Lightroom Collections – Bringing Your Images Together

Much has been mentioned lately about using Collections in Lightroom for organizing your images as opposed to using your system folders you store your images in. Even if you maintain a meticulous folder structure, organizing your photos on your hard drive, it can sometimes become cumbersome finding particular images, or working with images that are in different folders. I am not saying Collections will allow you to be sloppy about your image storage (although it can help if you are disorganized) but you really should be using Collections in Lightroom to aide you in your organizational flow.

Luckily, as versatile as Collections are, they are equally simple to use. Once your images are organized into cohesive Collections, you will discover that quickly finding and editing images is a whole lot easier than digging through you system folder structure. And that is not even looking at Smart Collections, which allow you to automatically and dynamically create collections, with little intervention on your part.

So before we jump into making and using Collections, I would like to point out two features in the Catalog panel of the Library Module that can help get you started on your way to creating Collections.


This rather simple panel, found directly under the Preview panel lists only three options. First is All Photographs, which is simply all the photos in your current catalog. Clicking on this will load every photo in the catalog into the Library Module. Next is the Quick Collection which is a “Collection” that you can temporarily place photos into, from which you can then create a new Collection with ease. Finally you have the Previous Import option, which loads all of the images that were loaded into your catalog into the Library Module, which is great for making a quick Collection from your last upload when an entire upload should be placed into its own Collection.

The All Photographs option is of little use to creating Collections, but the two following options are great. Let us look at making a new Collection using the Quick Collection tools to assist us in organizing. Start out with a Folder of images you would like to start creating a Collection in. In the Library Module, make sure you are in Grid View, which makes it easy to view maultiple photographs quickly. Use a fairly large Thumbnail size.


Hover your cursor over one of the thumbnails that you wish to include into your new Collection. You will notice the Flag, Rotate, Rating, and Label buttons pop up in the frame around the thumbnail. What is of most interest to us is the small circle that appears in the upper right hand corner of the thumbnail. Clicking on that circle will add the image directly to the quick collection. You can quickly run through an entire folder making selections by hovering and clicking the circle. If you are more of a keyboard user, simply click on one of the images in the grid, causing it to highlight. You can then use {b} on your keyboard to add to the Quick Collection and utilize your cursor keys to quickly move from image to image. Whichever way you choose to use, they get your images into the Quick Collection just the same.

After you complete a folder or two of selections, simple click on the Quick Collection option in the Catalog panel to open the Quick Collection into the Library Module. Once your images you selected have opened in the Library Module, you will want to select all the photos using either Edit, then Select All from the menu bar or simply using {Ctrl/Cmd + A}. Once all your images are selected your Grid View should look similar to this image.


Now, shift your attention to the Collections panel located under the Folders panel. This panel contains your Collections, Collection Sets and Smart Collections. Click on the (+) icon in the upper right corner of the panel.


Clicking the (+) icon will bring up the New Collection Menu.


Now to create your new collection, simply click on Create Collection… Alternately you can forgo clicking the Collections Panel icon and simply use the keyboard shortcut {Ctrl/Cmd+N}. Both the panel icon and keyboard shortcut will bring you to this dialog box.


The dialog allows you to name your new Collection and add it to a Collection Set (which we will look at in a bit). In the Collection Options section, Include selected photos should be checked, otherwise there is little point in selecting them to add to begin with. If the box is unchecked, your selected photos will not be added automatically, you will have to do so manually. Also, Make new virtual copies is another available option, which depending on how you work, may be good to enable as well.

Checking this box will create new Virtual Copies of your selected images, and only the Virtual Copies will be added into the collection, leaving the original copies on their own. This can be good when you want to edit the same image in different Collections, but the downside is, you can quickly clutter your catalog with a multitude of Virtual Copies. If you work primarily from Collections though, the added clutter likely will not bother you much.

Go ahead and click on Create to make your new Collection.


Now that I have a few collections in my Collections panel, I believe it is time to create a Collection Set. Collection Sets are essentially collections of collections, somehow Collection Set sounds better though. Collection Sets are handy to keep multiple Collections grouped together for a particular project, and Collection Sets are a snap to make. Click the Collection panel (+) icon to bring back up the New Collection Menu.


