I have watched hundreds of photographers use Lightroom. Most people we work with love this amazing photo editing and photo management program from Adobe.
After watching loads of photographers stumble around to find photos using folders and collections, I can only think of a handful of instances where users searched for the photos using the Lightroom search functionality.
Searching is the most underutilized feature in Lightroom
You didn’t know Lightroom has search functionality? You aren’t alone. Lightroom doesn’t call it searching. They call it “filtering” which is searches’ little brother.
How to filter
You can get to the filtering capabilities by pressing the “\” key in the Library module.
Once the filter bar is up, you can filter for photos using keywords, stars, flags, colors, date, camera, creator, job, location, or any other type of metadata.
If you want to go crazy, you can even sort your photos by ISO, aperture or even focal length or shutter speed. (Lord knows why you would want to only see your 1/3 sec photos… but you could do it).
When I teach Lightroom or am working with customers, 90% of the conversation is typically about the Library Module. I think this is because managing 1000s of photos is not trivial. (Neither is backing images up… which is one the reasons my company Mosaic exists.)
Why is it so hard?
Making photos look good is fun. Organizing them is drudgery and can be confusing.
Many users will create folders and collections to keep their photos “organized”. Later when searching for the photos, they will rely on their memory to find the photos they are looking for by these folders and collections. Most of the time, they are successful but it just takes some time. This time could be better spent.
Also, finding photos in this way mostly relies on the photographer’s memory. I like being pleasantly surprised by photos I search for and forgot I took.
Why use search?
When managing large data sets, search is typically more efficient and effective than looking for the data in folders and collections. (You search the web. You don’t go through folders looking for information on a website.)
Folders only give you the perception that you are organized. Real organization happens with the ability to find through search. Search is only possible today with good metadata.
So why is this so underutilized in Lightroom. Well, first, it is hidden in Lightroom. Aperture users are much more likely to search because they put search front and center in their user interface. (Aperture users also do not have to use folders as an organizational structure at all).
Other programs where we manage large data sets, like iTunes also make search front and center.
Also, I think we photographers haven’t gotten used to the new normal, which is managing thousands of images. We have to adjust from the old world of folders/collections to the new one of advanced search/filtering.
My prediction is that as more photographers discover searching for photographs instead of hunting and pecking, this will not be most underutilized feature in Lightroom for long.
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