Lightroom catalog. If for any reason your catalog was lost or you decided to switch to different software for managing your photos, the collections would likely be lost. Keywords, on the other hand, could be preserved.

The point is that Lightroom provides a variety of ways to organize your photos, and I feel it is best to make use of those various options rather than dividing photos into multiple catalogs.