1) How to most efficiently load pics onto a computer: directly onto SDD, or thru LR-C onto SDD.
2) Where to store my catalog(s) so pics on SDD reflect edits made in LR.
3) Should I have a separate catalog for each shoot? And if so, where do I store them?
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Lightroom is designed as a one stop shop for most photographers. It can import directly from a card, and also does file integrity checking as it imports. For speed, the catalog is best kept on the main drive. This also means that you can still do a certain amount of work if the photo SSD is disconnected. Lightroom is designed with one large catalog in mind for better access to image search and for syncing online. You can use collections to manage different shoots.
Thank you so much!