How to Use the Folders Panel in Lightroom

The web is full of articles about Lightroom’s Develop Module. It’s the flash part of Lightroom, making our images look so much better. It truly is the heart of Lightroom, but if you can’t find images when you need them, you may as well have never shot them. That’s where the Folders Panel in Lightroom. Because if Develop is the heart of Lightroom, then the Library module is definitely the head.

The Library module is all about managing your images. It uses a range of tools to do this. Key among these are Folders and Collections. In this article, we’ll be looking at the Folders Panel.

The Folders Panel


The Folders panel shows a hierarchy that represents folders on your drive which have been imported into Lightroom, either directly, or created when importing images. Because it only contains imported folders, it may not include or show all folders or subfolders available on the drive.

Show/Hide Parent Folder

Don't Import Suspected Duplicates in the Import Dialog

Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates in the Import Dialog

The key feature of Folders in Lightroom is that they only allow an image to be located in one folder only. This is controlled by the “Don’t Import Suspected Duplicates” checkbox in the Import dialog. There are good reasons for this.

First, physical duplicates take up space on your hard drive, and in backups. Secondly, how do you know if you’re looking at the right file to export if there are only subtle differences between them? You can, of course, create different versions of an image using Virtual Copies (without duplicating the file). The beauty of this is the copy only exists as a preview on disk, taking up very little room, but still allowing a managed set of versions to exist.

With the hierarchy in the Folders panel, you can move up and down the folder tree by using two commands available on each top level folder (the folders in which subfolders reside). These commands are; Show Parent Folder and Hide Parent Folder. The former reveals more of the folder tree on your hard drive, while the latter hides it.

Show/Hide Parent Folder

Show/Hide Parent Folder

Add Folder/Subfolder

Click the + Icon for more Folder options

Click the + Icon for more Folder options

Generally, most of the folders in Lightroom are created outside Lightroom, or as part of Import, but there are also tools to create them within Lightroom. Click the plus (+) icon in the Folders panel header to access the Folders menu. From there you can create a new folder or even a subfolder inside the current folder. When creating a subfolder, you can include images to move into it after its creation.

Find Missing Folder/Update Folder Location

It’s important you remember that Lightroom is a database, so it depends on the information collected upon import to do its job. One important bit of information is the folder’s physical location on your hard drive. If you move a folder outside of Lightroom (or even rename it), Lightroom will lose track of it. You can relink the folder using the “Find Missing Folder” command, but it’s generally best to move single folders and images inside Lightroom. If you want to move an entire tree somewhere else, use the Show Parent Folder command until you’re at the top of the tree. Then in the OS copy the whole tree to the new location.

Click the + Icon for more Folder options

Click the + Icon for more Folder options

You can quickly get to the top folder on your hard drive by using the shortcut Cmd/Ctrl + R for Show in Finder/Explorer. Once the copy is complete, right-click on the top-level folder in Lightroom, and choose “Update Folder Location”. Browse to the new location and select the top level folder. Lightroom will now associate all the catalog information with the new file location. This is great for when you outgrow a drive but still want all your files together, as it allows you to move everything safely without losing any of your work.

Drives in Folders

Folders Drive Icon

Folders Drive Icon

Speaking of drives, each disk also has a tab in the Folders panel, showing the name of the drive, and information about it. A graphical LED shows a color to represent remaining space on the drive. Green means okay, orange means it is almost full. Red means critically full, especially for the drive that contains the catalog file. Black means the drive is disconnected, and the drive bar will be dimmed.

Video with More Info

To expand on this article check out my video on the Folders panel. It’s a pretty in-depth look at Folders in Lightroom and covers more than what I’ve gone through here. If you’re a visual learner, you’ll get more from watching. Check it out below:

If you’ve specific questions, don’t be afraid to ask in the comments below.

The post How to Use the Folders Panel in Lightroom by Sean McCormack appeared first on Digital Photography School.