This is the first in a series of posts about my experiences introducing Adobe Lightroom 4 to the core of my photographic workflow.
I used to have a very manual workflow based on an old version of Photoshop and absolutely no image management aside from moving files around folders on my computer and network storage. It was tedious, I had trouble keeping things consistent, and when I wanted to find something I had to hunt around.
I heard good things about using Lightroom from film photographer Sean Galbraith. I also occasionally shoot digital and was looking for a means to use RAW files without introducing a dedicated application such as Nikon Capture.
Lightroom is a parametric image editing application, which means that all of the edits that you make to your images are stored in a central database rather than applied directly to your original image file. The Lightroom Catalog file is that database, so it contains any color balance changes, touch-ups, cropping, etc. as well as keywording, rating and other metadata changes you make to your images.
There are some photographers who use multiple catalogs, perhaps to separate personal work from their job or one client's images from another's. But the key point is that when you use Lightroom you are only operating with one catalog at a time, they are completely separate databases.
I have decided for now to use only one catalog for all of my images. I don't shoot a lot of images and I often mix different kinds of shots (family, landscape, cameras, etc.) together on the same roll of film. Keeping everything together in one catalog lets me import everything into one database and then use collections and keywords to manage them as needed.
The last thing I will mention about catalogs is that you need to back them up regularly. It is theoretically possible for them to get corrupted, and of course if your computer fails you could simply loose the file.
Treat your catalog(s) just like your images and implement a proper backup procedure. If you lose your catalog you have also lost all your edits to your images!