Warning: Don't Make These 5 Mistakes in Lightroom

Warning: Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes in Lightroom


If you are new to working in Lightroom your first few weeks will be a steep learning curve.

Here are my top 5 mistakes to be aware of and avoid when you’re starting out. I hope they’ll save you wasting time, getting frustrated and generally tearing your hair out.


1. Think – Navigate on the left – Keyword on the right.

Ok, so this isn’t exactly true but basically, in the Library module, your navigation options are on the left and bottom of the screen and the Keywording options are on the right.

The typical mistake you’ll make is to open the Keywording or Keyword List areas of the panel on the right and click on a checkbox for a keyword or click one of the keyword sets thinking that somehow this will select and display images with those keywords – Not so! Instead you just added those keywords to the selected image or images.


You can filter by keyword using the Keyword list in the panel on the right and you do so by clicking the small arrow to the right of the keyword – that switches to display all the images with this keyword.

2. Don’t move your photos – except in Lightroom.

This is a biggie. Once you bring images into Lightroom, Lightroom tracks where they are on disk. If you delete or, worse still, move the images from one folder to another one, the links inside Lightroom will be broken. If you rename your folders then the links to them and to the images in them will be broken too. In a very short time you can wreak havoc on your Lightroom catalog – this is the voice of experience speaking here! In short, once your photos are in Lightroom, manage them in Lightroom.


If you break the links to your photos, Lightroom will still display the previews and it will tell you the “The file named xxx is offline or missing”. If you moved the image, right click it and choose Find in Explorer and you can then click Locate and browse to locate the folder you moved it to.


When you locate the missing image, click it to select it and also enable the “Find nearby missing photos” checkbox as chances are if this image has been moved other photos in the same area of the catalog will have moved too and Lightroom will now locate and update their details in the catalog too.

3. Don’t by pass a valuable organizing opportunity


When you import images into Lightroom they’re immediately added to a new category called Previous Import. They stay there until you import more images. Having all your newly imported images in a single collection lets you do things with them such as adding keywords, sorting them, moving them into new folders and even preprocessing them as a group and without having to search for them.

However, you’ll need to do some fancy footwork if you want to bring in more than one set of images into Lightroom and to manage them all at once using this temporary catalog. One such situation would be where you capture two or more cards of related images at a time such as a wedding or other event, or photo walk.

In this situation, you can avoid losing the benefits of the Previous Import catalog by dumping all the images from multiple cards into a single folder on your disk outside Lightroom and then import the folder of images into Lightroom. Now all the imported images will appear in the Previous Import catalog and you can organize and pre-process them as a group. They stay in this category even if you close Lightroom and reopen it and only disappear when you import another set of images.

4. Don’t make work for yourself


When you capture a number of images in a single location or with a particular light you can batch process them in Lightroom and save yourself hours of work. To do this, choose one representative image from the group and use either the Quick Develop tools in the Library module or switch to the Developer module and make your initial fixes there. Fixes that you might apply to a sequence of images include White Balance, Exposure, Recovery, Fill Light and Blacks. Remember you don’t have to get it 100% right, just better than it was.

When you’re done, right click this image and choose Develop Settings > Copy Settings and select the settings that you have just made to the image and that you want to copy and click the Copy button. Now select the other images in the sequence, right click and choose Develop Settings > Paste Settings to paste these changes onto all the selected images. These changes give you a starting point for your work in Lightroom.

5. Don’t risk losing your sidecars

If you’re working in Camera RAW (not DNG) any changes you make to an image in Lightroom are stored in the sidecar XMP file for the image – because it is not possible to write data into a proprietary Camera RAW file. So, when you send a RAW image to someone else they can’t see your edits unless they have the sidecar XMP file that goes with it. Long term you need to make sure your RAW files and their XMP files always stay together.

Because of this, many users prefer either to capture in the non proprietary DNG format rather than Camera RAW if their cameras offer this as an option or to convert to DNG as the RAW image files are imported into Lightroom. Converting to DNG rather than working in Camera RAW ensures that changes can be stored in the DNG file making it easier to manage your images now and in the future.


To convert to DNG as you import your files, choose File > Import Photos From Disk and select the folder or files to import. When the Import Photos dialog appears, choose the “Copy photos as Digital Negative (DNG) and add to catalog” command and then choose a folder to store them in. Complete the remainder of the dialog options and click Import to import and convert them in the one step.

Read more from our Post Production category

Helen Bradley is a Lifestyle journalist who divides her time between the real and digital worlds, picking the best from both. She writes and produces video instruction for Photoshop and digital photography for magazines and online providers world wide. She has also written four books on photo crafts and blogs at Projectwoman.com.

