5 Things That Can Cause Confusion in Lightroom


Lightroom has the joy of being simple to start with, but still having hidden depths. Sometimes this means we see things that can confuse new users when looking for solutions to problems. Sometimes these are in the form of homonyms, other times in how Lightroom works internally.

1. Catalog Vs Catalog.

In Lightroom, the Catalog is the name of the file that stores all your photo information. Exposure information, settings, etc, the whole works. It ends with the extension .lrcat. Unfortunately it’s also the name of a panel in the Library Module. This panel was originally called the Library panel, but was changed to stop confusion. I don’t think it worked, but I think it’s better than it was. The Catalog Panel contains information about events in the Catalog files. For example, All Photographs is always at the top, and this is a quick way to see everything in the Catalog. Other things can come and go from this panel. Previous Import shows the last seesion imported, but it becomes Current Import as you import photos into Lightroom.

2. Metadata vs Metadata.

In the Library Module there’s a menu item called Metadata. It contains things like Keyword Sets, Read and Save Metadata and Edit Metadata Presets. There’s also a panel in Library called Metadata. The contents of this panel are dependent on whatever Metadata Viewer preset is selected in the panel header. Because this can be as simple as the ‘Large Caption’ preset, or as complex as showing everything available, it’s not always obvious to the new user what’s going on here. Even with ‘Quick Describe’, you can still access Filenames, folder, ratings, title, caption and copright information. Also you can apply and edit Metadata Presets here.

3. User Sort

Sorting should be as simple as drag and drop, right? Well not quite with Lightroom. Lightroom onlys allows user sort in 2 places: The lowest level folder, or in a normal collection. If you’re in a folder that has subfolders, or in a smart collection, you’re out of luck. This can be aggravating if you want to sort things that are across a number of folders, but I hope the obvious solution is to select all these images, then create a new Collection, and sort there.

4. Image Previews

When you first see your photos in Lightroom, they can suddenly change how they look. Depending on your camera settings, they can suddenly look much worse (moreso for Raw than Jpegs). The reason for this is that Lightroom uses the camera Jpeg preview intially before rendering an internal preview. The camera preview has all the camera settings applied and is a finished file, whereas the Raw tends to look flatter at default settings. You can of course create a default setting in Lightroom by getting the look you want in Develop. Once this is done, hold down the Alt/Option key in Develop. The Reset button will turn into the ‘Set Default..’ button, where you can save these settings as the default.

5. File Location

I’ve mentioned this in my 5 Tips for Beginners post, but this is a variation on it. Often you can do an import and not know where your files have gone. This is set in the Destination panel in the Import dialog, but what about after Import? In the past, you’d have to jump through hoops using the Metadata Panel, but fortunately all you have to do now is right click on any image and choose ‘Go to Folder in Library’ to see exactly where the images are. This isn’t strictly a beginners problem. An accidental click of the mouse can change the parent drive, meaning the files end up ¬†somewhere unintentionally. I know, because I did it the other day!


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