Are You Making These Lightroom Classic Mistakes?

by Andrew S. Gibson
Are you making these Lightroom Classic mistakes?

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I get asked a lot of questions about Lightroom Classic and as a result I see photographers making the same mistakes over and over. Some of these mistakes cause big problems that can take a lot of time to fix. Are you making any of them? Let’s find out!

Note: This also applies to Lightroom 6.

Lightroom Classic mistake #1: Using more than one Catalog

Most photographers only need to use one Catalog. But what happens if your ignore this advice and create multiple Catalogs?

They key thing to remember is that you can only open one Catalog at a time in Lightroom Classic. This means that:

  • You can’t view or search all your photos. For example, what happens if you want to add all your photos of a particular place to a Collection so you can look at them, but they’re scattered over several Catalogs? You’re stuck, and can’t do much about it unless you merge your Catalogs together (see below).
  • You’ll have problems with backups. The more Catalogs you have the harder it is to manage your backups. You’ll soon forget which Catalogs have been backed up, and which ones haven’t. If your hard drive fails (and one day it will) it’s a disaster waiting to happen.
  • You’ll get confused when you try and fix it by merging Catalogs. What if you’ve imported the same photo into more than one Catalog? Which version takes precedence? These are the sorts of things you’ll have to deal with.

You can avoid these problems by using a single Catalog (learn more with my tutorial What is the Lightroom Classic Catalog?).

Does it ever make sense to have more than one Catalog? Yes it does – for example, wedding photographers may prefer to create a new Catalog for each wedding, then archive that Catalog along with all the photos when the job is done.

My tutorial How to Merge Lightroom Classic Catalogs explores another scenario where it makes sense to work temporarily with a new Catalog, and how to merge it with your main Catalog.

Lightroom Classic mistake #2: Not having an organized folder structure for saving your photos

Programs like Lightroom Classic make it much easier to find your photos no matter where they’re saved on your computer. But that’s no excuse for not having an organized folder structure in the first place.

Being organized with your folders is important. Organized folders are easy to back up. It also means you know where to save new photos, and where to find your older ones.

So, how do you organize your folders? I have two recommendations.

1. You save all your photos in a hierarchical folder structure contained in a single top level folder.

2. You use a date based system. This makes it easy to see whether your latest photos have been backed up properly.

Learn more in my tutorial How To Organize Photos For Lightroom Classic

Lightroom Classic photo folders

Lightroom Classic mistake #3: Using folders rather than Collections to organize your photos

Don’t be scared of Collections. As you explore Lightroom Classic you’ll notice that you have only access to your folders in the Library module. In every other module you need to use Collections. This is nothing to worry about and gives you lots of benefits!

  • Collections give you the freedom and flexibility to organize your photos any way you want. This works because you can add the same photo to as many Collections as you want (but only ever to one folder). For example, let’s say you take some photos of your kids on your summer vacation to Italy. You can add those photos to Collections called Kids, Summer vacation 2023, Italy or whatever you want. It’s up to you – you’re in control.
  • You can sync Collections in Lightroom Classic but not folders. If you want to take advantage of Lightroom Classic’s cloud based features (such as Lightroom for web and Adobe Portfolio) or view your photos on a mobile device using the Lightroom app for mobile then you need to use Collections. It would be a shame to miss out on these fantastic features because you don’t use Collections.

For example, you can check out a sample website I made with Adobe Portfolio.

Adobe Portfolio website

Lightroom Classic mistake #4: Confusing Lightroom and Lightroom Classic

This is something I’ve seen with newcomers to Lightroom Classic. Some photographers opt to use the Lightroom desktop app rather than Lightroom Classic, when in fact Lightroom Classic would suit them better. Adobe’s recent name changes to the Lightroom and Lightroom Classic apps add to the confusion!

Let’s keep this simple. Most photographers should be using Lightroom Classic. Here’s why.

  • You save your photos on your hard drive, not in the cloud. Keeping control of your photos is a good thing.
  • It’s cheaper. Yep, if you want to use Lightroom you’ll be forced to store your photos in the cloud (i.e. on Adobe’s servers) and once you get over the 1 TB mark it’s going to cost you more money.
  • Lightroom Classic does more stuff. It’s a pro level, advanced application that’s been over ten years in development. Lightroom is a young application that lacks many of Lightroom Classic’s most useful features.
  • There’s no Print, Book, Web, Map or Slideshow modules in Lightroom. That means you can’t make funky postcards like this to show off your best photos.

What if you’ve already started using Lightroom? You’ll be pleased to learn that it’s easy to transfer your photos to Lightroom Classic. My article How to Migrate from Lightroom to Lightroom Classic explains how to do it.

Lightroom Classic Print module

And my tutorial Which Lightroom Version Do I Need? has more details.

Quick tip: What version of Lightroom do you have?

Since Adobe changed the name of Lightroom Classic CC (to Lightroom Classic) and Lightroom CC (to Lightroom) I’ve noticed that more photographers are getting confused about which version of Lightroom they have, and what to call it (thanks, Adobe!).

The easiest way to see exactly which version of Lightroom you have is to go to Help > System Info. You’ll see a window like the one below which lists all sorts of information about your Lightroom installation, including the version number (on the first line).

