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Adobe Lightroom has a very good organisation system. You can upload thousands of photographs and arrange them as you wish, in Lightroom collections.

One area we will look at today is making collections and smart collections. We will discuss what makes these different and when you should use one, and not the other.

Adobe Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is a great tool for photographers. It has a no-nonsense structure that is easy to understand after a short period of time. It works using a catalog system, where you can create new catalogs to work on specific projects. Or even separating your photographic work to your family photographs.

The library system can house thousands of images, referencing photographs from your hard drive or multiple external storage systems. You can then post-process these images in the develop module, where you can also apply presets and settings to many images at once.

It is fast and easy to use and has almost everything you might need to get brilliant results from your images. It can work with all types of photography; architecture, street and even time-lapses and High-Definition Rendering (HDR). For all the extra things you might want to do, such as adding graphics or cutting out layers, there is Adobe Photoshop.

If you would like to know all the ins-and-outs of Adobe Lightroom, see our Complete Guide to Lightroom here.

To import a few images into Lightroom to be used in this step-by-step guide, see this article here.

Collection Sets

What is a Collection Set

A collection set contains many collections. Simple. Let’s say that you take quite a few landscape photographs, from different places.

It might be beneficial to create a collection set called Landscapes, and within that have collections based on places. Another collection set could be Portraits and the collections denote who the photographs are of.

A collection set is a great way to keep your types of photography organised. A collection is a better system to keep photographs organised that are a little more specific.

So, how to make them?

When you open Adobe Lightroom, you should start in the Library Module, as you can see in the top right. We have four photographs in our catalog that we will focus on.

Showing images in the library module for creating Lightroom collections

On the left, you will see a panel where it will have four drop-down menus.

They will say Catalog, Folders, Collections and Publishing Services. Right now, only Collections is important.

Collections tab

Click on the arrow next to Collections, and the menu will drop down. Lightroom comes installed with a few collections already placed in the menu.

Here, in the example we have the following:

  • Coloured Red – These are photographs that I gave a red label
  • Five Stars – These are photographs I rated as 5/5
  • Past Month – These are photographs added to Lightroom in the last 30 days
  • Recently Modified – These are the images I have adjusted recently
  • Video Files – These are the video files in my library
  • Without Keywords – These are photographs without keywords

Some of the above are things I have personally added to images. The Red label and the 5-star rating are tools you can use to separate and organise your photographs. The others have been added without my personal involvement, but are still very handy.

Showing the collections panel for Lightroom collections

How to Make a New Collection Set

To make a new collection set, click the ‘+’ sign next to Collections. The mouseover should say ‘New Collection’ as shown.

*Alternatively you can go to Library>New Collection Set.*

Creating new collections

After clicking the ‘+’ sign, you will be given an options box. The choices are Create Collection, Create Smart Collection and Create Collection Set.

Creating a new collection to be used in Lightroom collections

Click on the third option – Create Collection Set

Creating a new collection set

Here, you will be given a box where you can name the Collection Set.

Naming the collection set for Lightroom collections

Rename as you see fit. In this example, I shall name the Collection Set ‘Landscapes’.

Naming the collection set

Press ‘Create’ to make the collection. Creating new collection sets for Lightroom collections

As you can see, under the ‘Collections’ panel you will now see the Collection Set. The icon will look like a file box.

That’s it! You have created a Collection Set. It doesn’t really do anything yet, but it will make more sense after we create the collections and smart collections.

On to creating collections!

Showing new collection sets

How to Create a Lightroom Collection

There are four methods you can use to create a collection. Either with drag-and-drop, selection of images, Library>New Collection or using the shortcut Ctrl+N.


From using the example above, we should already have the Collection Set ‘Landscapes’, as you can see below.

Showing collection sets to be used for Lightroom collections

Click the ‘+’ symbol next to Collections. This will bring up the menu we have seen before.

Showing the collections menu

Click on the first option Create Collection.

Creating collections for Lightroom collections

The box appears where you can rename the collection.

Naming new

Here, for this example, I named the folder ‘Mountains’. The reason I chose this, is because Mountains would be a subject within the encompassing Landscape photography our example is based on. Other possibilities could be ‘Landscapes’ as a collection set, and collections called ‘Black and White’ or ‘Northern America’.

Naming new Lightroom collections

Click Create. 

Creating new

The collection will be made, and you will be sent into the folder. Right now, the folder has no images as we have not assigned them to this collection yet.

Showing new Lightroom collections

Find the images you want to add, and select the ones that apply. These three images have mountains in them. The first image does not, so I won’t select it.

Selecting images

I then drag my images into the collection. If it worked, you will once again be sent into the folder. But this time, you can see just three images, not four.

This method gives you a good example of the ease of moving photographs by dragging and placing them where ever you want.

Showing new Lightroom collections

Selection of Images

The second method for creating a collection is to select the images you want to put into a specific collection.

Select all three images by selecting the first, use Shift+click and select the last image. You could click on each photograph individually by using Ctrl+click.

