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Shooting Stars: Rating and Filtering Pictures in Lightroom

With cheap storage and 8+ pictures-per-second cameras, many photographers are waking up in an archivist's nightmare: they have a very large collection of images without a quick and useful way to explore them. 

Organizing photographs in a catalog is an ideal way to reclaim your collection. Adobe Lightroom offers fast and meaningful ways to add data to our images for exploration later. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to add stars to rate your images and keep your archive healthy.

What are Stars?

Simply put, the stars system in Lightroom allows us to rate images with a number value.  Once applied,  stars can be used to explore your collection based upon rating. 

Images on the Lightroom filmstrip that have been rated will be shown with the corresponding number of stars on the filmstrip. Notice here that I've made Lightroom display only my favorite images - the five star images - so that I can pull my best images out. This is the power of the stars system.

How to Add Stars

Rating, or "starring," your images is a breeze. There are effectively six star ratings that you can apply to an image. These ratings can be applied by pressing a corresponding number on the keyboard:

1 - Rate an image 1 star

- Rate an image 2 stars

- Rate an image 3 stars

- Rate an image 4 stars

5 - Rate an image 5 stars

- Remove a stars rating from an image

To increase or decrease a star rating, press the ] or [ keys correspondingly.

If you prefer using the menu to add star ratings, you can do so by choosing the Photo > Set Rating and choosing the corresponding rating. 

You can also speed up the process of adding stars by enabling auto-advance. This will automatically show the next image as soon as you apply a stars rating. To enable auto advance in the Library module, choose Photo > Auto Advance from the application menu. 

Choose Photo > Auto Advance from the menu to continually advance the image timeline, showing you one image after another.

Filtering to Stars

Over time, starring your images after you shoot will build up a large body of files that have ratings. Once you've added stars to your files you can start exploring your collection based on ratings tiers.

To get started with filtering, ensure that the advanced filtering options are showing. To apply a filter based on rating, click the corresponding number of stars. Lightroom applies the filter on a "greater than" effect by default, so selecting 3 stars will select all images with 3, 4, or 5 stars.

To filter your images based on stars, start by clicking "Filters" to open the advanced filtering options. In the illustration above, I open the options and then filter to 5 star 

If you want to change how Lightroom behaves in this situation, you can change the "greater than or equal to" option. Clicking the symbol will show the dropdown of choices. You can change Lightroom to show images with exactly the rating you choose, or switch to a less than or equal to option.

By default, filtering on stars takes a "greater than or equal to" approach, which means that choosing 4 stars will choose images with either 4 or 5 star ratings. A lesser known option is to click the greater than or equal to sign as shown above and choosing another option.

How Do You Star?

When I'm studying Lightroom and how photographers use it, I'm always fascinated by tools can be applied in remarkably different ways. The stars system is no exception. I spoke to three other photographers about how stars fit in their workflows and wanted to share so you can get an idea of how to shape the tool to your needs.

Jackson CouseJackson CouseJackson Couse
Jackson Couse, photographing on a road cut somewhere in Delaware

Jackson Couse

Editor, Photo & Video at Tuts+

Here's how I use stars: first, I give every image that is a possibility to keep one star. If I think it remotely has a chance, I'll give it a star. Then, I do a second pass, rating the images that are "maybes" with two stars. Finally, I apply 3 stars to the images that are keepers.

After completing this cull, I start working to edit and further process the photos. I'll even sometimes change the ratings as I'm working with the images, pulling images in or out of a collection as I reflect on the edit.

"Applied consistently, stars can help you pull the best pictures out of your work over time, which is especially handy for multiple-shoot projects.

A system like this can be great for creating portfolios. Let's say you're photographing weddings, and you rate the pictures from each wedding this way. At the end of the year, you could pull up all the best wedding photos in a snap by filtering for "3 Stars" and "wedding."

But what about 4 and 5 star ratings, right? I don't have any of those yet! I'm reserving them for future growth."

Ben LucasBen LucasBen Lucas
Ben Lucas balancing flash and daylight

Ben Lucas

Instructor, Photography at Tuts+

"I shoot with a Canon 5DMkIII, which allows you to set stars on a photo in camera. I have it set on my camera so the only options are zero or one stars. When I get home, if my job required an immediate upload, I'll take a quick look in Bridge at the photos I added a star to in-camera and edit those images before sending them out.

Once I'm in Lightroom, if a photo is ever worth seeing again, it gets one star. I don't bother clicking the "reject" flags anymore since it takes too much time. I then filter to the one star images and do a second pass. Client files get upgraded to two stars, and then portfolio level images get a third star.

At this stage, clients get to see their images. If it's a headshot type session, they pick their favorites and those images get 4 stars. Finally, once images are printed and delivered will get a 5 star rating."

Daniel Sone

Instructor, Photography at Tuts+

For me, star ratings are the dominant choice because they're cross-compatible, clients understand them, and it provides common ground for teamwork."

"I use star ratings over color-coding or flagging because they work with the all applications I use. I don't have to adjust preferences so color codes match or worry if flagging isn't available. I've found that star ratings are consistently by Lightroom, Bridge, Capture One Pro, and Photo Mechanic.

Andrew ChildressAndrew ChildressAndrew Childress
Andrew Childress photographing at a wedding

Andrew Childress

Your Author

Although I use stars in my system, I have to admit I'm yet to unlock the full power in my workflow. I prefer using flags for my selection of keeper images. In my mind, an image is either worth keeping long-term or not, and a flag is adequate to mark those selections.

I use stars to indicate my absolute favorite images. In personal catalogs, these are images that I might share on social media or have printed. For client catalogs, five star images will mark the selections I'll deliver as sneak peeks or other top choices. 

In summary, the 5 star rating is the only one you'll find in most of my catalogs. However, this added ability to tag my favorite images is still incredibly useful to me as I can filter to my best images with just one click.

Wrapping Up

Stars are easy to apply and add a lot of power to the filtering system. Although the system seems somewhat straightforward, you can apply the system in a variety of powerful ways to fit your workflow.

How are you using stars? Do you plan on adding it to your workflow if you aren't already?

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