TL;DR: Capture One Catalogs vs Sessions
- Old school, the original Capture One system.
- Directory based: you move files around between directories (using Capture One).
- Designed for a studio session environment.
- Designed for a single project/shooting session.
- Not very flexible.
- New school, showing up originally in version 6.
- Database driven with flexible ways to store and organize your images.
- Can be used in a variety of ways: very flexible.
- Similar to Lightroom, only way better.
- Can import individual sessions for hybrid workflows.
- Can be used for individual projects or be long running.
My recommendation is that most people, especially casual photographers is to use Catalogs. Some shooters (who probably aren’t reading this) may have an established workflow built around sessions. Other photographers with specific needs might find that a hybrid Sessions + Catalog system is ideal.
Once Upon a Time: Sessions
Sessions are the original Capture One way of doing things. A Session (with a capital “S”) is designed to be used for one session of photography. So, each time someone comes to your studio for head shots, you begin a new Capture One Session.
A Capture One Session lives in a directory of your choosing. Think of this directory is the Name of the Session. Capture One Sessions have a number of subfolders that Capture One uses for different things:
- Capture Subfolder – Incoming images (from teathered shooting or import) go here.
- Selects Subfolder – Images that are “selected” get moved here.
- Output Subfolder – Exports you create end up here.
- Trash Subfolder – Things you delete go here.
You can use the default folder names, or modify them. You will also have to pick a Capture Name (which defaults to the name of the Session). This is what files brought in via tethered shooting get named.
At their heart Sessions are designed to work with folders on your computer’s hard drives. You can do things like reassign the 4 folders above by right clicking on any folder under the Systems Folders area of the Library tool panel.
I didn’t spend much time on Sessions because they are the wrong choice for most people. I will spend way more on Catalogs.
The Modern Thing: Catalogs
Catalogs (note the capital “C”) can be used in a number of ways depending on your needs. You can create a monolithic catalog. That is, you can have one catalog that exists forever that you just keep adding too. Many Lightroom users will find this familiar since it is the default way Lightroom operates. Of course, Capture One is more flexible that Lightroom and you can easily create as many Catalogs as you want. You can open as many as you want at the same time without a lengthy and slow shutdown/restart. Catalogs in Capture One are like word documents. Open one, or two or ten. It doesn’t matter. That makes it easy to break your images up into smaller chunks.
There are three ways I generally see people use Catalogs:
- Monolithic: Use one large catalog forever. Great for casual shooters that don’t take to many photos (less than 5,000/year).
- Semi-Monolithic: Create a new catalog every so often (every year, or maybe per subject: travel, pets, etc). Great of casual shooters that take many photos (greater than 5,000/year).
- Project Based: Create a new catalog for every shoot you do. Great for professional photographers or anyone making a huge number of photos (> 50,000) each year that need a consistent workflow.
I personally use a Project Based workflow. Most people reading this should probably start with a Monolithic or Semi-Monolithic workflow. In a later post, we will dive into each type in more detail, so stay tuned.
Capture One Catalogs Under the Hood
At it’s heart, a Capture One Catalog is just a glorified directory. Those of you on Windows will see it as just a directory with some stuff inside it. To open the Catalog you go into it and double click on the .codatabase file. Mac users will see it as a Capture One Catalog file, but if they right click (option-click) and pick “Show Package Contents” they will see the same stuff inside. On a Mac it is just a directory that looks like a file.
A Capture One Catalog is just a directory… You can move it, copy it and back it up like any other directory on your computer.
Inside that directory are a few directories and a database file. In general, you shouldn’t mess with any of this. However, note that there is normally an “Originals” folder. If you use “Inside Catalog” as the storage location for your images, they live under that directory. In the event of a serious problem (I haven’t had one since versions 6 and we are on 11 now) you can always rescue them from there manually without Capture One’s help.
Flexible Image Storage Options
Capture One Catalogs offer a couple of different modes of storage for your images. You pick the mode you want to use for each import. You can easily move files from one folder to another or into or out of “inside the catalog” storage.
The storage modes to choose from are:
- Inside Catalog
- Choose Folder
- Current Location
Each of these modes has different use cases. Lets talk about them one by one.
Inside catalog means that Capture One copies the images to the “Originals” folder hidden inside the Catalog directory. It manages the details and makes sure there are no collisions if files end up being named the same thing. When looking at the library tool panel, you can see how many files are stored this way under Folders:In Catalog.
