I use a project based workflow. Every single photo shoot ends up in its own catalog. I use Capture One’s Inside Catalog as my storage location, so my catalog directories are self contained. With a little forethought, Lightroom users can do the same. Setting up a project based workflow is easy.
For a more in depth discussion of what a project based workflow is, and its pros and cons, check out my article on workflow design.
Setting Up a Project Based Workflow
The process of setting up a project based workflow is pretty straight forward.
- Pick a project naming scheme.
- Decide where incomplete catalogs and RAW files will live.
- Decide were complete catalogs and RAW files will live.
- Create a master archive structure using your project naming scheme.
Project Naming: What’s In A Name?
Before we go any further, lets talk about project names. If you are using a project based workflow, you have decided to break your photography into discrete units called “projects.” You need a way to identify each project: a project name. That project name becomes the unique identifier for that project.
My project names include the start date of the project and a short description. I use project names like this: 2018-10-31 John and Sarah Wedding at Chapel on the Hill.
The name starts with the date in year-month-day format like this: 2018-10-31. The date format is important because it allows you to see your catalogs in date order in any file manager. If you use the normal (and dumb) American format of month-day-year things will be all mixed up.
The second part of the the name is a description of the project. In the case of a wedding, it is usually just the couples name and the venue name. In the case of a trip it is usually something like Costa Rica Vacation. For other things, I try to be descriptive. Here so are some of the incomplete catalogs in my Working Catalogs directory:
- 2018-07-18 Birds in Murphy Park
- 2018-09-20 La Jolla Cove Diving
- 2018-09-29 Olympus Raptor Day
- 2018-10-29 Halloween Dogs for Taylor Animal Shelter
If you are using Capture One, these project names get used to name the catalog. If you are a Lightroom user, they are used to name the top level directory where things live. You should also use your project name to separate exported images in your master archive as well.
The key is to use the project name consistently.
Organizing Your Catalogs
Once you know how you will name your projects, it is time to start importing your images into project based catalogs.
In Capture One
Capture One allows you to store images in a number of different ways. I suggest Inside Catalog for project based workflows. It keeps everything together and takes care of all the details.
I name my Capture One catalogs exactly the same as the project name. For example, if I photograph dogs in Halloween costumers for the Taylor Animal Shelter, I name the catalog 2018-10-29 Halloween Dogs for Taylor Animal Shelter. Here are some of the catalogs currently waiting to be finished in my Working Catalogs directory:
Inside Catalog storage creates self contained catalogs and leaves all the details of where to put images files up to Capture One. You can move the catalog pretty much anywhere and the remain usable and self contained. You never need to re-located images. When you complete a catalog, it is trivial to move it to external storage to free up space.
On Windows, when you create a catalog, Capture One makes a directory named for the catalog and places its .cocatalogdb file inside it . There are a couple of directories inside there also: Adjustments, Originals and Cache.
On Mac it does the same thing, except that OS-X has a special type of folder called a “Package” that looks like a file in Finder. On Mac, a Capture One catalog directory looks like a catalog file. You can see the internals by option-clicking and selecting “show package contents”.
Inside they are the same and you can move catalogs back and forth between Windows and OS-X easily.
Lightroom’s default setup is to create it’s catalog DB called Lightroom Catalog.lrdat under your Pictures/Lightroom folder. That Lightroom folder is the catalog folder. You can choose another each time your create a catalog. Most people start their first Lightroom catalog with the “Use Default” button the first time Lightroom starts.
Lightroom includes a couple of options for how to organize imported images. By far the best is By Date. If you pick your catalog folder (Lightroom in the default case) it saves images in folders by date under the catalog folder.
For a project based catalog, we are going to create a new catalog by choosing “Choose a Different Catalog” and then clicking the “Create A New Catalog…”. Name the new catalog the same as the project name, for example 2018-10-29 Halloween Dogs for Taylor Animal Shelter. You will still import photos by date.
John’s Project Based Workflow in Lightroom
Let’s assume John, our photographer, photographs weddings. Each wedding he will create a new catalog, and therefore will have it’s own top level directory under his Pictures folder. Each folder will contain a a .lrcat file (the Lightroom catalog file) and date based directories containing the images files.
Your structure will look like this:
- 2018-06-12 Sam and Jessica Wedding/
- 2018-06-12 Sam and Jessica Wedding.lrcat
- …RAW files here…
- 2018-07-03 Rachel and Aaron Wedding/
- 2018-07-03 Rachel and Aaron Wedding.lrcat
- …RAW files live here…
- 2018-07-04 4th of July Fireworks/
- 2018-07-04 4th of July Fireworks.lrcat
- …RAW files live here…
- 2018-07-22 Samantha and Ken Wedding/
- 2018-07-22 Samantha and Ken Wedding.lrcat
- …RAW files live here…
- 2018-06-12 Sam and Jessica Wedding/
Even though John mostly photographs weddings, he also takes pictures for fun. Each of these photo shoots becomes a top level catalog also. For example, 2018-07-04 4th of July Fireworks is a separate catalog.
With your Lightroom catalogs set up this way, you can treat them more or less like I treat mine in Capture One.
In Other Tools
Every tool is different but most will work with a directory structure similar to Lightroom’s. Create a top level directory using the project name and then store the images inside date based sub-directories inside it. Because many tools are not catalog based, it is up to you to manage how things are stored.
Using a structure like the one suggested for Lightroom will work with almost any tool. You could even use it with Capture One if you wanted to make things more complicated than it’s super easy Inside Catalog storage system.
Master Archive Images
With a project based workflow, a master archive is a necessity. The final step I go through when completing a catalog is to export an archive JPG copy of any image I flagged as 1 star or higher. A master archive lets you easily find past work without having to access the catalogs. Because a master archive holds JPGs, it is much smaller than the source catalogs and can usually live on your main hard drive.
How you export your master archive images will depend on the application you use to manage your master archive. There are lots of options, but an obvious one is Google Photos which allows easy cloud searching and sharing. Look for an upcoming blog post on using Google Photos as a master archive.
Currently I use an open source application called Digikam.
By consistently using the project name, everything is tied together. It also gives me one easy way to search for pasts projects. In Digikam I can search the album names for keywords like “Wedding”. Most of the time, the JPGs are good enough for what I need: blogging, social sharing. If I need the RAW files, it is easy to find the catalogs thanks to consistently using project names.
One of the great things about a project based catalog is that you can finish each catalog. Whether it is a wedding or a trip or just photographing around your home, you have a (relatively) small number of photos. You can cull, edit and export the images in a reasonable amount of time and then you are done with that catalog. Normally, you never need to look at it again.
I store incomplete catalogs in a directory called Working Catalogs on my desktop. Once I complete a catalog I move it from my Working Catalogs directory to a folder on a network hard drive. When a drive fills up (and I’ve filled a couple) I simply start another one.
If you are using Capture One with Inside Catalog as your storage location, it is trivial to move the completed catalog off your primary hard drive. If you are using the structure I suggest for Lightroom (and other directory based tools), move the entire project directory to your external drive.
Wrapping It Up
Setting up a project based workflow is simple. Start right, establish simple habits and you won’t need to change anything for years. You can even switch tools without a problem.
Andrew is a photography instructor teaching students of all skill levels in Austin, TX through Precision Camera and independently in San Diego, CA. He runs workshops around the United States.
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.
Andrew is a full time wedding and commercial photographer in both Austin and San Diego. Andrew is a club founder and multi-time past president of North Austin Pfotographic Society.