In Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, Collections are a handy way to organize your images into virtual folders. Collections, however, are all-manual: you add images to them one by one or a few at a time.
If you know that you’d like to make a collection of images from a certain type of picture you can use Smart Collections instead to automatically build up that set of images for you. In this tutorial you’ll learn how to make Smart Collections a powerful part of your Lightroom workflow.
Surprisingly, Smart Collections work a bit differently from their similarly-named sibling. While Collections are virtual folders, Smart Collections are saved searches: you give Lightroom a list of rules and it will return images that match those rules.
Lightroom Smart Collections are saved searches based on metadata rules.
Say you want to find all the images in your catalog with red color labels. You could build a Smart Collection and find them all in seconds. Need the images with a certain keyword? Smart Collections can handle that to. Red-labeled images with three stars, the keyword “sunset” and Pick status? No problem.
Build your First Smart Collection
Smart Collections are based on rules. You can give Lightroom rules about your images, and Lightroom will show the images that follow those rules. Let’s take a look at how to build a Smart Collection.
To get started, find the Collections panel on the left side of Lightroom. I prefer working in the Library module, but you can find the Collections panel in other modules too.
Press the Plus (+) button to open the dropdown option, and choose Create Smart Collection to get started.
The new window that opens holds the power to set the rules. Let’s run through how to build our first Smart Collection, where we’ll pull all images with a five star rating and a red color label.
Step 1: Name and Location
Give your Smart Collection a name—something descriptive—and choose where you want it located. If you’ve already built out a Collection Set, you can place it inside of one; otherwise, just untick the box.
Step 2: Add Rules
Building rules is all about choosing the dropdown options that meet your objective for the collection. As I mentioned earlier, we’re building out a Smart Collection that includes five-star images with the red color label This means we’ll need two rules: one to pull images with a rating of five stars, and one to pull images with red color labels.
Step 3: Choose a Match
Smart Collections are built on rules. We give Lightroom a list of rules and it provides matching images based on those rules. Lightroom gives us three basic dropdown options for how we want to apply those rules:
The default option will return images that meet all of the rules we give our Smart Collection. If an image doesn’t meet each and every one of the rules it won’t be included.
If there is a match with any of our included rules the image will be included. You can have as many rules as you’d like: if the image matches just it will still be included in the set.
This is used for what I call a negative collection: if the image meets any one of the rules it won’t be included in the Smart Collection. It’s a very handy kind of collection, as you’ll see in the examples below.
5 Smart Collection Recipes for Your Workflow
How can you harvest the power of Smart Collections? Here are a few ideas for queries to boost your workflow:
Collect Wide-Angle Images
I’m a big fan of wide-angle photography. These are usually the pictures I show off on social media or when I enter competitions. Yes, Smart Collections can even pull images based on the lens that you use!
Not every portrait is made with a medium-long lens, but a high percentage are. To round up the frames that are probably your portrait images, start with your favorite portrait lenses. For me, these are the Canon 85L and Canon 135L lenses.
Use a Lens Contains rule with the text of the lens description to pull all the images made with your portrait lenses. Alternatively, as above, you can filter the results to above a certain focal length. From these results it’s easier to work through all of the pictures that are probably portraits and add keyworks or make a new Collection.
Collect Images That Need Smart Previews
Are you using Smart Previews yet? This is a great feature introduced with Lightroom 5. Whether you’re connected to your original images or not on your hard drive you can keep previewing and working on your images. I can disconnect from my external drive and keep working no matter where I am.
However, these Smart Previews have to be built by Lightroom for each image. There’s nothing worse than opening my laptop in an airport or hotel and finding out that I didn’t build the files I needed to continue working while my hard drive is back home. That’s why I use a Smart Collection to monitor which images still need a Smart Preview built.
Collect Unadjusted Images
One of my worst post-production habits is to jump around from image to image while I work. When I have a great portrait or wedding shoot I get excited. I want to work my favorite parts first! This leaves my project a mixed mess of images at different states of correction, adjustment, and retouching.
Matching an uncorrected image to a completed one is a post-production nightmare. To avoid this, use a Smart Collection to collect the images that are at the beginning stage of the post-production process. This way you make sure that nothing gets left behind at the starting line as you move your project through corrections, adjustment, and retouching.
One quick note: this will only show images that haven’t had any corrections applied. If your images are partially worked-on and you don’t consider them complete, Lightroom can’t detect that. Consider devoting one or more of your flags to marking the status of your in-progress images. You can then make a Smart Collection for these flags.
Create a Portfolio Feed
If you have a large catalog with many different types of images, the complexity of your Smart Collections may need to grow. One great way to do this is to mix the rules for keywords and star ratings in a single collection.
If you want to pull your favorite wedding images, for example, your can create a collection for all images tagged “wedding” via keyword, and rated three stars or greater (I use three stars for the strongest images). A Smart Collection does not a wedding portfolio make, but it is a great starting point.
Smart Collections are Dynamic
Remember, Smart Collections are dynamic in nature. If a you make a Smart Collection to collect all flagged images, for example, and you flag a new image as a pick, the new image is added to the set. “Snapshotting” these Smart Collections to a regular Collection is the appropriate way to freeze your image selection as-is.
Convert to a Collection
If you want to take a snapshot of a Smart Collection, you’ll need to convert it to a standard Collection. This is quick and easy to do.
First, create a new Collection that will act as your “snapshot” of the Smart Collection. Press the Plus (+) button in the Collections panel and choose Create Collection.
After you’ve created the new Collection, simply enter the Smart Collection, select all images (Control-A) and drag and drop the selection into the regular Collection.
- Smart Collections are queries that are based on rules that you build
- A Smart Collection can have limitless rules with various match statuses
- Because they are dynamic in nature, the images that are in each Smart Collection will update as they meet or no longer meet the rules you’ve given Lightroom
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