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How Lightroom Classic catalogs work

  1. Lightroom Classic User Guide
  2. Introduction to Lightroom Classic
    1. What's new in Lightroom Classic
    2. Lightroom Classic system requirements
    3. Lightroom Classic | Common Questions
    4. Lightroom Classic Key Concepts
    5. Lightroom Classic tutorials
    6. Feature summary | Lightroom CC 2015.x/Lightroom 6.x releases
  3. Lightroom and Adobe services
    1. Creative Cloud Libraries
    2. Using Adobe Stock in Creative Cloud apps
  4. Lightroom for mobile, TV, and the web
    1. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for mobile and Apple TV | FAQ
    2. Sync Lightroom Classic with Lightroom ecosystem
    3. Photoshop family of mobile apps
  5. Import photos
    1. Import photos from a camera or card reader
    2. Import photos from a folder on a hard drive
    3. Import photos automatically
    4. Import photos from Photoshop Elements
    5. Import photos from a tethered camera
    6. Specify import options
    7. Set import preferences
    8. The Filename Template Editor and Text Template Editor
  6. Workflows
    1. Apply Masking in photos
    2. Export and save your photos as JPEGs
    3. Export and watermark your photos
    4. Import your photos
    5. Adjustment Brush: the basics
    6. Adjustments with the Tone Curve
    7. Advanced video slideshows
    8. Control white balance
    9. Create a contact sheet
    10. Enhance your workflow with Lightroom Classic
    11. Adjustments with Lens Blur
    12. Edit and Export in HDR
  7. Workspace
    1. Workspace basics
    2. Set preferences for working in Lightroom Classic
    3. Display the Library on a second monitor
    4. Personalize identity plates and module buttons
    5. Watermark your photos in Lightroom Classic
    6. Color management
  8. Viewing photos
    1. View photos
    2. Browse and compare photos
    3. Set Library view options
    4. Share photos for comments and feedback
    5. Smart Previews
  9. Manage catalogs and files
    1. Lightroom Classic catalog FAQ
    2. How Lightroom Classic catalogs work
    3. Create and manage catalogs
    4. Back up a catalog
    5. Locate missing photos
    6. Create and manage folders
    7. Manage photos within folders
  10. Maps
    1. Work with the Map module
  11. Organize photos in Lightroom Classic
    1. Face recognition
    2. Work with photo collections
    3. Group photos into stacks
    4. Flag, label, and rate photos
    5. Use keywords
    6. Metadata basics and actions
    7. Find photos in the catalog
    8. Work with video in Lightroom Classic
    9. Advanced metadata actions
    10. Use the Quick Develop panel
  12. Process and develop photos
    1. Develop module basics
    2. Create panoramas and HDR panoramas
    3. Flat-Field Correction
    4. Correct distorted perspective in photos using Upright
    5. Improve image quality using Enhance
    6. Work with image tone and color
    7. Masking
    8. Apply local adjustments
    9. HDR photo merge
    10. Develop module options
    11. Retouch photos
    12. Cure red eye and pet eye effects
    13. Use the Radial Filter tool
    14. Use the enhanced Spot Removal tool
  13. Export photos
    1. Export files to disk or CD
    2. Export photos from Lightroom Classic
    3. Publish photos online
    4. Export to hard drive using publish services
    5. Presets for export, and other settings
  14. Work with external editors
    1. External Editing preferences
    2. Open and edit Lightroom Classic photos in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements
  15. Slideshows
    1. Create slideshows
    2. Slideshow module panels and tools
    3. Specify the slide layout
    4. Add overlays to slides
    5. Play and export slideshows
  16. Print photos
    1. Print module basics
    2. Print module layouts and templates
    3. Work with print job options and settings
  17. Photo books
    1. Create photo books
  18. Web galleries
    1. Create web galleries
    2. Use the Web module panels and tools
    3. Work with web gallery layouts
    4. Work with web gallery templates and settings
    5. Preview, export, and upload web photo galleries
  19. Keyboard shortcuts
    1. Keyboard shortcuts
  20. Troubleshooting 
    1. Fixed Issues
    2. Known Issues

What's in a catalog?

A catalog is a database that stores a record for each of your photos. This record contains three key pieces of information about each photo:

  1. A reference to where the photo is on your system
  2. Instructions for how you want to process the photo
  3. Metadata, such as ratings and keywords that you apply to photos to help you find or organize them

When you import photos into Lightroom Classic, you create a link between the photo itself and the record of the photo in the catalog. Then, any work you perform on the photo — such as adding keywords or removing red eye — is stored in the photo's record in the catalog as additional metadata.   When you're ready to share the photo outside Lightroom Classic — upload it to Facebook, print it, or create a slideshow, for example — Lightroom Classic applies your metadata changes, which are like photo-developing instructions, to a copy of the photo so that everyone can see them.   Lightroom Classic never changes the actual photos captured by your camera. In this way, editing in Lightroom Classic is nondestructive. You can always return to the original, unedited photo.

Lightroom Classic catalog versus a file browser

Lightroom Classic works differently from a file browser such as Adobe Bridge. File browsers need direct, physical access to the files they display. Files must be on your hard drive, or your computer must be connected to a storage media containing the files for Adobe Bridge to show them. Since Lightroom Classic uses a catalog to keep track of the photos, you can preview all photos Lightroom Classic has imported even though the image source files may not be accessible by the computer. For example, files stored on an external drive will show in the catalog (If previously imported by Lightroom Classic) even if the external drive is disconnected.

The advantages of the catalog-based workflow

The Lightroom Classic catalog workflow provides two distinct advantages for photographers:

  1. Your photos can be stored anywhere
  2. Your edits are nondestructive

Lightroom Classic offers flexibility in managing, organizing, and editing photos because your photos can be anywhere — on the same computer with the Lightroom Classic application, on an external hard disk, or perhaps on a network drive. Because the catalog stores a preview of each photo, you can work with your photos in Lightroom Classic and see your editing changes as you work. And all the while, Lightroom Classic doesn't touch your original photo files.

Best practices for working with Lightroom Classic catalogs

It's wise to approach your work in Lightroom Classic with some forethought. You can move catalogs and photos, put photos in multiple catalogs, and combine or merge catalogs, but doing so can be confusing. In addition, links between your catalog and your photos may break. Follow these steps to plan your catalog setup and to minimize having to shuffle catalogs and photos around between computers and drives.

  1. Decide in advance where you want to store your Lightroom Classic catalog. You can't store it on a network. You'll probably store it on your computer's hard drive or an external disk.  After you decide where you'll save the catalog, consider the specific folder or path where you'll put it.
  2. Determine where you want to keep your photos. How much disk space is on your hard drive? Will it be enough? If you're working on multiple computers, consider keeping your catalog and photos on an external drive that you can plug into either system. Copy or move your photos to that location before you import them into Lightroom Classic.
  3. Finally, start Lightroom Classic and import photos into the catalog by adding them in place.

Two final recommendations:

  • Although you can have multiple Lightroom Classic catalogs, try to work with just one. There's no upper limit to the number of photos you can have in a catalog, and Lightroom Classic offers myriad ways to sort, filter, and otherwise organize and find photos within a catalog. For example, you can use folders, collections, keywords, labels, and ratings. With a little thought and practice, you can probably find ways to organize and manage all of your photos successfully in one catalog.
  • After you start working in Lightroom Classic, if you need to move or rename photos — say that your hard drive fills up and you have to switch to an external drive — perform those tasks from within Lightroom Classic. Do not use the Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac OS) to move photos. If you do, you'll likely encounter the dreaded "photos are missing" error and you'll have to relink everything.


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