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November 2008

If you’ve been capturing shots with your Canon DSLR for a few years now you’ll no doubt have thousands of photos to store and manage. The closest you may have come to organising your files is to store them in folders labelled by the date of capture or import. To find a specific photo you have to remember when it was shot or face the tedious task of trawling through your folders (like searching for a needle in a haystack), but there are much easier options…

© George Cairns

The Library module is packed full of tools designed to help you edit and organize your assets. You can make all the panels collapse and pop up when required, enabling you to examine your photos without being distracted by interface clutter.

You’re probably well aware that most asset management packages like Photoshop Elements Organizer or Photoshop CS’s Adobe Bridge enable you to add keywords to shots so you can search for specific files more effectively. However, taking time to select each shot and type in keywords requires discipline that many of us just don’t possess! When you import your images you’re likely to be interested in the content and quality of your shots and may decide to relegate the chore of keyword assignment to another day that often never comes!

Lightroom 2 provides you with easier ways to assign keywords to your photos, so you can find that needle in a haystack by searching for ‘needle’ or ‘haystack’. There are also many other ways to track down specific files that don’t involve assigning keywords – more of that in due course.

Efficient importing

Adobe recognises that the best time to organise your assets is during the import process, so it has designed Lightroom 2 to help you do this with a minimum of fuss. You don’t have to worry about the chore of adding keywords to photos at a later date (though you can do this if you prefer). As soon as you pop your memory card full of shots into your PC or Mac, Lightroom is ready to streamline your keyword assigning workflow.

© George Cairns

You can zoom for a closer look at an image’s thumbnail during the import stage and un-check files that don’t make the grade. This helps to streamline the quality control process. You can also add keywords and copyright metadata to every shot in an instant, and even weak colour and tone!

Go to file > Import Folders from Device. This will open the Import Photos dialogue window, displaying the content of your memory card as thumbnails. A handy slider lets you enlarge the thumbs to get a closer look at their content. You can begin the quality control process at this early stage by un-checking inferior shots that you don’t want to import.

Like most packages Lightroom 2 will copy the photos from the card and pop them into a dated folder in your 'My Pictures' directory. You can place the shots in any folder you like or even send them to an external hard drive. Lightroom’s catalogue will remember where they are stored and display them in the Lightroom Library module. The ability to reference shots stored on external drives is a new feature in Lightroom 2, which frees you from having to clog up your computer with digital photos. This is especially important if you shoot in the storage-space hungry RAW format.

Once you’ve chosen the shots that you want to import you can add keywords to them en masse, saving you the repetitive chore of adding keywords to individual shots at a later date. This is especially useful if you’ve been shooting on location (in Venice, for example) and all the shots have common properties. In the Import Photos Keywords field type in appropriate generic keywords like Venice, Italy, tourism, holiday etc. All these keywords will be assigned to the shots on the card as they are imported into your computer. Lightroom’s Library Filter will use this information to find specific shots at a later date (we’ll look more closely at this powerful new filter tool later in this feature).

© George Cairns

You can apply one-click image altering presets to your shots as you import them, or you can access the same presets from the Library Module's Quick Develop panel after you've taken a closer look at our photos. Lightroom 2 gives you plenty of choice about how you can approach your photo fixing and organising.

You can also add information to the metadata of multiple shots during the import stage. In the Information to Apply section of the Import Photos window go to the Metadata drop down menu and choose New. This opens the New Metadata Preset. This is a good place to add general information like copyright information and a website link. As they are imported into your computer this customised metadata will be attached to the copied shots and will be accessible to whom you share the files with.

The Import Photos window also boasts a wide range of Develop Settings that apply image-adjusting presets to all the shots as they are imported. If you’re pushed for time you can use the General-Auto Tone preset to darken shadows and brighten highlights in every shot, but it’s more likely you’ll want to adjust each image individually at a later stage. Once you’ve tweaked tones, added generic keywords or copyright information, and un-checked poor quality shots then you’re ready to click Import.

© George Cairns

The Library module lets you add extra keywords, assign ratings and even flag shots to pick or reject them in a single mouse click or press of a key. All these asset management tools enable you to streamline your image processing workflow.

Organising options

By adding keywords and metadata during the import stage you can relax and enjoy examining your photos in more detail in the Library module’s interface, confident that they have all had a few handy keywords already attached to them. At this stage each imported shot has the same generic keywords. You can view these keywords by clicking on a shot in the Grid view and looking at the contents of the Keywording pane. You can then type in additional keywords to make the selected photograph easier to find (like ‘Gondolier’, for example).

