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It doesn't take long to realize that Lightroom is generating a fair amount of information about your photos. The question is where is it storing that information? The information can include things like keywords, adjustments that you have applied, star ratings, color labels, a variety of bits of information about each photo. That information, along with Previews and Thumbnails, etc., is all stored in a catalog. You can think of this as just a collection of information that Lightroom uses to manage your images. As such, the Lightroom catalog is very important to you. Generally speaking, I recommend that photographers work with a single catalog. I find that most photographers want all of their images available very easily, without having to navigate among multiple databases of information. I often hear the recommendation, for example, that you should have separate catalogs for commercial images versus personal images. But in my experience, there tends to be a rather fuzzy line between those. Personal images that you capture on a family vacation, for example, might end up being images you can use for a commercial purpose. So, I prefer to use a single catalog.
However, as you're first getting started with Lightroom, you might want to create an additional catalog. So, let's take a look at some of the ways you can work with these catalogs. For practice purposes, it can be a good idea to create a Test Catalog. You can simply go to the File menu in Lightroom and then choose New Catalog. You can navigate to the location where you want that catalog to be stored and then enter a name for the catalog. I'll go ahead and create a new catalog called My Test Catalog.
I'll click the Save button and Lightroom will close and then reopen with my new catalog active. You can see that there are no images in this catalog since it's a brand new catalog, but I could certainly import images if I'd like. Using a Test Catalog like this enables you to work very comfortably in Lightroom, not worrying about what you're doing to your real images. In fact, if you're going to use a test catalog for practice purposes, you might also only want to import copies of your photos rather than the originals. You can switch between catalogs very easily from the File menu. You can choose File > Open Catalog if you want to navigate to a particular location and choose a catalog.
You can also choose Open Recent from the File menu to display a list of catalogs you've opened in Lightroom recently. I can switch back, for example, to an earlier test catalog. Lightroom will ask me if I want to relaunch Lightroom. I'm going to go ahead and turn on the Don't Show Again checkbox, so I don't have to click Relaunch every time I switch catalogs. And then I'll click the Relaunch button, and once again, Lightroom will restart, opening the catalog I've selected. You might have a reason to work with multiple catalogs on a regular basis but I find that most photographers only need one.
Still, it can be helpful to be familiar with how to create and switch between catalogs if for no other reason than to be able to have a test catalog for practicing your Lightroom skills.
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