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10 More Things I Would Tell a New Lightroom User: #9

#9: Learn how to use Smart Collections

Scott already spoke about the benefits of using regular collections, so I want to tempt you into taking that up a notch by learning about Smart Collections. Smart Collections are essentially saved searches. You get to define the criteria for the search and Lightroom does the heavy lifting of automatically gathering all of the photos (and videos) that match that criteria for you. Lightroom is built on a database after all, and the more work you do in Lightroom the more data is sitting there waiting to be used. So why not use it to make your life simpler? Let’s look at some examples of what Smart Collections are and how I use them.

If you expand the Collections panel you should have a collection set called Smart Collections that comes pre-loaded with Lightroom. Think of these as a starter set to show you what is possible. Notice the gear on the folder icon designates these as Smart Collections as opposed to regular collections.

Default smart collections.

Default smart collections.

Double-click any Smart Collection to open the Edit Smart Collection dialog box to see its rules, and to change them if desired. I double-clicked the Colored Red Smart Collection, and you can see its single rule is Label Color is red. This tells Lightroom to gather any photo in the entire catalog that has a red color label applied to it. Not much too it.

Edit a smart collection's rules.

Edit a smart collection’s rules.

If you click the drop-down arrow on the top rule (Label Color in this example) you’ll see that you have a lot of criteria to choose from, and this is where it gets interesting. You can cast a really wide net like “Label color is red,” or you can drill down with laser precision to focus on just photos taken within a certain range of dates, that have a certain keyword, and have a certain star rating, and on and on you can go.

Changing the rules.

Changing the rules.

For example, I have a collection set I call Catalog Dashboard, and within that collection set I have other collection sets that contain a variety of Smart Collections that help me find files based on a range of criteria.

My catalog dashboard.

My catalog dashboard.


One of those collection sets is named File Type, and within that collection set I have a whole bunch of Smart Collections that let me see at a glance how many files of each type I have in my library, and gives me quick access to any of them. I also include a Smart Collection for all photos with Smart Previews in that bunch. This is really useful for helping me manage disk space. Similarly one for 32 bit TIF files as those files can get huge! Each of those Smart Collections has a simple rule for finding all files that match that type.

Smart collections based on file type.

Smart collections based on file type.

I’m only scratching the surface for how these Smart Collections can serve you in your workflow, but I hope it got you thinking. I’d love to hear some other ways people use Smart Collections too. Find all of my 10 More Things posts.



  1. Joe Schmidt 16 September, 2015 at 12:12 Reply

    It would be nice if you could do something on Backing Up Catalogs. Also if you do it would be nice to know something about backing up Previews. My previews have backed up in a very old Catalog. I don’t know why and I don’t know what to do with them. Should I delete that Catalog with the previews in it? Hopefully I am not the only one that knows nothing about this.

    • Rob Sylvan 17 September, 2015 at 09:28 Reply

      Both the Collections (new in LR 6/CC) and Keyword List panels have a filter at the top of them that allows you to easily search within each panel for the collection or keyword (respectively) you want to find. You can also create Smart Collections that use collection name or keyword in them. Hope one of those options helps!

  2. Christine 15 September, 2015 at 13:14 Reply

    I use smart collections to sort my photos by subject. I’m a hobbyist and most of my photos are of my family. I use keywords (and now face recognition) to identify who is in the photo. Then smart collections automatically sort them. One for me, husband, kids, etc. I use them for my sunrise/sunset photos, or my photos of Mount Diablo or the local parks.

    Or practicing a certain photographic technique. I’m a hobbyist, so I do a lot of practicing. I have a “fun with flash” smart collection, and “panning,” or “slow shutter speed” or whatever. Again … KEYWORDS are my friend.

    I use keywords a lot probably because I started with flickr tags. I would tag who was in my photos and just got used to it. I learned that my keywords in LR became tags on flickr and it was easy to keep up my keywording.

    I also use smart collections for my church photography. We have repeating themes at church. So anytime the choir has a function it gets put in the choir collection. Or a Core Community event. Again … all done by keywords.

    I use smart collections to pull my HDR or Panos out from regular. Or if it has a filename extension of .psd or .tiff I know I edited it in PS and I’ll put those in their own collection.

  3. Paul C 15 September, 2015 at 12:17 Reply

    Smart collections are the boss, I hardly ever set up regular collections, just collection-sets containing Smart Collections. I am a teacher and every photo may have several components that span multiple syllabuses, this makes folders an impractical way of organizing my images. I put a bit of extra effort into keywording on import and initially – this gives me loads of scope for having a single photo in dozens of smart-collections. I also use smart-collections to extract all my picks for each shoot, I create a Collection-set for each shoot, after each processing stage they get a star added & jump to the next level in the collection set… 1-star is basic development, 2-stars is ready to finish off in PS (if necessary), 3-stars is finished. Thanks for the reminder & encouragement – you have a fabulous series here.

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