Lightroom, the popular software for photographers is essentially a photo-centric database with extensive abilities to accumulate instructions to show the photographs through various adjustments. All of this information is kept in Lightroom database, which we all know as the “catalog.” There are a couple of areas not related to photographic processing in Lightroom that need clarification and better understanding all around. In this post I will try to provide explanations and offer alternatives in organizing photographs.
The first thing that needs clarification is the term “import” into Lightroom. Truth be told, Lightroom does not import anything in the sense that “it contains” photographs. A better choice for this term would probably be “to catalog” the photographs, during which Lightroom “may optionally copy or move” the photographs to a different location than where they currently reside. As far as Lightroom is concerned the photographs may reside on an internal disk, multiple internal disks, external drives, on CDs or DVDs, or any combination of them. As part of its “cataloging” process, Lightroom includes in its database where each photograph resides. So, the destination of the photographs is more for the photographer’s convenience rather than that of Lightroom.
The next question is where to store the photographs. By design Lightroom catalogs cannot reside on a network drive and shared, it is not designed to handle multiple users accessing the database. But, the photographs can be stores on a network drive, or an external drive. The factors that should be considered before making a commitment are as follows:
- Speed. Internal drives will be faster in this area as they are accessed at bus speeds. External drives, USB, FireWire, or NAS (Network Attached Storage) devices will degrade speed
- Accessibility. Accessing the photographs from different computers on the network may be important for some users. As I mentioned before, Lightroom is not designed to handle multiple users accessing the photo files simultaneously. However, you may have more than one computer from which you do the photo ingesting, editing, printing where accessing the photo files, not Lightroom catalogs, may be important to you. In that case, you may want to store the photo files on a drive that can be shared on the network or you may want to use a NAS device
- Portability. You may want to be able to carry your entire collection of photographs on a portable drive and connect it to practically any computer with the same version of Lightroom installed and work on them. In that case you may want to store your photographs and your Lightroom catalog on an external drive connected through a USB or FireWire connection
For most users option 1 will be the best option since all or parts of a catalog can be exported as a new catalog and stored on an external drive to be carried as needed. The speed advantage is definitely a plus for internal storage option and you should consider the fastest drive for your catalog and your photographs. I have recently added an SSD (Solid State Drive) on my desktop and moved my Lightroom catalog there and the speed difference is noticeable. If it were more affordable I would consider putting my photographs on SSD as well but at current prices it would be too much of a luxury.
If you are considering storing your photo files, and maybe even your Lightroom catalog you do so knowing full well that Lightroom will slow down due to slower data transfer rates. If you really need to do this, use the fastest external connection you have. USB 2 will be the slowest but is available on all connects to computers. However, adding an internal USB 3 card will give you a significant boost compared to USB 2. FireWire comes in different speeds with FireWire 800 being the faster option although still slightly slower than USB 3 connections. The emerging technology Thunderbolt needs to mature and become more mainstream and affordable compared to the other alternatives.
Another external storage option is a NAS device which will be accessed on the local area network, preferably using a cabled connection for best performance. The best part is their accessibility from any computer on the same network with no speed degradation. Another advantage they offer is at the time of upgrading computers which will make these drives and their content instantly visible after adding or replacing a computer. These devices tend to be more expensive than USB or FireWire drives and require setup and configuration. An alternative to NAS device is to share a local drive on the local area network so that it can be accessed from other computers. There are some speed degradation concerns that are beyond the scope of this post.
Now you know your storage options make a choice considering what is important to you. In a future post I will address the issue of the folder structure options and present factors affecting the choices.