Four Things You Need To Know About the Lightroom Classic Library Module

by Andrew S. Gibson
Four Things You Need To Know About the Lightroom Classic Library Module

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It’s easy to dismiss the Library module as unimportant. Understandably, many photographers want to go straight to the Develop module so they can start work on their photos. But the Library module is the foundation for everything you do in Lightroom Classic. Get things right here and your entire Lightroom Classic experience runs much more smoothly. Get it wrong and you’ll get frustrated when you struggle to find the photos you want or get them organized.

Let’s get started with what’s probably the most important thing of all – backing up your Catalog.

1. How to back up the Lightroom Classic Catalog

The Catalog is where Lightroom Classic keeps every piece of information it has about your photos.

This includes the location of your photos (i.e., where they are saved on your hard drive), any metadata associated with them (from camera settings to keywords), Lightroom Classic specific information (such as which Collections a photo belongs to) and any developing you’ve done in the Develop module.

That makes the Catalog very important. There’s no doubt it would be catastrophic to lose all this data. It’s essential to back it up regularly.

You can check your back up settings by going to Lightroom Classic > Catalog Settings (Mac) or Edit > Catalog Settings (PC). Click the General tab. Set Back up catalog to Every Time Lightroom Exits.

Lightroom Classic Library module

Now, when you quit Lightroom Classic a window pops up to tell you where the Lightroom Classic is going to save your Catalog backups. Click the Choose button to change the location.

Lightroom Library module

Note that you should save your main Catalog on your computer’s internal hard drive, otherwise it slows Lightroom Classic down.

The Catalog backups should be saved on an external hard drive, in case your computer’s hard drive fails or is lost or stolen. The best place for your Catalog backups is the external hard drive where your photos and Raw files are saved.

Make sure the Test integrity before backing up and Optimize catalog after backing up boxes are checked. When you’re done click the Back up button. Lightroom Classic saves a backup of your Catalog to your external hard drive before closing. This may take some time, especially for a large Catalog, so be patient.

A few more points to make:

  • Lightroom Classic (and Lightroom 6) compress Catalogs backups, saving hard drive space. Earlier versions of Lightroom didn’t do this.
  • You can delete older backups to free up hard drive space. You only need to keep the last two or three.
  • Once a month or so copy the most recent backup to Dropbox, Google Drive or another cloud storage solution. This will protect you if you lose both your computer and external hard drive to theft or fire. Ideally you should keep an off-site backup of your photos as well.

You’ll find the location and name of your Catalog in the Catalog Settings.

Lightroom Classic Library module

You can learn more about the Catalog in our tutorial What is the Lightroom Classic Catalog?

2. How to back up your photos

You might be surprised to learn (Lightroom Classic newbies often are) that Lightroom Classic doesn’t save your photos in the Catalog. It doesn’t back them up either. It’s your responsibility to do that.

When you import photos into Lightroom Classic one of two things happens.

  • Lightroom Classic copies photos from a memory card or hard drive and saves them in a folder on your hard drive specified by you, then imports them into the Catalog.
  • Lightroom Classic imports photos into the Catalog from a hard drive without moving or copying them.

Either way, there are no photos in the Catalog, just information about your photos plus previews that Lightroom Classic generates so you can view them.

Backing up photos

I’m going to share the method I use to back up my photos. There are many ways of doing this and you need to find the method that works best for you. But mine is simple, easy to put in place and doesn’t require any software.

1. Create a master folder on an external hard drive to contain all your subfolders, photos and Raw files. I call mine Photos [Originals].

2. In that folder create a new folder for every year you take photos.

Lightroom Classic Library module

3. In each of those folders, create 12 folders, one for every month of the year. When you import photos into Lightroom Classic, select the correct destination folder depending on the month and year the photos were taken.

Lightroom Classic Library module

4. Place each shoot into a folder of its own. You can either give it a name or organize the folders by date.

Lightroom Classic Library module

This system works because it’s easy to see if you’ve backed up your Raw files. Want to back up all your Raw files to another hard drive? Just copy the Photos [Originals] folder. Want to see whether you’ve backed up all the photos you’ve taken this month? It’s easy with this system.

I back my photos and Raw files up to three different external hard drives, and keep one of those off-site. If one of the hard drives fails, I have two other copies. I also use Backblaze to back up all my photos and documents, giving complete peace of mind.

Learn more: A Secure Photo Backup Strategy For Photographers

3. How to use Collections to organize your photos in the Library module

One of the advantages that Lightroom Classic has over programs like Photoshop is that it manages your photos from the moment you import them into the Catalog.

Lightroom Classic uses Collections to manage your photos.

A Collection is a kind of virtual folder. Folders are limited because you can only store a photo in one folder. But you can add the same photo to as many Collections as you like. As a result Collections are the easiest and most flexible way to manage your photos.

The Folders panel is only visible in the Library module, but the Collections panel is available in every Lightroom Classic module. That’s a sure sign that Adobe wants you to use Collections to manage your photos.

