Adobe Lightroom Collections

The Best Way to Use Adobe Lightroom Collections

In this post we’re taking a look at Adobe Lightroom Collections, how to create them, when to create them and where they sit in relation to the Catalog and keywords.

Keywords or Collections?

Adobe Lightroom offers a lot of choices when it comes to Catalog Management. Keywords, Keyword Sets, Collections, Collection Sets, Quick Collections, Smart Collections…

Which to use and when?

Let’s take a step back and see what the problem is that Adobe is trying to solve.

Digital Photography encourages photographers to take photographs. The cost of taking a photograph is tiny compared to film. And so we do. Millions upon millions of images are uploaded to social media every day. Probably at least half of them are processed with Adobe Lightroom.

Now, as I discussed in the Guide, Catalog Management with Lightroom Classic, the best way to manage pictures is to devise a file system and a keyword schema that can be consistent and deliver predictable results.

This will get you most of the way there, but the biggest problem I see is that people with the best of intentions can’t stop themselves improvising new keywords as and when it suits them.

So where somebody has a directory called Architecture and keywords of house, mansion, cottage to categorise the images, they suddenly add another keyword like Surrey into the mix. This does enable them to search for houses in Surrey, but the problem is that it doesn’t relate to the original schema and so the next thing that happens is another unrelated keyword is invented. For example Estate Agent.

Pretty soon the keywords outnumber the photographs and any sense of organisation is gone. This is where Collections fit in.

What is a Collection?

If you have already read the previous post on Catalog Management then you’ll be comfortable with the use of folders, keyword sets and keywords as a means of organising your photographs.

A Collection adds a virtual layer on top of the actual physical organisation of your photographs giving us a means of creating sets of photographs for a particular purpose. Better yet, Collections give us a way of organising images without making copies.

What are Collections for?

If you have a well-organised catalog, with a file structure that helps rather than hinders your efforts to find an image, and keywords designed to further help, then you may be wondering what further help is needed?

Here is one use case that I find merits a collection.

Use Case 1

I have quite a few regular clients for whom I do product photography. Over the years, the client’s catalog has expanded and at this time of year especially, I tend to get a call that says “Can you put together a set of images from the last three shoots that we might use for a Christmas offer?”

My normal workflow places the images into folders according to date, so it is easy for me to locate the pictures. But once I have them selected it helps to be able to get rid of all the other pictures and work on the selected ones as a set, rather than individually. Typically this will mean resizing and outputting for a website or social media. If I put these images into a Collection, I can do just that, without distraction or confusion.

Use Case 2

You’re moving house. The estate agent has taken terrible pictures and you know you have better ones somewhere in your catalog. Sensibly, you organised your folders by Exteriors, interiors, kitchen, bathroom, etc. Now you want to provide a set of jpegs to your Estate Agent measuring 1400px across, in Landscape orientation.

How do you get this done without going to each image and painstakingly setting each one individually and exporting it?

Simple. You create a collection and apply the export settings to the whole collection.

Here’s how you do that.

Open the Catalog.

Select all the pictures that you want to use for the estate agent,

If you’re not there already, go to Library View

On the left-hand side go down to Collections and click the + sign on the right of the box.

Adobe Lightroom Collections
Create Collection

Give the Collection a name. and tick the “include selected photos” box.

If you intend to alter the images, then tick the “make new virtual copies” Box as well.

Remind me again – what are Virtual Copies?

When you import an image into Lightroom a separate file is created called a “sidecar” file. This file contains the settings you apply to the image in the course of your editing.

When you open an image that you have already edited, Lightroom reads the settings out of the sidecar file and applies them to the image as rendered in the Lightroom catalog.

When you make a Virtual Copy you create a new sidecar file, but the original RAW file remains the same. Your Virtual Copy applies the settings from the new file and so you can take the image in a completely different direction without adding megabytes of copied image files to your hard drive.

Can I have the Same Picture in More than One Collection?

Absolutely. In fact, this is one of the advantages of using collections. You don’t make copies of the image, you simply give it another context.

Quick Collection
Collection in the Sidebar

What is a Quick Collection?

Quick Collections are designed to be used as a short-term answer to the type of use case I initially suggested. That is one where you need the collection for a specific task that is unlikely to be repeated.

How to Create A Quick Collection

If you’re in the Library or Develop Module go to Photo > Add to Quick Collection

In any other Module go to Edit > Add to Quick Collection

Viewing Your Quick Collection

In the Library Module choose Quick Collection from the Catalog panel on the left.


From the Film Strip Source Indicator drop-down choose Quick Collection.

Removing a photo from a Quick Collection is simple, in Library & Develop modules select the photo and choose Photo > Remove from Quick Collection. In any other module, choose Edit > Remove from Quick Collection.

You can also convert Quick Collections to permananent collections should you change your mind and thing the collection is worth keeping. Choose File > Save Quick Collection, give it a name and then toggle Clear Quick Collection After Saving to keep the Quick Collection after it’s saved as a collection.

What is a Smart Collection?

Two big differences…

Smart Collections are based on metadata criteria.

They automatically include all photos that meet the criteria.

You don’t need to manually add or remove photos from a smart collection.

There are five default smart collections in Lightroom Classic:

  1. Colored Red
  2. Five Stars
  3. Past Month
  4. Recently Modified
  5. Without Keywords

You can make your own Smart Collections based on multiple criteria.

Creating a Smart Collection

Choose Library > New Smart Collection. Click the + in the Collections panel and choose Create Smart Collection.

Give your Smart Collection a Name

Assign it to a set if needed.

Choose the criteria from the popup menus. (you can add and subtract criteria)

Choose match type – All or Any.

Choose Create


Collections give us a way of creating targetted sets of photographs outside of the structure of file system and keywords. Keywords are there to describe photographs and help you search for them. Collections are there to group photos into sets that will be useful to you.

Don’t make more keywords, make Collections!

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Where are Lightroom Collections Stored?

The Collections data is stored in Lightroom. The pictures themselves are identified in this dataset.

Filesystem, Keywords or Collections?

Start with a sensible filesystem structure. Then use the keywords to aid search. you can also categorise your images by colour and rating. If you need more, use Collections!

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