Lightroom Tips

Are you a Lightroom Flagger or Rater Recap

Last week I wrote a post about 3 (and a half) reasons to use Flags Instead of Ratings in Lightroom. Then I asked whether or not you were flaggers or raters. I was pretty surprised at how many comments came up (over 100). So, first of all – thank you. As I’ve said before, it’s the community here that makes a site like this possible, and I’m always grateful that you spend some of your valuable time here.

Since there were so many comments, I figured most of you wouldn’t (or couldn’t) have the time to read through all of them. But there was a lot of really interesting thoughts on the topic, so I didn’t want them to go to waste. They even got me thinking about different ways to do things. Now, I couldn’t’ go through and recap all of them, but here’s a quick recap some things I found interesting.

• First off, I found that a majority of people use both. Flags at first but then most people resorted to the star rating system to refine their picks. I have to admit. After thinking about it, I’ve done the same before. I’ll usually do my flagging first, but sometimes I 5-star the absolute best from that group.

• One thing I didn’t point out about flags is that they’re specific to the folder or collection in which you flag them. Meaning, if you created a collection and then flagged some photos, they wouldn’t be flagged back in your original folder. It’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing. It’s just something you should be aware of when flagging so it doesn’t catch you by surprise. For me, flagging photos is how I get them into a collection so it’s not a big deal. But definitely something to keep in mind.

• Flag status doesn’t get stored in metadata. So they couldn’t be read by programs outside of Lightroom. Again, not a huge deal-breaker for me personally. I don’t have a need for other programs to recognize my flags. And I’d never approach using LR with the thought that maybe one day I wouldn’t be using it. It’s kinda like getting married, expecting that one day you’d get divorced 🙂
That said, a reader (Christian) pointed out that some website scripts would read stars and I could definitely see a value in that if you had your photos tied in with websites and portfolios, etc…

• Mike McCarthy had an interesting comment:
“1 – Crap, 2 – Possible Keeper, 3 – Definite Keeper
Once I go through a shoot this way, I delete the 1?s. If I have a lot of 3?s – which doesn’t happen often! – I [P]ick the better ones on a second pass. I then process the flagged 3?s and increase the final edited copies to 4?s for exporting for the client. Anything that I want in my portfolio gets made into a 5 and automatically added to a smart collection.”

• Mike’s comment above got me thinking. I’ve been approaching stars as if you HAD to use all 5. But you don’t. You could just as easily say you’re only going to use 1-3. 1 is bad (or “crap” as Mike puts it), 2 is OK, and 3 is a select. Even if you don’t go as far as Mike did with 4 and 5, just using 1-3 could work well to keep it simple.

• When I wrote this, I really wasn’t targeting it toward, say, a stock photographer. Most stock photographers have more requirements and a need for something more than flagging. For example, some stock photographers will give photos a yellow label if they’ve been submitted to the stock agency. A green label if they’ve been accepted. A blue label if they’ve been rejected, but it’s something they plan to resubmit after changes. And a red label if it was rejected and it’s not going to get resubmitted.

• Glyn Dewis wrote another interesting comment:
“I Quickly go through shots flagging up the Picks and Rejects. Then when working through the Picks in Lightroom, those that are ‘complete’ are labelled ‘Green’ and those that are going to be taken over to Photoshop are labelled ‘Red’.”

So what’s all this mean? It means there’s lots of different ways to do things 🙂 If you’re part of the group that flags first, but then moves to some sort of rating system then you’re part of the majority. Anyway, if you get a few minutes it’s definitely worth reading through the comments from last week. You may pick up on a better way to work through your photos.



  1. Brian 24 June, 2011 at 14:42 Reply

    Another note on flags: for some reason, they do not transfer when exporting a folder as a catalog. In other words, if I have a folder on Computer A with flags, and then export that folder as a catalog so that I may work on that catalog on Computer B, the flags will not transfer – even though I am looking at the same folder.

    And you know what is really weird: in the fist few seconds when you open the catalog on Computer B, the flags show up – but then disappear, never to be seen again on Computer B.

  2. Xposurepro 20 June, 2011 at 04:07 Reply

    I’m a hardcore flagger. I’m either going to keep it or not. If I had time to sit there and pass through and pass through and pass through that would be awesome but for me it’s not an option. I need to determine which shot the client will most likely purchase and move on to the other million things that need done. Now when it comes to personal photo adventures then I can take the time to kick back and sift through them … oh wait I never have time for personal photo adventures … nevermind LOL

  3. mathieu drut 14 June, 2011 at 17:52 Reply

    Matt you should read this blog entry on Chase Jarvis’s blog:
    It details how they use the star system. It’s really close to what you and Scott describe with the flags. At Kelby training you’ve been encouraging people to: flag, create a set with the flagged picture, then to wash and repeat in order to refine…
    They do the same by adding a star (to the existing rating) at every pass (no need to create an intermediate set. They are not trying to give a final star rating the first time they look at the picture, it’s an incremental process… and not every final pic is going to be a 5 star (unless you’re that good 🙂 ).
    Food for thought. I like the idea of not creating intermediate sets. I’ve learnt your way thanks to your video and Scott’s book on LR but I’m considering switching to stars. It feels more natural when you think about it this way.