The clearest way to explain the benefit of using Collections rather than folders is with an example. Imagine that you have a portrait of a friend called Sam that you took in New York City in 2021. You can only save that photo in one folder. But you can add it to a Collection called Sam, another called New York City, another called 2021, or to as many as you like.

Set your folders up to make backing up photos easy, and use Collections to organize them. Our tutorial How to Organize Your Photos With Lightroom Classic Collections explains how to do it.

4. How to search for images in the Library module

One of the reasons that Lightroom Classic stores your photos’ metadata in the Catalog is because it makes it easy to search your photos.

You do this in the Filter Bar, displayed above the Content Window in Grid View (press ‘\’ on the keyboard if you don’t see it).

There are three types of searches you can make.

Text: Search keywords, filenames, titles or captions for text sequences.

Attribute: Filter by flag, star rating, color label or file kind (master photo, Virtual Copy, or video).

Metadata: Search by date, camera, lens, camera setting (ISO, shutter speed, aperture, etc.), aspect ratio or any of the dozen or so search options listed there.

Lightroom Library module

Lightroom Classic searches the currently selected Collections or folders. You can search every photo in your Catalog by selecting All Photographs in the Catalog panel.

Lightroom Library module

You can also combine the search types by selecting more than one from the Filter Bar. Hold down the Shift or Cmd (Mac) / Ctrl (PC) and click on the Text, Attribute or Metadata headings to add or remove them from the search.

Select None to remove the search criteria.

Play around with the options to see how it works.


Knowing how to use the Library module is very important as it makes your entire Lightroom Classic experience run much more smoothly. It’s essential that you understand how the Catalog works and how to back up the Catalog and your photos. It’s also helpful to know how to use Collections and search photos.

Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

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Amber June 29, 2017 - 9:38 pm

Hi Andrew, I started with LR not knowing what I was doing and I would like to re-organize like above. Is there a way to do it with what I already have imported? Will all of my edits be saved if I start moving my files around on the external/LR?

Andrew S. Gibson July 9, 2017 - 11:40 am

Hi Amber, I just realized that I haven’t replied to you yet! The short answer is yes, all your edits are saved and you can move your files around as much as you want. Lightroom saves all the information it has about your photos, including any work done in the Develop module, in the Catalog. The trick is to move photos around in the Folders panel in the Libary module, so that Lightroom knows where to find them.

Stewart October 8, 2017 - 11:20 pm

Hi Andrew, I am really enjoying the content you offer and have recently finished three of your Mastering__series ebooks (not related to Lightroom). Consequently, I have come to really respect your opinion and input. So I am interested in your thoughts about using Adobe’s Bridge program as a photo asset management system vs. the Library module in Lightroom. Yes, there are a lot of forum threads out there on the topic, but I am specifically interested in YOUR opinion.

Andrew S. Gibson October 11, 2017 - 8:58 am

Hi Stewart, that’s a great question. The truth is I haven’t used Adobe Bridge for years so I can’t give you a good answer right now, except to say that Lightroom is the better tool for organizing and searching photos. But I am going to install and test Adobe Bridge sometime soon, especially from the point of view of dealing with metadata. Hopefully I’ll have an article to publish within the next two months.

Peter Townsend May 11, 2021 - 1:39 am

If you subscribe to Lightroom (which includes Lightroom and Lightroom Classic) the subscription includes storage of one’s pictures. So it seems there is no danger of losing the pictures although I worry more about losing the catalogue which is on my hard drive for Classic. I use Classic most of the time . So if my hard drive crashed or the catalogue was corrupted should I worry.?

Andrew S. Gibson May 11, 2021 - 8:21 am

Hi Peter, it depends on whether you’ve backed up your Catalog and photos. I recommend you install Lightroom Classic on your computer’s internal hard drive, which is where your Catalog is also saved. Save your photos on an external drive. Set Lightroom Classic to back up your Catalog to that same external drive. That way if something happens to your Catalog you’ve got a secure copy. Back up your external drive (with photos) to two more external drives. Keep one of those off site. For an extra level of security use Backblaze to securely back your photos and other computer files up to the cloud.

More details here:

Personally, I don’t like the idea of handing control of my photo files over to Adobe. Even if I imported all my photos into the Lightroom app I’d still follow the procedure outlined above so that I’m in control, not Adobe.

LCL December 10, 2023 - 6:00 am

In my Library view of a folder there are lots of blank frames. It seems that these are where images were before I moved them to a different folder. Typically a “rejects” folder. How do I concatenate the displayed images to eliminate the blanks?

Andrew S. Gibson December 11, 2023 - 8:13 am

Hi Alex, not sure what you’ve done but if Lightroom doesn’t show previews that’s usually because it doesn’t know where to find the files (moving them to another folder outside of Lightroom would do that) and can’t build previews for them. If you want to delete images select them in the Folders panel, right-click and select Remove Photos. If you want to find missing photos (i.e. photos that Lightroom can’t find because you’ve moved them) go to Library > Find Missing Photos. Lightroom adds them to a Collection called Missing Photographs in the Catalog panel.


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