Lightroom – Clean Up, Keyword & Workflow

I love fresh starts and new beginnings and what better time to do just that with your Lightroom than now? If you are anything like me then you probably let your Lightroom catalogue get a little messy and very unorganized. Don't worry too much! It's difficult when life gets busy and also who cares less about keywords and color categories when you've just had the best sighting of your life, had a 12 hour game drive or just arrived home from a 32 hour journey from Africa? I know I don't and often I find myself doing the bare minimum when it comes to downloading images and just getting straight into the editing side of it.

But again, if you are anything like me then after a while you start to get frustrated with the untidy catalogue and looking for certain shots can be tedious as you try remember the day and time etc... or perhaps you are not comfortable with how the whole cataloging system actually works and so you avoid it completely and do a basic download?

Well whether you are lazy, a beginner or a pro, I would like to run through how I approach the cataloging and file storage system because I feel as though I have learnt so much through my mistakes over the years by making the process too complicated and then too simple. I have found a very basic system that works incredibly well for me and keeps all my ducks in a row so to speak.

So let's begin with the actual importing of images as this can save you so much time later on in your file organizing. So as you can see in the image above I have shown you how I would do a basic yet affective import off your memory card onto your storage disk.

First things first, ensure your drive where your RAW files are stored is plugged in.

Insert your memory card from your camera and the import window should automatically open up. If not then choose the import button from Lightroom Library tab to open this window and locate your images.

I normally choose all the images and I do no sorting or deleting at this point. I find this speeds up your work flow so much and doesn't make you lose interest by sorting images at this point.

Click on check all, ensure that the copy tab is selected o the top menu (as you want to copy all raw files from your memory card onto your storage drive), select create smart previews (This will allow you edit some images without your hard drive/storage disk plugged in to your computer which is great for travel).

Select the "Do Not Import Suspected Duplicates" box. This is a great way to ensure that you don't end up with multiple images that are the same as you may not have formatted your card from a previous shoot. If this box is not selected then all your previously deleted images from Lightroom and undeleted images on your memory card will be re-imported potentially so its best to keep this selected.

Now these next steps I find are the most important. Be sure to choose the "Rename File" box. Then under the "template" drop down choose - Custom Name - Original File Number. In the Custom Text field type in the following: Where the images were taken followed by the month and year. For example - SerengetiDec21. Leave the Extension option "As Is". An example of what the file name will now be should appear at the bottom of this box and it will look something like this - SerengetiDec21-8765.Raw.

*** In my image above you'll notice that the files I am about to import were originally imported as "Tanzania" and I decided to re-import them with a more specific name "Serengeti" so as to help my file storage.***

At this stage all of your files are still checked and selected so now would be a great time to type a keyword or two in to save some work for later. For example as shown in the image above, I went on to keyword "Northern Serengeti" before I began my import. At this point I keep it very general and non specific. I do this because later on if I want to filter my searches by area perhaps or season then all my images in this shoot will come up. We will keyword more specific details later and I will show you how to easily add this in later.

The last step before importing is to ensure that your file destination is set so that the Raw files will be imported into the right year, month and day onto your hard drive/storage disk. Lightroom should do this automatically and can even recognize different memory cards from your camera and instantly remembers where you like to store those files. Quite impressive, but be sure to double check that Lightroom got it right.

You can now click import and all of your images (the rubbish ones included) will import onto your storage disk. The reason for the above renaming is that now every single RAW image is being stored on your hard disk and storage space with easy to use and unique names that you can easily search for by date, and every file name has a description and unique file number. Later on if you ever wanted to run a word search, date search or file number search, you will be able to find your files very, very easily. We will also discuss how to go through and cull the images you no longer wish to keep.

I timed myself with this process and on the biggest import I did which included downloading time it took me a total of roughly 4 mins.

But, let's say you have not been importing your photos with any kind of systems and simply done the absolute basics in terms of importing files then do not worry! It's actually very easy to sort this out and it doesn't mean you have to go re-import all of those photos again. I will get into how to sort and rename your images through the rest of this blog so read on and see how it can be done.

So, you have now done a bulk import, with very general key-wording and your RAW files have all been named and dated. Feels kinda good already right? Well, let's now begin another process of file storage and cleaning of your catalogue. Before we begin I must mention a few things. Firstly this process (any process) does not have a magic button or automatic setting that can instantly get rid of your rubbish photos and leave you with the best. It takes time and patience to go through it all. Secondly, however, this process that I use is great in a sense that you can do as much or as little as you desire. You can revisit your catalogue at anytime and continue shooting as you please and the system can still be revisited at your leisure. If you refer to the image above then read below you'll see what I mean.

I start with color coding my folders (The folders that are created by Lightroom with each day's shoot). I select every folder and make it red as a default. To do this, simply select all folders using shift or option keys, right click and select "Add Colour Label To Folder".

Straight after I have done this I right click on each day (Folder name change) and select "rename" and after the date (its important to leave the date in) I add the location I was in or the event I was shooting. For example if the folder is named "2019-05-23" and I know that I was shooting in Phinda Private Game Reserve, then  I would rename it to "2019-05-23 Phinda".  If I was in more than one area then I'll improvise and rename it to "2019-05-23 Phinda Sodwana Tembe".

What you will then start to notice is your filing system starts to look really good! As in the image above you can see exactly where you were on each day and which folders you then need to work on. So far this entire process (if you were on safari and came back for lunch and downloading) would have taken no more than 10 minutes. Thats just 10 minutes and we haven't even got to the images yet but already you are organized and you know exactly where you're at in the process. At this point you can go out on your afternoon drive, go make a coffee or go to work knowing your Lightroom is already looking great.

Heres how my color system works.

