Using Lightroom in a collaborative environment

All our images are catalogued and processed with Lightroom. It is a powerful system that helps us keeping our photographs organised. The system has one major drawback: it is designed to be a single user environment. In this post we will shed some light on the way we have set up Lightroom to make the most out of the need of a photographic studio with more than one photographer and more than one retoucher. We will touch the issue of backup, how we leverage cloud systems to backup and share our catalogs in our collaborative environment and other elements of managing Lightroom in a collaborative environment.

One global catalog VS Many small catalogs
Lightroom is capable of maintaining all your images in the same catalog. You can grow one with hundreds of thousands of images organised. If you are a one-man (or a one-woman) band, this can be a solution; however, in a collaborative environment, this setup has some drawbacks. When more than one photographers or retouchers have the need of accessing the images your studio produce, you have to keep in mind the major limitation of Lightroom: it is a single user environment. Even if you share your catalogs through a shared drive, the same catalog cannot be accessed by two people at the same time. What would happen if you and a retoucher had to work on some images at the same time? It is simple: you cannot do it without seriously compromising the job one of you two are doing.
In keeping one catalog per shoot, you limit the occurrences in which both you and someone else in your collaborative environment have to use the same catalog at the same time. Moreover, it is much easier to share smaller catalogs online!

Organised catalogs and RAW images
One of the key elements when you use Lightroom in a collaborative environment, is to understand the difference between how the catalog is organised and how the RAW images are stored. The way you manage your internal image organisation and where the physical images are stored are two complete different things.
Our physical images are stored in various hard drives (we keep various copies of every image). We start importing every session in an external hard drive plugged to any of our computers. When the import is complete, we immediately back up all the images in three separate hard drives. When the catalog is moved amongst the team, the only thing that may change is the hard drive where the images are stored.
Remember, the organisation inside your catalog does not have anything to do with where the files are stored.

How to share a catalog
There are many ways in which a catalog can be shared, and we mainly use two. When dealing with our retouchers, we send them our Lightroom catalog, so they already have the colour corrected photographs; however, we need them to work on the images only from a photoshop perspective. Not needing the catalog to be updated, or needing only very small updates to it, we simply pack the catalog with the RAW images and ship it.
The real sharing of the catalog in the collaborative environment of the studio is done either through local share or through Dropbox. In these ways the catalogs can be accessed by all the team to organise and change any detail or organise the catalog in a different way without having to physically move the catalog.

Sharing your Lightroom catalogs through Dropbox
Sharing a Lightroom catalog through Dropbox has many advantages. First and foremost you do not need to have all your team in the same physical location to share the same network, and everyone can work remotely.
The obvious limitations are that, being in separate physical locations, the members of your collaborative team may open the same catalog at the same time. Another thing to keep in to consideration is regarding the security of your data: we tend never to share sensitive data through Dropbox.
When sharing a Lightroom catalog for a collaborative environment through Dropbox, we tend not to share the previews when possible; doing this lowers the size and number of the files that are updated online.

Wrapping all together
There is one catalog which is global to our studio and not limited to a single shoot, is a Lightroom catalog in which we store all the final images. We don’t keep track of RAW files any longer, but we manage the high resolution JPGs. This catalog is used to create collections, manage customers’ images, organise photographs for blog posts and portfolios. This catalog is not used to edit images, but it is just for organisation.

Do you manage Lightroom catalogs in a collaborative environment? If so, how do you do?

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