How Do Real Estate Photographers Manage Their Files With Lightroom?

October 26th, 2014

LRorganizationReader Randall in Pennsylvania  asked the following question this last week:

I’m just getting started using Lightroom and I was wondering how other real estate photographers are managing their files. For example are they creating one catalogue file per year or per project? Where are they storing the catalogue files, locally or on the external drive with the photos?  In the past I have been putting all of my photos taken for my real estate photography business onto one dedicated external drive. I create folders for each year and then subfolders for each project by State, City, Street address, then subfolders entitled > As shot > Selected > Processed > Published > Hi Res > Low Res. I was wondering what file structure others use for maintaining their photos.

I can tell you what I do. Although, I don’t claim that it’s optimal. How you organize depends some on what volume of shoots you do. Also, too many, organization is very personal. Here’s how I use Lightroom:
  1. I have a folder for each year and within that folder I have a subfolder for each shoot named so that the folder name has both the date and the address. If I do an RE shoot it might be called 2014-10-23-5889Montevallo.
  2. I keep everything I shoot in a given year in that Lightroom year folder.
  3. I keep one or more years on an external drive. For the current year, that I work with most I use an external SSD so Lightroom runs fast.
  4. Each drive has its own Lightroom catalogue.
  5. For real estate shoots, all the finished photos that are delivered to the client are in a collection that has is named with the address of the property and the date of the shoot.
  6. Also, each client has their own collection that has each shoots I’ve done for that client as a sub-collection in the client collection.
  7. I keep two backups of every Lightroom external disk, one off site. The current disk I backup every night.
I’ve used this same basic organization ever since I started to use Lightroom and I’m pretty happy with it. I’ve included a Lightroom Import tutorial above by Simon Maxwell that has a lot of good information about importing images into Lightroom. How do organize you shoots in Lightroom?
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14 Responses to “How Do Real Estate Photographers Manage Their Files With Lightroom?”

  • I have a folder for each client and subfolders (by address) for each site. So far, no separate catalog for RE but that’s coming. I’m just getting getting RE work moving so no yearly folder yet either. I work on an external HD and back up to a different external HD. In Oklahoma, we have storms so if I have to head to the storm shelter (we have one in the garage), I unplug the drives and take them with me.

  • What I do:

    When I get back from shooting I upload (copy) my Cards to the Work Folders in a specific format like this Date-Client-Project Name/Job or anything relevant. I do that for each Project/Job. Card goes into the “Used for Now” box, files still there.

    Then I import in Lightroom which is set to create sidecar files for every raw. I do my things in LR, then after job is being delivered I export a Folder Catalog and delete the Folder from LR Main catalog. Then I move the folder to the LIMBO Drive (RAID10) in one folder WORK or WORK_NOT_Invoiced, based by situation. The Paid jobs get at the payment time to the ARCHIVE (RAID10).

    Cards in the “used for Now” box get reused a few days later. Jobs in LIMBO need to be Paid or Invoiced, once they get paid they move to Archive. When Archive_01 is full, it’s replaced with Archive_02 and so on.

    The WORK drive is SSD 128 MBytes – for a reason. Need to finish jobs fast to keep space empty and clients happy :). LIMBO is a 512 SSD in RAID replicated. Archive are HardDrives in Cabinets (Sans Digital) connected eSata. Once filled, they are physically disconnected and moved to a storage safe I have. I didn’t buy that, came with the house, previous owner stored guns in it I guess. Came in handy… I write on the ARCHIVE Cabinet with a Sharpie First and Last Date of the archived folders so I know what is what. From time to time (once a month) I power them up so the HDDs move a bit.

    That’s pretty much it.

  • I use own folders to all my properties. First, i make main folder, name is year,month and date + address (141026 Korvenkatu 60). With this i can keep them cronological order.
    After this i make sub folder “raw”, where i transfer my pictures from my card. Then i make new project name by address inside of this main folder.After i have make pictures ready, i will export those to sub folder “ready”.

    So i will have main folder and sub folders raw, ready and project folder. After i dont need pictures, ican delete whole folder or only raw pictures/ project if i want save ready pictures.

  • I like the idea of including the year in the file name. While I archive on a yearly basis, last year was difficult. Was relying on Windows dating the folder as created but ran into a problem when I replaced/upgraded my hard drive. The folder creation date didn’t clone over but the date of the clone was attached to all existing folders. Also made the mistake of archiving outside of Lightroom with the much simpler cut/paste of folders using Windows Explorer to the external drive. Lightroom of course revolted as it couldn’t find the files so had to replace them back, then use Lightroom. Lesson learned. One other thing I do to save hard drive space is 1 Star that that will probably never use and after project completion, delivery and payment, delete the 1 Stars from both Lightroom and the computer. Only reason I keep them that long is some components of the “bad” lighting/exposure could be used for masking.

    Don’t include client’s name in folder, but that is part of my delivery system as each have their own folder with the address becoming the subfolder. Also switching delivery from Dropbox to Zenfolio (my weekend project) which will allow a longer term archive – unlimited vs 16MB on the free version of Dropbox. Granted I could pay for the upgraded Dropbox with a higher limit, but for about the same price can potentially generate more sales – realtors generating photobooks to give to clients along with referral request – but also used for other photographic events that are not pre-paid like RE. Will begin testing Zenfolio with a couple of good clients this week to work out issues before a full rollout.

