I have to admit that when I switched to Lightroom from Aperture one of my biggest concerns was managing my own Catalog. In Aperture you have the option of managing the (Library – Apple uses the term Library – Lightroom uses the term Catalog)  or letting Aperture do it. In the past I always let Aperture do it.

Now I don’t have that option. It’s still troublesome for me, but I am slowly getting more comfortable managing my own files.

My workflow involves keeping ALL of my photos on an external hard disk. I simply have too many images to fit on any one internal drive. I also use flash memory as opposed to hard disk drives on my computers, so that means less storage still.

I use Drobo 5Ds to host my images, and another 5D locally to act as backup. I use a Drobo 5N (offsite) as a place for archive.

This means that unless my computer is connected to one of those Drobo’s, I can’t access my Lightroom catalog. Well at least not for the purpose of editing the images. Now, in Lightroom 5, I have the option to create what Adobe is calling “Smart Previews.”

The Smart Preview is about 5% of the original file size, and provides Lightroom with enough information to allow you to do full-fledge editing on your images, whether or not your catalog is connected to your computer. This is simply brilliant. I don’t know why Lightroom couldn’t do this before. I assume there was some huge technical hurdle I am unaware of. Nonetheless, now, you can make your edits and then later, sync up to your hard drive holding your Catalog.

You can make Smart Previews more than one way. You can do it on import by checking the Smart Preview dialog box. You can also make Smart Previews for any of the images already in your existing Lightroom Catalogs by going to PHOTO > PREVIEW > SMART PREVIEW. Just select the images you want to make Smart Previews first. You can make your entire Catalog Smart Preview ready by going to the PHOTOS folder in your Lightroom Catalog, opening that folder and then selecting ALL the photos in that folder. Use Command-A (on a Mac or Control-A on a Windows machine) and you will select all the images. Then go through the same steps described above PHOTO > PREVIEW > SMART PREVIEW. That’s it. If you have a lot of images this may take a long time, so I recommend doing it right before you go to bed. That way when you wake up in the morning the Smart Previews will have been saved.


There’s one scenario in which you would NOT want to make Smart Previews. If you always store all of your images on your internal hard drive on the same computer where you run Lightroom, then there is no need to make a Smart Preview. Doing so will just waste space on your hard drive. The images are already there and accessible and Lightroom can manipulate them without the Smart Preview in that case. This tool is only for people who manage their Catalog offline.

While Adobe didn’t implement Smart Previews in quite the manner I thought they would, or as soon as I they should, I am glad they finally did it. This is probably my favorite new feature in Lightroom 5. It’s not as sexy as some of the other feature, but it is very valuable to people like me who store their photos offline.

Note, this is just one way to manage your Lightroom catalog.  We hope you find this new feature useful… but it is of course one option among many.


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