Some Older Comments

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  • Par Emanuelsson March 6, 2013 04:45 am

    Excellent advice - as soon as I see the advice to "do this to save space" I am looking for "this happens when you rename a file or folder". Unfortunately you almost never find this level of advice in the usual manuals, but here it is - Thank you!

  • Brian Skyum May 27, 2012 12:59 am

    I have about a million photos including their different versions and backups. They are on about 20 hard drives.
    Due to the volume I did not just connect each drive to Lightroom and click import. I have only about 10% in LR.
    I also forgot in between to move files only in LR thus loosing their links. More over Some helper made a second catalog by accident. So I have for 3 years switched between 2 catalogs and can't remember in which my files are. Do I need to say NIGHTMARE?
    Now I bought a Canon 5D mark 3 and need to upgrade to LR4.1, so I chose to upgrade my 2009 MacBook Pro 17 at the same time with a 750 GIG hybrid drive and Lion and a 2 terabyte external USB sata drive.
    How do I now best go about reorganizing my million images.?
    My plan is to end up with all my usable images as raw and jpegs in ONE catalog linked to my 2,7 terabyte new drives and use the old drives only for second and third class images pluss backups.
    I suppose after installation of new hard drives and Lion, I download LR4.1 and then what?
    I am not upgrading from LR3.3 but buying a full version 4.1.
    After loading my 2 old catalogs into a new catalog in LR4.1, I suppose I the connect all drives and import all That I want from them. I suppose I can chose setting so that LR will bypass already imported files and folders unless the links are broken.
    I will be great full for any advice usefull for many others than me as well.
    Best regards from the World traveler

  • Montas January 14, 2012 07:44 am

    Thank you for a good article.


  • jacky July 15, 2011 06:53 pm

    hey , you guys intrested in camera must know there would lots of duplicate image files in your PC, if we do nothing to due with them, our PC & DC would not working well.
    Has anyone tried Smart Duplicate Finder this thing puts the others to shame. not only does it have crc32 and bit-bit compare, it also supports music meta tag comparison.
    You can specify individual folders or entire drives anywhere connected to your system.

  • WBC February 15, 2011 11:54 am


    I panic'd when I read your post above about DNG files changing if you view at 100% since I do automatic backups also. But when I played with it under LR3 viewing a DNG file at 100% did not cause the file to change in any way.

    I assume any little change I made would trigger a change, but both simply viewing at 100% or even going into develop (but not changing anything) did not cause this to happen. It could be something fixed in LR3.

    Not saying your wrong under previous versions, but this no longer seems to be an issue.

    You are 100% correct though in that any change made to the file is stored internally in the DNG (not in a sidecar) so it would trigger a whole backup of the file. With offsite like that, yeah - you will notice it.

  • Arik Shalev November 23, 2010 05:19 am

    I liked the idea of saving as DNG - and have done so. But would DNG keep track of consecutive steps in editing a photo (as lightroom does)? Could these be reversible?



  • sef September 4, 2010 12:32 am

    Sameer, i almost do the same (delete dublicates outside Lightroom) Also I need to make other works in my photo files outside Lr and i always use the following proccess:

    1. Make a "goIN_goOUT" folder, with one image on it, and import it to Lr (you may keep it permanently for works like this)
    2. Move (using Lr) the files you want to check/delete dublicates into goIN_goOUT folder.
    3. Remove (not delete) the goIN_goOUT folder from Lr catalog. This unmounts the folder from Lr (photo files and XPM files are now on the new folder, not deleted).
    4. WITHOUT Lr, find and delete the duplicate photos of goIN_goOUT folder (with any tool you use)
    5. Re-import the goIN_goOUT folder into Lr
    6. Using Lr, move all images of goIN_goOUT folder into their initial folder(s).

    Working with batches of 1500 photos this proccess is taking about 5 - 7 minutes.
    For specifying/deleting dublicates i use Duplicate Files Finder (http://doubles.sourceforge.net/ ... it is opensource, and works really fast - handles all kind of files)
    I use Lr v.3, hope the trick will work on v.2 too.

    PS. Sorry for my bad english :?

  • sameer chavan August 28, 2010 06:04 pm

    I have hugh duplicate files in lightroom. I am using an external tool to delete some 1500 photos as there is no pluging that does this job easily. I saw Duplicate Finder for Adobe® Lightroom(http://www.lightroom-plugins.com/DupesIndex.php). But it doesent select the duplicates. It is a big mess to select 1000 photos. So the only option to delete duplicates is outside lightroom. I only know of this http://www.hardcoded.net/dupeguru_pe/ (dupeGuru Picture ).
    My question is - if i delete them outside lightroom, how to update my lightroom catalogue now as it will have all missing links to images.

