DAM PCs: Configuring Adobe Lightroom for Dad

I spent 2 days of my vacation configuring Adobe Lightroom on my dad’s laptop. We are members of a unique generation, having been forced the hard way to learn how to coddle and configure computers, our parents are totally dependent upon us to ensure that they can send jokes and urban legend links to their retired friends. Our kids use Macs, and don’t need to know how they work, and don’t care.

Configuring Lightroom on my own PC in Feb 07, and actively using it ever since gave me some painful but useful lessons in Digital Asset Management (DAM), that were reinforced thru my experiences helping Dad actually make use of his year old license. He didn’t feel sufficiently motivated to do more than dabble with it, relying on Bridge CS3, although he actually has over 10,000 digital images. Believe me, if you have over 10K photos, you need some sort of DAM software. And you need to be comfortable with the way computers work in order to plan your asset management strategy (and fix it when you get it wrong).

Starting from a Mess

Over the years, Dad had been collecting external hard drives like baseball cards.When I arrived, he had 3 of them connected to his laptop–1 for ‘up to 2006’, 1 for ‘mostly 2007’ and 1 for ‘mostly 2008’. Some directories were duplicated, but nothing was actually backed up. When I finally finished, he had a coherent storage process, and a consistent backup process.

Consolidating and Simplifying

We bought an additional external drive (yes, a 4th one), so we’d have one for a backup. We retired 2 of the drives, making sure that the H: drive had copies of all the pictures, and the backup drive, in conjunction with the two smaller retired drives, between them had a copy of all the pictures, too. I took the biggest drive, and consolidated all the pictures on it, creating directories:

H:\2006
H:\2007
H:\2007
H:\SubjectX
H:\SubjectY
H:\SubjectZ

The last 3 names are just meant to represent several subject specific directories that I created for themes Dad repeats consistently. A series of event directories ended up in each of the years, which is the same system I use. I’ve found its reasonably easy to locate specific events and subjects, even if I have 50 or so a year. People who shoot hundreds of pages a day, and have bunches of subjects, usually setup Lightroom to automatically download files into the hierarchy Year\Month\Date. It really doesn’t matter how you organize files on your hard drive, because Lightroom mostly hides those implementation details from you. Just be consistent so you can access them outside of Lightroom if you need them.

Importing Into Lightroom’s Catalog

At this point, I made a tactical error. Instead of importing everything on H:\ into Lightroom, I imported each of the directories on H:\. This meant that it was impossible to create any directory at the top level, at least using the Navigator in Lightroom (yes, I can think of several ways to do it, but why burden Dad with that?). So I rearranged the catalog such that it started at the top of the drive. Now Dad can periodically right click on H:\ in the Navigator, choose ‘Synchronize,’ and be sure that no matter what he might of have done in Bridge, it’ll get picked up and incorporated.

The New Photo Download Process

To download pictures, Dad connects both the backup and the H: drive to his laptop. I configured Adobe Lightroom so that it automatically starts the Import process whenever a Flash card is inserted. Dad chooses the directory he wants the files imported into, and leaves the rest of the configuration alone. Its set to copy the files onto his H: drive, and copy a backup onto the other external drive. When he’s done, he disconnects the backup drive. He’s under strict instructions to not do any editing of files on that drive.

He leaves the keyword field blank. Or at least that’s what I told him to do. I find that its far too easy to inadvertently leave keywords from a previous import, putting spurious meta data into your pictures. Keyword in Grid View after you’ve got them all imported. That’s one of the tricks to Lightroom, making sure that you’ve put enough meta data into your pictures so that you can find them. I’ve got a bunch of presets for setting location, and a couple for setting the creator field. I can locate everything I’ve done for the past 5 years by country, state/county, and (usually) city. I keyword them heavily. Personally, I like to give them unique names that at least summarize the place or event, but I try not to rely on file names as a way to locate files. Its just too clumsy.

Because Dad still anticipates making heavy use of Bridge, I setup Lightroom so that it always makes XMP sidecar files for his NIKON RAW files. This way, Bridge and Lightroom can share the same ACR settings, along with keywords, color labels, etc. (Using DNG would arguably be cleaner, but that’s another discussion.)

When I left, Dad was sorting thru his pictures, tagging them and occasionally moving them–all within Lightroom. He can easily sort them by time (no, I didn’t show him how to edit the capture time of scanned photos), and is well on his way towards finding his favorites based on rating, and subject. Once you’ve done the planning, config, and initial import, your most of the way there. As long as you discipline yourself to put in the meta data, you, and your descendents, will always be able to find the right photo.

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