how to organize photos in lightroom

As a very powerful image editing program, Lightroom is also a great tool to help keep your photos organized. Digital images can add up quickly, leaving a mess behind that is difficult to wade through. Lightroom offers a number of features designed for maintaining a neat and tidy photo library. On the same hand, figuring out how to use folders, collections, and catalogs is often confusing. Knowledge of a few basic concepts lends itself to knowing how to organize photos in Lightroom and saving time.

How to Organize Photos in Lightroom

Unlike Photoshop, Lightroom is actually a database that provides powerful functionality to help you efficiently save, organize, and search through your photos. Rather than being able to open pictures as in Photoshop, you must import them before they can be edited. Once you have imported your photos, there are a number of ways that you can organize them.


The Lightroom Catalog is merely a database of information. Think of how old library card catalogs used to work. The title, author, location in the library, and other information could be found on the book’s card. In the same way, each photo’s data is stored in the Lightroom Catalog.

organize photos lightroom catalog
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

When you import photos, their file locations and metadata information automatically become a part of the Lightroom Catalog. ShootDotEdit Customers are familiar with Lightroom Catalogs, as that is how they upload their jobs and receive our image editing services.

Whether you separate photos into specifically named folders or collections, all of your photos will be found in the catalog forever or until you purposely remove them from the catalog. However, the actual image files are only located on your computer, hard drive, memory card, cloud account, or other storage places.

This is similar to how library books are located on the bookshelves rather than in the card catalog. If you delete images from your saved locations, then Lightroom will not be able to view them. Likewise, backing up your Lightroom Catalog file (.lrcat) does not create a backup of your photos.

There is an option to create multiple catalogs, but the approach is not recommended unless you are an expert at using Lightroom. More often than not, typical users will be fine with single Lightroom Catalog.


At the most basic level of organization, your photos end up in a Lightroom folder. The concept of folders is not much different than how folders are used on your Mac or PC. The only difference is that Lightroom does not store the actual files, it only shows previews of the photo.

organize photos lightroom folders
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

During the process of importing your photos, you will be prompted to select a destination folder or to create a new one. Lightroom stores this information in the Library Catalog and can retrieve it when you want to view a photo.

When you import photos into Lightroom, it helps to do it by folders rather than import a large number of photos all at once. Not only does this avoid Lightroom making you wait a long time while it generates previews of your photos, but it also gives you the chance to organize your folders right off the bat.


Lightroom Collections take the concept of folders to a whole other level. You can organize specific folders with similar attributes of your choosing into sets of photos known as collections. Collections are more of a virtual approach to organizing rather than a physical one. Unlike folders, collections are not saved to your desktop.

lightroom collections organize photos
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

If you are a music buff and have compiled playlists of your favorite songs on an MP3 player, then you will be able to relate. You can group your photos together in the same way that you might group music by genre (e.g., jazz, classical) or purpose (e.g., exercise music, dance music). Some photographers have suggested that Lightroom Collections is not a good way to organize photos, but it is really just a matter of finding what works best for you.

Choose a Good Naming Convention

Before going into more detail about how to organize photos in Lightroom, it is vital to consider how you might plan to name your folders or collections. Deciding on and using a good naming convention, in the beginning, will help you avoid any unnecessary hassles down the line.

This is primarily due to that fact that when you create folders in Lightroom, these show up on your desktop computer as well. If you do not have a logical arrangement to your folder structure, then it will not make much sense when you go back looking for specific photos.

Also, it helps to have your folder names match both in Lightroom and on your hard drive. The way you choose a naming convention or folder structure is personal preference. The most important thing is to keep it simple.

Organize Wedding Photos in Lightroom

If you are not sure how to organize photos in Lightroom based on a sound folder structure and naming convention, there are few ways to go about it. What you prefer may depend on the types of wedding photos and other photos you tend to take.

Option 1: Organize Photos by Couple

As a wedding photographer, it makes sense to create a folder for each client. The folder might be the first and last name of the bride and groom. In addition, you could include the date of the wedding. If you do multiple shoots for a couple (e.g., engagement photos, wedding rehearsal photos, etc.), you can see how it can get more tricky to name and organize your folders. In any case, organizing by couple is a useful yet broad method to get you started.

Option 2: Organize Photos by Event or Shoot

Another way to arrange photos is by creating a folder for each event or photo shoot. Doing it this way solves the issues involved with creating folders for couples who you may have taken photos at different events or shoots. The other option is to organize by couple and add subfolders that are organized by event or shoot.

Option 3: Organize by Style

It is possible to organize your wedding couple’s photos into folders arranged by style such as black and white, dramatic, and vintage. While this may not work well to organize photos that you take for clients, it would be useful when sorting through photos to create portfolios of your work. Organize by style couple could be applied to Lightroom Collections instead.

