When you import photos, you have to choose a folder in which to store them on your hard drive. This is the only time I really do anything with folders because I think of them as where my negatives are stored, and like with traditional film negatives, I store them someplace safe, and I really don’t touch them again. I use the same type of thinking in Lightroom. I don’t really use the Folders panel (I use something safer—collections, which is covered next). So, here I’m only going to briefly explain folders, and show one instance where you might use them.
If you quit Lightroom and on your computer look inside your Pictures folder, you’ll see all the subfolders containing the files of your actual photos. Of course, you can move photos from folder to folder (as seen here), add photos, or delete photos, and so on, right? Well, you don’t actually have to leave Lightroom to do stuff like that—you can do those things from within the Folders panel in Lightroom. You can see all those same folders, and move and delete real files just like you do on your computer.
Go to the Library module, and you’ll find the Folders panel in the left side Panels area (shown here). What you’re seeing here are all the folders of photos that you imported into Lightroom (by the way, they’re not actually in Lightroom itself—Lightroom is just managing those photos—they’re still sitting in the same folders you imported them into from your memory card).
There’s a little triangle to the left of each folder’s name. If the triangle is solid gray, it means there are subfolders inside that folder, and you can just click on that triangle to see them. If it’s not solid gray, it just means there are no subfolders inside. (Note: These little triangles are officially called “disclosure triangles,” but the only people who actually use that term are...well...let’s just say these people probably didn’t have a date for the prom.)
When you click on a folder, it shows you the photos in that folder that have been imported into Lightroom. If you click on a thumbnail and drag it into another folder (like I’m doing here), it physically moves that photo on your computer from one folder to another, just as if you moved the file on your computer outside of Lightroom. Because you’re actually moving the real file here, you get a “Hey, you’re about to move the real file” warning from Lightroom (see here below). The warning sounds scarier than it is—especially the “neither this move nor any change you’ve made prior to this can be undone” part. What that means is, you can’t just press Command-Z (PC: Ctrl-Z) to instantly undo the move if you change your mind. However, you could just click on the folder you moved it to (in this case, the Misc photos folder), find the photo you just moved, and drag it right back to the original folder (here, it’s the Tuscany finals folder), so the dialog’s bark is worse than its bite.
If you see a folder in the Folders panel with a question mark on it, that’s Lightroom’s way of letting you know it can’t find this folder of photos (you either probably just moved them somewhere else on your computer, or you have them stored on an external hard drive, and that drive isn’t connected to your computer right now). So, if it’s the external drive thing, just reconnect your external drive and it will find that folder. If it’s the old “moved them somewhere else” problem, then Right-click on the grayed-out folder and choose Find Missing Folder from the pop-up menu. This brings up a standard Open dialog, so you can show Lightroom where you moved the folder. When you click on the moved folder, it re-links all the photos inside for you.
Now, there’s one particular thing I sometimes use the Folders panel for, and that’s when I add images to a folder on my computer after I’ve imported. For example, let’s say I imported some photos from a trip to Italy and then, later, my brother emails me some shots he took. If I drag his photos into my Tuscany finals folder on my computer, Lightroom doesn’t automatically suck them right in. In fact, it ignores them unless I go to the Folders panel, Right-click on my Tuscany finals folder, and choose Synchronize Folder.
Choosing Sychronize Folder brings up the Synchronize Folder dialog for that folder. I dragged the nine new photos my brother sent me into my Tuscany finals folder, and you can see it’s ready to import nine new photos. There is a checkbox to have Lightroom bring up the standard Import window before you import the photos (so you can add your copyright, and metadata and stuff like that if you like), or you just bring them in by clicking Synchronize and adding that stuff once the images are in Lightroom (if you even want to. Since my brother took these, I won’t be adding my copyright info to them. At least, not while he’s looking). So, that’s pretty much the main instance where I use folders—when I drag new images into an existing folder. Other than that, I just leave that panel closed pretty much all the time, and just work in the Collections panel (as you’ll learn about in the next tutorial).