  4. Thomas 10 June, 2011 at 18:47 Reply

    I personally work with a rather complex system where I use all available elements like flagging, colour flags and stars (the latter the least).

    What I then find really useful is to combine certain stages of the workflow with smart collections. For instance when a photo has a red flag as well as the pick flag it goes into a smart collection that is called ‘sort’. All fotos in this collection have been developed and retouched but still need to be tagged. After I tagged a photo I remove the pick flag. I use tagging in a consistent logic to automatically bring photos into other smart collections like f.i. a SC called ‘street photography’ that contains all red flagged photos tagged with street photography that don’t have a pick flag anymore – these are my final versions of street photographs. I even tag certain people and have a smart collection that include all photos where they are in.

    I also have manual collections to keep a logic based on specific shoots, however by using smart collections I have kind of a superior logic that helps me finding certain shots rather quickly and that assists me in my workflow.

  5. robert 2 June, 2011 at 05:59 Reply

    the flags/rejects is the main reason I use the flags – using the P and X keys (use caps lock to move to the next image automatically) makes it super fast. I then color code or rate from there to pick only my favorites after the flag, but.

  6. Michael 30 May, 2011 at 09:59 Reply

    I am confused about your one comment on flagging in collections and not being flagged in original folders. I usually create smart collections based on dates and edit from there. I then flag my keepers in this smart collection. When I go to view all photographs in my library and only view picks, the flagged photos in my smart collections show up.

  7. Perez Studios 26 May, 2011 at 18:46 Reply


    Thanks for this post and all of the other great ideas. I read your article on using Flags and had seen it in a video once but just never used it. I usually used keywords to get what I wanted but after I read your post I wanted to give it a shot. I was doing a shoot this past Saturday and it worked great for us to get the photo we wanted (or the customer wanted) by flagging it and then going back and deleting what they didnt like.

    Although I came across another issue and not sure if you or anyone else has but it has me at a loss. I was shooting in Tethered mode with my Canon 5D Mark II via USB and the cable somehow got unplugged in between shots. When I went to plug it back in again the camera would not connect. I tried multiple cables and even different computers but still couldnt get it to work. I wanted to know if you or anyone else here had any ideas. I am grateful for any ideas.

    Thanks again and take care!


      • John Tannock 27 May, 2011 at 07:47 Reply

        We’ve had that issue too, happens anytime you unplug or.. turn off the camera (say, to change a battery). I equate that to the same as starting PS and then adding a plugin. If you watch the startup, PS ‘looks for’ plug-ins. If they’re not there after start up it won’t see them, right? If you disconnect a camera in LR while tethered, I assume it’s the same issue. It ‘looks for’ the camera in start-up, therefore, you need to restart the program for it to be recognized. Not a big deal really.

  8. John Tannock 26 May, 2011 at 06:32 Reply

    Granted, I didn’t read that many of the comments, but scanning quickly I saw that most of those I did see use both ‘pick & reject’ in their editing. I’ve been using LR since 1 Beta and as I got better and better with the program tweaked my workflow for max efficiency. That said, here’s my simple editing formula…..
    As I go through my importing files (converting to DNG on import), I X the ones I don’t
    want. Then in grid mode, select the X flagged group only and delete them. Everything left is a pick even though I haven’t had to actually hit the P key. I’ve also found that walking away from the edit for a day and then going through the keepers again makes it much easier to refine my edit than if I go through twice at the first sitting. Once happy with the finals, I select all and make an “edited collection”.
    Very smooth and fast.

  9. Guy 25 May, 2011 at 13:30 Reply

    I use stars as they are much more flexible.
    A variation of Mike McCarthy’s system, I use 1-4 as follows:
    1 – Crap
    2 – POssible Keepr
    3 – Keeper that needs PS
    4 – Keeper

    What I do is:
    Go over the session and rate 1-4
    Go over the 4’s and process them in LR
    Go over the 3’s and process them in PS, syncing the TIFF’s back and rating them 3
    Rate all 3’s with 4
    Now I review the 4’s I have, and if some scenes are missing frames, I go over 2’s and try and find good ones.
    Once I am happy, I trash 1-2’s and export the 4’s.
    Job Done.

    I refer to the stars at level of picture maturity, if you like 🙂 At the end of the work I am left with only 4’s.

