Collections Instead of Folders?

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Today’s Question: I am re-organizing my photos in Lightroom Classic. In the past, I have relied upon folders and subfolders as basic building blocks. However, I have just read an article that strongly emphasizes that one should have a collections-based workflow from the time of initial import into Lightroom and relying on folders is definitely not recommended. Is this a valid concern and what is your recommendation?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I strongly recommend using the folder structure as a primary method of organizing your photos in Lightroom Classic CC. Features such as star ratings (or pick/reject flags or color labels) can be used as a secondary tool for identifying favorite images. Collections are a tertiary tool, which I recommend using for project-based organization and other specialized tasks, rather than as a primary organizational tool.

More Detail: If you were using the cloud-based Lightroom CC (rather than Lightroom Classic CC) it would be necessary to use collections as a primary tool for organizing your photos. That is because with Lightroom CC you don’t have any control over the folder structure being used to store your images. Instead, you can organize photos based on date or collections.

With Lightroom Classic CC you don’t have the limitation of not being able to control the overall storage structure for your photos. In other words, you can define your own folder structure on the hard drive(s) containing your photos. As such, to me it is perfectly logical that you would use folder structure as a primary foundation of your overall organizational workflow. After all, if photos are already organized into folders on your hard drive, why wouldn’t you leverage that folder structure for organizational purposes within Lightroom?

Collections can be thought of as something like “virtual” folders, enabling you to organize photos from a wide variety of folders into a single collection. That can be tremendously helpful when working on a specific project, for example, but I don’t find it as useful as a primary organizational tool.

In addition, it is worth noting that folders reflect the actual storage structure on your hard drive. Collections in Lightroom, by contrast, only exist within the Lightroom catalog. In other words, if you lost your Lightroom catalog you would still have your folder structure, but you would no longer have your collections.

I therefore highly recommend using folders as a primary tool in your organizational workflow. Other metadata such as star ratings can be used as secondary tools to help you locate specific photos when they are needed. And additional tools such as collections can help you organize photos for specific projects, especially when you need to work with photos that are actually stored across a variety of different folders.