This time, you will want to click on the Create Collection Set… option. YOu will then be presented with the following dialog.


From there it is pretty cut and dry, simply give your new set a name. Click Create and you are done.


Now you can simply click and drag your Collections you want into your new Collection Set.

So far we have created basic Collections and Collection Sets. Now let us delve into Smart Collections, where we set up a set of conditions and Lightroom automatically populates the Collection with appropriate images. Smart Collections are dynamically update, so as new images meet the Collection’s conditions it will be added automatically and if you change the image and it no longer meets the requirements, it is removed. Smart Collections are excellent to pull together 5 Star photos, photos labelled with a particular color and to group images by keyword.

To make a Smart Collection, click the Collection panel (+) icon again. from the menu, select Create Smart Collection… As normal, you will be presented with a dialog box, however this one will be filled with options.


As you can see, the top portion is simple, name the Smart Collection and set its location. Beyond that it gets more complicated. You will set rules that decide what images you wish to onclude into the new Smart Collection. Your first option is the drop box in the Match [all/any] of the following rules:. The drop box contains the options of all and any, if you choose all images will have to meet all the rule requirements to be included. If you choose any images that meet any one of the rules will be included. I rarely use any but it can occasionally come in handy.

Next click on the dropbox that is called out in the image above. The box default is set to Rating, but you will be able to set a multitude of different options, depicted below.


Depending on the variable chosen, the second and third drop boxes will change. Depending on the variable and the setting provided in the second drop box, the third area may be a drop box, text box or an adjustable graphic, like the Rating value in the image above. Once you set your first rule, you can add more by clicking the Plus icon on the right side of the first rule.


As you can see, I have created a Smart Collection Wanting only images rated 2 stars, an ISO of 100 or less and a label color of Red. With this many rules, with such parameters, I should get a group with a rather limited amount of images.


So, now you have seen a brief overview of Collections and Smart Collections in Lightroom, hopefully you learned something new or rediscovered something you rarely use. This is by no means a definitive guide to Collections, however, this should be more than enough information to get you started.

Keep in mind with Collections, they will only help if you really take care in creating them. You really want to use Collections as organizational tools that group related photos together, be they similar in content, from a particular shoot or simply a group of your favorites. By creating good collections you can focus you workflow more on images that matter, as it is unlikely you will add images that are not up to desired quality to your collections.

There is no need to add anything but your picks, favorites and best to collections, any image not in the collection is still in the folder if you need it, it is just out of sight.

If you are a keywording maven, Smart Collections using a keyword filter can automatically pull together images that meet certain keyword requirements. If you are a stock photographer, this can be a life saver. Say a client wants noise free images of a red car under a tree; if you are up on your keywording, you can make a Smart Collection that pulls your images that are under ISO 400, containing the keywords car, tree, and red. A real time saver if you are in that situation.

However, if you are like me and hate to keyword, you can still leverage Smart Collections to pull together images taken by a particular camera, lens or even aperture setting. Or any other combination of requirements you may find you need.

Also, if a Smart Collection pulls together a great set of images, you can always select them all and create a new, simple Collection. Your ability to organize your photos in Lightroom can be supercharged by spending some time with Collections and learning in what way you can use them to your particular advantage.

It beats digging through folders of random shots any day of the week.

Brandon Oelling

Hi there! I'm Brandon Oelling, the founder of XEQUALS. My team and I believe deep in our hearts that inside every one of us is an amazing photographer.

  1. Here is my version of creating a collection, perhaps better for some of us:

    You want to create a collection of houses. Create the collection first, then set that collection called “houses” to be the default quick collection. Then you can go through your photos and simply hit “B” to place them directly into your collection. I like this method better, because I don’t have to worry about selecting the circles, or even making sure I select all of the photos in the quick collection before creating my named collection. The other alternative is to utilize keywords. Create a smart collection for “keyword = house” so each time you keyword your newly uploaded photos, they will automatically be directed to that collection.

    The great wonder of Lightroom is that you can have the same goal in mind, and get to that goal so many ways!

    Dawn in NJ

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