When you capture an image with a digital camera, there’s information about the circumstances of the image’s creation that gets embedded in the file. This is called EXIF data. For instance, the date and time a picture was taken, the camera that was used, the lens, even exposure details such as ISO, aperture and shutter speed are embedded. This data remains with the files until it’s deliberately removed, and that means when you import your image files into Lightroom that information goes with them. You can also add your own metadata—albeit a slightly different type known as IPTC or XML—and use that to categorize images, too, but at the moment I’m primarily concerned with Lightroom’s ability to search and organize images based on that EXIF data that the camera records at the time of capture. It provides unique ways of finding images when other methods don’t work.
For instance, if you know you were photographing some macro shots of insects and flowers sometime last summer, but for some reason you’re not able to find the folder in which you stored those images, you can open up the Library Filter in Lightroom’s Library module and choose to sort images by lens model. In this case, select only the images that were made with your 100mm macro, for instance, and you’ll have narrowed your options and will be that much closer to finding the right shot. Input the year and the camera model, too, and you can refine the group further still.
What I like most about searching for images via the Library Filter is the ability to sort by practically any bit of metadata that accompanies an image. To access the Library Filter, first switch to the Library Module (in the top right of Lightroom) and then ensure you’re on the Grid View, which shows all the thumbnails rather than a single large preview. By default, this places the Library Filter bar at the top of the thumbnails, and you can choose what you want to sort by Text (keyed in via the Metadata option in the Library panel), Attribute (the Lightroom-specific star ratings, color codes and flags you’ve applied to images) or Metadata (which can be modified by right-clicking the top of each column of metadata filters). The metadata search can literally include any attribute in the EXIF—from the location an image was made to the copyright status, exposure details, camera serial numbers and more. Simply dial in the appropriate filters and choose from the options that become available, and you can sort to show just the images from 2017 that were made in Cleveland, Ohio, with a Sony A7S and a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom (as opposed to the f/4 model) and a shutter speed faster than 1/500th. This kind of filtering control harnesses the power of metadata to help you organize—and more importantly, find—the images in your archive when your normal organizational approach (be that subject or date or client) won’t work.