Just this week, I took on the tedious task of completely re-organizing my Lightroom catalog. Not to say that I was using Lightroom wrong, or even organizing my photos incorrectly…I knew I needed a new system that fit my workflow better.

Defining the Problem

Lightroom unorganizedUp until this point, I had used the default import options — copying my files to Lightroom and organizing by date. I would refer back to old emails if I needed to find a specific project (in order to find the date), or (if I was smart) I put the photos into different collections.

But sometimes I just forgot to do that last step.

I have just over 61,000 photos in my Lightroom catalog, and those are just photos from this year. Ninety-five percent of these are client-driven, meaning they should really be organized as such.

(Note that prior to 2016, I used separate catalogs for each year…which is just a terrible idea!)

After doing a ton of research into the idea, I found out I wasn’t the only one who felt the default organization options weren’t ideal. It can work for certain photographers depending on what you photograph, but being a corporate event and promotional photographer…this was far from being perfect in my eyes.

Finding a Solution

I saw lots of research done on different ways to organize your catalog, most of which were taking advantage of the Folders system in Lightroom. This made the most sense to me.

But how do you organize all your folders? For me, I knew that I had a handful of clients that hired me pretty regularly. There were some one-offs for smaller companies, random portrait sessions, camera group outings, etc.

I decided to break my folder structure into both categories and clients. I made individual parent folders for clients that had at least three different projects. For clients with less than three projects, I created date-organized subfolders, which I then put in a broader category.

pf-lightroom-03Client Folders

Most of the client folders only needed two levels of organization — the main folder, and then subfolders underneath with each project organized out. With these, I put the date first, and then the project name. For instance, “01.16 Auto Show Charity Spectacular” is one of my event subfolders, identifying both the month and year.

However, there were a few clients that needed three levels — the main folder, the project folder and individual subfolders for specific aspects of a project.

One of my clients happens to be a local theatre group. I shoot most of their season, and thus I had to organize multiple shows and a few special events. I decided to make a subfolder for each show, and then under that, I had additional photos for the promotional shoot, rehearsal and production.

You can see to the left that each show is outlined, and “Rock of Ages,” which is selected, has three subfolders underneath it. The 01, 02 and 03 distinctions are there just so the folders stay in order of when they occurred, instead of the default alphabetical order.

Everything Else

For literally every other project, I came up with a few different categories — #westmiphoto (my camera group), Corporate, Engagements + Weddings, Events and People. Depending on what you photograph, you may have different folders for all the places you’ve visited or all the families you photograph.

With the exception of the Events category (which I still used the date-project scheme I discussed above), I used more generic subfolder names. Knowing that I could go back and alter these down the road if necessary, I just used the client name as the subfolder title.


If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s to do EVERYTHING in Lightroom. I didn’t touch my macOS Finder throughout any of this, instead going month-by-month in the old folder structure I had and selecting and dragging the photos over to their new folders as appropriate. Doing so means you lessen the risk of accidentally deleting your photos.

What did I learn from this? Well first and foremost, being organized makes your life way easier. Secondly, it doesn’t matter how you organize, but you need to develop a system that works for you. It took me much of an entire day to make all these changes, but I’m so glad I did it. Going forward, this will be significantly easier for me to find a particular project!

Now to just tackle those photos from 2010-2015…