I use Lightroom a lot (and love it), but I don't use Collections at all, instead just preferring to keep photos in folders, and then tag/flag/pick within that. People often rave about Collections, though.

So, what are the key benefits of using them, either in their own right, or as part of an overall workflow?

4 Answers 4


Standard collections are similar to folders (although they are manually created and can incorporate files from multiple storage locations), but the real power are the smart collections.

A smart collection is defined by a set of query data, which can be based on EXIF data, file locations, edit status, or any other number of criteria. Images are automatically added or removed based on the smart collection's criteria. Here are some examples of smart collections I use:

  • Photos pending upload to Flickr (tag them with a color, use an upload plugin that supports a "has it been uploaded" bit)
  • all HDR photos (all of my HDR results have _tonemapped in the filename)
  • photos without any keywords
  • I suppose that's all there is to it, they're like Folders. Maybe I should have stressed the "how do you use them in your workflow" aspect, although that would have been another question! Agree about Smart Collections, a completely different kettle of fish, and very useful.
    – frumious
    Jul 23, 2010 at 14:31
  • @ahockley - You aren't supposed to have any images without keywords! Shame on you!
    – dpollitt
    Jul 22, 2011 at 17:49
  • I also have smart collections for things like, edited within x days, so I can remember the album I was messing around with last week or last month.
    – dpollitt
    Jul 22, 2011 at 17:49

I use collections as a final step before exporting/outputting images for a specific purpose. Here's an example from my role as the yearbook adviser at my high school.

We have a lot of pictures (~10k/year) organized into dated folders corresponding to events, activities, games, etc. Now let's say I need to work with the images we took of "Law Day" - a mock trial event in our mock courtroom. All of these images are stored in a folder labeled with the date and activity name, and we have ~100 pictures.

First, we need to make a layout for the yearbook. This layout is a 2 page spread, and I know I need 12 images to fill the layout. So I go through my original folder, pick out maybe 15-20 decent images, and dump them into the collection. Then I go to the collection and weed out the ones I don't want until I get down to my exact needs. All of the images are still in the original folder, but only the 12 image I want to use for the yearbook spread are in this collection. If I'm editing the book and decide I want to edit an image, it's as easy as going back to the collection, finding that individual image, making the edits, and re-exporting the JPEG.

Two months later, my boss (Social Studies supervisor) wants me to make an end of the year slideshow of activities from the social studies department. Now, maybe I only want 10 images from law day to include in this slideshow. I make a new collection, and add 10 images to it. I might also refer to my original collection to pull out the "choice" shots, or I might go back to the original folder.

Finally, my boss (same supervisor) wants a CD with some images from all these activities so that he can prepare an end of the year report. Thankfully, I still have all the collections I set up for the slideshow, so I choose those images, re-export the jpegs to a print-quality resolution, and burn him a CD.

It's also really helpful for pulling images from multiple folders. Say, for example, we have a spread featuring candid shots in the cafeteria, and these are pulled at random from 10-15 different folders. It would be a nightmare to go back and find those images again if they weren't pulled together in a collection.

For me, they're an incredibly useful organizational tool. The key benefits are that images can be in more than one collection at a time, the images can easily be moved in/out of a collection, and the collections are temporary. If I know I'm never going to need to use a collection again, I simply delete it, and I know the original files are still in their original locations.

  • Great scenario comment. I thought it was very helpful how you listed out how Lightroom helps even with large projects that require being crazy organized.
    – Jon
    Jul 22, 2011 at 15:31
  • I like the example. Could you achieve the same thing with keywords, smart collections, and star ratings?
    – dpollitt
    Jul 22, 2011 at 17:58
  • Keywords could work. Add a special keyword for each end-project and tag accordingly. You can also nest tags, which would help (i.e. nest all of the yearbook pages together, slideshows together). The problem with star ratings is that you can't really differentiate for different projects with the same set of images. I do use a star rating as an initial filter - 1 star means the image might be useful, 0 stars means I probably won't use it but I save it just in case. That then narrows it down when I go to put images in collections.
    – Brian
    Jul 23, 2011 at 3:08

I suppose that this will depend in part on how your workflow is organized, if you do a lot of shoots that are organized by folders with no overlap between the folders then collections may not be that useful, as in the following:

\Client One
    \Project One
    \Project Two
\Client Two
    \Project One

But suppose that you have images that are currently scatter amongst several different directories that you want to pull into collections on the basis of what you are working on or how you are using the photographs, such as in the following:

\Client One
   \Project One
   \Project Two
\Client Two
   \Project One
\General Photography
   \Shoot One
   \Shoot Two
   \Shoot Three

+ Client One
+ Client Two
+ Fine Art
+ Portfolio
+ Stock Photography

As you can see, there two collections setup for the clients which can contain photographs across all of their projects (i.e. the sub directories). Likewise, the Portfolio collection allows you to pull all of your best photographs from any directory into one location so you can exhibit them as needed. Since Lightroom allows photographs to belong to more than one collection, a photograph that appears in your portfolio may appear one of the other collections as well which also minimizes the time you need to hunt around for things.

In practice the real power in the collections comes from two things:

  1. Not having to duplicate photographs between directories (i.e. one copy in a client directory, another in a curated directory).
  2. Being able organize photographs around a theme and store them in one or more collections.
  • That is what I use it for too. Section out my best work into smaller folders.
    – dpollitt
    Jul 22, 2011 at 17:59

from your comment:

I suppose that's all there is to it, they're like Folders

But an image (unless I've missed something) can be in only one folder, whereas an image can be in several collections.

For example, if you go on a vacation, you could have a collection in which you put your best photographs, another collection in which you have pictures of family members, another one with landscapes, etc. and there can be overlaps.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.