Starting a Picture Library

25th October 2013

The Basics

An efficient and effective picture library is critical to most businesses nowadays. There is such an appetite and demand for images and it has become so easy to create large volumes of them that being organised is an economic necessity.

There are several ways of creating and managing a picture library. What I discuss here is the benefit of the applications I use and a workflow that I have developed over the last 10 years. This may not suit everyone but there will be some helpful pointers if you are thinking of starting one yourself.

When looking at setting up an efficient library, most of us will already have a large number of images to work with. Often disorganised and perhaps spread over a number of locations and computers. The starting point here is to have a single location where we can move all of our images to. You’ll need enough storage to hold all the images plus the option for expansion in the future. Disk space is now very cheap so expansion and upgrades are affordable.

My preferred tools for creating and managing a picture library are Lightroom 5 and my own web-based You can read more details about both of these in About Lightroom and About at the end of this article. There are, of course, many alternatives.

In this blog I cover the outline of what is involved and do not go too much in to the detail. Detailed lessons are available on this blog later or you can contact me if you need them now!


There are several elements to consider when planning a library.

  1. One or Many: Firstly, decide if the library is for single or multiple users. Both cases require software to handle image editing to prepare new images on a single computer. My examples will use Adobe Lightroom 5. A web-based or network-based application is then needed to handle multiple users and to open up access. My examples will use [more]
  2. Structure and Form: Most will start a library with existing images and this will often determine the structure of the library. A library of staff portraits will have a different format to a library of travel images. The first may have department sections (accounts, sales, marketing) whereas the second may need one section for every country (Italy, France, Germany). [more]
  3. Import and Build: With a good structure in place, images can be imported. You’ll need to be aware of file types and sizes. Working with original files that have not been changed is ideal but more likely than not, there will be a mixture to deal with. [more]
  4. Caption, Keyword and Find: For the library to work efficiently, the images need to be searchable. To do this, captions and keywords for each image are essential. This needs to be done at an early stage of edit, e.g. just after the images are imported into the library. [more]
  5. Develop, Rename: Renaming images may also fit better with how the library is structured. This should be done after the main edit but before images are used. This is also the point at which to do any development adjustments such as brightness/contrast/colour, cropping and dust removal. [more]
  6. Send and Share: Ultimately the images are to be used and shared. For a single user this might simply mean sending the pictures as attachments via email. For others this may mean making them available to the rest of the organisation via the web as downloads. Either way, the method to achieve this depends on their final destination. [more]
  7. Backup Now!: All the hard work put into setting up a library and creating images could be wiped out in an instant so getting a backup set up early on may just save the day! [more]

One or Many

For a single user creating their own library of images, you’ll want to try and simplify the workflow and keep everything in one place as much as possible. This means importing your pictures into an application that can process the images, index them for quick searches, be non-destructive so that original files stay original and make it easy to share them with clients. It also helps to do some basic editing and retouching. Adobe Lightroom does all this very well.

Because Lightroom is designed for single users working on their images, multi user libraries will require an additional application to view and work with the files. (based on Thirdlight) is one way to expand a library from single to multi user as it is a web-based (or server-based) application and can be accessed by anyone, with permission, from anywhere. Whereas a single user only has to be concerned about their own images, a multi user library has to consider working with multiple sources of images being imported by multiple users. Both may need to share the library with multiple users.

I manage a mixture of both. My own library of images are stored on my local Mac using Lightroom and exported and shared to clients’ libraries on the web using

Structure and Form

Before you import images into Lightroom, it is important that you spend some time thinking about the structure of your picture library. Having a considered structure will greatly help with organisation and allows for a more streamlined workflow.

Some photographers like to work by date and will organise their library in yearly, monthly and daily collections. Other work with specific subjects like ‘trees’, ‘places’, ‘people’ , etc. I work with a simple job number for each shoot that I do. This works for me because it ties in with my business administration. Whichever method you use, it should be one that can easily be expanded (e.g., add more subjects or dates or job numbers) and will work with the future in mind.

If you are starting a library from scratch and don’t have any images to import, consider how you want to categorise your images. Are they by subject or by date? By job or by location? At this point you may want to make some lists to help you decide on a structure.

If you’ve got an established library, things may be a little more obvious but you may still choose to take the time to restructure and reorganise.

Most library software will have options to create collections of collections and enable re-organisation based on META data (camera info, file name, file information, captions, keywords) and this may also affect the way you decide create the structure.

Once the structure is in place you can import your images but like all important IT projects, trial it first before going live!

Import and Build

With a good structure in place, images can be imported. You may be importing an established collection or directly from your camera. There are a couple of important things to consider to keep ensure that you’re getting the best quality into your new library.

Be aware of file sizes and type.

For instance, a picture 1800 x 1200 pixels in size will look great on a computer screen but will only print to around 6″x4″ or a quarter page in a magazine.  If it is likely that the images are used in print and digital media, it is important to check that their size is large enough.

File types can be narrowed down to just a few and it is important to know the difference and when to use the various types.

Raw files are unchanged files directly from the camera. Each manufacturer has their own name for these. For instance, Canon is CR2 and Nikon is NEF (the extension after the ‘dot’). The preferred practice now is to convert the camera’s raw file to the industry standard DNG format. Many applications now work better with raw files and approach this format as an ‘original’ format from which to produce copies for distribution as JPEG.

