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What is a Lightroom catalog?

From: Up and Running with Lightroom 4

Video: What is a Lightroom catalog?

Under the hood, Lightroom is a system of databases. Those databases in Lightroom are called catalogs. Now I'm sure you don't want to hear about databases, you're probably eager to jump right in and start working with your photos but it's important to take a minute first to understand Lightroom's catalog system because that has important consequences for how you'll work with your photos and videos inside of Lightroom, as I'll explain in this movie. Now, the idea of a database can be hard to grasp. So, you might think about the Lightroom database by analogy to do something from a simpler time, a card catalog in a public library.

What is a Lightroom catalog?

Under the hood, Lightroom is a system of databases. Those databases in Lightroom are called catalogs. Now I'm sure you don't want to hear about databases, you're probably eager to jump right in and start working with your photos but it's important to take a minute first to understand Lightroom's catalog system because that has important consequences for how you'll work with your photos and videos inside of Lightroom, as I'll explain in this movie. Now, the idea of a database can be hard to grasp. So, you might think about the Lightroom database by analogy to do something from a simpler time, a card catalog in a public library.

The card catalog has a record for each book in the library and each record or card, contains information about the book and also the location of the book on the shelves. The actual books of course are not in the card catalog, they're out on the shelves. The information on the card helps locate the books no matter where they're stored and helps the librarians organize the large collection of books that are on or off site. Now by analogy to Lightroom, Lightroom also has a library. In fact, the first module here in the module picker is called the Library.

And the Library module displays a catalog of photos and videos that you've brought in. Like the card catalog in the public library, this catalog in Lightroom's library doesn't contain your actual photos and videos. Those remain wherever you've chosen to store them, which might be on your internal drive in your computer or on one or more external drives. What Lightroom's catalog does contain, again, like the public library's card catalog is number one, information about your photos and videos and number two, a link to the actual photo and video files wherever you've chosen to store them, on internal or external drives.

What kind of information about your photos and videos does a Lightroom catalog contain? Well, one thing it contains is a visual representation of each photo and video. You can see some of those previous right here in the Library module. These are the thumbnail-sized previews. If I were to double-click on one of these thumbnails, you can see a higher-resolution preview. But this is still isn't the real photo, this is just the visual representation of the actual photo. Another kind of information about your files here in the Lightroom catalog is information you can see in the Metadata panel over on the right.

I'm going to click the arrow to the right of that panel to expand it and here you can see some information that came with the photo out of my digital camera; like the capture date and if I scroll down, the exposure settings that I used in my camera. ASnd some of this information, is information that I added in Lightroom. For example, here is a copyright which I added when I imported the photo as I'll show you how to do in a coming movie. I'm going to switch to another module, the Develop module, to show you that there is another kind of information included in a Lightroom catalog. And that is all develop settings that you applied to a photo or to a video here in Lightroom, no matter what I do to this photo here.

For example, if I come in and change the color temperature, if I change the exposure, if I change the contrast, the highlights and so on, I am not changing the actual photo. All I'm doing is writing a set of instructions about how the photo should look. And those instructions are kept in the Lightroom catalog. The only time that these develop settings are applied to a photo, is if I decide to export a copy of the actual photo. For example, maybe I want a copy of this raw file to use on a website, so I would have to export it as a JPEG.

And even then, the original photo is not altered, just the copy is. So this non-destructive processing is one of the core strengths of Lightroom. And it's a consequence of the fact that Lightroom uses catalogs or databases as its underlying structure. Now, I mention that in addition to information about a file, there is also is a link between each file and your Lightroom catalog. A few things to know about that link; first, that link is established when you import files into Lightroom. I think that import, although it's the official term for bringing files into Lightroom, is kind of an unfortunate word because you're not actually importing physical files into the catalog.

As I've said, you're just importing information about those files. So, don't make the mistake of thinking that you can throw away your actual photos or videos because you've somehow put them inside of Lightroom. Again, all you have in Lightroom is a link to the files wherever they live, not the actual files. Another thing about the link; once you've established that link between Lightroom's catalog and your files, you want to be sure not to break it by moving or renaming photos outside of Lightroom. All of that work needs to be done inside of Lightroom.

So if I go back to the Library module, and I come down to the toolbar and click on this Grid icon so that I can see previews of all the photos in the catalog and then I'm going to scroll down. I'll click on this photo and notice that it has a question mark on it. That's because I renamed it outside of Lightroom and so Lightroom doesn't know where the file is. Now if this does happen to you, don't panic. Later in this chapter, there's a movie in which I'll show you specifically how to fix this problem of missing files. But it's something you want to avoid.

One final thing to know about Lightroom catalogs is that you can have more than one catalog. I recommend that you try to stick with one catalog keeping all your photos there. Because one catalog is a lot easier to manage and because Lightroom can display and search only one catalog at a time. Having said that, it sometimes makes sense to have a catalog that's separate from your main photo catalog. One of those times is for this course. Because you probably don't want to mix the Exercise Files or if you don't have those, you're in practice files in with your personal photos.

I'm going to recommend that you do make a separate catalog for just your exercise or practice files, and I'll show you how to do that in the very next movie.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Up and Running with Lightroom 4
Up and Running with Lightroom 4

34 video lessons · 19163 viewers

Jan Kabili
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 4m 21s
    1. Welcome
      1m 24s
    2. What is Lightroom used for?
      2m 57s
  2. 29m 45s
    1. What is a Lightroom catalog?
      5m 55s
    2. Importing the exercise files
      4m 41s
    3. Organizing your existing files before importing
      4m 8s
    4. Importing from a drive
      5m 31s
    5. Importing from a camera
      9m 30s
  3. 41m 32s
    1. Touring the Library module
      4m 56s
    2. Viewing and selecting photos and video
      5m 21s
    3. Reviewing and rating items from a shoot
      5m 33s
    4. Organizing your library with collections
      5m 10s
    5. Using keywords to organize your library
      6m 49s
    6. Finding photos with filters
      5m 37s
    7. Moving and renaming items
      8m 6s
  4. 1h 0m
    1. Touring the Develop module
      6m 35s
    2. Cropping and straightening
      4m 33s
    3. Setting white balance in the Basic panel
      6m 51s
    4. Using the Histogram to evaluate tones
      2m 37s
    5. Adjusting tonal values in the Basic panel
      8m 28s
    6. Controlling color intensity in the Basic panel
      3m 10s
    7. Reducing digital noise
      6m 37s
    8. Sharpening
      8m 15s
    9. Working with video
      6m 3s
    10. Enhancing video
      7m 32s
  5. 17m 11s
    1. Making local adjustments with the Adjustment Brush
      8m 14s
    2. Making variable adjustments with the Graduated Filter tool
      4m 13s
    3. Removing spots
      4m 44s
  6. 39m 16s
    1. Setting up a connection to Facebook
      6m 50s
    2. Sharing photos and video on Facebook
      5m 34s
    3. Printing photos
      6m 6s
    4. Creating a photo book
      5m 50s
    5. Customizing a photo book
      8m 6s
    6. Exporting photos
      6m 50s
  7. 33s
    1. Next steps
      33s

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