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Using Collections for Organization

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Adobe Press.
  • Date: Nov 19, 2016.


  1. The Case for Collections
  2. Collecting Your Photos
  3. Maintaining Collections Over Time

Chapter Description

In this sample chapter from Taming your Photo Library with Adobe Lightroom, author Rob Sylvan explores the advantages of using a second level of organization when storing your photos, moving from simple folders to catalogs.

In the previous chapters I’ve made a big deal about the fact that your photos only ever exist in folders on your hard drive and that those folders form the first level of your organizational system for your photos. Now, let’s take a look at a second level of organization. One significant advantage of using a catalog to manage the data about your photos is that you can use collections (think of them as virtual folders) as a tool for helping you further organize and gain easy access to your photos.

The Case for Collections

Before database-driven programs like Lightroom, you were limited to using folders to group and organize your photos. For instance, you could create a new folder for each shoot and put all the photos from that shoot into it. However, what if you wanted to do a project using your photos? For example, what if you wanted to create a photo album for a family member to give as a gift? .

You might start by creating a new folder for the album, and then you might place a copy of each photo you wanted to include in the album into that folder. Pretty simple and straightforward, right? The downside to this approach is that you’re most likely going to create duplicates of all the album photos on your drive, which takes up more disk space. Suppose you wanted to create an album for every holiday or every vacation, or perhaps a “best of” album of your favorite photos. Over time you would end up dedicating more and more disk space to duplicates of your photos in these new album folders. Now imagine that you decide you want to go back and reprocess some album photo using a new technique you learned; you’ve got to reprocess the original and then update all of those folders with duplicates of the new version too. What a headache!.

Because Lightroom uses a catalog to manage your photos, you can instead create collections, which are like “virtual folders,” for each photo album and avoid wasting disk space on duplicates. Lightroom uses the power of the catalog to simply reference the source photo in its original folder but have it appear in a collection’s virtual folder.

The Collections panel (Figure 4.1) gives you the power to create an infinite number of collections (or virtual folders or photo albums, if that’s easier to visualize) based on whatever needs you may have for gathering a bunch of photos together. Because it uses the catalog to reference the original source photo each time, you are not creating any duplicates of your photos, and you have the power to place any individual photo in as many collections as your heart desires. That is a really useful and powerful feature. But wait, there’s more! Because the collection references the original source photo, any time you make a change to that source photo (no matter whether you are viewing it in a collection or its home folder), that change instantly appears on that photo in every collection it belongs to as well—because it is all the same photo.

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 The Collections panel gives you the ability to create an infinite number of virtual folders to suit your organizational needs.

The Collections Panel

There are actually three types of collections you can use inside Lightroom:

  • Regular collections are useful for manually grouping photos together based on a common theme or purpose

  • Collection sets are essentially containers for other collections and enable you to create an organizing structure for your various collections

  • Smart collections are basically saved searches that automatically gather photos together based on criteria you choose

You can click the plus sign (+) in the header of the Collections panel to access the menu command for creating each type of collection (Figure 4.2).

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2 You can create new collections using the button at the top of the panel.

Which type of collection you use depends on its role in your organization and on how you like to work. For example, you might have a collection set named for a trip or event, and then within that set you could have a combination of regular collections and smart collections that contain relevant photos grouped together based on any criteria that suit your needs, such as dates, names of people, locations, and so on.

I typically use regular collections when I am choosing specific photos that I want to manually group together for some reason, but I use smart collections when I want to automatically gather up a group of photos that all meet the same criteria. For example, I might create a regular collection to hand-pick a small group of photos I want to print as photo cards for birthday presents or create a smart collection to automate the gathering up of all photos taken in a given year that have at least four stars and have been processed in the Develop module. I organize those various collections inside relevant collection sets.

Collection use is entirely optional inside Lightroom, but collections do provide one major advantage over folders: You can get at them in more places. The Collections panel appears inside all modules, whereas the Folders panel exists only in the Library module. You can create collections based on your needs and then have easy access to them when processing in the Develop module or preparing different forms of output with the Print, Web, Slideshow, and Book modules.

Beyond increasing accessibility inside Lightroom, collections are also the means by which you can sync photos between your catalog and Lightroom Mobile. I’ve dedicated Chapter 10 to Lightroom Mobile integration, so I won’t dive too deep now, but suffice it to say that the only way to get your photos from your desktop catalog to the Lightroom Mobile app is through your regular collections.

The Catalog Panel

There is one other place where you can find a special set of collections: the Catalog panel (Figure 4.3) This panel is intended to provide you with a series of shortcuts to certain groupings of photos that Lightroom creates based on your activity within the program. For example, the All Photographs choice at the top of the panel gives you a one-click way to call up every photo (and video) that has been imported into Lightroom. Aside from providing you with an at-a-glance tally of how many photos are in your catalog, All Photographs is useful when you want to perform a search or filter of your entire library. The Quick Collection choice is just that: a quick way for you to put some group of photos aside for easy access later on (we’ll cover this in more detail later). The Previous Import choice (it’s called Current when an import is in progress) is intended to give you a way to see the last batch of photos to pass through the import process.

Figure 4.3

Figure 4.3 The Catalog panel gives you access to special collections such as All Photographs, Quick Collection, and Previous Import.

The panel shown in Figure 4.3 is for a new (and empty) catalog to show the three default collections you’ll find in your catalog, but as you do more things in your catalog you may start to see other collections appear there as well.

For example, in (Figure 4.4), I have collections named All Synced Photographs, which represents all the photos I have synced with Lightroom Mobile; Updated Photos, which is a collection of photos for which I had Lightroom update metadata; Previous Export as Catalog, which contains photos I exported as their own catalog; and Added by Previous Export, which was created when I exported a single photo and added it to the catalog as part of that process. You may have other collections or just the default collections.

Figure 4.4

Figure 4.4 Other activities you do in your catalog may generate special collections of their own.

If your Catalog panel is getting cluttered with these extra collections and you no longer need them, you can always right-click one and choose “Remove this Temporary Collection” from the context menu that appears (Figure 4.5).

Figure 4.5

Figure 4.5 You can remove the temporary collections from the panel.

Now that you have a sense of what collections are and where to find them, let’s dig deeper into how to use them.

2. Collecting Your Photos | Next Section

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