Lightroom 2 saves you the hassle of typing new keywords by including a selection of labels in the Keyword Suggestions panel, thus enabling you to assign a new keyword to a photo in a single click. These suggestions are based on previous keywords that you’ve assigned to images in the past. This new one-click wonder is a useful way to speed up the tedious task of asset management without the need to keep typing. There is also a collection of keyword sets that you can easily raid to add keywords like 'Landscape' to photographs in a click.

© George Cairns

By colour coding your favourite shots you can make them stand out from the crowd as you scroll through Lightroom 2’s catalogue. You can collapse similar shots into a space-saving stack and expand it with a click when necessary.

If keywords aren’t your thing then you can organise your collection using a variety of other easy-to-apply techniques. In the Loupe view you can see a full-size preview of your shot, enabling you to discern whether its sharply focused or not. If you like a shot, you can flag it as one to keep by pressing P (for Pick). If it’s a possible candidate for the waste bin then pressing X will flag it as Rejected. You can also rate shots using a five star system. Either click on the stars you want to assign or use the 1 to 5 number keys to add a specific star rating in an instant.

As well as using icons and keyboard shortcuts to organise your files you can access even more options by right clicking the mouse to evoke a pop-up menu. You can access the usual rating options from this menu or choose to stack selected files into one space-saving pile. As many of us shoot multiple shots using our Canon's continuous shooting mode the ability to stack dozens of similar files under one thumbnail is essential. You can also use this pop-up menu to label shots using colour, which makes favourite images stand out from the thumbnail crowd.

© George Cairns

The Smart Collection feature gathers and displays photos that match user-defined criteria like the number of stars used to rate a shot, or specific shutter speed settings in an image's metadata for example. You can set up a wide variety of Smart Collections, which will automatically find and display appropriate shots as they are added to Lightroom 2's catalogue.

Smart Collection

Another way to locate particular files quickly is to take full advantage of the editable Smart Collection feature. This creates collections that automatically gather and display files with specific attributes. By default there's a Smart Collection folder that displays all shots with a five star rating, for example. When you import and rate new photos with five stars they will be automatically added to this collection. You can define your own criteria for a new Smart Collection by using dozens of attributes. You can even get Lightroom to collect all the shots that were captured using a specific ISO rating or shutter speed setting. This is an incredibly powerful way to organise and display your assets.

Library filter

It's well worth taking advantage of Lightroom 2's easy-to-apply keywording, star rating, colour coding and flagging abilities as the new Library Filter is designed to help you find files with specific properties in an instant. The Library Filter sits immediately above the main Grid view.

The Attribute section of the Library Filter enables you to click on Flag icons to show or hide images that have been flagged as Picked or Rejected, or to view files that are above a certain star rating. You can choose to make Lightroom display shots labelled with a specific colour by clicking on the appropriate colour icon. After adding keywords to your shots you can use the Library Filter's Text field to search for files via specific keywords. Despite the fact that Lightroom 2 makes it easy to rate files and add keywords or labels to shots, you may not be organised or motivated enough to take advantage of these features. The Library Filter will still be able to help you speed up your image management workflow as it can search through the existing metadata that is automatically assigned to the shot when it is captured by your camera.

© George Cairns

The new Library Filter enables you to sort the wheat from the chaff by displaying files according to rating, flag status, keywords or even specific metadata like the type of lens used or whether the flash fired or not.

You can use the Metadata tab to display all shots taken with a specific lens or look for images captured by a specific camera. You can even look for shots taken using flash, or exclude them from your search. The Library Filter's ability to search through the metadata of your photographs is one of the most useful and important new features in Lightroom 2, and saves you the task of scrolling through hundreds of shots in search of a specific image.

Photo fixing

The Library module has all the tools you need to help you to take control of your assets and to find files quickly. You can even tackle typical exposure or colour-related problems while you organise your assets, so you don't need to leave the Library module and become side-tracked by the more sophisticated tools in the Develop module (in part 3 of this series on Lightroom 2 we’ll take a closer look at this section of the Lightroom interface).

© George Cairns

You can tackle the common photo problems (like incorrect exposure or incorrect colour balance) while you organize your assets thanks to the handy presence of the Quick Develop pane. This contains most of the colour and tone tweaking controls you'll need.

If it's obvious that a group of recently imported photos are all slightly underexposed you can pop the cursor over to the Library Module's Quick Develop pane. This gives you access to some handy one-click presets (like General - Auto Tone), so you can improve the contrast in selected thumbnails in seconds. If a particular file needs a bit more attention you can tweak its Exposure, Clarity and Vibrance and adjust its shadows using the Blacks control. In theory you can spend most of your time organising and editing your shots without leaving the comfort zone of the Library module.