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  • Writer's pictureJoe Klocek

Subject Matter Over Time: Using Smart Collections

Let's think about the subject matter of our photographs. We could say that we take pictures of the family vacation in 2022, or of shooting pictures of sandhill cranes in 2019, or we might say we take pictures of our children or grandchildren. Think about the differences here. Some subject matters we take photographs of at one discreet moment in time. Other subjects we take pictures of throughout time. We should organize them differently. 

As always, if you want assistance in organizing your Lightroom catalog to make sure that all of your images are easily findable and that you have all of your images in one convenient place, then My Lightroom Is a Mess can help. We consult with people remotely to assist them with their image management and we can start with a free 15 minute getting to know you session. 


We start with collections. This is where we can create a collection of a discrete set of images and drag images into or remove images from it. Of course the thing about collections is that they are relatively fixed. In other words they stay constant until you manually add or remove images from them. 

Many people use collections because it's the first thing that they learn. But they may not realize that these are actually for a specific type of shoot. A grouping or organization of images that does not change throughout time (without hands-on input from you) is really best for images from a discrete moment in time. In other words, if you have a shoot that is self-contained, such as the family vacation you took in 2022, that is best as a collection. 

We don't want to be constantly manually adjusting the images within collections. That’s way too much work. Enter the Smart Collection.

Smart Collections

Smart Collections function as virtual folders within Lightroom, automatically populating themselves based on user-defined rules or criteria. Unlike traditional collections, as discussed above, Smart Collections automate this process, ensuring that relevant images are continuously updated within the collection as new photos are imported or edited.

These are best for images of subjects or themes throughout time.

Some subjects we photograph regularly throughout our lives. These might include images of our children or grandchildren, images of flowers if we love macro photography, sunrises and sunsets, or any number of subjects that are not time sensitive. If we shot images of flowers throughout the spring and summer every year it would be a pain to manually add them to a collection of all of our flower pictures. That process should be automated with a Smart Collection. 

Creating Smart Collections

The process of creating Smart Collections in Lightroom is straightforward yet highly customizable. First, start in the library module. On the left panel find the Collections tool. Click on the plus symbol and you will find the ability to create a Collection, a Smart Collection, or a Collection Set. Right now we are looking at Smart Collections.

At this point Lightroom will ask you to set the rules for the Smart Collection. These rules define criteria such as keywords, metadata, ratings, flags, or any combination thereof to specify which images should be included. You can decide to have images added into the smart collection if they fit any of or only one of these rules. The most useful rules for smart collections are rating, keywords, and file name. 

I’ve spoken about this before, but you want every image you take to be included in at least one collection or smart collection. By using keywords as a rule for smart collections, and adding keywords to images upon import, you can ensure that this happens automatically. 

Using Smart Collection for organization

And everything gets a little bit easier if you get into the habit of regularly rating your images. I like to create a smart collection that is titled “to rate”. I set the rule for this collection as the “rating is equal to no value”. My goal is to always take this Smart Collection and reduce its number of images to zero. Once I have my images rated I can go into a collection based on keywords and use the metadata search within that collection to find only my five star images. This allows me to find not only pictures of rainbows, let's say, very quickly. It also allows me to find only my favorite rainbow images. And I can do it in seconds.

Some of my favorite smart collections to create are:

  • To rate ( the rating of the image equals no stars)

  • To keyword ( there are no keywords attached to the image)

  • Color tag red (When I want to highlight specific images for a project I will color tag them as red, but you could use any other color you wanted, and I can immediately find those images for that purpose. Once I have used the image for the purpose I remove the color tag.)

Smart Collections represent a valuable asset within Adobe Lightroom, offering photographers a sophisticated means of organizing and managing their digital libraries. Of course, if you want assistance with Collections, Smart Collections, or any other aspect of managing your photographic life, you can start today by scheduling a free 15 minute consultation with us here at My Lightroom is a Mess. 

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