  • Verity June 12, 2010 08:54 pm

    Douglas, re: LR vs Aperture. The latter is very good indeed.
    LR has one benefit, in that it is cross-platform software: you can use it on a PC or MAC. So, if you have, for instance, a desktop PC but carry a little mac around on shoots, or vice versa, you're covered either way.
    (I should add that you can have LR installed on 2 computers for this very reason - not for use by two different people, as it set out in the license agreement)

  • Verity June 12, 2010 08:49 pm

    Another vote here in favour of NOT converting to DNG. After upgrading from a kit lens to a better lens, I was interested to compare two sets of photos in Bridge: my .NEF (nikon raw) files, and my .DNG (Adobe raw) files.
    The original raw files were far better. Admittedly LR now has camera pre-sets (including ones for Nikon), but even after developing with those, the photos were not as good as the original raw files.
    I'd rather have images that reflect what i was trying to capture, and then process from there, rather than processing for ages to get the image I first shot.
    I now shoot RAW and JPEG, save my raw files and JPEGS separately, before copying and importing the .NEFs into LR.
    I can always convert them to DNG later down the track, if I decide to. In the meantime, I'm not wasting time with Adobe's less than ideal renderings.

  • Joe Boris April 15, 2010 04:49 am

    Hi Helen,

    Can you help me, please?

    What if I've somehow lost the sidecars to a few files shot several years ago? (I'd renamed the files and folder, and had moved it outside of Lightroom when I first started using Lightroom.)

    1. Are the RAW capture settings recoverable?

    2. Is all of that original RAW data still in my RAW file, so that further manipulations can access all of the RAW data? (It only appears now as I last 'developed' it in LR, w/o default 'as shot' settings.)

    3. Lightroom has also crashed now, telling me that my 'catalog is corrupted and cannot be repaired'. Any fixes?

    Thanks very much!

  • Naveed December 31, 2009 12:05 am

    I was finding a MISSING Link photo in lightroom. I mistakenly chosen a wrong image. It showed me a warning and I continued. Now I want to re-link the image. Its not showing me any option. Is there any solution? (I can't move the original file) because its linked in another catalog

    thanks in advance.

  • Trader November 20, 2009 06:00 am

    Thanks for the tips. Instead of #3, as I import images, I set add a tag called 'untagged'. Then once they're tagged, I remove the 'untagged' tag.

    One downside is that this approach removes the urgency from tagging and I can fall behind.

  • Sunny12 July 11, 2009 02:42 pm

    Thankyou Helen! I am new to this site and have been using L/R for some time - I too made many mistakes on starting. The clues here give me a bit more info than I already had. Thankyou!!!!

  • Allan Harris June 5, 2009 11:29 pm

    I am still converting all my imports to DNG on the primary external HD, it does seem to take a while but storage is so cheap these days that space occupied seems a secondary consideration. A very useful Lightroom add-on that I am using now is J Friedl's Lightroom plugin which allows me to download from Lightroom to Flickr directly, not using the Flickr uploader, which I have found unstable. Well worth a trial.

  • Bret Widdifield June 5, 2009 10:28 am

    Hell, Thanks for the Lightroom tips. I have been shooting digital for 4 years and have switched to "RAW" only over the past year due to the benefits. I was puzzled about the DNG section of your article. Do you convert all of your RAW files to DNG? It sounds like a great idea since the changes are with the file but, the file size becomes hugh...almost TIFF in size. Is this what most professionals do? Thanks again.

  • Elva Aldridge May 4, 2009 09:38 pm

    Excellent article! I enjoy every one of them, please keep them coming.

  • melanie May 1, 2009 12:54 pm

    My LR is loaded on my Macbook pro, when I move files from the laptop to my time capsule (hard drive storage, how can I ensure that I will be able to bring up the images and apply the LR settings without getting the missing file message? I need to move files very shortly, would love your opinion.

    Read more: https://digital-photography-school.com/warning-dont-make-these-5-mistakes-in-lightroom/comment-page-1#comment-49658#ixzz0EDgJsmLp&B

  • melanie May 1, 2009 12:53 pm

    My LR is loaded on my Macbook pro, when I move files from the laptop to my time capsule (hard drive storage, how can I ensure that I will be able to bring up the images and apply the LR settings without getting the missing file message? I need to move files very shortly, would love your opinion.

  • Kevin April 28, 2009 02:05 pm

    #5 makes some good sense, but there's something missing which forced me to switch FROM DNG back to my native RAW files.

