A Lightroom 5 Oddity | Management Fun


I don’t regret moving from Aperture to Lightroom. At least not from a processing standpoint. Lightroom’s built-in tools have all become second nature and it has also opened up possibilities that, so far, aren’t offered on Apple’s somewhat lingering software. The VSCO products obviously come to mind. There's also quite a bit that I've come to appreciate along the way, tiny things here and there that I'd miss if I were ever to switch away to something else. 

I’m not dissing Aperture btw. Apple took a long time to support the X-Trans sensor but they did a great job of it; much better than Adobe in my book. The recent release of Logic X is, I believe, a clear sign of things to come. For now however, it’s very long in the tooth and I can understand developers taking a wait and see approach to a platform that may be seeing some fundamental structural changes in the near-future. Well, fingers crossed.

Once in awhile however I run into an aspect of Lightroom’s interface that leaves me wondering what in the heck Adobe engineers were thinking. Or not thinking. Case in point: I decided to do a bit of tidying up this week, in preparation for upcoming projects. Over the past few months I’d sometimes been using an Eye-Fi card to send images directly to my iMac (which, btw isn’t something I recommend unless you enjoy temperamental technology, but I digress), the card was set-up to upload the files to a watched folder, a folder that triggers an Auto-Import in Lightroom. When you use this function you also need to specify a destination folder to which the files will be moved. So far so good. But unfortunately, you can’t use an automatic date-based subfolder preset the way you can in the main Import dialog — which means all those files end up on one level, in one main destination folder. Bit of a mess.


Now, in Lightroom you can use the metadata pane to browse everything by date, no matter where the files actually reside on your drives, so this isn’t the end of the world. But I’ve made it a habit to keep files physically sorted on my system using either Library-Year/Date (for unassigned, general images) or Library-Year/Project/Date nomenclatures. This makes backing up much easier for one thing and it also allows me to easily browse a single shoot within Lightroom itself, by quickly right-clicking and selecting Go to Folder in Library, no matter where I am in the interface.

Anyway, long story short: I had close to 1500 personal files from the past 6 months or so, all bunched together in this single destination folder, and I decided to dive in and put everything where it should be. In Aperture I would’ve:

1) Selected the files.

2) Chosen Relocate Originals from the File menu, assigning the proper subfolder naming convention from the dialog window.

Boom — done. 

One window. One step.

Life's never that easy

I quickly realized, much to my dismay, that Lightroom doesn’t include tools to do any of this. You can reconnect offline stuff but this involves moving the files yourself in the Finder, having LR go whaaa?… Not ideal at all. There’s no way that I found to select 1000 files and just say: “Move these here and sort them in folders by date”. The only time you can do this is during the initial import phase. Sure, you can drag stuff around into new folders within the Lightroom interface but it’s all manual labour. I didn’t really look forward to start sifting through the files, selecting them by hand and creating date folders myself for every single shoot. It’s 2013 for Pete’s sake.

Since the only way to force Lightroom into creating subfolders was during the import phase, I figured I could delete and re-import all the files that needed sorting. A little scary. I had to make sure I wouldn’t lose the processing work I’d done on some of them either. So, in case anyone out there runs into a similar situation, here’s the method I used — it’s messy but it works:

1) Go to the specific folder in Lightroom and select all files.

2) Hit Command-S (Mac) or choose Metadata>Save Metadata to File. The metadata will either be embedded or saved in a sidecar file. This INCLUDES THE DEVELOP SETTINGS. Super important.

3) Once this is done, hit delete. Yes, the delete key. Lightroom will ask if you want to Delete from Disk or Remove from the catalog. Choose REMOVE (you don’t want to delete those files from the drive!).

4) With all of these gone and forgotten, click Import and navigate to the folder containing everything you just deleted from your catalog. Lightroom will automatically pre-select all the images that aren’t currently in your library, which should be all of them.

5) Make sure to choose Move as the import method and then choose Into Subfolder from the Destination pane on the right. Select the type of organization you want. I always rename my files on import (with a code+date scheme) but since all of them had been renamed already, I deselected this option.

6) Hit Import.

Lightroom will re-import the files, sort them into subfolders according to date, both on your drive and in the interface. It will also read the saved metadata and everything will be as it was, including any processing work done on the images. Boom!... Ok, not so much.

Did I miss something?

As I said, the method works. But… Really? Shouldn’t there be a simpler, less traumatic way of doing this at version 5 of a major piece of asset management software? Anytime you need to go through a deletion process to get something done, someone has been sleeping at the wheel. It should never be part of file management unless those files are actually headed for the great shredder in the sky. Too many things could go wrong along the way and stress is never a pleasant thing.

If I’m wrong about this entire process and I’ve missed a saner option, please let me know. I’d love to be proven wrong on this one. If I’m not then I hope this will at least help someone else with a similar problem.

Have a great weekend.