Smart collections allow you to harness the power of the database inside of Lightroom by leveraging the information contained in your photo’s metadata. Plus, any additional data you may have added (like keywords, titles, captions, etc.), to automate the process of finding, grouping, and organizing your photos in meaningful ways. You can think of smart collections simply as saved searches that run automatically.
Smart collections are just one of three types of collections you can find in the Collections panel. If you click the plus arrow sign in the header of the Collections panel, you can access the menu command for creating each type of collection.
In addition to the Smart Collection, there is the regular Collection type, which is useful for manually grouping photos together based on a common theme or purpose, and the Collection Set, which are essentially containers for other collections and enable the creation of an organizing structure for your various collections. So for example, you might have a Collection Set named for a trip or event, and then within that set, you could have a combination of regular collections and smart collections that contain relevant photos. These can be grouped together based on any criteria that suit your needs, such as dates, names of people, locations, and so on.
I typically use regular collections when I am manually going through photos and picking and choosing specific photos that I want to group together for some reason, and I use smart collections when I want to automatically gather up a group of photos that all meet the same criteria. I organize those various collections inside of relevant collection sets.
To help new users understand smart collections Lightroom comes preinstalled with a single collection set called “Smart Collections” that contains six starter Smart Collections:
• Colored Red: Any photo in your catalog with the red color label applied.
• Five Stars: Any photo in your catalog with a 5-star rating.
• Past Month: Any photo in your catalog whose capture date is within the last month.
• Recently Modified: Any photo in your catalog whose edit date is within the last two days.
• Video Files: All video files that have been imported into your catalog.
• Without Keywords: Any photo within your catalog whose keyword field is empty.
These Smart Collections are very simple and are intended to give you a sense of what can be done, and are completely customizable (and removable). Take a look inside the Colored Red collection and see how it is constructed. Double-click the collection name or its smart collection icon to open the Edit Smart Collection dialog box.
In the Edit Smart Collection dialog box, you’ll see the name field at the top and the rules underneath. This collection is based on a single rule being applied to the entire catalog: Label Color is red. Any photo in the entire catalog matching that criterion is automatically added to that collection. Click Cancel to close the dialog without making any changes. Take a moment to double-click each of the preinstalled smart collections to see the rules they contain. As you can see, a smart collection is nothing more than a type of saved search that can be as simple or complex as your needs demand.
To create a new smart collection you can use the Create Smart Collection menu in the panel header, the New Smart Collection command in the Library menu, or simply right-click anywhere inside the Collections panel to access the same Create Smart Collection menu. The Create Smart Collection dialog box is similar to the Edit Smart Collection dialog box but has the addition of the Placement section that allows you to add this new Smart Collection to an existing Collection Set or leave it at the top level of the Collections panel. Note: You can always drag and drop collections into Collection Sets later.
When it comes to creating the rules for the Smart Collection, you first need to decide if you want the photos added to this collection to match any, all, or none of the rules you go on to define by choosing an option from the drop-down menu next to Match. Leaving match set to all is the most straightforward way to get started. You can see all the possible rules at your disposal by clicking the rules drop-down menu and scrolling through the list.
Remember, the only way photos can be added to a smart collection is if they meet the defined criteria, and the only way they can be removed from a smart collection is when a particular photo no longer matches the defined criteria. There are so many ways Smart Collections can leverage the power of the Lightroom catalog and make your life simpler. Experiment and have fun!
Rob writes the “Under the Loupe” column for Photoshop User Magazine, and is the author of many photography related books.