You can view just those images by click that line. And finally, you can move files into the catalog if there were imported to a different location by selecting the photos and dragging them to In Catalog under the Library tool panel. Easy.
I use Inside Catalog exclusively with my Project Based Catalogs. Each catalog is for one shoot. It is self contained and can easily be moved off my laptop when I’m done with it.
Those of you coming from the Lightroom world will find this mode familiar since it is really the only workable way to use Lightroom. Capture One’s way is more flexible. If you select “Choose Folder” in the import dialog (or pick a previously chosen folder from the list), you can then build a Sub Folder from the image and catalog meta data.
You can, for example, easily put the imported images under your computer’s Picture folder in a subfolder by image date, or by import date, or by camera serial number, or location, or focus length or any combination of the metadata your heart desires.
So, if you have a current structure for your raw files, you can probably make Capture One store newly imported RAW files right along side your existing images easily the same way. You can also design your own structure to fit your shooting style.
Folders you add this way will show up in the library Panel under the Folders section. Each partition (hard drive, network share, memory card) will show up as a top level heading with the folders under it beside “In Catalog.”
Current location does what you would expect: It leave the image files where they are and just associates them with the catalog. The directory they live in gets added to the list under the Library tool panel Folders section just like for the “Choose Folder” option above.
If you import your images manually now, or you have an existing directory structure you want to import, this is the right option for you. However, if you manually import your images (i.e. copy them off the card my hand) consider “Choose Folder” above and see if you can make it do the work for you. Computers are great at stuff like that and you can do something more interesting like plan your next photo trip.
Capture One knows if the locations you are importing from is a memory card. If it is, Current Location is not available. There is a good reason for this: If you accidentally import photos from a memory card using “Current Location” and then clear the card, your images are lost. Current Location is specifically designed to attach to files already on your computer or other permanent storage (external hard drive, network drive, etc) in the right location.
Flexible Workflow Design – Moving Stuff Around
I mentioned using Catalogs in different ways at the start of this section: Monolithic, Semi-monolithic, and Project Based. That is one way Capture One is flexible. Beyond that, you can easily shift files around your computer inside Capture One using Catalogs.
What do you do when your hard drive is full?
Those of you that shoot a small number of files each year (say, less than 5,000) won’t have to worry about this for a while if ever. However, anyone that takes more than that will run out of space on their main hard drive pretty quick. That begs the questions, how to you manage hard drive space in Capture One?
The answer to that question is tied up in workflow design so we are only going to brush on it here. Look for a more in depth workflow related post in the future.
Lets say you use a Monolithic catalog and you import images with “Inside Catalog” or “Choose Folder” to a sub-directory of your local “Pictures” folder (something like Pictures/2018-09-01 Party/, etc). Now, its a year down the road and your hard drive is getting full. How can you move the older images to an external or network drive?
This is actually pretty easy. The first step (if you haven’t already done it) is to add the destination folder to the Library tool panel. Select the “+” icon next to Folders and then select the destination directory. It can be an external hard drive or a network drive. Just make sure either is connected before you try to add the folder. If your file explorer (Finder or Explorer) can see it, Capture One can add it.
Once you’ve added the folder, simple select all the photos you want from the image browser on the right and drag them to the new destination. Capture One will warn you that the operation can’t be undone, which is expected. You probably want to create a subfolder on the destination in this case (something for the subject you are moving, such as the day it was captured).
To get a little more sophisticated, and especially if you used “Choose Folder” and created date based subfolders, select the folder you want to move under the Library tool panel Folders area and simply drag it to the new location in the same area. Capture One will move the entire folder.
It is simple to shift things off your local hard drive. When the drive is connected, you will see a green “light” next to the top level item under the Library tool panel Folders section. Note it above next to “Macintosh HD”. When a drive is disconnected, the light will be red. If you plug in the drive or connect the network drive, the light will turn green and you can work with those files.
That’s A Wrap
We’ve only scratched the surface of Catalogs. Hopefully you can tell the difference between Sessions and Catalogs and see why Catalogs are my recommended go to. As I referenced a number of time, I’m working on an entire workflow series where we’ll explore different ways to use Capture One.
He is a self taught experiential learner who is addicted to the possibilities that new (to him) gear open up. He loves to share the things he has worked out. Andrew started with a passion for landscape and night photography and quickly branched out to work in just about every form of photography. He is an ex-software developer with extensive experience in the IT realm.