“Inbox” and master catalogues

One approach you might consider is what I call the “inbox” approach. Use one catalogue for new pictures that you’re still editing, and after a job is closed and you’ve decided to keep the pictures is when you transfer them to a master catalogue.

  • The advantage is separating your current work from the rest of your body of work. Is that an advantage?
  • Can you always determine when a job is closed and it’s time to transfer pictures to the master catalogue?
  • You still waste time doing an Export as Catalog for the closed jobs.
  • Without discipline, you’ll soon find pictures in both the current work catalogue and the one for the archive.

“Multiple inbox” catalogues

A similar approach is “multiple inbox” where you have one catalogue per current job. A typical user might be a wedding photographer where it would be risky to mix pictures from different events in the same catalogue. Once the event is delivered and billed, import the event catalogue into the master catalogue so you’re in control of your entire work, and archive the event catalogue.

Other reasons

There are some valid reasons for keeping separate catalogues

  • Permanently hide pictures you don’t want your partner or the kids to see
  • Temporary round trips
    • Take some pictures onto the laptop for a client visit
    • Process some work while away from base

Why swim upstream?

To control your workflow and picture collection over the medium or long term, there can only be one master catalogue. If you’re disciplined – and I know all this discipline and master stuff is getting worrying – the “inbox & archive” approach is practical but still involves more hassle, discipline, and consistency than I think it’s worth. Rather than break up control of your pictures, better to start looking at how you can use Lightroom’s built-in tools. For instance, you might put each job into a collection, and keep them in top level collections for current and archive jobs. There’s also a job IPTC field. When a job closes, just drag the job collection from the current jobs collection set to the archived jobs collection set.