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Lightroom – Filters or Smart Collections?

A Guest Post by Nick Rains

Once you have added more and more images to your Lightroom catalogue it becomes less easy to find a particular image from the many thousands you have imported. Fortunately, being a digital asset manager Lightroom includes some powerful tools for searching.

You could start with the Library > Find menu item which works pretty well but is limited to searching from metadata fields in all your images. It’s powerful enough to include options for ‘contains’, ‘does not contain’, ‘ends with’, ‘starts with’ etc, plus you can put in multiple search terms like a country and a date to search (Contains All) for all images from a certain country on a particular date. It’s quick and easy but not very versatile.

For more power there is the Filter Bar itself ( ‘\’ key in the Library Module) which can be set to search on four different criteria, each of which can search almost any metadata field. Click on the tiny arrows next to the column’s title to see a drop down box of all available metadata fields that can be searched. These can be hard to find as they only appear (in white) when you roll your mouse over the title bar. There are four columns displayed as a default but you can add more by clicking at the right of the title bar for more options. Selecting terms in more than one column (by clicking another term whilst holding down the Ctrl (Cmd) key) gives you an AND search – Country AND Date AND Location for example.


The Filter bar allows quite complex searches but applies them to the entire catalogue.

You can even save searches as presets which is fantastic for common searches but what if you have a lot of them? They are displayed in alphabetical order under Custom Filter but if you have a few dozen saved searches it can get a bit unwieldy.

TIP – It’s important to remember that you can have filters active and not realise it – it’s all to easy to forget and wonder where some of your images have gone. Ctrl-L toggles filters on and off.

This all works fine but there is a much more powerful way to see at a glance certain information about your collections, updated continuously and showing just about any search criteria.

Smart Collections are like collections except they are based on search criteria that are applied all the time. Make a change and the Smart Collection will update immediately to reflect that change. There is a lot that could be written about Smart Collections, something I plan to do in my magazine later this year, but here is one useful set-up for keeping track of which images do not have certain metadata.

Smart Collection can contain quite sophisticated combinations of search criteria. Click the Plus (+) sign to add new rows.

It’s very useful to see at a glance which images have not yet had your copyright info added (you do this, right?). Simply create a Smart Collection with the criteria set for Copyright Status > Is Not > copyrighted and title it ‘No Copyright’. Now any image which have no copyright added will show as a number count in this Smart Collection and clicking on it will immediately display all the images that do not have copyright info added. You could then select all and add your copyright. Once done the Smart Collection will show zero. It’s a good way to keep track of such things.

I have a set of Smart Collections set up to show me which images do not have Location info, which have adjustments, which do not, and so on.

My modest array of Smart Collections helps me keep on top of adding captioning and place names.

One last tip, Smart Collections work with all your images. You can make them work with a subset of images by using normal collections and having the Smart Collections only display images that are in another Collection. I have a Collection called ‘Recent’ which I drag new images into. My Smart Collections are set to show things like Has Adjustments > Is True AND Collection > contains > Recent. Make sure you have set the ‘Match ALL of the following rules’ option. Then the Smart Collection will show only the images that are in the Collection called ‘Recent’ AND that have ‘no adjustments’.

Smart Collections can be nested by dragging one onto another to set up a parent and Child relationship, and you can set up quite a sophisticated array of Collections and Smart Collections that show you exactly where you are in your workflow. Try it out, I think you will see the benefits.

Check out more of Nick’s stuff at NickRains.com.

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