You likely know Adobe Lightroom as a powerful piece of photo-editing software. It’s known as the industry standard for photography post-production, especially when paired with Photoshop. You may also know that its photo management features are pretty impressive. If you so choose, you can use this one piece of software to upload, rename, keyword, review, edit, export and organize your photos.
How you use Lightroom is entirely up to you, and it’s unlikely that two photographers will use it the same. The way you organize your catalog will depend on many factors, including which genre of photography you choose, who you’re shooting for, and how you have your computer hardware arranged. There is no right or wrong way to organize things, and it will likely change over time.
If you’re a portrait or wedding photographer, you might choose to organize your catalog around sessions or dates. As a landscape and travel photographer, it makes sense for me to organize my photos based on locations. Whether a location is a city, country, or even a continent, it helps me to keep things organized so I can always find what I’m looking for without wasting time searching through thousands of photos.
There are a few different ways to find photos based on location in Lightroom, but they only work if you take a few simple steps when you import them.
Whenever you import photos into Lightroom, try to follow the same steps.
It’s a good idea to create some templates for the Develop and Metadata settings. This makes it easy to apply some standard settings and metadata to every one of your photos. You should at least apply your copyright information to your photos with a metadata preset.
The single most important thing you can do to simplify the process of finding photos is keywording. You don’t need to add a long list of keywords, just a few relevant ones that will help you later on when you search.
When organizing by location, I always add the name of the country, region, and specific place name. I’ll also add any other relevant keywords that I may want to search for, such as aerial or long-exposure.
When renaming my images during import I always include the location in the name. Something like “noosa-beach-qld-australia” works well. The words in your filenames become searchable keywords themselves (make sure to use a dash between words). I don’t use dates in my file names, but it’s up to you whether you want to or not.
Using a good folder structure will make your life far easier, especially when you have tens of thousands of images.
To organize your folders by location, you can create a new folder for each specific location or one for each city or country. I have one folder for each country I visit and just keep adding to it. Even if I visit that country again years later, I’ll still keep using that same folder. It makes it far simpler and I know where I can find a photo from anywhere on earth.
It also makes it simpler to find image files on my computer as the folder structure I set up is identical both inside and outside Lightroom. Organizing folders by date or some other number-based system would never work for me.
Collections are another one of Lightroom’s great features that can help you keep everything organized by location. Where Folders contain every photo from a given location, Collections contain only the photos you choose. Again, I’ll create a new Collection for each country, but I only put the keepers in there.
In the past, I’ve done this manually, but I now create a Smart Collection for each location. I only need to add two rules to each Smart Collection: Flag and Keyword. Based on these settings, any photo that I flag that has that keyword is automatically added to the collection.
As a travel photographer, my favorite Lightroom tool for finding photos based on location is the Map module. One of the first things I’ll do after I’ve finished importing new photos into Lightroom is to add GPS coordinates. There are a couple of ways you can do this.
If you know the coordinates you can add them manually in the Metadata panel. The easiest way is to select all your images (Cmd/Ctrl+A) then go into the Map module, search for the location in the search bar above the map, then drag all your photos onto the right location on the map.
Depending on your camera, your photos may already have GPS coordinates embedded in the file. This is often the case with drone photos or any other GPS-connected camera or device. If not, you can record the GPS coordinates by taking a photo with your phone then grabbing them from that photo’s metadata.
Searching for Photos
Now that you’ve imported your photos with location-based keywords and filenames, organized them into location-based Folders and Collections, and geotagged them with GPS coordinates, finding them later is simple.
I use a different approach depending on whether I’m looking for a specific image or a group of images from a specific location.
If it’s a specific image you want, and you know you flagged it, select the Collection associated with that location. If you’re not sure if it’s flagged, select the folder. Then search inside the collection or folder using the Library Filter.
Click on Text, select Any Searchable Field in the first drop-down menu, then Contains All in the next menu, then type your keywords in the search field. The more keywords you add, the more specific the search becomes.
If I’m looking for an image or group of images from a specific location, I like to use the Map module. Select All Photographs in the Catalog panel on the left then go to the Map module and type the location name into the search bar. Any geotagged images in that area will show up on the map.
You can zoom in or out on the map to make your search location more or less specific. Images in the specified location will appear along the filmstrip below the map.
A little forethought and organization when importing your images are worth the effort. It doesn’t take much time to apply these settings but can save you a lot down the road.
If you’re anything like me and have tens of thousands of photos in your catalog, you’ll be doing yourself a favor, and future you will thank you for your efforts.