    Every time I view an image @ 100%, every time I change one tiny little setting, that DNG file changes. I'm doing backups to an external drive as well as remote online backups. For me, it is much more affordable to back up the original RAW file only once, then only backup changes to the tiny sidecar files when changes are made.

    If you're backing up your files, DNG might break your heart.

  • Koky April 27, 2009 08:21 pm

    I can't agree with advice #5 because I NEVER give away my .CR2 files. In analog era noone want negative from me, so why change this ? Is no problem send 16-bit TIFF, but never give from my hand my negative no matter if analog or digital.

  • Enrico April 21, 2009 07:43 pm

    I have to admit, I made mistake n.2 more then once, moving and renaming images in explorer was a hard habit to lose. Very uesful the tip at n.4, I use it and seves lots of time.
    In my workflow I convert everything to dng and delete the raw (nef) files. Less space and no sidecar files, I strongly encourage everyone to at least try it. But beware Nikon users, Capture NX doesn't support it at the moment... (just installed the trial version and tested it by myself).

  • Allan Harris April 20, 2009 11:49 pm

    I import as DNG onto my master Lightroom catalogue on one hard disc and backup, again using the import dialog in Lightroom to another hard disc, where they are stored in the original Canon RAW format. This way I have the best of both worlds - unless disc one crashes in which case rebuilding would take foreever.

  • Vilmis April 20, 2009 09:19 pm

    Shad, I don't believe in universal standards till it is supported by only one company, so wouldn't suggest anybody delete original RAW files. I'll try LR one day, although DPP improved a lot (now there is v3.6.1) and it is free. I think a lot of people are buying third party tools even without thinking that for them DPP is more then enough and it is free.

  • Shad Granger April 19, 2009 08:12 pm

    Vilmus, as I understand DNG, it was created to be a universal archival format. You will always be able to open up DNG even if Adobe goes out of business. Also, you do not need to use DNG in any way shape or form to enjoy the benefits of LR. I used DPP version 2.2 and unless it has improved greatly you have to switch to LR. (or Apeture) You will enjoy the difference.

  • Colin April 19, 2009 08:20 am

    These are really great tips - Thank you. Why not Twitter 'what not to do in Lightroom' or what to avoid etc...

  • Eric Mesa April 18, 2009 01:37 am

    Someone asked if they could convert all the photos to DNG. Yes. Go to "all collection" (or something like that I'm not in front of it now) and then do a search with filename contains .cr2 (or whatever your camera names raw files) then select them all and under library->convert to DNG. (Or photos->convert to DNG - I can't remember right now) Then wait anywhere from minutes to hours (depending on how many).

  • Douglas K April 17, 2009 11:59 pm

    For those who have used Aperture 2 and the current version of Lightroom, which do you prefer and why?

    I've used Aperture 2 on my wife's Mac and do like it. However, I am curious about Lightroom as well.


  • Allan Harris April 17, 2009 07:05 pm

    Lightroom Catalog Backup is something that chews up a lot of disc space very quickly, backups are essential and I keep copies of my backups on 2 external hard drives but my master backup file, (found under Lightroom.backups in My Pictures) I trim down so as not to clog up the hard disc with outdated data. I agree that this tutorial is very helpful with some really good tips. I always print from Lightroom, the results are really good and it is much more intuitive than Photoshop. I work in the native colour space of Lightroom, ProPhoto RGB, my camera is set to Adobe RGB, and Photoshop is set to ProPhoto RGB also.

  • Eric Magnuson April 17, 2009 05:50 pm

    I love Lightroom. Having used Apple's Aperture, as well, I'd say Lightroom takes the cake for me!

  • Toby April 17, 2009 04:41 pm

    My top tip, especially when going over your images, is to learn your keyboard shortcuts - it speeds things up immensely:

    g: grid view (library)
    e: loupe (single image) (library)
    d: move to develop module (to adjust exposure, white balance etc)
    r: jump to crop tool
    Ctrl + [ or Ctrl + ]: Rotate image 90 degrees (anti-/clockwise)
    p: flag as pick
    u: remove flag
    x: flag as reject (I have so many of those!)

  • Vilmis April 17, 2009 08:56 am

    #5 is reason which is holding me from switching to LR from DPP(I am Canon user). DPP stores all changes in the same RAW file. DNG is Adobe format, so if you are sending your photos to somebody who is not using Adobe products you'll need to convert DNG to different format. If you are amateur photographer I think you should save time and space (you probably still gonna keep your original files, don't you ?) and keep your original RAW with XMP, instead of converting it to DNG, except you are doing a lot of work with publishers who need DNG.