  • In the Pictures folder on my iMac, I have separate folders for each month (“2014-10”). Within each monthly folder, there are separate folders for each property shot (“20141027 64 Croyden Rd Roleystone”), and each contain the photos (“IMG_8116.CR2” (and “IMG_8116.psd” if PS was used)), the Lightroom catalog directory (“64 Croyden” which contains “64 Croyden.lrcat” and “64 Croyden Previews.lrdata” plus others that are generated when the catalog is open) and the output files (“HiRes” and “Web”) containing the respective files sent to the agent (“141027_8116_HiRes.jpg” and “141027_8116_Web.jpg” generated as part of the export process – the zip files are also located here).

    So, all source and generated files relating to a property can be easily located, worked on, copied and backed up from within a single directory (/Pictures/2014-10/20141027 64 Croyden Rd Roleystone”). Once backed up adequately, I can free up space on my computer’s hard drive by simply removing 2014-10 – on average, that means between 200 and 300Gb for each month. One catalog file per year (some have one catalog for EVERYTHING) is unwieldy and if it’s corrupted, it can take a lot of time and effort to regenerate. Separate months means freeing up space is a breeze (remember to back up to multiple HDDs and to store some of them off-site) and separate catalogs per property means it’s easy to find and load each property.

  • I don’t see anyone mentioning keywording. Using keywords expands the sortable function in LR 100x. Keywording is beyond the use of collections and benefits most if all your files are in one catalog.

    Date shot is a of course a sortable field intrinsically. Adding the street number, NSEW street, city or neighborhood (if appropriate), time of day (sunrise/set), client and other significant info like house type to the keyword box when you import is like a one shot instant memory bank. One can then by opening keyword see if you’ve visited in an area or by creating a filter selection even a set make a quick collection very easily.

  • I do keywording for the final set (that’s mentioned in the “I do my thing in LR”). Just make sure you have your sidecars xmps on, or export a DNG version of the set, otherwise once you delete the job from the main catalog, your keywords are byebye

  • Excellent idea, Dan. Sometimes obvious things slip right by. Thank you!

  • I create a new folder on my computer for each job with a title of “YYYYMMDD NNNN Street”. I don’t worry about the city name. I upload the contents of my memory card to that folder. I use one card/job if I have multiple jobs on one day. In LR, I open my “Community” directory first if I know I have taken some community photos and process those first. I will then create a new directory for the job in the folder with the images and a backup directory is set in preferences to another drive. When I import the images, I have a preset to apply lens corrections automatically. I add keywords for the street, city, agent/customer, year, month. After selecting and processing the images, I export images for the job using presets. If I have an image that I plan to put in my portfolio, I export that as a .dng to my portfolio folder, open my portfolio catalog and import the new picture.

    The one thing I may start doing is keywording based on the image. ie, kitchen, living, master bath, etc. I haven’t to date due to massive laziness.

  • I basically follow Ken’s structure, including the naming scheme of the folder and keywording. The job folder later also contains the working files like psds, hdrs , panos, fusions etc. In a subfolder I collect the full res finals and in additional subfolders their derivates in other sizes or for special purposes. The complete katalog with all files is mirrored to two external drives, one for backup and one for working in other locations (I have three different desks at the moment and don’t trust smooth cloud computing due the heavy data load). After a waiting period of about two years I delete all unused (unmarked during the selection process right after the initial import) raws in a project. Actually I could drop this due to cheap storage space but I love to have no data garbage. And a property with good photos should be sold after this time anyway 😉

  • I made a mistake, where I wrote “I will then create a new directory…” should be “I will then create a new catalog…”.

  • I don’t use Lightroom to catalog anymore. It bogs it down, and the bigger your catalog is, the slower your LR will run. I only use LR to interpret the RAW, then export to my own filing system on an external HD. Keeping the files on the same HD that your operating sys is on will bog your machine down as well.

    The thing is, after you edit, you’re never going to re-edit those files again, so why keep them in an LR catalog at all? I ditch the losers, and the files that assist in enhancing the final, and then just export the finals to the external HD.

    On the external, the filing sys is:
    -Real Estate Photos
    –Folders A – Z
    — Realtor Name
    —-Property Address
    —–Hi-Res folder, MLS folder

    So… Real Estate Photos\A\Ashland Ashley\333 Ash Hat Lane\Hi-Res

    I don’t need to know what date I shot them. The folder itself has a creation date, as does each file. They can be located in under a minute. Worst case is I might have to type the address into a search bar in Finder or Windows Explorer.

  • @Kelvin – If you put all of your photos in one catalog, it will bog down as you say. If you create a new catalog for each job, month, year or agent, LR works at full speed. At some point I will need to split some catalogs up, but for my RE work, I already keep them pretty small.

  • I make a new catalog for every shoot, keeps lightroom running as quick as possible. All my organization is done out of lightroom. I make a folder for shoot, sub folder for originals, another subfolder for exported finals. LR Catalog is stored in shoot folder and everything gets backed up once a day, then backed up to cloud! I used to have one massive catalog but after 15k or so images, it kept crashing and glitching out.

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