How to set up a lightroom catalog

How to set up a lightroom catalog

Processing images is an essential part of photography but before you can dive into the editing process, you need to understand how to properly import your photos into Lightroom CC Classic. If you do not follow a few basic rules, you will almost certainly loose track of your images. This guide will help you create a safe and happy home where all of your photos will live.

Watch the video below for a start to finish guide on how to set up a Lightroom Catalog for the first time.



Before we get started, it is important to discuss how Lightroom handles your images. Lightroom does not actually store your photos within the program, it only references them from wherever you have stored them on your hard drive. You can reference multiple hard drives from a single catalog but I strongly discourage this in most cases since you are less likely to loose track of your files if they are on one drive under a single parent folder.

Since Lightroom is only referencing your photos it is extremely important not to rename or move any images or folders on your hard drive that Lightroom is referencing. When a a file is moved or renamed, Lightroom will no longer be able to relocate it and you will manually have to reconnect the image or folder.


In order to avoid confusion and to make sure that you know where your Lightroom catalog and photos are being stored, I’m going to have you create a few folders to store these files in.


Once you have opened up Lightroom, click File > New Catalog.


A Dialog box will open up. In the top of the dialog box give your catalog a name by typing in the Save As field. You might want to call it something like Your Name Lightroom or Yourname – 2020 – Catalog. DO NOT hit the Create button yet.

Lightroom import dialog

Lightroom import dialog

There are two options for storing your catalog. The first option is to store it on your computer’s internal hard drive and the second is to store it on an external drive. For the sake of simplicity and to retain the ability to work on your photos on any computer I’ll be explaining how to create a Lightroom catalog on an external drive. (The catalog can be moved after it has been created)

NOTE: Your Lightroom Catalog my operate slightly slower on an external drive but I think the benefits of having all your data in one place is worth the trade off.


Navigate to the external drive that you want to save your photos to and click on it. Now Click the New Folder button in the lower left hand corner of the dialog box. Give your new folder a name. ie 2020Lightroom


With your newly created folder selected, click the New Folder button once more. Call this folder LR Catalog and press Create.



Now that you have you Lightroom catalog created, it is time to import some photos into that catalog. To get started go to File > Import Photos and Videos. The import window will pop up.

Lightroom import screen

Lightroom import screen

On the left hand side of the window you will see all of your connected hard drives, media cards, and cameras. If you do not see any of these devices click on the word “Source” below the hard drive icon and they will become visible.

lightroom classic import screen check boxes

Lightroom Classic import screen check boxes


Navigate to the card or drive that you want to import your images from. If your device or drive has multiple layers of folders, you may want to click the Include Subfolders box.


By default Lightroom will check every photo within a given folder structure. You can simply uncheck the photos that you do not want to import or you can click the uncheck all photos box at the top of the window and check only the ones that you want to import.


Now we need to tell Lightroom how to handle the photos that you are importing. If you are importing from a camera or card, Lightroom will create a copy of the photos on the drive that we specify in the next step. Before we get to that point, I’d like like to explain the difference between Copy, Copy as DNG, Move and Add.

Lightroom classic file handling menu options

Copy: Copy will leave the files in the original location while creating a copy on the destination that you specify. This is more than like the option you want if you are importing from a card or camera.

Move: You cannot choose the move option when importing from a card or camera. This feature can only be selected when the media is already on a hard drive. When Move is selected the photos or video that you import will be moved from their current location to the new location that you specify in the next step.

Add: Just like the Move option Add cannot be used unless the media is already on a hard drive. The Add feature leaves the media in the location that it already is but still adds it to your Lightroom catalog.

Copy as DNG: A DNG file is a RAW file format created by Adobe. Lightroom has the ability to convert your camera’s raw files into DNGs. There are various reasons for doing this but unless you understand why you would want to convert the file to a DNG, I suggest importing with the regular Copy option when importing from a card or camera.

Learn post processing


Now that we have our source selected and have told Lightroom how to handle the photos, it is time to choose where we want to save our photos. This step is very important because you don’t want to loose track of where your photos are being saved. It is ideal to save your images on an external hard drive that is dedicated for your photography.


Click on the hard drive icon in the upper right hand corner of the import window. A dropdown menu will appear giving you a few destination options. Click on Other Destinations and then select the hard drive that you used in step 3. Then select the “2020 – Lightroom” folder that you created.

Choosing a save destination in Lightroom

Choosing a save destination in Lightroom


Once you have your destination selected, you will want to create a new folder there. You can do this by clicking the New Folder box in the lower left hand side of the dialog box.

Choosing a destination folder in Lightroom

Choosing a destination folder in Lightroom


Call the new folder that you just created LR Photos and click Choose. Your folder structure should now look something similar to the photo below.

Lightroom classic folder structure

Preferred Folder Structure


Now we just need to take a look at a few import options and we’ll be ready to start our import. I’m going to go over the next few sections fairly briefly. If you would like a deeper explanation of these menus please visit the Adobe Lightroom Import Page.

file handling option in lightroom classic

file handling option in Lightroom Classic


Open the File Handling menu. Here you can tell Lightroom how to handle the files coming into the software. The most important area here is the Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates section. This will prevent you from importing the same image more than once into your catalog.

File handling menu in Lightroom classic

File handling menu in Lightroom classic


If you’d like you can rename your files upon import. I like to use the Date – Filename Template. You can always change the name of any file after import.

File renaming Lightroom classic

File renaming Lightroom classic


The Apply During Import section allows you to apply Develop Settings and Metadata adjustments to an image. My Landscape Photographer's Toolkit Presets have a few different presets that can be applied during import. I always remove chromatic aberrations on every image that I bring into Lightroom.

You can add Keywords in this section as well but I prefer to add keywords after import since Lightroom remembers all of your import settings from the previous import.

Apply during import Lightroom settings

Apply during import Lightroom settings

Lightroom Destination Folders

Lightroom Destination Folders


Now we need to tell Lightroom how organize and create folders under the parent LR Photos folder that we created earlier.

I like to organize my photos by date during import. After import, you can control click (Mac) or Right Click (PC) on any folder in the Library module to rename it. I generally leave the date but then add a description afterwards. ie 2020-04-01 – Yosemite Valley.

Once you have made sure that the photos are going to the destination that you’d like, you can click the import button in the lower right hand corner of the screen.

After clicking the Import button, the Import Window will close and you will be taken to the Current Import window under the Catalog Tab of the Library Module. You will see an import progress bar in the upper left hand corner of the screen while the import is taking place.