5 Ideas for Using Lightroom's Smart Collections

A while back I created a video on Smart Collections and one of the ways that I use them. Well, I was working with some new Smart Collections the other day and I thought it’d be cool to give you 5 ways to use them. More importantly though, I’m looking for some comments here on how you use Smart Collections. I figure there’s got to be plenty of cool ideas out there that I’m missing, so please share.

Anyway, here’s 5 of mine:

Smart Collection Idea #1: PSD Files
Any image edited in Photoshop means it was taken to the next level. Since I’ll usually want to get back to those photos quickly I set the File Type to “PSD” so I can quickly find any PSD files.

Smart Collection Idea #2: HDR Images
Any time I work on an HDR photo in Photoshop I make sure I rename it (to include “HDR) when I get back over to Lightroom. That way, I can set up a Smart Collection where the Filename contains “HDR” so all of my HDR images are just a click away.

Smart Collection Idea #3: Panoramas
Along the same lines of the HDR photos, I do something similar for panos. I make sure to rename any panos when I get back to Lightroom and create a Smart Collection where the Filename contains “Pano”.

Smart Collection Idea #4: Copyright Check
I create a Smart Collection to check for any photos where the Copyright metadata field doesn’t contain “Matt Kloskowski” in it. That way, I can keep an eye on any that I forget to copyright.

Smart Collection Idea #5: Recently Edited
Lightroom also has some default Smart Collections. I kinda like the “Recently Modified” one so I can see what photos I’ve recently changed. I double click on it though, to change it from 2 days to 5 days, and that seems to work well for me.

Well that’s it for today. I’m in Albuquerque shooting the Balloon Fiesta and we have to be up and in the lobby by 4:15am (ouch!). See ya!


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  1. Hey Matt! Great tips on smart collections, also followed the link to creating them, never really used that feature before, but I will now!

    I was wondering… do you have any suggestions for creating new lightroom databases[or catalogues I suppose] and a means of organizing photos? I’ve started it up a bit, but I’m not sure if I’m being efficient about it… I’ve tried creating different catalogues for organization; for example: “personal”, “commercial”, “weddings”, “PJ” catalogues, etc…. Any suggestions would be great!

    Thanks, Jeff

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  2. I only just started using collections after reading this post. Smart, Set or otherwise. However, since reading this I have developed a great workflow that walks me though the entire grouping culling, flagging, starring, keywording, editing and exporting processs. Sure I touch the same photo quite a few times, but it actually forces me to be ‘smart’ because it lets me know what i need to do and what i missed the minute I import an event in to a regular folder. Plus, as I go along, fewer and few photos ‘make the cut’ and im only touching the ones that really matter!.


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  3. Isn’t it odd that there is no subject field name for things one might most want to find, like Photo, Copyright, and so on? I’m trying to find photos that ARE in one folder but NOT in a folder containing it. I’ve tried File Name (aka Filename) and other things, but cannot get the SC to work. Ditto for the No Copyright SC: I’ve set it in various ways and still get photos that ARE copyrighted, that DO have my name, etc.

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  4. Is there a way to check if an image has been published to Flickr? Shouldn’t I be able to check is Published Via contains Flickr but that doesn’t work. (My SC is looking for images with 4+ stars and has adjustments; now I want to know if I need to upload it or if I’ve already uploaded it.)

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    • I solved my problem! Even though the publishing service is called Flickr, the Description field is blank by default; I entered “Flickr” (as the Description) and suddenly my filters now work!

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  5. Is there a way to create a SC to find your most used or not used presets? I know you can create a SC for default/custom/specified develop preset, but I would like to know which preset I use the most/least.

    Thanks – AC

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  6. Is there a way to find your most used presets? I know you can set a SC for a default preset or custom preset but I would like to know what are most used/not used presets.

    Thanks, -AC

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  7. I use smart collections for copyright tracking too. But instead of leaving the copyright field blank (after all, you take the shot you have the copyright —- registering it is another matter….), my import preset tags this immediately.

    But then I use a color label text ( registered copyright; copyright registration pending) to keep track of the status. Then the smart collections let me track each category.

    I do wish Adobe would add a simple check field in the IPTC data to track if it has been registered !!!

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  8. I wish there was a way to create a smart collection rule for the Title field being empty. I’ve tried the existing rules but nothing successfully matches an empty Title field. Any ideas?

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    • Kevin, I haven’t tried this, but try a rule that states that the smart collection matches NONE of the following:

      Title contains a
      Title contains e
      Title contains I
      Title contains o
      Title contains u

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      • This doesn’t work, but flip it and it does.

