How to Neatly Organize Your Lightroom Folders

After your images are organized into collections, it’s time to clean up your image folders – where your images actually live on your hard drive. Although we mainly use collections to organize images in Lightroom, it’s still a good idea to organize your folders as well so you can more easily access your images outside of Lightroom.

Here’s what we’ll discuss in the following lesson:

  • How to rename your image folders in a low-maintenance, sensical way.
  • How to create a folder hierarchy that will help you find your images quicker, as well as reconnect to your images if they ever go missing again.
  • How to consolidate and reorganize your image folders so that you can easily find them outside of Lightroom, as well as making it easier to them back up on an external drive.

How to Use the Folders Panel in Lightroom

0:00Folders Overview
2:02How Lightroom Connects to Your Source Files Using Directions
3:47How to Determine Which Folder an Image is in
4:09Revealing the Folder Hierarchy
5:20Why the Folders Panel Only Shows Some of Your Folders

Strategies for Creating a Proper Folder Hierarchy

0:00Tips Before We Start
1:52Folder Naming
3:20Overview of Constructing the Folder Hierarchy
4:25Creating the Master Folder
7:13Creating the Subfolders
10:35How the Folder Hierarchy Allows you to Organize in Alternative Ways
12:08Using the Folder Hierarchy to Enhance Your Library Filters

The Right Way to Move Folders in Lightroom

0:00Important Disclaimer on Moving Folders
2:11Renaming Folders as You Are Moving
3:41Using Color Labels to Keep Track of Organization
5:06Moving Folders From One Disk To Another
6:43Removing Empty Folders From the Panel

Moving Images From One Folder to Another

0;00Moving Images to Another Folder Within Lightroom
1:30When and How to Move Images Outside of Lightroom
4:02Moving Images From Multiple Folders Into One
5:27Creating a Collection From One or More Folders

Tips on Folder Management

0:00Removing Empty Folders
1:44Why I Always Import All My Images
3:03Removing Redundant Folders From the Disk


ASSIGNMENT: Create Your Folder Hierarchies

1. Plan out Your folder structure.

Before you start moving and/or renaming folders, you need to plan out a folder system that works best for you. Remember: you don’t have to move all your folders right now. you’re simply starting the process today to better organize any new folder created and can address on your existing folders at a later date.

  • Decide on an external drive that you’d like to store your images on. Preferably, it should be a fast drive (SSD) so that Liightorom can more quickly access the original source file when needed.
  • Your folder hierarchy should have three (or more) levels: the master folder, subfolders for segmentation, and the dated image folder. The subfolders are what will give you the most organizational power outside of Lightroom, so think of mutually exclusive topics that you can easily segment your images by.
  • My favorite template to use is: Master folder > yearly subfolder > location-based subfolder > dated image folder. This allows you to quickly narrow down your search by year and location without confusion since an image can not be (1) in more than one location at once, or (2) taken on more than one date.

2. Implement your folder hierarchy.

Create the master folder by performing the following steps:

  • Connect the external drive to your computer and verify that it is recognized in the Folders panel.
  • Right-click on the external drive name in the panel (the box with the green light) and select Show in Finder/Explorer.
  • Create a new master folder as you normally would outside of Lightroom.
  • Tell Lightroom about this new folder:
    • Press the plus sign in the top-right corner of the Folders panel.
    • Select “Add Folder”.
    • Navigate to this new folder, and select Choose.

Now that the master folder has been created, add your new subfolders. Remember: you don’t have to add every possible subfolder right now (i.e. 2000, 2001, 2002, etc.). Only create the subfolders for your current and future images, and then go back and add the rest retroactively as you go along.

  • Select the new master folders in the Folders panel. Here you are indicating which folder you want to add a subfolder inside of.
  • Press the plus sign in the top-right corner, and select “Add Subfolder”.
  • Give it a name (i.e. 2009), and select Create.

The new subfolder is now (1) created on your hard disk, and (2) connected to the Lightroom catalog. Repeat this process if you want to segment your images with additional subfolders, making sure to place the new subfolders in the previous in order to create a nested folder hierarchy.

When you add new images to your hard drive outside of Lightroom, make sure to put the image folders inside of this newly created hierarchy prior to importing to your Lightroom catalog.

3. Organize existing folders/images into the new folder hierarchy.

To move a folder into the hierarchy:

  • Select the folders you wish to move.
  • Click on one of the selected folders, hold, and drag them until you hover over the containing folder.
  • Wait for the containing folder to be highlighted in blue, then release.
  • The folder(s) and all contents will be moved both in Lightroom and on your disk.

To move images from one folder to another:

  • Select the appropriate sources (a collection, folder, or combination of the two) to populate the grid view.
  • If necessary, use library filters and sorting to rearrange/narrow down the images in your grid view.
  • Select the images you wish to move.
  • Right-click on the folder you wish to move them into in the Folders panel, and choose “Move Selected Photo(s) to This Folder).
  • You can also click and drag the selected images from the grid and drop them onto the folder you wish to move them into, but I find the process above to be more reliable.

When finished, you can remove empty folders from the panel through the right-click context menu. This will NOT remove the folder from the disk (unless the folder is also empty on the disk). Removing a folder from the panel will NOT delete the source files on the disk, unless you explicitly tell Lightroom to do so.

This process will take the most of your time but is well worth the effort. Break it up into smaller sections by using color labels to indicate which folders have already been organized from the ones that still need to be cleaned up.

Renaming the image folders is a tedious process and altogether unnecessary. The goal here is to create subfolders to segment large collections of dated image folders and to give you an idea of the content without having to open up the image folder.

IMPORTANT: When finished, make sure to back up your new folder hierarchy on an additional external hard disk. When your backup drive mirrors your working drive, it is much easier to restore your source files in the event your working drive becomes unusable (you would just have to reconnect the single master folder). Otherwise, you would have to manually reconnect each image folder since the path is now different.

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