  • Mandy April 17, 2009 05:56 am

    This tutorial has been an absolute lifesaver for me - especially today!! i was getting so dispondent using Lightroom because the changes I made looked great in Lightroom and when I printed the pictures they were all so dark and I was SO FRUSTRATED!!! I was even contemplating reloading my camera software to use for editing because I was getting no joy!!!

    Even though the tut was not about this particular problem , the pointers really helped and I managed to do a batch edit and I am SO HAPPY with the results!! I am going to reprint the test prints tomorrow and I am sure the results are going to be 1000 times better!!

    The tip about missing or offline files was BRILLIANT - that happened to me and I couldn't figure out why I couldn't find the files...I hadn't moved them but I had renamed the folder!!! :) So glad to know it is something that can be fixed!! :)

    Great tut at just the right time!!! Thanks so much! Keep up the great work.

  • Robin Ryan April 17, 2009 04:39 am

    interesting post. thanks!

  • Cutthroat Stalker (Scott) April 17, 2009 04:23 am

    1, 3 & 5 were especially valuable to me. As a newbie to Lr 2 (a couple of weeks), I'm on the lookout for tips. Thanks for sharing your mistakes so we can learn.

  • Sherri Meyer April 17, 2009 03:58 am

    Helen, thanks for these great tips. You can never have too many Lightroom tips! I have a few as well I'd like to share @ http://www.sherrimeyer.com/Blog.

  • Kory April 17, 2009 02:31 am

    Is there a way to take all existing RAW files in your Lightroom catalog and convert them (and the XMP sidecars) to DNG?

  • Roy Palmer April 17, 2009 02:23 am

    I agree with everything said above.
    Most important for me, and one I fell foul of is number 1.
    Having started out with a few images everything was fine.
    As the number of images grew to near 100,000 and I needed to restructure my files it took ages and ages and ages ( tip: Edit>Catalogue Settings>Relaunch and Optimize) frequently.
    The biggest problem I still have is modifying images after Lightroom. It is possible to 'Add to this Catalog' during export but if you duplicate images etc they are not ahto imported obviously.
    My work arround is to have all my image files in one master file and use (Library>Syncronize Folder)
    This has all probably been said elswhere, if it has, sorry for the duplication.

  • Akshat Gait April 17, 2009 02:11 am

    The fifth tip was something I had overlooked. Thank you.

  • withlime April 17, 2009 02:07 am

    These are great tips.

    For someone is new to Lightroom - or even those who have used it for a while but not mastered its power - who is interested in more great tips, I highly recommened Scott Kelby's book, Lightroom 2 for Digital Photographers. It's an easy read and full of valuable information.

  • Vin Thomas April 17, 2009 01:57 am

    Thanks for the tips! I moved to DNG quickly after making the stupid mistake of losing my "sidecars". I wonder why this doesn't become the standard...

    I love the tip of clicking the arrow to the right to filter keywords. I didn't know that one!


  • mondoUNC April 17, 2009 01:48 am

    Just switched to shooting Raw and I'm trying out Lightroom to see if it can shorten my workflow. Great tips, especially #5

  • Aaron Riddle April 17, 2009 01:30 am

    Thanks for the tips! I agree with Aidan that more Lightroom tips would be welcome.

  • Macro Photography April 17, 2009 01:28 am

    Thanks for these great tips. I can't wait to use them next time I am using Lightroom.

  • Marsh W April 17, 2009 01:25 am

    Just bought it and the timing could not be better. I had a horriffic experience with Apeture and the interaction with iPhoto. I hope to avoide a repeat with LightRoom...thanks so much for thisarticle.

  • Julie M April 17, 2009 01:17 am

    Thank you for sharing these tidbits! I've made some of these mistakes and now I won't make more thanks to your information. Lightroom has some great advantages but you really need to follow its workflow to see the benefits.

  • Loyce Hood April 17, 2009 01:06 am

    Great article! I made the mistake of moving my files outside of Lightroom. It was a nightmare--don't do it. I also like the import and convert to DNG. I never thought of that, but it's a super tip.

    Thanks for a very helpful article.

  • Aidan McManus April 17, 2009 01:01 am

    This is some great advice. More Lightroom Top Tips please.

  • Bill Hamilton April 17, 2009 12:48 am

    In #4 above, wouldn't using the "Sync" button in the Develop module be a more efficient method of transferring settings from one photo to a group of similar photos?

  • Louellen Coker April 17, 2009 12:42 am

    I just received my copy of LIghtroom today. Excited to add the program to my arsenal, and REALLY appreciate knowing a few things to look out for as I start using it.