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Tips for Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro

Tips for organizing photos in Capture One Pro

No matter which RAW photo editor you use, organizing your photos is probably one of the least enjoyable tasks in your photography workflow. However, setting up your catalogs correctly, or making changes to its structure, can ultimately save you a lot of valuable time. In this article, I’ll give you some tips to get you started on organizing photos in Capture One.

Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro
Capture One Pro Worksapce

Setting up your Catalog for success

Capture One offers you the ability to work in Catalogs or Sessions. It’s recommended that you work with both.

A Catalog in Capture One functions like a Catalog in Lightroom in that it helps you organize large libraries of images; however, it offers more functionality. On the other hand, Sessions are great for on-set shooting and tethered shooting in studio and are an efficient way to organize the images from a specific shoot.

There are different importing strategies you can use when organizing photos in Capture One. However, before you get started, you should, decide where you’ll put your catalogs.

They don’t have to live in the same location as your photos, but your catalog should be kept in the fastest, most high-performing place you can put it – which is usually your computer’s internal hard drive.

In short, consider the performance limitations of any storage medium that you use when organizing your photos in Capture One.

Starting a new Catalog

If you’re new to Capture One, you’ll want to start a new Catalog. Creating a Catalog creates a new database; it tracks photos and adjustments, and stores metadata and keywords, and a small preview of your photos

You can have a single catalog for all of your images, which is further broken down into Sessions and Albums etc. depending on how you want to set up your workflow. You may choose to have more than one catalog; for example, a catalog for personal photos and another for client work.

I shoot food and still life photography for several stock agencies. I like to keep these images separate from my client work, as it helps me feel more organized. However, this is simply my preference. You may decide to organize your photos in Capture One differently.

How to start a new Catalog:

  • Navigate to File in the menu bar at the top of the Capture One workspace.
Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro - making a new catalog
  • Choose New Catalog. The dialog box will appear.
  • Type in the name of your new catalog. Notice the location of where your catalog will be stored. You can change this by clicking the three dots to the right.
  • Hit OK. Now you’re ready for the import process.
Organizing Photos_Capture One Pro

Importing from an external hard drive

The chances are that you shoot a lot. If you shoot RAW files, it doesn’t take long for your computer’s hard drive to fill up with thousands of image files. Therefore, it’s a good idea to keep your image files on an external hard drive to keep your computer’s performance at an optimal level.

I keep my Capture One catalog on my iMac but have my files stored on two 4TB external hard drives – my main storage drive and a backup with duplicate files. 

I also shoot tethered to a laptop when I shoot for clients. In this case, I save a backup of my files on a 1TB external hard drive and upload the photos to my main external drive after my shoot.

Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro

Before you get started with importing images, make sure that your image preview size is at least as large as your monitor, to ensure that they render properly. You can set this in your Preferences.

Tips for Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro
Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro - Preview Size screenshot

How to import from an external hard drive:

  • Go to File and choose Import Images. A Dialog box will pop up. Choose your external drive from the dropdown under Source.
  • Make sure to check off Include Subfolder to see your photos in the Capture One workspace, otherwise it will appear blank.
  • Choose where you want to import them to under Destination. I have a file named after every calendar year on my main drive. I create folders named after the contents of the shoot. ie: Blood Oranges, Moody Whiskey, Carrot Cake, etc.
  • You can also create another backup and save the images to that location.
  • After you have chose your importing parameters, hit Import All.
  • Leave your photos in the current location to honor the file structure that already exists on the hard drive you are copying from.
organizing photos in capture one

Importing from a memory card

  • To import your photos from a memory card, you need a Destination folder to get them off the card. You may already have a folder in mind or you can create a new folder ie: My Photos
  • The dialog box will pop up once the card reader and memory card are connected to your computer. The process is the same as for importing photos from an external hard drive.
  • You can create Subfolders and further organize the images by date or other criteria. Capture One calls this Tokens. Tokens pull this data from the photo.
  • If you click on the three dots next to the Subfolder option, all of the various Tokens will come up. You can then click and drag them individually to the Format section, as well as drag them around to place them in a certain order.
  • Be sure to scroll down to see all the Tokens.
Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro - Location Sub Folder Tokens
  • I usually choose to organize further by date, or date and time. Often I also include “Rights Usage Terms” to help me track licensing stats of various photos.
  • Once you have chosen your tokens, hit OK and then Import All.

Moving files and folders to another location

If you want to move files between folders, you can just drag and drop them. The database understands that you’re doing this within Capture One. When you attempt to do this outside of Capture One, this is where you get into trouble.

Moving outside of Capture One is slower, and you’ll have to relocate the files.

You’ll get an Offline notice and will have to locate it by right-clicking on the image and choosing Locate and navigate to where your image is. Capture One will re-establish the connection.

If you move a whole folder, it’s the same process.

You can move folders the same way you move files, and move them from your internal drive or an external drive.

Organizing with User Collections

User Collections is the best way of organizing your photos within Capture One. If you use Lightroom, you’ll be familiar with the concept of Collections.

There are too many limitations when trying to organize by folders because you can’t bring certain images together for a specific purpose, such as printing your work, unless you move them. Therefore, User Collections is the perfect solution.

There are four powerful organizational tools in User Collections:

  • Album
  • Smart Album
  • Project
  • Group

Project is like a master container to put your Albums in. You can’t just drag images here; there has to be an album inside.

Tips for Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro

Much like a physical photo album, Album is a way to organize groups of photos that have a similar theme, such as vacation photos, or photos from a wedding shoot.

How to start a User Collection

  • To start a User Collection, click on the + arrow to the right of the User Collections dropdown.
  • Then give your Collection a name and hit OK.
Tips for Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro

Smart Albums

Smart Albums are a way to take this a step further, by giving you the ability to organize with star ratings and color tags. If you’re a Lightroom user, you’ll also be familiar with this concept.

Smart Albums populate themselves based on the criteria you pick. If you click off a star or rating, it will disappear from the collection, because this feature is dynamic.

Click + to add your search criteria, or use preset color and star ratings.

Organizing Photos in Capture One Pro - Star Ratings


Organizing your photos in Capture One takes some effort and experimentation using the various tools the software has to offer. It’s a powerful program that has a lot of intuitive tools to help you create the most efficient workflow for your photography.

If you have any other tips for organizing your photos in Capture One, let us know in the comments!

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Darina Kopcok
Darina Kopcok

is a writer and professional food photographer who shares her recipes and photography on her blog Gastrostoria. Her latest work can be found on OFFset, as well as her online portfolio at darinakopcok.com.

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