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Organize your photos with collections in Lightroom

Accumulating thousands of photos on a hard disk can make you dizzy when you want to classify and search them. Lightroom’s collection system is a powerful organizational tool.

Biarritz bikers. Smart collection based on metadata classification allows you to isolate images of a specific location or subject. This makes it easier to select the final images.

One image, many destinations

More often than not, photos are distributed on our hard drives in folders named according to the photographer’s habits: by date, by place, by event, etc. For example, our 240512 Biarritz folder collects photos taken in and around Biarritz on 5/12/2024 and the following days. One of the photos could be the subject of a greeting card, a print for an exhibition or used for an article on the Spéos website. Duplicating the image in three new folders (greeting cards, print, Spéos) would clutter the hard drive and complicate file management. Hence the use of collections, which are true virtual folders. The same photo can be placed in one or more collections without having to move it from its original folder.

The same photo saved in a specific folder on a hard disk can be placed in several collections.

Collection Sets

As the number of collections grows, collection sets are useful for grouping them thematically, like folders. Sets and subsets can be created at any time to reorganize these virtual folders as collections are added. A search function makes it possible to find both sets and collections.


Lightroom comes with pre-installed collections in the Library Catalog panel: “All Photos, All Synced Photos, Quick Collection, or Previous Import. But there are also Smart Collections, accessible in all modules (Library, Development, etc.) in the Collections panel. These automatically group together images from the catalog that meet certain criteria: images rated 5 stars, marked in red, without keywords, etc. In the Collections panel, you can add new collections, with no limit on their number, as simple collections or smartcollections. It’s a good idea to group them into collection sets, like folders and subfolders, to make them easier to organize.

Lightroom’s default collections.
Lightroom’s default smart collections.

Create a collection

Let’s start with simple collections. Clicking on the “+” icon opens a contextual menu. We’ve seen how to create a set of thematic collections, for a recurring subject: “Greetings cards”. A collection will be placed in this set, named “Greetings Card 2024”, to bring together the best photos suitable for the greetings card project for that year. Then, from the library, let’s drag the images we’ve gleaned here and there into the collection. Right-clicking on the collection brings up “Set as target collection”: the keyboard shortcut “B” performed on each selected image will automatically place it in the collection. A “+” is added after the collection name to identify its target function. Right-click>Delete from collection or the “backspace” keyboard shortcut deletes an image from a collection without deleting it from the original folder.

Creation of a new collection.
Create a new collection. It can be defined as a target collection to make it easier to save images in the collection.
The + symbol indicates that the collection is a target collection.

Smart collections

Smart collections automatically assemble images according to one or more selection criteria. They support all images in a catalog. Unlike a simple collection, you cannot manually add or remove an image from a smart collection. For any modification, the image selection criteria of the smart collection must be adjusted. These collections can be distinguished from other collections by the presence of a cogwheel icon.

Create a smart collection

In the Collections panel, click on the “+” icon to open the contextual menu. First create a thematic set of dynamic collections, for example “France”. Then create a regional subset, “Basque Country”. A smart collection will be placed here, for example “Biarritz”. If the IPTC location metadata has not been entered in the images concerned, extend the criterion to include the folder name or any other information linking an image to Biarritz. And you can multiply the automatic selection criteria according to any additional criteria you wish: file type, camera, lens, etc. The rules can be modified at a later date. Right-click on the smart collection and select “Edit Smart Collection”. Assigning relevant keywords in image metadata enables a variety of groupings to be created for the specific needs of each photographer.

The smart collection is symbolized by a small cogwheel.

Discover the photography courses at Spéos

Spéos offers various training courses ranging from simple one-week photography courses (initiation and advanced level) to 3-year courses. The long courses to become professional photographers allow you not only to master all the photographic techniques and its vocabulary (blurs, hyperfocus, sharpness zone, depth of field, backlighting, focal length, shutter release, autofocus, wide-angle, rule of thirds, etc.), but also all the stages of shooting and image processing.

Visiting the school allows you to discover the premises, the studios and the equipment, and is undoubtedly the best way to familiarize yourself with your future way of working. This is why, in addition to the open days, Spéos offers throughout the year personalized visits by appointment to come and discover the school with a member of the team.

Text and photos: Philippe Bachelier, teacher of Printing techniques at Spéos

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