Last week, Scott Kelby wrote a post in his “10 Things I Would Tell New Lightroom Users” series in which he recommends to new Lightroom users that they stick to using one catalog.
I remember, not that long ago, when the Adobe forums were full of people suggesting that your Lightroom catalog should not have more than a few tens of thousands of images or risk the ire of the angry Lightroom gods. But, as Scott suggests, as the application has matured, you can now have more than 100,000 images in your catalog and still run safely and smoothly.
I love the one catalog suggestion. I don’t like having to fumble through multiple catalogs to figure out where my images are. I like the one-stop shopping that maintaining a single catalog offers. So do I use just one? Well, no. But let me tell you why.
I do have one “primary” catalog that contains all my images. I’m safely under 100,000 images suggested limit and haven’t experienced any issues with a catalog of that size. The problem for me comes in with my mobile workflow. I do a lot of editing on my laptop, and I’m synchronizing over Dropbox. If I tried to do that with my primary catalog, I’d easily exhaust the space on my Dropbox account. But I’d also run in to an issue during metadata synchronizations and other updates that make a large number of changes to the catalog because each of those changes would need to be synchronized Dropbox, as well. That would create a big queue of changes that would take awhile to recover from.
Instead of keeping my primary catalog on Dropbox, I have a smaller one that I call my “working” catalog. It has my active projects in it, so it’s a smaller subset of images. That limits the size of the catalog and the potential for cascading changes that need to be synchronized across Dropbox. For mobility, I take advantage of smart previews so that I can edit my images on the go without direct access to the original images.
Once I’m done with a project, I’ll switch back to my primary catalog on my desktop and import the project from the working catalog. There are a number of ways to handle the import process, but importing allows me to keep the history intact with minimal fuss.
One variation that I’ve toyed with in this workflow is to have a small catalog for each project. I could create a new catalog in Dropbox, import the images and generate Smart Previews, and use those on my laptop to edit the images. But when I’m editing multiple projects at the same time, I run in to the problem of switching catalogs constantly to go between projects. Having one working catalog for all my active projects helps with the clutter. Otherwise, the workflow would be the same. After the project is done, I’d import from the project catalog in to my main catalog and then discard the project catalog.
Again, while I love the one catalog suggestion, I’d recommend one primary catalog, but use a smaller, working catalog if you’re doing any editing on the go.
Here is a look at my current workflow. Everything north of the Mac Mini is original files and my primary catalog. Between the Mini and the Macbook are smart previews and my working catalog.
If you want to give Dropbox a try, you can sign up with this referral link and get 2GB of space for free. That’s plenty of space for a mobile Lightroom catalog.
If you’re looking for an automatic backup solution, I’ve been very happy with Backblaze. Plans start at just $5 a month. How much are your pictures worth?