        Matches none of the following rules:

        Title contains a (e, i, o, or u)

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  9. Just a WISH for smart collections:

    I wish that you could put the music directory for the slide show in a smart collection, and that music would be played when photos from that smart collection are viewed in the slide show. ( And yes, I wish Lightroom would play more than song in a slideshow. )

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  10. I just started using lightroom and created a smart collection to filter pictures by camera. Very easy for me to separate my wifes photos on her point and shoot, from mine on my DSLR.

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  11. Also – just been reminded that SCs are sticky – so when you start the next, LR starts with your previous settings. ~Helpful.

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  12. Like Espen, I use keywords for “Panorama” and also “Banner”. After your 2.39:1 tip I’ve had some great results cropping to make images more dramatic. I had hoped to find a way to search for an aspect ratio other than square, portrait or landscape. But no luck, so I’ve added another keyword and keyword based Smart Collection.

    Does anyone know of a way to weasel this out of the EXIF data?

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  13. Anyone know if there is a method of basing a new smart collection on an existing one? I have a number of multi-layered SCs in a project I’m working on (basically for different shoot locations) and I want to create new smart collections for the ‘picks’ for each one. So I’d rather not have st start each smart collection from scratch, just to add the pick flag layer.


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    • You could highlight the SC you want to update or edit, option click, select “Export Smart Collection Settings”. Then import and re-edit.

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      • Good thinking – thanks. Maybe something for a LR4 feature…

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  14. Similar to a few others, I have several SCs that use a keyword and true for adjustments. That way, anytime I want to find a Landscape, Bird, Family, etc. that I have made any adjustment to I go to that particular SC.

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  15. Collections, including Smart Collections, are very useful, however, I find that because they will not include “stacked” photos, nor allow you to stack photos when in a collection, to be a shortcoming. Am I missing something here?

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  16. Among other things, I shoot men’s and women’s college volleyball and create a collage for each senior that I present to that person on Senior Night at the end of the season. At the beginning of each season I create a SC where Keyword = {player name} for each senior. Since I only keyword Picks, only “good” photos of each match–if any–show up in the SC, greatly–and automatically–making only the best shots of each player appear for my selection in creating the collage.

    My photo club has theme-based competitions, so I create SCs for each theme and store that SC under the photoclub top collection set (Under Smart Collections). That makes life easier as I shoot over the year as I can review what I’ve shot to see if I have good enough images for the themed competitions.

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  17. Some great tips here (both the article and the comments)!

    I have smart collections for 5 stars and 4+ stars, with the former being obviously a much smaller set than the later… I further refine these collections with the aspect ratio set as landscape or portrait and use these collections to select photos to be published into a couple of digital photo frames around the house. As photo frames typically auto-orient the image inside the frame, to avoid looking at images sideways or having thick black bars around the images, I dedicate one memory card (or actual frame) to portraits, with the physical frame standing upright, and the other memory card (or frame) to landscapes, with the frame standing sideways.

    I also have a smart collection for Black and White images, where the criteria for the collection is: “any of” these rules: Treatment is greyscale, Keywords contain B&W, filename contains bw. Works for me!

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    • Hi, regarding B&W Smart Collections, there is a caveat: if you would only use the rule ‘Treatment’ = greyscale, then Lightroom will only find B&W’s that have been made in Lightroom (by pressing the B&W button). If you use a plugin like Silver Efex, or a B&W Adjustment Layer in Photoshop, Lightroom will still think of those files as (Color) RGB’s. The trick is to ‘fool’ Lightroom into thinking they’re B&W. You can do so by hitting the ‘V’ key in Lightroom on your edited (already B&W) picture. This will turn it into a Lightroom B&W (you won’t see any changes, because it already looks B&W from your Photoshop or Silver Efex edit), but now LR will recognise it as a B&W.
      Full story on my blog: http://morethanwords.be/blog/a-quick-lightroom-tip-for-bw-photographers/

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      • Hi, Good to know Piet, but your tip also has a caveat. 🙂 What if you had toned your image in the plugin or in Photoshop, as opposed to doing it later in Lighroom? You would lose the toning colors when hitting the “Convert to greyscale” shortcut (V) when back in LR… That’s why I usually set a B&W keyword in my monochrome images. With my 3 rules (in combination), I think I am catching all my B&W files… but I could be wrong.

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    • Hi Philippe. You’re right. I never do tinted B&W’s so this had slipped my attention. I guess there’s two solutions: either do the tinting in Lightroom itself, in the Split Toning Panel (that way, my tip still stands) or… if you do tinting outside of Lightroom (e.g. in Silver Efex Pro), the best way would be to work with keywords instead, like you suggest!

