Lightroom is a tremendous image editing and organization tool, and it’s all based around the application’s unique catalog system. It stores image files in a normal folder hierarchy outside of the application and uses a catalog file to generate preview images and save image adjustments as metadata information. It provides agility when working with large quantities of high-resolution image files, which can be cumbersome. Take control over this challenge to speed up Lightroom’s performance and make the most of editing and organizing with these five useful tips for working with Lightroom catalogs.
Create a New Lightroom Catalog
Speed up Lightroom by creating a new catalog. When the image files in your catalog tally in the tens of thousands, consider dividing the catalogs to streamline its processes. If the application seems to be running slower than usual, consider creating a new catalog. In theory, the catalog size shouldn’t have much impact on speed for an average user, but I recently found Lightroom’s performance lagging noticeably in a catalog that reached nearly half a million images. I created a brand-new catalog, and guess what? Now Lightroom runs lightning fast again.
To create a new catalog, simply click New Catalog atop the File menu, and then give the catalog a name and location. Best of all, when I want to find an image from my old catalog, switching is a cinch. Just navigate to the File menu and choose Open or Open Recent and in a few seconds, the application will reload with your preferred catalog loaded. In Lightroom’s preferences, you can select which catalog loads when the application is opened, setting it to open with the most recently used catalog or to prompt you to choose every time.
Backup the Catalog on an External Drive
Maintain a backup of the catalog on an external drive, and set your catalog preferences to back up on every exit. The catalog file contains all of the metadata about how you like your RAW image files to appear—everything from cropping to white balance and more. These data, along with information about favorites and ranked and rated images, much less keywording and other metadata, all go missing if you lose your catalog. So, choose the option to regularly back up your catalog to an external drive, and customize the frequency with which it updates.
Do this in the Catalog Settings menu option, and choose from Daily, Weekly or Monthly options to backup on exit, or to set Lightroom to backup the catalog every time the application exits, or one time on its next exit. To be clear, though, this backup doesn’t duplicate the actual image files. Those you’ll still need to backup separately. This backup is simply the catalog data used in editing and organizing those image files.
Store Your Lightroom Catalog on a Local Drive
Speaking of external drives, make sure your catalog (not the image files themselves, but the catalog file) is stored on a local drive. Lightroom runs slower if it has to retrieve the catalog from a slower connection that comes with external drives. The ideal approach is to put Lightroom and its catalog in the Pictures folder on your computer, no matter where you store the image files. (I find, however, it’s useful to store the primary copy of the catalog and the image files in the same folder location.)
Adjust Preview Settings
Preview settings are adjustable, and can also speed up or slow down your Lightroom workflow. In Catalog Settings, under the File Handling header, choose the pixel size of your previews, their image quality (Low, Medium or High) and how long those previews should be stored. Consider choosing larger preview sizes to match a higher-resolution 5k monitor, but otherwise, Lightroom’s automatic size and medium quality offers a good balance of size to quality without slowing down the system or filling up your drives. I like to throw out previews after 30 days, but you may prefer to rid yourself of previews sooner depending on your workflow. Definitely, though, make sure to dispose of them at some point or the application will more quickly bog down.
Customize How the Catalog Handles Metadata
You can customize how the catalog handles image metadata. If you’d care to create sidecar files that can be output alongside RAW images, check the Automatically Write Changes to XMP option in the Metadata tab of the Catalog Settings window. This will put your develop settings right into the DNG files or XMP sidecar files, which is useful particularly if Lightroom crashes and corrupts catalog data as the image files themselves contain the develop settings. Choosing the XMP sidecar option does slow down performance, though, as all of the edits you make are written to the file as you work.