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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
At home I use Lightroom for my still image post production. I really like its Editing tools. I like its Organizational tools. I like its performance, and I really appreciate its Photoshop integration. On the road, I also use Photoshop Lightroom. There's an easy way that I can manage and move my Lightroom catalog around as I travel. And this week on The Practicing Photographer, I'm going to show you how I do that. Now, if I set up my Lightroom catalog in the right way, using the right types of drives, I have found that I can easily take my entire system that I'm used to having on my desktop and seamlessly move it to my laptop.
What I'm looking for when I'm on the road typically is not heavy post-production. I tend to focus more on shooting, and I don't worry too much about image-editing until I get back. Nevertheless, there are times when I want to work an image up to a finished result, either to see if I got what I needed before I leave a location or simply because I can't wait and I'm curious, or because I need to deliver images while I'm out on the road. Even if I'm not doing heavy image-editing though, I want the ability to go ahead and start rating my images, defining my select, adding metadata. And I do all of that in Lightroom.
So, it's silly to do it somewhere else and have to move it back into Lightroom when I get home. So, for all of those reasons, this is the scheme that I use. Lightroom keeps it's catalog in a file on your hard drive somewhere. By default when you start a Lightroom catalog, it puts it in the same directory where, or the same drive where Lightroom is. In catalog settings I can tell Lightroom where I want it to store it's catalog. I don't have to take that default location. Now where I choose is this drive right here. This is just a portable, bus-powered, two terrabyte, two-and-a-half inch, USB 3 drive.
Nice speedy little drive, doesn't cost that much. Has a lot of storage. My Lightroom catalogue is stored on here. So at home, I plug it into my Mac Pro and my Lightroom preferences there are set to point to this volume, and to this specific directory. When I get ready to hit the road, I just unplug it, I plug it into this laptop. Its Lightroom preferences are set to point to the same place. So, my catalog travel's intact wherever I go. It doesn't even know that it's been moved around. So in this way, I get all of my keywords and everything else, all my metadata, all of my images, all of my edits. They just travel very easily simply by moving this drive around.
Now, I don't keep images on this drive. I like to have the catalog separate from the images because when you're using Lightroom, it has to do a lot of reading and writing on that catalog. If that's one the same drive that it's trying to read and write images from, that's a whole lot of seeking for the head to do, your overall drive performance will go down. So I keep images on a separate drive, and that keeps things a little bit speedier. I have toyed with the idea of switching this over to an SSD, a solid state drive because they're so speedy. Right now, the price per gigabyte still doesn't work in my favor.
I would need a pretty large drive and that's awfully expensive, so I'm sticking with an actual hard drive. It's USB 3 drive, because that's the fasted port I have on both this and my desktop. This has a thunderbolt port, which is very speedy. My Mac Pro does not, so I feel like this is a good solution for now. When something faster or cheaper comes along, I can simply copy the catalog to that new volume, whatever it is, get the same name, and Lightroom won't know that anything has changed. Things will simply be going faster. So for images at home, I have a drive that is dedicated to holding images.
It has a particular name, and there is a folder on it called Images. That's the root level of my image hierarchy within Lightroom. This drive is also a little portable USB 3 drive, I had given it the same name as that drive at home where I keep my images. And it's also got a folder on it called images, that is the root level drive. So, that gives me a lot of portability of images. My main image archive is to big to fit on a portable drive. I can't take it with me. I can only take a subset of it. So, when I go on the road I try and pick the images that I know I might need full access to and I copy those folders over to this drive.
If I make Metadata changes, edits, anything else, that all gets stored in the Lightroom catalog. If I generate new TIFF files, because I've been round tripping to Photoshop or what not, that'll get stored on here. When I go back home, I just use Sync Software to sync up this folder, or, or these folders, with the ones I left behind. All the new stuff gets copied over, and now my master set at home is up to date. But with this setup, I get more then just these few images that I brought with me. Because when you import, I keep doing that these drives aren't going to last very long. I gotta go solid state.
When you import images into Lightroom, it builds these little thumb nail files. These are what it uses when you're in the library module to give you a little preview. But it also builds full res JPG preview of every single image, even if it's Raw files or any other format. So, all of those full res previews are stored in the Lightroom catalog. So when I'm traveling, I'm actually travelling with nice, big full pixel count copies of every image in my library. They won't be Raws, I can't go in and alter the white balance of them. But I've at least got nice big JPGs.
So, if I'm on the road, and I decide, wow, I really need this image and it's not one of the ones that I thought to bring, I still have a nice, big JPG preview. For me, that works out well just because of the nature of my work. Sometimes a publisher calls and says, boy, we really need a picture of that frog that you took, and oh okay, I've got a nice big JPG of that. I can send that to them, and that's usually enough to get by. So with this setup, I've got the ability to seamlessly move all of that catalog data around, simply by a drive back and forth. And I've got the ability to take a select set of full-res Raw files, or whatever other formats I want on this drive.
And whatever I don't choose to bring, I still have full-res JPGs of. So I found this to be a really nice way to take my entire image editing life on the road with me. And one thing that's nice about having it all with me is, there's a lot of just grunt work I can do when I'm on the road that I never get around to doing at home. Right now, if you look here, you see a lot of these folders have question marks on them. These are folders that the original images aren't around for. Nevertheless, I do still have copies of each of those images. Again, those full JPG previews.
I can go ahead and edit metadata on those. So I can go through and keyword images, I can rate images. While I'm sitting on a plane or something, I can do all that grunt work that I never get around to at home. So if you tend to travel, If you move back and forth between multiple machines. Even if you don't travel. Even if it's just that you've got a work machine and a home machine. This is, I have found a good scheme for having a single Lightroom library that travels well and that gives you a tremendous amount of work capability.
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