Option 4: Organize Photos by Date

Organizing by date is typically the default way that software programs tend to set up folders. It is one of the easiest ways, and it is how most novice photographers have done it. Although some swear by this method, there are few reasons that make more advanced photographers frown upon this approach. The most obvious issue is that dates are hard to remember without some context attached to them. One thing to note is that Lightroom automatically organizes every photo by date. You can sort all of your photos by data in using the Filter Bar accessed in the Library module.

Option 5: Combine Ways to Organize Photos

There are countless approaches to organizing your photos. It can be near impossible to find one single folder structure that will suit all your needs. As a solution, consider combining one or more organizational strategies. For example, you can organize your wedding photos by couple and create subfolders that are organized by photo shoot. You can also add dates or other pertinent information to your folder name. Whichever approach you choose, be sure that it makes logical sense and makes it easy for you find what you need.

Related: What are ShootDotEdit’s top picks for wedding edits that can transform your photography? Find out in this post!

Label Photos in Lightroom

Along with naming and arranging folders, Lightroom offers additional features to help you organize your photos. Labeling your photos with a Flag, Rating, and Color label can make it easy to sort through large batches of photos using the Filter panel. In a sense, it is a way to mark your favorite photos for varying reason. You can apply any or all of these labels by accessing them under the Photo menu in Lightroom.

Flag Label

Photographers often agree that the Flag Label is the best and easiest option for tagging your photos. When you have Flagged (P), you are essentially marking the photo so that it shows up when you sort or search photos by the Flag filter.

flagged label lightroom organize
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

You also have the option of marking a photo as Rejected (X). These might be ones that you do not like, are unusable, or need to be trashed. Any photos left unflagged could be treated as neutral, not good or bad.

Rating Label

The Rating Label is a way to mark your photos with a rank from 1 through 5. It is like reviewing each photo and giving it a star rating depending on how good it is. You can choose to rate the best photos as 5-star, the worst photos as 1-star, and the other photos with anything in between.

star labels lightroom photos
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

What the rating numbers actually mean is up to you. This is all subjective and not always clear-cut, so it is considered a more difficult strategy to apply.

Color Label

The Lightroom Color Label works similar to the Rating Label. Instead of number ratings, you can select a range of colors including red, blue, yellow, green, and purple.

organize lightroom photos color label
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

It is up to you on how you want to translate each Color Label.

Advanced Levels of Organization

So far, most of what has been covered gives you a good idea of the different ways to import, organize, and label photos. But, organizing photos in Lightroom does not stop there. Many advanced approaches to image organization might prove to be useful once you have learned the basics.


You have already been introduced to Lightroom Collections. These can be created in the Collections panel.

create collection lightroom
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

What you might not know is that there are different types of collections available to use at your disposal:

Collection Sets – Used to nest multiple collections similar to folders and subfolders.

Smart Collections – Allows you to create collections based on specific rules you define (e.g., all photos with a 3 rating or higher).

Quick Collections – Lets you send photos to a temporary collection of photos.

quick collections lightroom
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

Target Collections – Offers the ability to mark a particular collection so that you can send photos to it rather than to Quick Collections.

set target collection lightroom
Images by Brian Hatton Photography

Mobile Collections – A great way to set aside a collection of photos that you want to sync or share on social media using Lightroom Mobile.


As mentioned previously, creating additional catalogs is usually reserved for advanced-level users that know what they are doing. It also makes sense to use multiple catalogs if you work with huge numbers of photos. Although you can place an unlimited number of photos inside of a single catalog, once you reach more than 15,000 images Lightroom can get sluggish. The disadvantage is that you can only access one catalog at a time in Lightroom.

Suggested Read: How To Edit Wedding Photos Like A Pro

Delete Unusable Photos

Sometimes getting organized involves getting rid of clutter. Like cleaning out your closets, getting rid of worthless photos can lighten your load. Having unusable photos filling up your folders and hard drive not only wastes space but also leaves you with more stuff to sort through.

One of the quickest ways to get rid of photos that need to trashed or removed from Lightroom is to take advantage of the Flag Label. Any photos that you marked as rejected can be deleted all at once. Under the Photo menu, you can select “Delete Rejected Photos” to bid those space hoggers goodbye. You will then have the option to only delete the images in Lightroom or also delete the photos from your hard drive.

Further Read: Top 5 Advanced Lightroom Tips

Because wedding photographers are tasked with juggling large volumes of images, knowing how to organize photos in Lightroom is key to an organized post-wedding workflow. The more organized your photos are, the easier it is to find them, send them to a wedding photo editing company (like ShootDotEdit), and deliver them in a timely manner to clients.

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