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  18. Just so Smart Collections doesn’t display the original parts of a panorama shot, I name the original shots with “pano” in the name, but change it to “panorama” in the final compilation. Then Smart Collections is instructed to look for “panorama” and leaves all the originals back where they belong.

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  19. Great tips. I like the copyright and PSD ideas in particular.

    One of the ways I use Smart Collections is to pre-organize team sports shoots at the beginning of the season. Equipped with the roster I create a Collection Set for all the picks. Under that set I create a number of Smart Collections for each player. Each collection searches for flag+name. As I edit a shoot and enter in player names they’ll automatically populate every time I set one as a pick. When it comes time to respond to a parent’s request for a particular player it’s easy to to find. A pain up front to set up (I don’t know if you can copy collections and then just change one aspect of them), but once it’s done you’re set for the whole season.

    Another I do is a Work In Progress file. I use the color labels to identify pics that, among things, identify images I want to work on further with Intent To Print. Once tagged they automatically go into the Smart Collection so when I have time to work on images I can just go there and see what’s waiting for me.

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  20. Some great ideas here. Congrats on a great web site.

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  21. Love Smart collections. Here are a few I found useful

    To find Virtual Copies: Copy Name is not empty.

    To find raws that are not converted to DNG:
    File Type is not DNG/JPEG/TIFF/PSD/Video (5 entries)

    To find images without keywords: Keywords are empty

    To find images without metadata: Any Searchable Metadata doesn’t contain a,e,i,o,u

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    • Thanks !

      The one about Virtual Copies will help me a lot: I’ve been looking for it a loooong time !

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    • Rhythm, myth, sky! They’ll stump your vowel search.
      VCs can be found using Library filter – attributes panel.

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  22. Sounds like a quick neat tool but isn’t a smart collection the same as having a predefined filter and then selecting that over to the right at the bottom on the Toolbar?

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    • I used to do this using fliters, but I use a workflow based on SCs now (no rating, no keyword, not labelled yellow in the last week) purely because it easier to keep many SCs organised – they can be in folders. Also folders scaffold (erratically), which can be useful.
      Eg I have one folder of SCs for “Current Photos”
      Another folder for “All photos”
      Another for “Birds” etc, etc.

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  23. Good tips.

    I have a random idea for a blog post. Sometimes I’m in LR with a photo I’m convinced can look really good with some adjustments, but for some reason or other I’m just not getting what I want. Maybe I’m just having a bad day … but I always think WWMKD?

    What if you had a contest (or you just choose) where people submit some raw images for you to do a video edit post on? We could submit raw photos of ours that we really liked in-camera, but you can do a video on how you would edit one? It may be very similar to one of your other video/edit posts, but it would be fun for people to submit stuff…. just an idea.

    Keep up the good blogging!


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  24. I use Smart Collections as a means for my editing workflow. To narrow down my images.

    For each job I shoot, I create it’s own Collection Set. Then I create 4 smart collections to narrow the photos from Full Shoot > Picks > Selects > Final. The “Full Shoot” smart collection grabs all the images by the “Job Identifier”. From that Picks are “Job Identifier” and “Flagged as Pick”. From that Selects are “Job…”, “Flagged…” & “Rating is 4 or greater.” From that FINAL includes all those rules plus “Color Label Green”.

    It takes no time to set up and I can fly through my rating process to narrow down the images to concentrate on working on and delivering the best shots without ever really letting a keeper shot slip through the cracks.


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  25. Matt,

    Great article. How about one on using multiple nested criteria in a smart collection. I can never seem to get mine to work correctly.

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  26. Since photography is my part time gig, I have to set myself up with something of a schedule to make sure I get the photos touched up in a timely manner.. for me I try to do 30 photos a night.. sometimes more, sometimes less depending on editing time.

    By using smart collections for ‘modified today’, I’m able to tell how far away I am to my goal every day… They’re awesome for that.

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  27. These are great ideas for Smart Collections. Thanks!

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  28. I have a SC for photos from this year, flagged, with 5 stars. That way I can quickly find my best photos of the year.

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  29. As a working photographer, I create a new catalog for every job. My comment may be not in the realm of what you are looking for, but I have never seen a need for a smart collection.

    As one who has individual standing catalogs versus using the same catalog repeatedly, I have smaller individual libraries. Is there something I could be missing?

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  30. Thanks for the “Copyright Check”, that’s a good one !

    I’m looking for a way to select only Virtual Copies of my pictures (same as Chris: my smart collections help me organize my workflow).
    But I couldn’t find a way to do it…

    Would anybody have an idea ?

