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Understanding catalogs

From: Up and Running with Lightroom 3

Video: Understanding catalogs

Lightroom is built on a catalog system. Before you jump into using Lightroom, it's important to understand what a Lightroom catalog is and how it works, so that you don't inadvertently cause Lightroom to lose track of the photos that you bring in. So a catalog is a database that contains a record of each photo that you import, and when I say import, I'm making those little air quotes because you don't actually physically import a file into some location inside of Lightroom. There is no such place inside of a Lightroom catalog file. What you do import into Lightroom is information about your file, including where the files are located on your hard drive, or even on an external drive if you so choose.

Understanding catalogs

Lightroom is built on a catalog system. Before you jump into using Lightroom, it's important to understand what a Lightroom catalog is and how it works, so that you don't inadvertently cause Lightroom to lose track of the photos that you bring in. So a catalog is a database that contains a record of each photo that you import, and when I say import, I'm making those little air quotes because you don't actually physically import a file into some location inside of Lightroom. There is no such place inside of a Lightroom catalog file. What you do import into Lightroom is information about your file, including where the files are located on your hard drive, or even on an external drive if you so choose.

So inside the Lightroom catalog there will be links to your actual files wherever they live, there will be little previews of your actual photos which is what these are, and there will be some metadata, or information about the files that you bring in. So here, for example, I've selected a file and I have information that came from my digital camera about the camera settings that I used at the time I took the photo. In addition, any information that you create here in Lightroom about a photo will be included in the catalog. So if you add a keyword to a photo, that will be included in the record of that photo.

And the same is true if you make adjustments to the exposure or color in a photo, as we'll do later in the course on the Develop module; that information is also in the catalog. So all of this has implications for the way that you work in Lightroom. First of all, it means that you can store your actual photos anywhere, on your main computer, or as I said, an external drive, and Lightroom will be able to keep track of them, as long as Lightroom knows where they are. Secondly, it means that you need to protect those actual photos. Don't delete them under the mistaken impression that they're somehow inside Lightroom because as I said, they're not really inside Lightroom; there are just links to them inside Lightroom.

And thirdly, if you need to move any photo or move a folder that contains photos, do so from inside of Lightroom. Don't go out to your operating system and do that. If you do move a file or a folder in your operating system that you've already imported into Lightroom, this is what will happen. You'll see a question mark on that folder here in the Folders panel, and the files that that folder contains will have question marks on them top. Now this isn't the end of the world. If you know where you've moved that folder to, you can right-click or Ctrl+Click right on that little folder icon in the Folders panel and choose Find Missing Folder and navigate out to the current location of the folder.

If you do need to move folders or move files, you should do so here in Lightroom like this. Let's say that I click on one of these folders, and here I can see the photos that are located inside of this folder on my hard drive. So say I want to move this photo of the sunset to another folder, say the Denver museums folder, I'll click on it here in the main window in the Lightroom Library module and I'll drag and I'll go down into this other folder in the Folders panel and release my mouse. And this warning tells me I'm actually moving the file out on my hard drive. That's okay.

I'll click Move and sure enough, the photo is gone from its original folder, and here it is in the place to which I moved it, and it has no question marks, so all is fine. And if I were to go out to my hard drive, I would see that this move had taken place in my actual folders out on the drive. So now that you know what a catalog is and how it works, you're ready to begin importing photos into a catalog yourself, as I'm going to show you how to do in the next chapter.

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Up and Running with Lightroom 3

29 video lessons · 11010 viewers

Jan Kabili
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