Lightroom Organization Tips

This entry is part 12 of 12 in the series Lightroom

Matt Kloskowski wrote a post on common Lightroom organization mistakes the other day.  Before you read my comments, please go read what Matt wrote.

I totally agree with Matt’s points.  I hear criticisms of Lightroom which I believe are because new users try the things Matt mentions when starting to use Lightroom.  When they go down one of these paths they become frustrated because Lightroom didn’t work for them.  A great example is moving images outside of Lightroom.  Once you commit to using Lightroom to organize your images if you manually organize outside of Lightroom it is not going to be looking at the same information as before.  Of course it won’t work right!  My advice to new users is read up on how Lightroom works and study advice from folks like Matt.

Speeding Coal


In my Ligtroom Catalog this image lives in the Photos folder on my storage drive.  It has the following keywords which will help me find it
in the future: 2013 06/01 CMR Photo Freight, Cars, Signal.  It also lives in a collection called Blur which helps me identify motion blur images.

To Matt’s list I’d add some items which are to some extent corollaries to Matt’s comments but apply to the railfan community.

Organizing By Rail Artifact

Just like organizing by date, I don’t recommend organizing your images files into a folder system based on a rail artifact like subdivision name, station name, railroad, locomotive model, or locomotive manufacturer.  Once you go down the path of organizing this way you will tend to use the folder structure you created to search for things.   Doing that defeats the purpose of having a robust organizing tool like Lightroom.   Instead I recommend all the original images are placed into a single folder and Lightroom keywords are used to categorize by your favorite rail artifact data.  Inside of Lightroom you not only would have access to search the keywords you assigned, but you’d also have an indication of which images are your picks (flags, colors, stars), and the metadata associated to the image.

If you organize images by a rail artifact today transitioning inside of Lightroom to keywords is pretty straightforward and quick.  I would import the photos using the folder structure you have today.  If  you organized by station name, click on the station name folder under Folders on the left side, do Ctrl/Cmd-A to select all the images, then add a keyword for the station name on the right side under Keywording.  Lastly move all of the images to the new folder structure.  Done!

In my catalog I keyword every image with an event (why I was shooting) and keywords which tell me more about what
is in an image.  Railroad images which include a locomotive are key worded with a locomotive number.

Renaming Files

I’ve heard many railfans rename their files to include information about the photo.  For example “4449_AMTK51_trip_to _bend_taken_at_moody_oregon.jpg”.  File names are not the best way to convey meta data like this.  There are too few characters and if you forget your naming standard suddenly there is no consistency so finding something becomes even more difficult.  Instead I recommend keeping the file name as simple as possible.  For the longest time I continued to use the file name assigned by the camera.   As Lightroom detected duplicates it appended a -# (e.g. IMG-0001-5.cr2).  That was fine but I wanted it a bit cleaner so I added the d

ate and time of capture to the file name to keep each file name unique.  There are many different schemes for this so I’m not saying mine is the best way.  My though is pick a naming convention that keeps the file names relatively unique and doesn’t include caption or keyword information.


All of my images have a modified filename which includes the date and original file name.

Those are my thoughts on organizing in Lightroom.  If any of you railfans would like my thoughts on your personal situation or catalog, drop me an email.  I’d love to get you started in the right direction.

Bad Day

This will probably not come as a surprise to anyone who reads this blog but railroaders have bad days.  Sunday was one of those days for the herder.

Sunday’s herder was moving some power from the Vancouver roundhouse to the yard tracks in the port.   Just to make things interesting, the switches at Vancouver were acting up and throughout the morning the dispatcher was unable to line them.  When the herder showed up wanting to go down the hill the dispatcher gave them authority to go from the tail to the hill past the signal displaying stop indication.   So far so good.

When the herder moved off the tail track things went wrong.   The dispatcher’s instructions were quite specific about which switch needed to be lined though the instruction left out the fact there are two switches in the plant.  The herder crew lined the switch the dispatcher noted but not the other and ended up running the lead trucks of the 5305 through the second switch.  Oh oh.

