Lightroom Catalog Explained

In Lightroom Tutorials by Stefano Caioni Leave a Comment

If you have used Lightroom for a while, you are certain to have come across the term ‘Lightroom Catalog’. What are catalogs? How are they useful for photo editing? Let us explore Lightroom catalogs in-depth in this article, and learn how to create and manage them with ease.

Related: How to Edit Photos in Lightroom Like a Pro

What is the Lightroom Catalog

First of all, it is important to understand that Adobe Lightroom is a post-processing and image management tool that is catalog based. To someone who is relatively new to managing photos in such a way, this may seem quite complicated. However, in simple terms, a catalog is a database file that is specific to Lightroom. By using a database system, you are ensuring that Lightroom will never work with the original data. It will store info about your files, complete with rendered previews, in a collection of files that constitute a catalog. A lot of information is stored in it, such as filters, metadata, adjustments, and modifications you may have made, and even the image rating.

Because the original image file is not stored in the catalog, your data stays safe. They stay wherever you had left them in the beginning, and Lightroom only takes the data related to the adjustments and a preview. This also means that Lightroom doesn’t back up the images when it backs up the catalog.

Why You Should Use the Lightroom Catalog in Your Workflow

A catalog system that is database driven can be extremely helpful for managing your photographs, post-processing, and organizing them. One of the most useful features, and also one of the best reasons to use Catalog, is that all the edits that you make are non-destructive. This means that whenever you make any modifications, the original file stays unaffected. Moreover, Lightroom doesn’t allow you to overwrite your original. This is very different from Photoshop, where you can accidentally overwrite a high-res original image with a downsized copy of it, and lose all the original data. 

The adjustments in Lightroom occur inside the Catalog in the form of descriptions. These are always linked to the original source file and are applied only to the preview and any exported images, instead of the original. The implications of this are that you can remove or modify any of your adjustments as and when you please, in any order that you wish to choose. Furthermore, copying the modifications made to one image and applying it to others enables you to post-process a huge number of images very quickly. This is possible only with catalog-based systems that have non-destructive editing.

Create a Lightroom Catalog

We’ve discussed why catalogs are great tools. Now, let us explore how you can create your own catalog. When you open Lightroom for the first time, it opens a default Catalog called ‘Lightroom [version] Catalog’. You can go ahead and use this, or if you prefer, you can create your very own catalog.

Once you reach a large number of images in a particular catalog you will find that Lightroom becomes very slow. So, you will have to create a new one regardless, so it is good to know how to do that. It is a pretty simple process. Go to File > New Catalog. On clicking it, a window will appear. Select where you want to store this catalog. It is good to know that when you create a catalog, a *.LRDATA folder and a *.LRCAT file will be saved in the same location too. This is where the software stores a majority of the previews for the images. Hence, it will end up occupying a significant amount of space.

Manage Your Catalog

As mentioned earlier, when the catalog becomes large, Lightroom tends to become slow. It is a good idea to export some of the photos into a new catalog. Doing so speeds up the initial catalog, and also stores your exported images safely in a new location. When exporting, you can perform the operation on individual files, specific folders inside the Library module, or collections. In order to export, you will have to go to File > Export as Catalog. Choose your desired option, and click on the Export button. You can also create a new Catalog separately, and import images to it from another Catalog. You can do this by going to File > Import from Another Catalog.

Final Thoughts

Lightroom Catalogs are a great way to manage and organize your photos in a non-destructive manner. Do you see yourself using Catalogs after reading this article? We hope this has been a good and informative read that will eventually help you boost your editing efficiency.

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