JPEG is what’s called a ‘lossy’ file format. Each time the file is saved, it is compressed and this causes it to loose some quality. The advantage is that the file size is much smaller – so ideal storing on the web and for emailing and up/downloading. In library terms, a JPEG should be considered as an export file, rather than an original, import or working file.

PSD (Photoshop) and TIFF files are also frequently used but more by photographers or graphic designers who will need the additional quality and flexibility to manipulate the image which these formats allow.

In preference, you should consider importing RAW files into your library on your local computer as these will allow for better quality. If you do import JPEG files – which is often the common format many established collections have – be aware of the lossy nature of this type, use them with as little compression as possible and consider converting them to RAW.

Caption, Keyword and Find

The next vital part is to caption each image and add keywords. This can often be done in batches so is not as tedious as it might sound. Adding a simple caption with several keywords immediately makes your images searchable in Lightroom and other image databases. Without captions or keywords your images will quickly get lost and you would have to rely on your eyes to scroll though pages of small thumbnails to find them!

Having captions and keywords also means that you can immediately start organising your images in different collections or sets.

Captions should include at least one of these – more is better: Who, What, Where, When, How and Why. The image below shows two elderly med playing chess in a library at a retirement home. The caption could read: ‘Happy elderly man playing chess with a friend in the library of a retirement home’. The keywords could include: retirement, man, recreation, chess, pensioner.

Lightroom Screengrab A

Once the caption and keywords have been entered, the above example can quickly be found using terms such as ‘elderly man’ or ‘chess’.

Develop, Rename

Now that the images are imported into the library and captions and keywords have been added, it is time to start editing. Many of us find this the hardest part. Deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. Even a basic edit will make all the difference. This may consist of only removing those pictures that are out of focus or badly cropped or have people’s eyes shut. Being more ruthless requires some experience and practice but also makes for a more useful and effective collection.

Once the initial selection has been created you can rename your files (if they need it) and alter the appearance such as brightness, contrast, cropping (if they need it). If you are using Lightroom, none of the changes will affect and permanently change the original file but only the related preview and database (read more about this).

Lightroom is able to do very sophisticated renaming using a combination of words, numbers and file information. This can easily be done in batches.

For instance, my files are renamed from the original IMG_0045, IMG_0046, IMG_0047 to 12845-045, 12845-046, 12845-047 using my job number 12845 as the batch name.

Other examples of renaming could be by date: 2013-10-24-001 or by subject: John_Smith_001 or collection: Building_001

Send and Share

Having done all the preparation in the previous steps, your pictures are ready to use.

The key to looking after your library is to make sure you consider the images as precious originals that must not be changed. To do this, it is critical to work only with copies of your files. Lightroom is set up to do this perfectly as it only changes META data and leaves the original file untouched (read more about this).

You can now export your images to clients via email or uploading to the cloud, a website or a picture library such as Once your pictures have been uploaded to a cloud, website or picture library, you can notify your clients and send them the links for viewing and downloading.

Backup Now!

All your hard work and effort could be wasted if you loose your files. We all know the importance of backups and procrastination here will undoubtedly lead to tears!

My own system relies on two sets of backups which are swapped on a fortnightly basis. One set is securely stored in a fireproof case! Using Drobo allows for quick and easy expansion and relatively easy setup.

About Lightroom 5

Using Adobe’s Lightroom 5 is my recommendation. Over the years this has been developed in to a fantastic tool that helps photographers with their day-to-day workflow, whether it is editing pictures to improve and enhance, captioning and keywording, organising, printing, web and even book publishing. Most essential tasks can be performed using just this one software app and I have built my business around it. Lightroom 5 is essentially a ‘local’ app intended for those that work as individuals. For those working in groups or for larger organisations I also recommend using a web-based picture library like my own

Lightroom Screenshot

The best part of Lightroom 5 is that it treats image files as originals that should not be permanently changed. This is perhaps similar to working with a 30 year old negative (of which I have many!) which needs to be kept unchanged for posterity. Lightroom 5 does this by storing the information about the changes it applies in a separate database linked to the image and the metadata embedded in the image file. In this way, the original image is never altered and any changes made can then be ‘printed’ or exported as a separate file.

Lightroom is able to handle thousands of images and work with them quickly and efficiently because it creates a small preview copy of your original.

Lightroom can be made to work very well with other databases or networks including web-based libraries such as


If your organisation has more than a couple of users of your library or needs to make the library available on the web or a larger network, you can use or similar network based applications.

Where Lightroom is brilliant at organising and editing images, is excellent at distributing these images and making them accessible to the many.

My workflow for several clients is that I import my images into Lightroom where I do all the captioning/keywording, editing and renaming. I then uploads them straight into from where they can be viewed and downloaded across the web within minutes. does this securely with the use of passwords or by making the images public. The search engine is also very effective and you can further re-arrange images by collections to suit varying needs.

To view the library at work, have a look at my Caminada Creative collection. Screenshot

Moving on

Now that you’ve read a little about what is required to start a picture library, you may want some more information as I’ve only really touched on the basics. I am able to provide training, consultation and project management for any size of picture library and below is a list of some of the areas where I can provide further assistance. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to hear from you so please email: or phone me on: 07836 571145

  • Photography on commission
  • Photography training
  • Image manipulation using Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom training
  • Advanced Photoshop and Lightroom training
  • Picture library planning and setting up a picture library
  • Full management and support of picture libraries
  • Workflow planning for picture libraries
  • Workflow planning for photographers and photography users