Smart Use of Lightroom’s Smart Collections

December 17, 2009



Smart collections don’t seem to get as much attention as other features inside of Lightroom. I guess they aren’t as exciting as the Adjustment Brush or the Split Toning Panel. I’ll admit that I didn’t give Smart Collections much thought at first either, but since I started using them I can’t imagine my workflow without them.

I use Smart Collections every time I import and sort photos. The first thing I do after I import new photos into Lightroom is create a Collection Set. Let’s say I imported a folder of images called “Landscape”. In the Library Module I create a new Collection Set by clicking the plus (+) icon in the Collections panel. I choose ‘Create Collection Set’ and name the set “Landscape”. Click ‘Create’. Now I click the plus(+) icon again and choose ‘Create Smart Collection’. I name the collection “Landscape picks”, and from the ‘Set’ pull-down menu I choose “Landscape”. For the rules I choose ‘Folder/ contains/ Landscape’, click [+] to add another rule and choose ‘Pick Flag/ is/ flagged’. Click ‘Create’, then click the plus(+) icon in the Collections panel and create another Smart Collection. I name this one “Landscape Stars” and choose the “Landscape” set. For this Smart Collection the rules are ‘Folder/ contains/ Landscape’, and ‘Rating/ is/ (one star)’.


Now I begin to sort my images. I go through images in the “Landscape” folder and press ‘P’ to add a pick flag to photos that are in focus and exposed the way I want them. I press ‘X’ to add a rejected flag to photos that are beyond repair so I can delete them later. Press the ‘caps lock’ key to automatically advance to the next photo after you pick or reject one.

Thanks to my Smart Collection rules, all of my picks are automatically added to my “Landscape Picks” collection. Next I go through the photos in the “Landscape Picks” collection to select my absolute favorites. These will be photos that I might publish or add to my portfolio. I give these favorite photos a one-star rating by pressing the ‘1’ key, and they are automatically added to my “Landscape Stars” collection. Now my best shots are sorted and easy to access for further processing.

That’s only two of the ways Smart Collections can save you time and energy. If you use keywords a lot, you can create Smart Collections to gather specific keywords. A wedding photographer, for example, could have smart collections for ‘rehearsal’, ‘formal’, ‘reception’, etc. A nature photographer might have Smart Collections for specific animals, seasons or locations. You can create a Smart Collection that includes photos taken with a specific camera or lens. You can even sort by aperture, shutter speed or ISO. Look at all of these options!


The real power of Smart Collections is found in combining the rules to suit your particular needs. Want to see all of photos you’ve taken with a 500mm lens on your D700 at ISO400 that have a five-star rating? No problem. Another great thing about collections is that they can include photos from a specific folder (or folders), or they can include photos from your entire Lightroom library. This can come in handy if you are putting together an exhibition or working on a website and you want to use photos from several different folders in your catalog.

I hope this helps you think of creative ways to use Lightroom’s Smart Collections. Leave a comment and let us know how you use Smart Collections in your workflow.

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This post was written by:

- who has written 23 posts on The Digital Photo Experience.

Rob Knight is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and a two-time Photoshop Guru finalist. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, Rob loves to travel and share his passion for photography with others.
You can follow Rob on twitter @RobKnightPhoto, and find out about Rob’s classes and photo workshops at Rob Knight Photography

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5 Responses to “Smart Use of Lightroom’s Smart Collections”

  1. darrin Says:

    I have to admit I love all the sliders in Lightroom, but that I never have given the smart collections much thought. This will be something I will try in the near future.


  2. Andrew D Rodney Says:

    Nice piece! Timely too since at least one LR “expert” is proposing people just pile images into “dumb collection” which are so easy to break and are proprietary, where at least using metadata to build smart collections means, you’re pretty likely to be able to rebuild them easily OR if you change DAM packages, at least you have good metadata to fall back on. When I was unable to move from LR2 to 3beta (can’t convert older catalogs yet), guess what happened to all those dumb collections? Gone! But all smart collections were super easy and fast to rebuild. Bad idea to lump all your eggs into one proprietary basket. That’s why a strong folder structure is safe today and into the future.


  3. Kyle Says:

    I think I’m going to like this way a lot better than other methods that suggest you put everything into basic collections. It always bothered me that if I didn’t organize them on disk, I would always have to look through Lightroom’s lens to see the organizational structure.



  1. […] to”. I use pick flags, star ratings and color labels in my regular workflow (see my article on Smart Collections), and these filters come in handy for me. Copy status allows you to view original photos or virtual […]

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