    It’s much easier to implement then read, let me tell you…

    my 2 cents

    • Guy 25 May, 2011 at 13:32 Reply

      Sorry, the bullets got lost somehow…
      Tryning again the flow section of the comment

      * Go over the session and rate 1-4
      * Go over the 4?s and process them in LR
      * Go over the 3?s and process them in PS, syncing the TIFF’s back and rating them 3
      * Rate all 3?s with 4
      * Now I review the 4?s I have, and if some scenes are missing frames, I go over 2?s and try and find good ones.
      * Once I am happy, I trash 1-2?s and export the 4?s.
      * Job Done.

  10. David 25 May, 2011 at 13:18 Reply

    Matt, nice summary. I still take advantage of Flags and Collections as I believe you and/or Scott mentioned at one of your roadshows. 1st Pass Collection, 2nd Pass Collection, etc. I use Final for Client Collection and My Keepers Collection, as needed, for each event/shoot.
    Thanks again for keeping this site going and sharing your knowledge.

  11. Ben 25 May, 2011 at 13:00 Reply

    I’m blown away that there are so many wildly varying methods. I am also surprised to see that the flags are being used in so many ways they were not designed for and that ratings are so willy nilly. I had loosely implemented ratings with no real structure or consistency and they more or less lost their value.

    Ratings are not nearly as valuable without a good consistent system and clear definition on what each rating means. The DAM book ( is an invaluable resource in this area and has lead me to my current rating system which is as follows….

    1 star = presentable to the client
    2 star = best of shoot
    3 star = best of category (i.e. portraits, weddings, etc)
    4 star = main portfolio (i.e. best regardless of categories)
    5 star = currently unused, saving for future growth

    Such a system allows for very easy management via smart collections. I have smart collections for best of category (which act as my portfolios for different category), main portfolio, etc that are automatically updated as I rate shoots. It’s wonderfully easy and consistent.

    IMHO flags should only really be used for culling which is exactly how they are implemented in Lightroom.

  12. n r von staden 25 May, 2011 at 12:07 Reply

    Off topic.but you could help I’am sure…just read about the rights grab of the last space shuttle launch..a picture out of a window of a airplane as the shuttle goes up in space from 37,000FT…anyhow… lawyers say they can’t notice anyone unless the copyright is on photo….can you put a copyright on a all photos in LR.. at the edge very very small..I mean as small as pixels will let you make it. Like back in the day when we notched our camera body to put our mark on the negative…just asking. thanks

  13. Jeff 25 May, 2011 at 11:36 Reply

    I like Mike’s thinking with this. I too, usually flag, then rate. I have begun using smart collections more and more lately and Mike’s approach will surely make things easier.

  14. John Wiedenheft 25 May, 2011 at 10:40 Reply

    Love this post! This is one of those tips and discussions that keeps me coming back. I use Lightroom fairly frequently, but not enough to have learned all the little tricks like this. This is one that I should definitely investigate further.

  15. Rafal Ziolkowski 25 May, 2011 at 06:08 Reply

    In connection to flags, there is also very handy function: Library->Refine Photos [CTRL+ALT+R]

    It works as a kind of selective vacuum cleaner 😉
    – All not picked photos makes rejected
    – Un-picks all previously picked photos

    Usually not picked photos means, it is no crap but not selected either so probably you will never ever want to come back to them again. Then you can simply remove rejected

  16. Phil 25 May, 2011 at 02:09 Reply

    Hey Mat,

    nice sum up of your readers thoughts. I guess i might give Mikes approach a chance (allthough i will use X-Flag instad of 1* for ‘crap’ ^^)

    I also use colors for organising my pst-processing:

    yellow for panos,
    blue for timelapse and
    green for HDR

    this way i can have smart collections for each topic…

  17. Daniel Hoherd 25 May, 2011 at 01:36 Reply

    Incidentally, starring is one of my favorite techniques for rating metadata, and I’ve been working on an averaging system for starring. Here’s my logic…

    I agree with the 1* = crap, 2* = ok, 3* = good. I go to 4* = good enough to post online, 5* = good enough to print and put in your portfolio.

    Beyond that, I think that starring is a good way to get an average. I have clients go through photos and rate up one star if they like a photo, rate down one star if they don’t like a photo. (Using cmd-[ and cmd-])

    To further that, I actually wrote a php based mysql backed rating system where ratings get averaged and photos are presented in random order. I haven’t integrated it with LR yet, but hope to do so if I get enough business to warrant that… which is another topic altogether.

    As for flags… totally don’t use them. Flag negative is the delete flag, why on earth would I keep that flag present? Positive flag is a temporary state, like quick-collection. If you’re going to flag, why not just add to a collection? And if you’re going to add to a collection, why not do it dynamically with a keyword or a star?

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