June 7, 2024

Don’t let your photos take over your hard drive!

Is your hard drive close to collapse? Let Adobe Lightroom organise and archive your photos

If you’ve been taking photos for a while, you’ve probably been filling the hard drive on your computer with hundreds, maybe thousands, of pictures. At some stage, your computer is going to grind to a halt. That’s when you need to start controlling where you store your images and how you archive them. In this week’s Coffee Break Photography, I will show you how the powerful tools in Adobe Lightroom can help you keep your computer running fast and know where all your photos are.

From speaking with newish photographers, I know that many think Lightroom is just an editing tool. I have seen people drag a photo into Lightroom, do a quick edit, and then export the picture somewhere else on their hard drive. No wonder the images are unfindable, and the hard disk is close to collapse. That’s because Lightroom is a fantastic content organiser, as well as an editing tool.

When you open Lightroom for the first time, it creates a catalogue. This catalogue contains a series of files. These files contain previews of the photos inside of Lightroom so they can displayed on the screen, the edits that have been applied and lots more information. Most importantly, your images are not included in the catalogue. They are stored on your hard drive. Any changes you make to the pictures are held in the catalogue, and the Lightroom program merges your original photo with all the changes in the catalogue and shows you the combination of the two, which is your pretty photo!

So, tip number one is putting your photos in the right place. To do this, we will use some organisational features in the import screen. Don’t copy your photos onto your hard drive and then bring them into Lightroom; let Lightroom do everything for you. Pop your card into the card reader and click the Import button. You can also use the shortcut keys Command, Shift, and I on a Mac or Control, Shift, and I on Windows. Alternatively, go to the File Menu and select Import Photos and Videos.

The left side of the import screen shows where the source photos are, in this case, the memory card. We will copy the photos, and the right side of the screen will show the destination. At the moment, the photos are going to be placed in the Pictures folder on my hard drive. That’s probably better than most systems, where each time a memory card is inserted, it will drop into whichever folder is currently selected. Alternatively, a randomly named folder will be created, and the photos end up there – you can see why photos get lost.

We are going to make it even more organised. Down here, at the bottom of the import screen, is a destination section. Let’s change the drop-down box to organise (I wish we could have a British English version, replacing the Z with an S) and take the option “By Date”. This opens a second box, which is the Date Format. I prefer the seventh option, which has the Year Slash Month Slash Day. This will create a folder inside the Pictures folder for the year. Inside the year folder, there will be one for the month. Inside the month folder, there will be one for the day. If the folders have already been created, the photos will be added without creating new ones. OK, that’s much more organised – you now know exactly where your photos will go.

But what about all the other photos spread over your existing hard drive? Well, you can do a one-off tidy-up. Open the Import Module again, and on the left side, select the top level of your hard drive. In the middle, take the option Move. The right side of the import screen should have kept the same options as last time. Click on the import button. After a few minutes, every one of your pictures on your hard drive will be moved into a folder based on the date the picture was taken. Well, I say that, but it’s actually the date that your camera was set to when you took the photo. That’s a good reason to check that your camera has the correct date set. How great does it feel to be organised?

No matter how organised you are, the number of photos on your hard drive will eventually fill all the available space. This is a bad thing from a storage perspective, but it’s also slowing down your editing process. Programs like Lightroom use free space on your hard drive to help process image manipulation quicker and more efficiently.

That’s why I have a regular archiving process to move photos off my hard drive and onto external drives. The easy way to do this would be to drag them from your hard disk to the external one in File Manager or Finder. Easy isn’t always the best. If you move your photographs from their original location, Lightroom won’t know where they are. When you try to view the photo in Lightroom, it probably won’t show you the image. It definitely won’t allow you to export jpegs.

There is a way to tell Lightroom where the new location is, but it’s time-consuming and requires lots of manual intervention. Wouldn’t it be better for Lightroom to retain the location information? I move my photos from a hard drive to an external drive using Lightroom’s Folder function.

In the Library module, we can see the Folders area on the left. As you can see, I have photos on my hard drive for the current month, June 2024, the previous month, May 2024, and, at the moment, the month before that. I tend to keep the current month and last month on my hard drive, as these are the photos I will most likely be asked for. If I’m out on location with my laptop, I still have immediate access to these files. Anything earlier than that, I keep on external drives. These are kept here in the office and are also backed up by a cloud storage service.

I already have my external drives connected to Lightroom. You can see the two of them below my hard drive. The 2024 archived images are on this drive called Elements. If you can’t see your external drive in Lightroom but it is connected to your computer, then click this plus sign and select the option “Add Folder.” You can now select the highest-level folder on your external drive that you will archive to, and it will appear in the folders window.

Now, all you need to do is drag the folder you want to archive from your hard drive down to the external drive. You’ll get a message warning that you are going to move the files. Just click to accept, and your photos will start to be moved over. It takes a few minutes, but Lightroom moves the files and updates the location in its database during this process.

I hope this has helped make managing files in Lightroom easier.