Red = Unsorted, Not Edited, Not Key-worded (Basically untouched folder).

Yellow = Key wording done! File renaming done! Folder is ready to delete and edit images.

Green = All images edited, All images key-worded, all images backed up to SmugMug or Hard drive

Up to this point you have now color coded your folders and named your folder shoots. This process shouldn't take you more than 10 - 15 minutes and it makes a huge difference to your workflow. For most people getting to this point is enough in terms of being organized and happy with finding images and that's absolutely fine. So let's see how we can further use the color coding, renaming and  key wording.

The next step I follow is to key word. Notice that I still haven't deleted any images yet. The reason for this is I have found over the years that bulk editing is much quicker than trying to "cherry pick" smaller groups of images or individual images. I have found it to be much quicker to bulk keyword and rename and be left with 1 image in my shoot rather than trying to find that 1 good image to rename and keyword. So choose a folder you wish to work on (preferably work through your red folders) and run through the images and look for key moments. I generally don't keyword all images as its very time consuming and we already have a general keyword in place remember - from the import? So I look for memorable moments for example "Cheetah Kill". So in the library module, on the right hand side of the window, you can select images and keyword the images you have selected. Use a comma to separate the keywords. You should also see your general keywords from your import. So In the image posted I would use - Cheetah, Kill. So in the Library module later on I can filter search by keyword and look for cheetah kill images. So imagine a client or friend says "have you got any images of elephants swimming" and you have to now go look through 30 000 images for elephants swimming? If you have key-worded it or remember where you photographed it or remember the rough date of the shoot you can now very easily find that image.

So remember how we renamed our RAW files on our import? You can still do that at this stage without re-importing any images. In the library module, simply choose a folder, select all images in the folder. Then on the right column scroll down to the Metadata tab. You'll see the field called "File Name". On the right hand side of this filed there is a button with 3 lines. Click on this button and "File Naming" is, Custom Name - Original File Number. Then under the Custom name tab type - The area or shoot, followed by the month and year. You will see an example of what your RAW files will now be named as. EG - MadikweDec21-5675.CR2 (CR2 - For Canon users). Now your RAW files on your hard drive will all be renamed as well as in your library. Done! FYI this helps with ALT text on your website and search-ability with search engines. Another win!

Okay so now we are ready for the image sorting process. So, get a coffee, pour a wine and put on a great playlist because this is where the manual work begins, but I can promise you it will be 100% worth it in the end.

You now need to run through the images and start deleting the rubbish and the nothing shots. Be very very ruthless! I know it's hard to delete images sometimes but think really hard about whether you'll use that image again. The best way I like to run through images is in the Library module is to select one of your yellow folders (These files are renamed, key-worded and ready to be sorted).

Select your first image.

If you hit the "X" button you'll notice a small flag with an X in it appear on the top left of your photo. This means it's been rejected. To undo the rejection hit the "U" button which means un-flag. You can also hit your number keys 1 through 5 to rate the image from 1 to 5 stars. So later on you can filter all your starred images to edit.

An easy way to see the images and run through them quickly is to hit the "F" button. This will open your images in fullscreen.

Put your Caps Lock or Lock Shift button on. When this button is activated on your keyboard you can hit any of your rate or reject buttons ("x", "u" or 1-5) and it will rate that particular image but automatically move on to the next. This allows you to move really quickly through the images and rate or reject them as you please :)

Now that you have gone through your folder and rejected a whole bunch of images, you need to filter the files to have only the rejected images selected so that you can delete them. To do this go to the Library Module. Toward the top of the screen above the image you'll see search filter options. Select "Attribute". Here you can choose your rated and rejected images. So, select the flag with a cross on it. what you'll see is all the images that you hit "x" on appear on the screen. I strongly suggest you give a quick scroll through to ensure that you have selected the right filter and that only the rejected images are selected. They should appear with a grey highlight over them. Hit CNTRL A or select them all and right click on the selected images. You must now choose to delete off disk or off Lightroom. I normally delete off  the disk so the images are gone forever and no need to worry about them ever again. If you choose delete from Lightroom it will still be on your hard drive but deleted off your Lightroom Catalogue. These images may re-surface if you ever re-import your images from a hard drive later on so just be aware of that as it will result in having to re-delete them later. If you delete from Disk then you no longer need to worry about it being imported later on if you get a new computer for example. This is up to you.

You can now deselect your search filters and your folder will be clean of all rubbish images and you can now edit away! Once you have deleted your images, edited them, backed them up on your cloud (if thats what you use) and saved your changes on your Catalogue you can right click on that folder and turn it green.

If you spent 15 minutes every day running through this process you'll be so amazed at how much you get done in a short period and it will make you feel like a massive weight has been lifted off your shoulders! In one week I did 30 mins to an hour a day and managed to delete roughly 16 000 images from 2016 to date using this process.

To put what I have written into practice and to make life easier for you I have done a YouTube video for you to watch and a podcast added in below so you can see exactly how I go about it. Check out the links below!

Until next time,


Lightroom Tutorial Cleaning Up Catalogues & Keywording

Learn about Mirrorless vs DSLR

Now that we know how to organise our files, lets explore the difference between a mirrorless and DSLR set up to see how that may improve our photography even further. In this piece, Andrew Beck speaks with Canon's own Roger Machin about the two set ups.

5 thoughts on “Lightroom – Clean Up, Keyword & Workflow

  1. Fanie van Wyk


    Very helpful thanks.

    • Matt Yardley

      Pleasure 🙂 Glad it helped!

    • Matt Yardley

      Pleasure 🙂

  2. Deji Odetoyinbo


    Excellent tutorial, Matt.
    Thank you very much!

    • Matt Yardley

      Thank you so much! Really appreciate it and glad it could help.

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