Benefits of a Catalog


Today’s Question: For years I have been filing all my photos by year, month and event. Also each time I create a new event I add it to a “alpha sort” file with its year/month location. This is simple and always works.

My question is: Why can’t I just continue to use my “year/month/event” system instead of creating all the extra work of having a Lightroom catalog? What are the big benefits of making catalogs?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have a few responses here. First, any folder structure that makes sense to you is a good folder structure as far as I’m concerned. Second, Lightroom provides benefits beyond your basic folder structure, and there’s no need to change your folder structure just because you’re using Lightroom. Third, there are some subtle but valuable benefits to the use of a catalog in your image-management workflow.

More Detail: In my mind there are two key benefits to using Lightroom as opposed to a solution that employs other software such as the combination of Adobe Bridge and Photoshop.

The first benefit is that your workflow will be more streamlined. Instead of using Adobe Bridge to manage your photos, Adobe Camera Raw to process your photos, Photoshop to apply finishing effects, and a combination of Bridge and Photoshop to share your photos, you can perform most of the tasks in your workflow within Lightroom. You can think of Lightroom as providing a combination of Adobe Bridge and Adobe Camera Raw, and much more. So there is a workflow advantage available in Lightroom, at least in my opinion.

The second key benefit relates to the catalog itself. Because you have a central catalog in Lightroom that is managing the basic info about your photos, you can filter your photos in Lightroom much more quickly than you could in Adobe Bridge or other “browser” software.

So, for example, you can quickly filter every single photo you’ve ever capture to show you only those with a five-star rating. Or you could filter based on every image with a three-star or better rating that was captured with a shutter speed in excess of one second if you are looking for your best long exposures. There are many examples, but the point is that you can filter across your entire library of photos much more quickly with Lightroom than you could with Adobe Bridge, due in large part to the catalog that is used in Lightroom.

I would also argue that using Lightroom doesn’t involve any additional work beyond the use of Adobe Bridge. To be sure, many photographers have been confused by the workflow requirements involved in using a catalog, and have made a mess of their workflow in the process. But if you learn to use Lightroom properly, it can provide a variety of workflow advantages in my opinion, especially compared to the use of Adobe Bridge in conjunction with a basic folder structure.

In Lightroom you can still use the exact same folder structure you’re already using in your workflow, as well as the various metadata options such as star ratings. But in addition, you can leverage the catalog and the overall architecture of Lightroom to streamline your workflow.