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    • In Library filter – attributes, you can select Master, VC or video file.

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  31. I use Lightroom to make my business cards stand out: every time I have a picture that qualifies to be put on a business card, I give it a keyword ‘Business Card’. I then have a Smart Collection ‘Business Cards’ that groups all these pictures.
    I have a Printing Template that has 8 cells on an A4 sized paper. Whenever I want to make new business cards, I just select the Smart Collection, click on the printing template and … Voilà, new (and unique) business cards! I add my contact info through either an Identity Plate or a Watermark.
    Other than that, the most elaborate use I’ve ever seen anyone make of Smart Collections is British Photographer John Beardsworth, who has a complete SC Based workflow: http://www.beardsworth.co.uk/lightroom/workflow-smart-collections/

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    • WOW ! Thanks for this excellent link where smart collections are used to control your workflow.

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  32. “Not in any collection yet” smart collection.
    It’s a bit of a hack, but it works. If someone is interested I could upload it somewhere.

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    • Eric – I’d be interested to see your “not in a collection yet” hack.


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      • There you are:

        I hope the link works.
        The smart collection shows every picture that hasn’t a, or b, or c, …., or x, or y, or z, or 1, or 2, …, or 9 or 0 in collection name.

        Except for a few extreme cases, it basically shows every picture that hasn’t been included in any collection yet.

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    • Eric, I would be interested in this, too, but can’t get this link to work.

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      • Right click on the link, and “Save link as…”.
        You get a .lrsmcol file that you can double-click on, and import into Lightroom.

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      • The issue was that the server wasn’t responding. I suspect too many people were after this. I reached it today, saw what you were doing, and wrote my “vowel-less” version.

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    • I have a somewhat simpler way to get at Eric’s “No Collection Yet” Collection. It works in English and with some modification should work in any language. It assumes that all collections have at least one full word. The rule, then, states that the smart collection matches NONE of the following rules:

      Collection contains a
      Collection contains e
      Collection contains I
      Collection contains o
      Collection contains u
      Collection contains y (which is redundant, since no English word that I know of has only the letter y.)

      These criteria test for vowels and includes the image in the Smart Collection set if none are found. Swedes would add ë, ö, etc.

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      • True.
        But I’m a bit maniac, and some of my sub-collections are just called “2010” for example.
        And next time you go to Iceland & shoot a “zügöhäkölüxäß”, your whole collection will be screwed! 😀

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    • Cool idea. I was searching for that! I imported your smartcollection. But it doesn’t find any photo. But I know, I have a lot which are not in a collection. What’s wrong?

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      • Hi Erol.

        No idea, I can only assure you that it works fine in my catalog.

        I’d suggest that you start a new smart collection with just :
        “Collection >> doesn’t contain >> a”

        You should get some pictures (the ones you’re looking for + false positives)
        Then add “Collection >> doesn’t contain >> b”
        “Collection >> doesn’t contain >> c”
        and so on….
        Be sure to choose “Match all of the following rules”.

        With enough letters, you should get the collection you’re looking for!

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      • Some good ideas! But did you guys know that you can put multiple words or letters in those fields? For example, you can find all the photos without a title with one line: Title > doesn’t contain > a e i o u y. Seems to work…

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  33. Hi Matt, My LR3 does not have a smart search metadata field for COPYRIGHT NAME. If I set ANY METADATA FIELD not containing [name] naturally it selects most images as some of the other metadata fields will not contain my name. Please can you explain in more detail how you smart search for your copyright name please. Thanks, Ian

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    • Same issue here. I’ve got some images that the metadata for copyright and copyright status (copyrighted, public domain, or unknown) is blank…but “Creator” is filled with my name…and I can’t find a select option for “copyright” alone to make a smart collection. Assistance would be greatly greatly greatly appreciated…

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      • Reread the tip. There is no “copyright” field, so he’s using “metadata” to search for his name.

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  34. I use keywords (“HDR”, “panorama”, etc) for smart collections instead of file renaming. Once I have imported, I never rename, even the files I give to customers (“MyLastName_YYYY-MM-DD-XXXX.fileype”, inspired by Peter Krogh/The DAM Book).

    Some of the keywords are suitable for export, but others are not, like “test”, “TODO”, etc. You can edit single keywords so they never export.

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    • Hi Michael,
      I think there is a folder doing just this by default
      in the library module in the collections panel

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  35. I’m actually using the Smart Collections for sorting the files by used lens.
    After that it’s very easy to put the correct Lens Correction on all new photos after importing. By writing that … I could also add a “recently added” feature to that 😉

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