Lightroom version

If you post a question about Lightroom on a forum, including the version details will help people give you a better answer to your question.

Lightroom Classic mistake #5: Sending every photo to the Develop module

Broadly speaking, you can divide photography into three skills:

1. Taking the photo.

2. Deciding which photos are keepers (this is called editing).

3. Developing your photos (also called post-processing or editing, but I prefer the Lightroom terminology as it retains the link to photography’s chemical based origins).

Deciding which photos are keepers is an important skill to develop. It saves you time (it’s quicker to develop a few photos rather than a lot of photos) and forces you to make decisions about which photos work better than others (which helps make you a better photographer).

Learn one of the best ways to edit your photos in How to Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Classic Collections

Lightroom Classic mistake #6: Not using keyboard shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts make using Lightroom Classic quicker and more seamless. There are two ways to find the most commonly used shortcuts.

1. Use the Cmd + ‘/‘ (Mac) or Ctrl + ‘/‘ (PC) shortcut to bring up a shortcut list. The shortcuts change depending on the module.

Lightroom Classic shortcuts

2. Shortcuts are also listed next to options that have them in Lightroom Classic’s menus.

More Lightroom Classic shortcuts

Lightroom Classic mistake #7: Moving /renaming photos outside of Lightroom

When you import photos into Lightroom it remembers where they are by making a note of the filepath (i.e. which folder it’s saved in) and the filename. Change either of those outside of Lightroom and it won’t know where to find them.

The key is to move and rename your photos using Lightroom. You can do both tasks in the Folders panel (right-click on a folder to bring up the menu shown below).

Renaming folders in Lightroom Classic

Lightroom Classic mistake #8: Overcomplicating keywords, star ratings, color labels and flags

Lightroom Classic gives you four powerful tools for organizing photos: keywords, star ratings, color labels and flags.

My advice is to keep your use of these tools as simple as possible. For example, you might be tempted to add keywords to all your photos when you import them into Lightroom Classic, but is it really necessary? If you sell your photos to stock libraries then it probably is. But if you’re a hobbyist, it probably isn’t.

Personally, I find it easiest to organize my photos with Collections. I don’t use keywords, star ratings. I use color labels sparingly, and I only use flags to help edit my photos down to decide which ones I’m going to Develop (see How To Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Classic Collections).

Final thoughts

Hopefully you’re not making any of these mistakes in Lightroom Classic. But if you are, and you need help fixing them, you can ask in the comments below. What other mistakes have you made in Lightroom? I’d like to know – leave your comments below.

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Duncan Scott August 6, 2019 - 11:27 pm

Hi Andrew.
I use Lightroom 6 (standalone) which I believe you cant get at all now so I’ve been informed by fellow student who I have recommended Lightroom to. I don’t like the way we are being forced to have monthly subscription even more so since I have spent a fortune on books (mostly from yourself) and presets for Lightroom and at present I am migrating over to Luminar 3 and just bought Luminar Flux to use as a plugin for Lightroom. I know that Adobe are not doing updates for LR6 but will keep on using it for as long as I can in conjunction with Luminar. I still enjoy reading your news letters/emails which I find really helpful and useful keep up the great work (rant over ;).

Stuart Barnes August 7, 2019 - 11:48 am

Hi Andrew
I too feel Adobe subscription is now too expensive. I am thinking of purchasing ON 1.
However I am anxious about the migration process between the two. I have in mind keeping both for say 6/12 months and then ditching Lightroom altogether once I have got too now ON1 but I am worried whether this is a complex process and what might the consequences be. Can you do an article about this please?
Thanks for your all informative articles.
Stuart Barnes

Andrew S. Gibson August 7, 2019 - 2:56 pm

Hi Stuart, ON1 have an article (link below) that explains the migration process in far more detail than I could. It’s not a complex process, but it will probably take several hours. You don’t have to worry about any of your work in Lightroom as the Catalog isn’t affected by the migration (make a backup beforehand to be doubly sure). Hope that helps!

Merja Mercado October 14, 2022 - 7:02 am

Hi Andrew,
I really need your help. During the last couple of years I’ve been approaching Lightroom and recently also Lightroom Classic with the consequence that I have several catalogs all around on my hard drive and I do not understand what they are. I have not imported many photos to any of them. My question is what to do and does it hurt, if I remove all the LRcatalogs and start clean using only Lightroom Classic? It doesn’t really matter if I lose the editing of the photos in the catalogue, because there are not so many of them or they are not that important. I have the same problem with Photoshop.

Andrew S. Gibson October 14, 2022 - 7:18 am

Hi Merja, if you’re not bothered about the photos in your Catalogs then you can delete the Catalogs, it won’t hurt Lightroom Classic at all. If you delete them and then open Lightroom Classic it will ask you if you want to create a new Catalog, and you can just go ahead. Alternatively, as it sounds like it would be a shame to lose the few photos you do have in your Catalogs, you can create a new Catalog and merge your old ones with it, then delete it. That way you get to keep any work you’re already down on your photos. I’ve linked to an article below which will help. I’m not sure what you mean about Photoshop as it doesn’t have a Catalog.


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