In the photograph below the herder conductor is talking with the conductor and brakeman off a yard job that was also sitting on the tail track.  I think the conductor’s hand motions pretty much sum up his feelings about what happened.   Fortunately the only thing injured in this whole thing was a switch and a bit of productivity.


It always seems to take a major disaster to get people’s attention. I’m no different. I’ve been putting off creating a household inventory for, oh, 20 years now. After a good friend and his wife had their camera gear stolen from their vehicle I decided I’d better take their advice and put together an inventory of the gear I use when I’m railfanning.

Using the KISS principle I threw together a simple spreadsheet that contains the columns shown above. I then methodically proceeded through the camera bag documenting all the pieces including CF cards, extra batteries, remote cables, and lens hoods. I obviously included serial numbers where applicable. In many cases I filed away the original receipts in the fire safe so I pulled those out and documented the date of the receipt so I could locate it quickly.

After an hour and a half I had a complete inventory of my camera and radio gear that I use while railfanning. Its not a household inventory but is one step towards one. My hope is this data slowly rots in the fire safe and I never have to use it. If I do need it though I’ve got it all in one place.

How’s your inventory?

[tags]train, railroad, railfan, photo, gear, inventory[/tags]

Seven Years of Digital

April 20 marks seven years for me of using a digital camera to capture railfan photos.   Seven years seems like an odd milestone doesn’t it?  As I thought this through I realized seven years represents about one third of the time I’ve photographed trains.  When you do something the same way one third of the time you get used to it and it becomes natural.

Empty Grainer

The morning of April 21, 2001 was quite busy on the Lakeside Sub.  The plethora of trains would later come in handy for the 700 and crew.

I purchased a Kodak DC4800 3.1MP camera as a Christmas present for my wife in November of 2000.  After Christmas I used the camera a little bit for railfanning around Vancouver but I hadn’t yet taken it on a week long trip.  I stole the camera away from her for my trip to Spokane and back to chase the ill-fated Homecoming Excursion. With that bit of thievery this trip became my first time using digital to capture railroad images on a road trip.

Leaking Valve

April 22, 2001.  Still on the rails.  This day would be the last relatively good day of the excursion.

What did I think?  Well, unlike some, I didn’t waffle back and forth between film and digital.  My experience on this trip convinced me digital is where it is.   Despite being a point and shoot, the 3.1 MP camera did a fine job and captured some great memories for me.  Its ease of use, instant feedback, and ability to correct photos really sold me!   On top of that I was still used to prints so I did print some photos…but only the ones I felt were worth the cost.   These advantages were too great to ignore and I never looked back.

Seven years later digital imaging seems so natural that I feel like I’ve been doing it all my life.

[tags]trains, railroad, photos, photography, digital, switch, kodak, film [/tags]

Proud Owner

Well, it was finally time. In the middle of downtown San Francisco I decided Joleen and I were going to get our Digital SLR Finally. Already we’ve blazed through about 600 pictures figuring out various things about the camera. San Francisco being an awesome place to do just that.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be pulling some of our “ok” newbie pictures out of the lot and posting them online. Of course at this stage of learning about the camera I like about everything that comes out of the thing. I also will definitely have some street running light rail shots of the MUNI LRVs coming up. Unfortunately I haven’t shot much heavy rail yet, lacking the opportunity.

Within the first day of shooting I already have had warnings and interrogations about what I’m taking pictures of. America’s paranoia is definitely two things; lame and absurd. My friend Mike and I had a conversation with a member of San Francisco’s SWAT Team that patrols the corridors of the BART System. Mainly after being reprimanded for taking a picture or three of the platform. Maybe I’ll post those just to be hard headed.

Anyway, beyond the interesting experiences, fun learning lessons, and the rip roaring fun of San Francisco I must finish this entry for now and am looking forward to many great pictures and future postings of said pictures in this space!

So cheers, I’m stoked to finally have joined the Digital SLR crowd!