film advanced

thoughts & research into film shooting and processing.

Organising your Library with Lightroom

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I have been taking a pause from writing recently, taking some time to update my website and portfolio. What I thought might take a week or two became a month, I started to get the feeling that taking photos is the easiest part of photography! It’s making the choice of which photos to exhibit that can be time consuming and difficult, especially for your website. Through organising my own exhibitions, photo books, and most recently my online portfolio- I have a few ideas to share on how to improve your workflow when it comes to picking a selection.

So I decided that was going to be my next topic: showing my own process when it comes to making a portfolio and how I have started thinking about assessing my own work.

Getting Your Pictures Together

Like most good advice, this first part might seem unremarkably obvious: when selecting photos to exhibit, you need to be organised.

First unofficial step; find a nice, quiet cafe that will be OK with you taking up a seat for 3+ hours over a single cup of coffee.

First unofficial step; find a nice, quiet cafe that will be OK with you taking up a seat for 3+ hours over a single cup of coffee.

Choosing from many good photos to find great ones is always hard, but you can make it even harder with a poorly organised library. For me, it used to take longer to find my photos than evaluate them. Originally I had all my photos in folders arranged by type (film or digital) and then by year and into subfolders of individual events or locations. Not only that, I had a whole lot of unsorted stuff that just lived on my root folder, that would slowly make its way into these ‘buckets’ of photos:

Organisational Hell

Organisational Hell

1- Get Lightroom

For organising my personal collection, Lightroom was a revelation. Not only did it start automatically arranging my shots through their metadata (time shot, camera used, location, etc); it made it easy to rate, color tag and most importantly add keywords to my library.

Importing your existing pictures in Lightroom is easy - since you can import all the photos from your existing filing system (make sure to check include subfolders) and Lightroom will do a fairly OK job of sorting them by capture date provided you have told it to do so. Your import screen should look like this:

Pay attention to the highlighted areas.

Pay attention to the highlighted areas.


If you can’t afford or purchase Lightroom, I highly recommend using a program that can organise by EFIX capture date if you have a big library to arrange. If you cannot have the process automated, make sure you are setting your capture date formats in the format : Year-Month-Day or 2019-03-01 for example, to ensure your files are displayed correctly when sorted by ‘name’ or alphabetically. In Lightroom, there is a drop down menu to select this in the import screen, so make sure this is set correctly.

This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised by how many people make this mistake if they have never made a database.

2- Keyword EVERYTHING

I never really understood Keywords until my library grew so large it couldn’t fit on my computers base hardrive and I had to search for things I had shot years back. Keywords are essential, because they make your library searchable in a non-linear way.

The really time consuming part is going back and making sure everything is tagged with a relevant keyword, and then rating those keeper shots. If your camera has GPS, I find location is one of the best way to start filtering your jobs. Unfortunately I both shoot on film and and a camera that doesn’t have a GPS, so I need to set these things manually (I apply location as a key word). That’s OK though, because you can apply keywords to the entire import, which I will normally do straight after a shoot:

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Mainly my keywords focus on;

1 - Location

2 - Subject (either street; portrait; landscape)

3 - Job/Personal tag, and name of the project

4 - If it’s film, I try to remember what the stock of the roll, since scanners don’t save metadata. If I can’t, I just tag it as ‘film’.

5 - Lastly I try to tag people with full names. This can also be made easier with Lightroom’s face detection if you’re tagging individual photos.

You can add more info here, but I feel like 5 or 6 key words are usually enough to trim down my search, and from there I would simply make a collection of photos.

After I have organised filters for the photos, I will go through in each import and rate any ‘good’ photos with a single star and to return later, with a more discerning eye to promote, demote or pass their rating. Then, you set these collections up for easy access using Smart Collections, which are especially helpful if you are organising a collection of photos taken on a similar subject, taken over a variety of different dates and locations but that can be organised through keywords (Hong Kong, Street Photography and Rating >1 for example).

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The idea is to make Venn Diagrams of photos, rather than folders, to make searching through your library more like using Google than flicking through a file cabinet. That way, you can look for Anna in Hong Kong and Istanbul at the same time rather than going through all your folders looking for her.

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If you want go through all the images you haven’t added Keywords to yet, you can go to the smart collection ‘No Keywords’ that’s in your Smart Collections folder by default. If you don’t; just create a smart collection with these conditions:

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Once you have them organised in this way the rest is up to you. I like to have all of seperate jobs or shoots in their own collections for easy access, and those to be in their own collection sets. But the main thing is just having the key words assigned, so you can search for the kinds of photos you want to assess.

Maybe after a few hours work you can have a library that is easy to navigate and can tell in an instant between mediocre shots and your best work!