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.

Image Organization

The Portland section of Amtrak’s Empire Builder goes by the slang term “Baby Builder”  This refers to the fact it is only 4 cars compared with 7+ for the the Seattle section.

I have a couple of items I’ve been wanting to cover when it comes to railfan image organization.  The first one is from something I’ve heard too many of my railfan friends say.  They say that they have so many images they can’t find them.  That bothers me.  If you have excellent work hiding on your hard drive or in (gasp!) slides, and you don’t know it, you and the rest of us in the railfan community are missing out.

With today’s technology there are plenty of tools available to catalog images.  In my mind any tool worth anything to the railfan photographer has to provide access to the camera metadata (if digital, if not has to allow entry of key metadata), has to allow for custom tags to be associated to an image, and has to allow for searches using combinations of those elements.  For us railfans tags like engine numbers, railroad names, locations, and subdivisions are common items we like to tack on besides the date and time.  From my observations we are quite a passionate group about knowing all of those particular details.  Basically what I’m saying here is any solution should have the ability to capture the specific data items which are unique to the photographer’s subject and data needs.

Most catalogs today will let you tag what ever data you want to.  I personally tag all of my railroad related images with 3 particular items.

  1. An event.  This is basically the reason I’m out shoot.  It can range from “2011 Tracks In The Snow” or “2005 Western Star Excursion” to my catch all for my catch all “Vancouver Railfanning”
  2. Engine number(s). Any engine I can get the number off of in the image I include.  “BNSF 1099”, “UP 3985”, “NIWX 2891”.
  3. Location.  This is the geographic or even common location name for a place.  “Sullivan’s Curve”, “Stein’s Hill”, “West Wishram”, “East Berne”
I’ve started tagging railroad related images with general tags too.  For example the image in this post is tagged with 2012 01/16 Gorge, AMTK 191, Mountain, North Bonnevile, Snow.
Any cataloging solution should not care where or how you store your images.  It seems that for every individual out there there is a different way to store images on disk and so the catalog shouldn’t care that you have files in folders on 8 different external drives wired in through 3 different interfaces.  Like wise it shouldn’t care what the file names are.  If at one point all of the information about the image was in the file name, it shouldn’t care about files named sp4449bingensteamspecialwithamtk161andotherimportantandmostlyrelevantinformation.jpg.  I know that for each camera brand I’ve owned over the years the naming conventions are slightly different so I have file names all over the map.   By the way keeping pertinent information about the photo in the file name is not the way to go.  Technology is too good to limit yourself to what you can put in 256 characters.
I realize cataloging isn’t something you just do one day and be done with it.  If you have 10s of thousands of photos it will take some time.  In fact it may take years if there is no starting point.  I know when I had to catalog my scanned images I had to sit down and review them one by one and enter the data.  The effort took time.   Cataloging may also cost money.  I’m aware railfans are a cheap bunch but honestly good software will save you time and make your job easier.  $299 may seem steep but if spending that money means the difference of months off of your cataloging effort it is a drop in the bucket.
At the beginning of this post I alluded to a second issue.  The second item is related to the first.  It has to do with the general feeling there is no cataloging solution for me so I have to build it myself.   Home grown solutions work and I will support anyone who takes the step to catalog even if it is a non-transferable one-off solution.  At least there is a catalog and the images can be found!

I don’t like custom solutions though because generally the images and the data are not necessarily together in one tidy place.   A spreadsheet for example is the most common alternate method I’ve seen.  The issue I have with that is the images are no where to be found in the spreadsheet.  Once you’ve filtered the spreadsheet for all images shot in Cruzatte, OR you can’t see them.  You likely know the file names but you still have to go find them.  This disconnected situation is only going to cause more trouble so I can’t recommend it as a best practice.   Software like Lightroom or Aperture is very flexible to your needs as a cataloger so please don’t believe it won’t work for you…it will!

I guess this is my call to action for my railfan friends who aren’t cataloging.  Get going on an image catalog!  Buy Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop Elements, or any stand alone catalog system (these all have free trials to allow you to experiment).  Start cataloging the new photos you take first then work your way into the archives and catalog the older images.   I think you’ll feel good about it.   You’ll know images you have and you’ll have the ability to find them which should give you peace of mind about your collection.  Additionally you’ll have a curated collection which will be consumable by you in your lifetime and will be available to others once you are no longer able to manage it yourself.