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.

My Lightroom Workflow – 2012

This entry is part 10 of 12 in the series Lightroom

Searching through the dogcaught archives I realized it has been a very long time since I last discussed my photo processing work flow.  So much has changed since that last post that there’s no way to reasonably cover all the technology updates I’ve experienced.  Instead I will focus what is going on today.

Software wise I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.0, Adobe Photoshop Elements, and Adobe Photoshop CS6 Beta.  Obviously the CS6 Beta won’t be around forever, but it is nice to play with.  With Adobe’s new subscription model if I do have to have it I can always subscribe for a month with little effort. Dropbox also plays a key role.

My workflow actually starts before I capture an image.  Before I shoot I turn on GeoTagr for iOS on my phone.  GeoTagr runs while I’m shooting to capture the GPS coordinates of the images I shoot.  When I’m done with the shoot I have GeoTagr dump the track file into Dropbox on the phone so I can effortlessly pick it up on my laptop during image processing.  This is a relatively new part of my workflow but it is quite valuable to me since with a few clicks all of my images magically will appear on a map!

Here’s my 2012 workflow:

At the shoot:

1.  Ensure the camera time matches the GeoTagr time on my phone.
2.  Start GeoTagr tracking.
3.  Shoot photos in RAW.
4.  Stop GeoTagr tracking and send the track file to Dropbox.

Back at my laptop I import:

1.  Pull the CF card out of my camera and insert it into the card reader.
2.  In Lightroom I begin the import process.  I have an import preset which does the following to all of my images as they are imported:
– rename the files to include the date (20120502 for example)
– apply my default metadata (IPTC Copyright and Creator information)
– move the files to my dedicated original image storage hard drive (or my local hard drive when I’m on the road)
– if all the images have things in common I will apply keywords in the import dialog (usually just the event name)
3. Next is the back up process.  I use ChronoSync on my Mac (I’ve used SyncBack on PC for the same chore) to send the imported image files to a second drive on my home network.  This normally runs at 6pm daily or I may manually force a backup.  Once on the second drive the images are backed up to my offsite storage using Backblaze.
4. The full CF card goes into my bag for use in the future.  I pull out the next card in order, insert it into the camera and format it.  The camera is now ready for the next shoot.

Next is the mapping and keyword process:

1.  Each image is assigned an event which describes the reason I’m taking the photos.
2.  Each image is assigned additional keywords which describe the content of the image.  For my railroad images I do keyword the engine numbers and other equipment numbers for future reference.  As an example one of the images from my recent trip to the Gorge has the following keywords:  2012 04/14 Gorge, BNSF 7244, Mountain, Mt. Hood.  The photo above has these:  2012 04/29 G+ Photowalk, Switch, Track
3.  Each image is placed on the map in the Lightroom map module using the following process:
–  import the track file from the shoot from Dropbox.
–  select the images to apply GPS coordinates to and choose apply.
–  if the images don’t have GPS coordinates available I will drag the images onto the map manually.
4.  The last part of the keyword process is to check my smart collections which identify photos without keyword and map information.  If those collections are empty I’ve been successful in key-wording and mapping all the images from the shoot.


This is complicated enough it would likely warrant a post of its own.  Each image is different so giving you my exact formula for an image is really only good for that image.  The stylization of each image is obviously quite subjective and what I would do is way different than what you would do.   I will say that these general steps are involved:

1.  For panoramas or HDR export the images to Photoshop for pano or HDR file creation and return them to Lightroom
2.  Apply Global Reset preset (see Michael Frye for more information on the Lighroom 4 reset I use)
3.  Apply Lens Corrections preset.
4.  Apply Basic panel adjustments.
5.  Crop if necessary (sooner or later depending on the image).
6.  Stylization to taste.
7.  Sharpening to taste.


I make extensive use of Lightroom’s Publish Services.  I have numerous services set up for hard drive, 500px, Facebook, Flickr, and Picasa (Google +) sharing.  When I’m ready to share an image I drag it over to one of of the Publish Services and simply click the publish button. For images I export to my hard drive (generally these are for my website, computer wallpaper, printing to certain print services) I have set up publish services so that I have somewhat of an accounting of what I’ve output.  All of my exports go to a specific Exports folder completely separate from the original files.  If I need to reference a file I’ve exported I can find it somewhere in my Publish Services.

Final Thoughts

As you can imagine this process is always evolving.  Just compare the 2007 version to today! Software updates and improvement happen pretty regularly so I try to stay in sync with those.  I’m always looking for ways to streamline my process and reduce the amount of time I spend cataloging and editing images. I’d rather be out shooting than at home in front of the computer!

Summer Solstice at Fields – The Making Of

A few weeks ago I posted a time lapse video to Facebook for my friends there.  It isn’t all the remarkable of a time lapse but does have a quite the story behind it.

I knew there was a southbound out of Eugene and I had an idea for a time lapse sequence up at tunnel 6.  I drove up there as the sun was setting which would give me time to get set up while it was still light.  As I turned onto the road to tunnel 6 I had to stop.  There was a 2′ high snow drift across the road and I was stymied.  No time lapse at tunnel 6.  Strike 1.

