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Catalogs In Lightroom

We try to shed a little light on Lightroom's Catalog to give new users a little more knowledge.

| Lightroom
After installing Lightroom for the first time you'll be asked to enter a name and location for a catalog (so long as no previous catalogs are found). You can stick with the default location if you so wish (there's no problem with doing this), however saving it to the same location your image files are can make backing up easier. You can also create multiple Catalogs but as the software works perfectly well with just one Catalog, we'll be sticking with one to keep things simple, plus using more than one Catalog isn't something that's recommended for someone just starting out with Lightroom as it can make things confusing.

Catalogs In Lightroom: Lightroom Catalog FolderWhy do you need to do create a Catalog? Well, in basic terms, the Catalog is where information about images (Metadata) is stored but not the actual image files. This means when you edit images in Lightroom, you're working none-destructively so the original image files are never altered. As a result, you can turn images black & white, add grain, vignettes etc. without having to worry that your original image file will permanently be changed. This also means you don't have to worry that saving various versions of the image will quickly eat up your hard drive space because you're not actual backing up the image file, just its information.

Basically, Lightroom continuously renders previews of the original file (using the original file for reference) as you work in the software which means you'll never be looking at your original file as you do in some other pieces of software. The previews are saved in another folder found in the same location as the Catalog.

If you do want to permanently apply any changes, you need to Export the file. This will, if you choose it to do so, save an edited version of your image next to the original image file.

Once your Catalog is set up you can begin importing images into Lightroom. More information on opening images in Lightroom can be found in our previous tutorial.

Even though the Catalog doesn't store the original image files it does, as we've mentioned, reference them, which means if you move one of your image files to another location, say another hard drive, you need to let Lightroom know otherwise it'll show the following message (with a different image name):

Catalogs In Lightroom: Missing file

Locating Missing Files

Catalogs In Lightroom: Photo missing icon

If you're in grid view in the Library module, where you can see multiple images, you can identify missing files with the icon shown on the image to the right. 

To view all missing photos go to Library>Find Missing Photos and this will show them all in grid view. A temporary 'Missing Photographs' Collection will also be created in the menu to the left of the screen. This folder can be removed once you have identified and re-located all of the missing images by right-clicking and selecting 'Remove this Temporary Collection'. 

You need to click the 'photo is missing' icon to open another window where you can find and select the new location from. In this window you need to click the 'Locate' button and navigate to where the image is now located, then click 'Select'. 

This will then fix the broken link and Lightroom will once again be able to reference the image file. 


It's important that you regularly backup your Catalog(s) as if they become corrupted or are removed, you may no longer be able to access the data in it. Depending on your Catalog settings (something we'll move on to next) Lightroom may pop up a message every so often as you close down the software to remind you to back up your Catalog(s). Backups can only occur when you quit Lightroom.

Catalogs In Lightroom: Backup Lightroom

When you exit Lightroom the 'Back Up Catalog' box will pop up. You can choose to complete the backup or skip it until next time. You can also choose the location for the backups to be saved. Having 'Test integrity before backing up' and 'Optimize catalog after backing up' ticked is a good idea as this will allow Lightroom to correct errors, apply repairs and tidy the catalog, among other things.

Catalog Settings

Each Catalog you set up has its own group of settings. You can access this information via the Edit menu (when working on a PC). The Catalog Settings open in a new window and there are three tabs you can work in once open.

Catalogs In Lightroom: Catalog Settings

In the General tab you'll find the basic information about the Catalog as well as the backup options that are available. The General tab makes it easy to check you're using the right Catalog when you're working with more than one and the Backup options allow you to set how often you'd like Lightroom to remind you about backing up your Catalog.

Under file handling you'll find options for editing Lightroom's previews and importing numbering defaults (if you use them). Finally, the Metadata tab allows you to make decisions on how Lightroom uses Metadata.
Take a look at ePHOTOzine's Lightroom tutorials for more tips on using this software. 

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