One of the frequent LIghtroom questions I get asked is should I use one catalog or multiple?

Reasons to use just one catalog

LR5SplashThere are many arguments for using a single catalog for all your images. The most compelling reason is that it keeps everything in one place making it easy to locate and retrieve any image at any time.

Lightroom 3 was extensively modified by adobe to try to make it possible for users to have a single large catalog for all their images, and Adobe now advise this approach. Many photographers now have catalogs in excess of 100,000 images. In my case my catalog has almost 200,000 images in it.  Some still report performance issues with very large catalogs, I have found with a modern PC that I haven’t had any significant performance issues with my 200,000 image catalog.

Reasons to use multiple catalogs

There are some reasons why you may wish to work with multiple catalogs:

  • Demo catalog – I have a separate catalog that I use when I am teaching or lecturing about Lightroom.  This allows me to demonstrate actions which I would not want to run on my master catalog.
  • Event photographers with a large volume of images of a “shoot, sell, archive” nature, may use a new catalog for each event they cover.  But even with this approach it is still worth moving some of the best images into a master catalog
  • Different catalogs for different types of photography. Eg I have a separate catalog for all my timelaspe images, when I am shooting time-lapse I can very quickly create hundreds if not thousands of images.  As I would never search for these images on an image by image basis there is no point having them cluttering up my master catalog.
  • I used to have a “Work in progress” catalog a small extract from my master catalog on an external drive. This enabled me to have some images that I can work with on the laptop. When work was completed they are imported in to the master catalog and removed from the work in progress catalog.  While this approach may still be of use to some photographers – however since LR5 there are easier solutions to this using smart previews.