Lightroom Without a Catalog


Today’s Question: You made reference to one of the differences between Lightroom Classic and Lightroom being that the former involves using a catalog and the latter does not. But how does that catalog impact the workflow for Lightroom Classic compared to Lightroom?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The fact that Lightroom Classic utilizes a catalog to manage the information about your photos creates a fundamental issue in your workflow, which effectively makes it mandatory that all tasks related to your photos be initiated within Lightroom Classic. Because Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Bridge do not use this type of catalog you have more flexibility in your workflow.

More Detail: I think it is very important to understand that while the catalog in Lightroom Classic can create some challenges, it also provides some potentially significant benefits in your workflow.

One of the key reasons I consider Lightroom Classic to be a critical component in my workflow is that it enables me to quickly and easily search across my entire catalog of almost 400,000 photos and videos. I can set a filter based on star ratings, keywords, camera gear or settings, or a variety of other metadata fields, and instantly be viewing only the photos that match that criteria, across my entire catalog.

The drawback to using the catalog is that if you make changes outside Lightroom Classic, such as moving or renaming folders or photos, or even updating metadata, you can have a very big mess on your hands very quickly within your catalog.

Adobe Lightroom (the non-Classic version) does not employ a catalog in this way, and so you don’t need to worry about making updates outside of Lightroom. For photos you are accessing the local storage in Lightroom, you can use any combination of software you’d like, such as by switching freely between Lightroom and Adobe Bridge. For cloud-based photos you can only access the images through the Lightroom ecosystem (desktop, mobile, or web), and so it isn’t possible to do any harm as could be possible with the catalog in Lightroom Classic.

In this regard it is “safer” to use Lightroom than Lightroom Classic. But of course, there are also features and capabilities in Lightroom Classic that aren’t available in Lightroom.

Note that I’ll be presenting a webinar soon that will focus on the differences between Adobe Bridge, Adobe Lightroom, and Adobe Lightroom Classic, which will be helpful for photographers wanting to better understand these tools and for deciding which might be the best fit for your workflow. Stay tuned for more details soon!