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Understanding Smart Collections In Lightroom

Understanding Smart Collections In Lightroom

I’ve long been a fan of Lightroom for its unique ability to provide a one-stop solution for several digital imaging needs. Namely, I use the application to organize, sort and archive my many thousands of image files. In the short term, it’s the place I go to sort images immediately following a shoot. In the long term, it’s the portal through which I retrieve archived images many years in the future. In both cases, I rely on a handful of Lightroom tools to sort and organize my images: rating, color labels and keywording.

With these modifiers in place, Lightroom can then filter and organize images on the fly thanks to Smart Collections. Unlike a regular collection—which includes the image files you put in it, no more and no less—a Smart Collection is constantly changing. You see, a Smart Collection should really be thought of as a filter. It’s constantly looking for images that meet whatever criteria you establish and then sorting them into an ever-evolving group.

Understanding Smart Collections In Lightroom

In practice, this means that you can set up Smart Collections to filter according to several of those attributes—things like keywords, color labels and ratings. Remove one of those attributes from an image and voila, it instantly disappears from the Smart Collection.

To be clear, one of the major benefits of a Smart Collection is it doesn’t require relocating images from their home. Unlike moving an image from one folder to another, the Smart Collection just references the original file, wherever it may live.

Understanding Smart Collections In Lightroom

By default, Lightroom includes a handful of Smart Collections right out of the box, including Five Stars, Past Month, Recently Modified and more. To add your own custom Smart Collection, start by choosing New Smart Collection from Lightroom’s Library dropdown menu. This will open up the Create Smart Collection window where you start by giving the new Smart Collection a meaningful name and then choose its location.

Finally, you set up the rules you’d like to use to create the Smart Collection. This part is kind of like establishing spam filters in your email: Just tell the software what rules to apply based on what you’re looking for and it will filter based on those inputs.

Understanding Smart Collections In Lightroom


In practice, you can choose whether to match all of the rules or any of them. You can then use the various dropdowns and menu items to tell Lightroom to include specific ratings, color values, flags, keywords and more. You can even sort by camera type, lens selection or many other factors that would normally be found in the metadata embedded in an image file at the moment of capture—everything shot on your 100mm lens at ƒ/2.8, for instance. When you’re done establishing your preferred values, simply click Create and the Smart Collection will appear in the Collections tab on the left of Lightroom’s Library module. Click on that Smart Collection heading and you’ll see all of the images that Lightroom has filtered into it.

It’s an incredibly easy tool to use and you can have it up and running in mere moments. It’s yet another example of Lightroom making powerful tools easy to use.

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