I decided to head back down to Fields and set up there for a time lapse sequence.  I drove into the open area of the Fields slide and proceeded to set up my gear.  It was more dark now so a light was required.  I began to pull my gear out of the Yukon and suddenly realized something was missing.  I checked several spots in the rig.  Sure enough, I’d left my tripod at home.  Strike 2.

I stood there for several minutes listening to the train climb up through McCredie Springs.  I criticized my packing skills using some colorful language and pretty much figured I was doomed for any night photos.  I then sat in the rig and sulked for a bit.  Game off.

Then it hit me.  I could use something to set the camera on and get it above the level of the grass in the field.  But what?  The 5 gallon water jug I carry for extra water would work!  Game on!  I pulled it out and found an appropriate place to set it up.  I set the camera on it and looked through the viewfinder.  Not bad!  I grabbed a small piece of wood to prop the lens up a bit and composition wise I was in business.  A few test shots later and I was ready for a train.

Since the train sounded to be all EMD I grabbed the Zoom H4n and prepped it for recording.  Of course the stand for it was at home next to the tripod.  Strike 3.  I choose to just set it on the ground about 100 feet from where I stood with the camera.

When the train came out of tunnel 18 I turned on the recorder and headed back to the camera.  DON’T BUMP THE CAMERA!  I picked up the remote did another test shot and then waited for the train to come out of tunnel 17 to begin firing.  Through all 84 images I took I kept my fingers crossed that I wouldn’t bump something and mess it up.  I moved slowly and carefully and everything seemed to go fine.

After the DP went out of sight around the corner to tunnel 16 I ceased firing and felt comfortable picking up the camera to see what I’d done.  A quick pass through and every thing seemed OK.  Whew, I think I pulled it off!  I stood there for at least another 5 minutes and let the Zoom record the sound of the train climbing up through Fields and finally shut it off after the DP went through ‘downtown’ Fields.

Despite being out on strikes I was still able to cobble together something pretty cool.  At one moment I figured I was going to be totally out of the night photo game but the scout in me kicked in and I tried something on a whim that worked well.  Now it is time to go build a check list so I don’t forget stuff like this again!

Old School Challenge

Coming on the heels of me finding some slides from the 90s, Scott Kelby announced a photo challenge which took me back to those “shoot and hope” days.   Essentially the challenge was to shoot 24 or 36 images and not review the images until at least 24 hours after shooting.  This means no chimping, checking the historgram, or test shots.  Do it old school!   I chose to participate with some images shot in my back yard and the image above from the near the Vancouver depot.

What did I get from this challenge?  I was reminded of some of my frustrations from the 80s and 90s where I really wanted to know how things turned out when I took the shot.  There was no LCD on my AE-1 and this challenge reminded me of that helpless feeling.

I was also reminded that in film days experimentation was expensive because there was a cost for each photo for the film and developing.  Being too snap happy could be costly.  In the digital era, if you really don’t like the image you can just delete it and nothing is lost.  For me this means experimentation is free and with experimentation (or call it trial and error) I get better.  This is something I really enjoy about digital and am thankful for everyday.

Fortunately my other frustration with film, that lack of ability to edit or correct and image, was not realized because I still had to use Lightroom to get the image off the camera.  I chose however to only use the ‘Auto’ button for the challenge.  Still the ability to make further corrections or be creative exists and that I’m happy about.

And now back to the 21st century….


Steam in '93

UP 3985 passes under I-84 east of Meacham, Oregon on June 13, 1993

Most of you that have been around me for a while know I’m pretty organized.  My vehicle is always clean with no trash on the floor, my gear is always in order, and I can always find my timetables.   If you were to ask me about any of my 20K + images I could find them in an instant thanks to good keywords and organization in Lightroom.

If this was your impression of me you were mostly right.

Last weekend while cleaning one our closets I found the box that I kept my old slide trays in.  It was time to be rid of the trays, projector, and screen as neither had been used since September 1994.  How do I know that date so precisely?  Well, inside one of the trays was a 57 Kodalux developed slides with SEP 94 stamped on them.

From what I can recall I loaded the slides in trays to show right after I got them back from developing.  Just like anyone else I wanted to see how I’d done (ahem, 2 weeks later, I really like digital).  For whatever reason I never took the next step and unloaded them from the tray and put them in the archival sleeves that the rest of my slide collection is in.  It also seems I never made any notes on them in my notebook either at capture time or later on when I reviewed them.

What a mess!  At least what a mess for me.

Did I miss these slides?  Well, apparently not.  When I found them, I did recall taking them and many of the details about them (save for some of the dates, thanks Mom & Dad!).  I think in my mind I’d written them off because I recall a roll of film being accidentally ruined around 2000.  I never expected to come across them.  I’m happy I did.

After scanning, adding to Lightroom, and key wording I tucked the stray slides into the archival sleeves for safe keeping.  Now that everything is in order again you can go back to thinking I’m really organized.