- Knowing something about Lightroom's structure and how it keeps track of your photos can help you to use Lightroom and to avoid getting your photos in a tangle down the road. The most important thing to understand is that a Lightroom catalog is a database. A database that stores information about your photos and the changes that you make to them in Lightroom. This database system is different than a simple file browsing system like you may have been used to using with a program like Adobe Bridge. Because Lightroom uses a database, it can do lots more for you than just browse your files.
It can display previews of your photos even when the photos themselves are off-line. It will keep a persistent history of all your edits to a photo, and it allows you to try out different looks on virtual copies of your photos and lots more. If you're trying to visualize what a database is think about the big card catalog in a traditional library. This big wooden catalog contains records of the books on the library's shelves but obviously not the books themselves. Similarly, a Lightroom catalog contains records of your photos and video clips but not the actual photos and videos.
Those are stored outside of Lightroom often on a separate drive from your catalog. And we'll talk more about where to store your photos and your Lightroom catalog in the next movie. The point to remember for now is that a Lightroom catalog is made up of just records of each of the photos and video clips you choose to include in the Lightroom catalog, kind of like the card for each book in the library that's in this library card catalog. So, what's in the record of each photo in your Lightroom catalog? That record contains information about the photo some of which comes from your digital camera and some of which you may add in Lightroom, like key words, for example.
The record of photo in the Lightroom catalog also contains descriptions of all the edits that you make to a photo in Lightroom's Develop module. Those edits are non-destructive of your actual photos because they're just instructions in the Lightroom catalog. They affect the way the preview of the photo looks in Lightroom but they don't alter the original photo. These editing instructions are only applied to copies of a photo and that's only if and when you output copies of the photo from Lightroom by exporting, printing, or using one of Lightroom's other output functions.
And we'll see how to do some of that later in the course too. There's another important piece of information in the record of every photo in a Lightroom catalog and that's a link to the location where you've chosen to store the actual photo outside of Lightroom similar to the decimal number in a library card catalog that indicates where the actual book is on the library shelves. Now that means that if you a move a photo around outside of Lightroom, the record in the catalog will no longer be correct and Lightroom will think the photo has gone missing.
So that's something to be careful of. But even that is not the end of the world. Later in the course I'll show you how to reconnect missing photos and how to avoid breaking the link between a photo in your catalog in the first place. Database files, like the ones you see here, are automatically created for you the first time you launch Lightroom or whenever you make a new catalog in Lightroom. I'm showing you these to emphasize that the catalog they represent is separate from and different than your actual photos. These catalog files don't have to be kept in the same folder or even on the same drive as your photos as you'll see in the next movie.
One more thing to know about catalogs. How many catalogs should you have? For most Lightroom users, the best answer is one catalog. The reason is that you can only search through one catalog at a time in Lightroom, and if you only have one catalog then you don't have to remember which one might contain a particular photo before you go searching for it. Having said that, there are some situations in which it may make sense to have multiple catalogs. For example, if you are a professional photographer and you don't want to intermingle your business photos with your personal photos, you might have more than one catalog.
And in this course, I suggested that if you're using the exercise files I'm providing, you create a new catalog for those files so they don't get mixed in with your personal photos. But for most photographers, again, a single catalog really is the simplest and best way to go. So, even if you've never used a database system, like Lightroom's, to keep track of your photos, I hope that this overview of Lightroom's catalog system will help you avoid some stumbles along the way and make the best use of catalogs when you're working with your own photos.
- Understanding the Lightroom catalogs
- Importing photos from multiple sources
- Organizing photos in the Library module
- Reviewing and rating photos
- Creating collections
- Tagging faces
- Making basic corrections in the Develop module
- Making local photo edits with the adjustment tools
- Stitching together panoramas
- Fixing perspective
- Converting to black and white
- Printing and exporting edited photos
- Fixing missing photos