Today’s Question: Can you explain why you prefer to use a single catalog to manage your photos in Lightroom, rather than using different catalogs for photos that fall into different categories or timeframes?
Tim’s Quick Answer: The reason I prefer (and generally recommend) using a single catalog in Lightroom is that I want to be able to find any of my photos with minimal effort. When I am looking for a particular photo I certainly expect to need to remember details about the photo so I know what folder to look in or what metadata values to filter by. But I don’t want to have to remember which specific Lightroom catalog a given photo is contained in. In other words, my preference for a single catalog relates to an effort to streamline my workflow for managing my photos.
More Detail: I should hasten to add that the workflow solutions that I find work best for me aren’t necessarily the best solutions for all photographers. However, when it comes to using a single catalog, my opinion is that this is the best approach for most photographers.
To be sure, there are scenarios where I think it makes sense to use multiple catalogs in Lightroom. For example, if in addition to my travel and nature photography I also offered my services as a wedding photographer, I would likely keep the photos from weddings I was hired to photograph in a separate catalog. That’s because there would be a clear and significant distinction between the two general categories of photos. In that type of situation, I would prefer to catalogs to reduce clutter and confusion in my workflow.
But in general, I feel it is beneficial to have all of your photos in a single catalog, so you aren’t adding an extra step to your workflow. When you want to locate an image, you simply launch Lightroom and work with your only catalog. You don’t need to think about which catalog to open.
I suspect many photographers started using multiple catalogs because in early versions Lightroom wasn’t able to handle large number of photos in a single catalog. My experience with the first version or two of Lightroom was that after you accumulated about 30,000 in a single catalog, Lightroom slowed to the point of being virtually unusable.
However, Lightroom has since been improved to the point that there is no real need to impose a limit on how many photos you have in a single catalog. My personal Lightroom catalog now contains over 300,000 photos (and growing).
If you feel that having more than one Lightroom catalog adds efficiency and organization to your workflow, then by all means you should use multiple catalogs. But otherwise you might consider whether a single catalog makes more sense, and if so merge all of your catalogs into a single “master” catalog.
And as a reminder, subscribers to Pixology magazine can gain access to the April 2013 issue for an in-depth article on the process of merging catalogs in Lightroom. If you’re not yet a subscriber, you can learn more at http://www.pixologymag.com.