Photography and Art

Friday, December 12, 2008

Lightroom Smart Collections

Toronto Outdoor Art in Context - Here Comes the Sun

Every now and then, a light goes on. A few days ago, I had a chance to view a very good tutorial on smart collections in Adobe Lightroom 2. I'm not going to describe what these are in any detail, so if you don't know, please view the tutorial here. The beauty of smart collections is that they are dynamic and change as the images in the Lightroom database change. For example, if you have created a smart collection of all the images ranked with four stars and then you change one of the images to three stars, the image immediately drops from the smart collection. If you have another collection of photos with the keyword "Ireland" and you tag an image in your library with the keyword "Ireland", then it will immediately show up in the smart collection.

I've been mulling this capability around in my mind and here's how I plan to use smart collections in my workflow:

  • First, I'm going to implement a new scoring system as follows:
    • One star for rejects (blurry, shots of my foot etc.)
    • Two stars for ordinary photos (nothing technically wrong, but no inspiration)
    • Three stars for photos with promise, but with a technical flaw (e.g. in need of cropping)
    • Four stars for photos that work
    • Five stars for photos that are portfolio-worthy.
  • Next, I'm going to use flagged/unflagged to indicate if the photo has been developed and is ready for posting/printing
  • I'm going to set up smart collections as follows:

    • For each of my current and past photo projects, I'm going to set up a new collection set. For example, I'm working on a project called Toronto Outdoor Art in Context and will create a new set for that.
    • I'll go through my library and assign a keyword to every image in the project. In this case, the keyword will be Toronto Found Art.
    • Inside each set, I'll set up a bunch of smart collections. Each one will pull images from the database with the keyword I've selected for the project.
    • One smart collection will look for images with less than one star. These will correspond to new images that I haven't ranked yet.
    • One smart collection will look for images four stars or greater that are unflagged. These will be the images that are queued up for developing.
    • Another smart collection will look for flagged images with five stars. These are the portfolio-worthy images that are ready for printing and posting to my web site.
By arranging my collections this way, I'll solve a problem that has hounded me since I started serious photography back in 2004: finding all the photos in a particular project and sorting them into the keepers and the throw-aways.

Assigning keywords to every image in your library sounds painful, but in practice it goes fairly quickly. Usually photos in a project appear sequentially in your folders, so you can just highlight a block of photos at a time, mouse over the keyword that you want to assign, right click and choose "apply keyword to all selected photos". My goal is only to assign project-oriented keywords, not every tag under the sun.

If you haven't tried out Lightroom smart collections yet, give it a shot. It's a huge improvement over regular collections that are built by dragging and dropping images into the collection.

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