November 21, 2007
Author: John Beardsworth
John Beardsworth is a member of the core Adobe Lightroom beta testing team, so as you might expect, he should know a thing or two about Lightroom and in particular how to organise photos in a catalog, which is one of his main specialities (apart from being a professional photographer too). So I was interested in the following article where John expresses his views on the usefulness of multiple catalogs.
Just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should : one or many Lightroom catalogues
Lightroom 1.1 made it easier to create and work with more than one catalogue, and it’s making some people think that’s how they should work. I’m not talking about when you’re travelling or need to move pictures between computers, but as a routine way of working. Apart from seeing it in blog posts and forum threads, I’ve been asked about it on a couple of occasions recently, and was also forwarded a discussion where one photographer quoted from my book:
Another way to think of Lightroom is as a centralized inventory system managing a warehouse – you no longer need to look through each pallet or bin to find the parts. And as your business grows, and you rent the neighbouring warehouses too, you still only need one system to keep control of your work.
The trouble is that those who are actually advocating the idea of using multiple catalogues (eg another one popped up just today at O’Reilly’s blog and has a particularly rich selection of dumb ideas) never reflect all that deeply on their true reasons for doing so. When you read between the lines, there are essentially two strands to their arguments:
• It’s a workaround for performance problems they’ve experienced with large catalogues
• They’re working “Bridge-style” and don’t really think about DAM
Looking first at the “necessity” argument, if it is indeed so, then clearly you do have no alternative. Just don’t believe, let alone advocate, that such working methods are the Holy Grail of good practice.
Is it necessary anyway? That’s a maybe. It is not yet possible to give simple guidelines (unlike iView’s 2Gb file size limit) for when a Lightroom catalogue might run up against a performance limit*. As a DAM program and image processor, Lightroom probes most areas of your computer’s operations, and let’s also allow for the possibility of some less than optimal code. Many factors other than the number of records in the database could be degrading performance, and so you may not really gain much, if anything, from splitting it up into smaller catalogues.
If performance limits did indeed force you to break your work up into multiple catalogues, there’s plenty to lose. For one thing, there is no better way to let some of your pictures slip through the cracks when you forget to import one folder, or when you add more images to a folder and forget to update the Lightroom catalogue covering those folders. As well as omitting items, you can easily duplicate them. Images may end up recorded in more than one catalogue, with adjustments and their descriptive metadata diverging, keyword spellings too, singular here, plural there. And unless your search needs are very primitive, you’re going to have to repeat searches in each catalogue file. So there’s a time cost. Frankly, while you may think you are smart enough to cope with such a “system”, few of us are, not for long anyway.