How To Organize Your Lightroom Photos Using Smart Collections

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There are almost 125,000 photographers in the US, and one of their biggest problems is organizing their images. Adobe Lightroom makes it easy for you to organize your images through the use of smart collections. But a lot of people are unable to use them to their fullest simply because they have yet to realize what they are capable of.

This tutorial is going to show you how to use smart collections with any version of Lightroom. For the purposes of this tutorial, we are going to use a photo set freshly uploaded to Lightroom from 2009.

Why this Matters More than You Think

You may think that organizing your images in Lightroom is really about being OCD about everything, but it’s not. It’s about saving time and effort because you’ll easily be able to locate an image or a set of images. Furthermore, it becomes much easier to backup your images.

Many photographers have lost their prized images simply because they weren’t organized enough to actually backup everything.

Step 1 – Start a Collection Set

To begin with, create a collection set where you will have all your images sorted by year. In this case, our old photo set comes from 2009. Name it based on the year that the photos were taken. To do this, just select the + sign in the Collections Panel and pick the Collection Set option.


 Step 2 – Create a Smart Collection

Now that you have your first collection it’s time to make a smart collection. Just right click the set you made in the previous step and press the Create a Smart Collection option. Name it All and then check the Capture Date option in the Rules panel. You should select the dates that you want the set to include. In this case, you are going to select the first day of 2009 and the last day of 2009.


Step 3 – Narrow It Down to Month and File Type

You have your images segmented based on year. Now you are going to drill down further by segmenting them based on the month and the file type. Repeat the previous step, but change the timeline to the first and last day of January 2009.

You can add another rule from now. Select the file type based on what your images are, such as RAW or JPEG.

To finish off this step, repeat the previous instructions for every single month of the year.

Step 4 – Create Smart Collections for Every File Type

The annoying thing with most images, especially those taken by DSLR cameras, is that you could have the exact same image in multiple formats. This can really mess up your collection. So now you already know how to create a new smart collection, do this again but for each different file types.

You also want to do it for TIF files because this will allow you to remove most of the duplicates that you inevitably have in your files. Select any of these duplicates, press the X button, and go to All Photographs. You can then delete them from the disk, so they will also be gone from your hard drive as a whole.

Step 5 – Copying Collection Settings

It can be time-consuming to create a smart collection for every year, and to apply the same settings. You need a way to copy the various collection settings.

Begin by creating another collection set. For example, you could name it ‘2010’, as we have done in this tutorial. Select the smart collection for 2009. Drag the smart collection to 2010 and you will have exactly the same settings as you had for the first collection you made.

Double click all your copied smart collections and edit the dates to cover all the relevant years.


Step 6 – Making a Folder System

You can use these same collections to make folders. A folder system will add a further layer of organization to your system, so it’s worth going through with this extra step.

Click on the first smart collection you made and select all the photos within this collection. Go to your hard drive and select Create Folder by right clicking. Name it whatever you like and then select the setting Include Selected Photos. These files are being transferred, regardless of where you stored these images before.

Do this for every folder and you will soon have a system of folders that enables you to easily locate any photo based on date and time.

How will you organize your images today?


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