Lightroom In-Depth: Smart Collections


Lightroom provides a capability to define logical groups for images. These logical groups called collections.
The easiest way to perceive collections is as a logical folders, uncoupled from underlying physical folders.
Since Lightroom 2, Adobe further extended collections capabilities by introducing Smart Collections.
Smart collections enables defining a virtual group that is automatically generated according to predefined metadata rules.
Smart collections provide logical content filtering which enables storing content search queries for repeated usage.

Creating Smart Collection

Define smart collection
Figure 1 – Defining Smart Collection

Smart collections are available as part of the library module in the collections panel (at the bottom left), by either clicking on the plus sign in the title or by right clicking existing collection or collection sets (Figure 1).

Smart collection configuration
Figure 2 – Smart Collections configuration

Once smart collection creation screen pops up (Figure 2), the following parameters should be configured:

  1. Name (1): The smart collection name as will appears in the collections panels.
  2. Set (2): Collection hierarchical position within the collections panel.
  3. Match (3): Define whether the collection should require that all the rules must be matched or whether it’s enough that any one of them will be matched for an image to be included as part of the smart collection.
  4. Rules (4): The rules that will be compared to images metadata and if passes comparison will be added to smart collection. Rules are comprised of:
    1. Metadata field – The Lightroom metadata field which you would like to compare your input with. It can be any searchable field you can think of, starting from camera & exposure information through Lightroom catalog information (e.g. keywords) and up to Lightroom internal statuses (such as whether the image has been developed (processed) , cropped and so on).
    2. Mathematical operation – The mathematical operation to be performed between the metadata field and user input (to be explained in the next bullet). Available operations are automatically adjusted according to the chosen metadata field.
    3. User input – User input to be compared with metadata field. User input can be either open text field or a selection out of available options list depending on the specific metadata field being analyzed.


Smart Collections - Example 1
Figure 3 – Smart Collections example 1: images modified in the last two days

Smart Collections - Example 2
Figure 4 – Smart Collections example 2: Images with 5 stars and labeled in Red color


You might have noticed it already (if not, I’m saving you the trouble) that Lightroom Smart Collections rules mechanism is somewhat limited. Given the above instructions, defining a complex smart smart collection is almost impossible. For example, smart collection that includes either keyword A or keyword B but must also include keyword C – Neither the all nor the any provide the right Match condition (Marked as 3 in Figure 2) that will do the work.
Adobe already anticipated this requirement and provide support for nested smart collection rules.

Nested Smart Collection definition

Figure 5 – Advanced Smart Collections definition flow

Upon creation of new smart collection or modifying existing one you have a plus sign on the right the right side of each rule (Figure 5, Red Mark). Once holding ALT (PC) or OPTION (Mac) the plus sign changes to pound sign (Figure 5, Green Mark). When clicking on the pound sign a new rules sub menu is exposed (Figure 5, Yellow box).
The new nested rules provide the capability to define hierarchical conditioning. For example, one can define smart collection containing all images with at least 4 stars and with either the keyword “Smart” or Keyword “Collection” as in the following screenshot (Figure 6):

Advanced Smart Collection Example
Figure 6 – Advanced Smart Collection example

Smart Collections Hacks

Whilst Smart Collections are a great tool they still lack of a specific functionality. If you would like to create a collection showing all the photographs which do not have keyword or collections assigned to them it’s not a straight forward task. The only way to do it is by defining a smart collection that filters photographs that do not contain all the alpha-bet character.
In the following screenshot you can see a Smart Collection to filter all photographs without keywords (great filter to find photographs you accidently forgot to keyword):

Smart Collection Hacks
Figure 7 – Smart Collection of all photographs without keywords

The above Smart Collection can be easily applied to filter photographs not assigned to any collection (instead of any keyword) by simply changing the metadata field to Collection in the rule.

Tutorial originally posted in Nir Dremer Photography Blog.