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How to Use Lightroom Collections to Improve your Workflow

Using Lightroom Collections

The main benefit of Lightroom’s Library module is that it gives you the tools you need to get organised and speed up your workflow. The end result is that you can spend more time in the Develop module – the place where you creatively process your photos.

The best way to get organised is by using Collections and Collection Sets. There seem to be as many ways of using Collections as there are photographers. I’m going to look at two in this article. The first uses Collections, and the second Smart Collections. Together they will give you an insight into how you can use Collections to improve your workflow.

Why use Collections?

You may be wondering why you should use Collections in Lightroom instead of the Folders panel. Here’s why:

1. The Folders panel is only available in the Library module.

The Collections panel is accessible from every module. Adobe wants you to use the Collections panel as it is the most practical way to organise your images.

2. Collections and Collection Sets give you far more freedom than the Folders panel.

The contents of the Folders panel mirrors the file structure of your hard drive. Let’s say you take a photo of a friend called Amy in Hong Kong. In the Folders panel, that photo can only exist in one place – the physical folder where it has been saved on your hard drive.

However, the same file can be stored in as many Collections as you like. It could be part of a Collection called ‘Amy’, another called ‘Hong Kong’, perhaps another called ‘Favourite photos’. There is no limit to the number of Collections you can add it to.

It’s a little like using Playlists in iTunes. You can add a song to as many Playlists as you like. It’s the same in Lightroom with photos and Collections.

Organise your images

Hopefully you’re now beginning to see just how flexible and convenient Collections are. Now let’s take a look at how you can use them to organise your images.

Other photographers’ methods

When it comes to learning how to use Lightroom, don’t feel that you have to figure everything out yourself. There are plenty of outstanding websites dedicated to using Lightroom, and lots of photographers who share the way they work for others to use. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel – just find a way that works for you and tweak it to suit your needs.

In that spirit, I’m going to look at two methods for using Collections I learnt from other photographers.

Technique 1: Using multiple Collections

Using Lightroom Collections

This technique is based on a method I read about on Scott Kelby’s blog. I like it because it’s simple, and the easiest way that I’ve found to narrow down the images you take in a shoot to the ones that you want to process. The quicker you can do that, the sooner you can move on to the Develop module. Here’s a brief description of how it works:

  • Create a Collection Set and give it a name relevant to the shoot (i.e. the name of the place where the photos were taken, or the person in the photos etc.)
  • Create three Collections inside that Collection Set. Name them Full Shoot, Picks and Selects.
  • Send all the photos from the shoot to the Full Shoot Collection.
  • Flag your favourite photos from the Full Shoot Collection and send them to the Picks Collection. You don’t have to be really selective at this stage. You’re eliminating the worst images rather than picking the best.
  • Use flags to mark your best photos from the Picks Collection and send them to the Selects Collection. This is where you get really picky – the aim is to select only the very best photos from the shoot, the ones you intend to process.

Of course, you can adapt this to you own needs. If you don’t take many photos during a shoot, you may only need two Collections to narrow them down. On the other hand, if you want to convert some of your photos to black and white, you could create an additional Collection to hold those images.

Using Lightroom Collections

As you can see, I ended up creating five Collections for the above shoot.

The process is outlined in full here.

Technique 2: Using Smart Collections

Using Lightroom Collections

The previous technique relies on you adding photos to each Collection manually. But it’s also possible to use Smart Collections that Lightroom populates automatically. Photographer Rob Knight has the following system:

  • Create a Collection Set – give it a relevant name (in Rob’s example he uses ‘Landscape’).
  • Create two Smart Collections inside the Collection Set. Rob names his ‘Landscape picks’ and ‘Landscape stars’. All he has done here is add the words ‘picks’ and ‘stars’ to the name of his Collection Set. The article (link below) explains what rules to set.
  • Go to the Folder containing the images, and flag the best as picks. They are sent automatically to the ‘Landscape picks’ Smart Collection.
  • Go to the ‘Landscape Picks’ Smart Collection and give the best images a one star rating. Lightroom adds them to the ‘Landscape stars’ Smart Collection. This Smart Collection contains the best images from the shoot.

You can read about it  here.

Over to you

If you have an interesting way to use Collections yourself, then why not leave a comment? I would love it if readers could share some of their ideas – I’m also curious to see how other people use Collections.

Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module

Using Lightroom Collections

My latest ebook Mastering Lightroom Book One: The Library Module is a complete guide to using Lightroom’s Library module to import, organise and search your photo files. You’ll learn how to tame your growing photo collection using Collections and Collection Sets, and how to save time so you can spend more time in the Develop module processing your photos.

Read more from our Post Production category

Andrew S. Gibson
Andrew S. Gibson

is a writer, photographer, traveler and workshop leader. He’s an experienced teacher who enjoys helping people learn about photography and Lightroom. Join his free Introducing Lightroom course or download his free Composition PhotoTips Cards!

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