All three should be selected.

selecting images

While all three are selected, click on the ‘+’ symbol where it says New Collection.

adding new Lightroom collections

The options window will open.

creating new

Click on the first option – Create Collection.

Creating new Lightroom collections

In the Create Collection pop-up box, name the collection ‘Mountains’ or as you wish.

Naming new

The difference here is that you need to check the box that says Inside a Collection Set. This means that the collection will itself be placed in the Collections Set we made previously.

If you have only created ‘Landscapes’ as a collection set, then it will select itself automatically. If you have more than one collection set, you will need to choose from the pop-down menu.

assigning new Lightroom collections

The other checkbox that needs to be checked is Include selected photos. This tells the collection that the selected images are going there and it will move them automatically.

Extra details in

Click Create.

Crating new Lightroom collections

You will see the added ‘mountains’ collection under your ‘landscapes’ collection set.

Showing new

Library>New Collection

This is an easy method, especially if you are used to importing/exporting with the taskbar at the top.

Select the images you want to place inside a collection.

Selecting images for Lightroom collections

Click on Library.

Creating new

On the drop-down menu, the first item will be New Collection.

Using library>new collection for Lightroom collections

Click on New Collection.

Creating new

* Here, all of the above steps can be completed with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+N *

In the Create Collection pop-up box, name the collection ‘Mountains’ or as you wish.

Naming Lightroom collections

The difference here is that you need to check the box that says Inside a Collection Set. This means that the collection will be inside the Collections Set we made previously.

If you have only created ‘Landscapes’ as a collection set, then it will select itself automatically. If you have more than one collection set, you need to choose from the pop-down menu.

Assigning new

The other checkbox you need to check is Include selected photos. This tells the collection that the selected images are going there and it will move them automatically.

Including selected photographs in Lightroom collections

Click Create.

Creating new

You will see the added ‘mountains’ collection under your ‘landscapes’ collection set.

Added Lightroom collections

How to Create a Smart Collection

Creating smart collections is something that I use a lot in my own photography. This system allows you to select categories that you can use across all folders and collections.

A good collection set would be a type or area of photography. A good collection would be a more refined photographic subject within that area of photography. But a good smart collection could be all landscape photographs, excluding mountains but including all images with a green label.

Starting with the four images, we need to think about what we want to include in our smart collection. Here I have four landscape images, three of which have mountains in them.

Out of those three, two have water in them. So I will make a smart collection with only the images that are landscapes, with mountains AND water.

Here we have the four images.

Using landscape images

Click on the ‘+’ symbol next to Collections. This can also be accessed with Library>New Smart Collection or right-clicking in the collections panel.

Creating new Lightroom collections

An options window will open.

Creating new collections

Click on Create Smart Collection. 

Creating new Lightroom collections

The Create Smart Collection window will open.

Creating new collections

For the sake of this example, I will name it ‘Mountains and water’.

Naming new Lightroom collections

Make sure you select the checkbox Inside a Collection Set.

Assigning new collections

Choose ‘Landscapes’, which we made earlier, as the collection. Click Create.

Organising new Lightroom collections

Now, as we didn’t assign anything to find the images, it adds all the images in our library to the smart collection. As we can see, it is 300+ images.

This is normal at this stage. Now we can add keywords.

Adding Keywords

Keywords in collections

Go back to the four original images.

Selecting images for Lightroom collections

Select the two photographs that are going into the smart collection. Ctrl+click on each image individually.

Selecting images for collections

Now go over to the Keywording panel on the right.

Keywords in Lightroom collections

Here, you can type in keywords that will assign the images to the smart collection.

The keywords could be anything, but it’s useful to use something you can always refer back to. For the sake of this example, I have used mountains and water.

Keywords in collections

You’ll notice I’ve separated the keywords with a comma. If you do not use a comma, it will imagine ‘mountains water’ as one complete keyword.

Keywords in Lightroom collections

Go back to the Collections panel on the left. Select the smart collection you created,  Mountains and Water.

Organising collections

Right-click on the smart collection. This will give you the pop-up options menu.

Editing Lightroom collections

Find and click on Edit Smart Collection.

Editing collections

The Edit Smart Collection box will open.

Editing Lightroom collections

To assign the keywords ‘mountain’ and ‘water’, we need to add them to the smart folder.

Click on the first drop-down menu where it says Rating.

Editing collections

Locate the tab Other Metadata. 

Editing Lightroom collections

As you mouse over it, another drop-down menu will appear. Here you need to locate Keywords. 

Editing collections

The first tab will change from Rating to Keywords.

Editing Lightroom collections

Here you need to put one keyword at a time in the text box. Let’s start with ‘mountains’.

adding keywords to collections

Repeat this process for “water”. First click on the + sign next to the text box, and that will give you another area to write in.

When you click on the +, it will copy the search parameters of the first box. To stop this from happening, click on the + sign before refining the parameters.

Adding keywords to Lightroom collections

After clicking Save, you should end up in the smart folder with only the two images you have added those specific keywords to. End result of using collections


Smart collections are very versatile. You can use them for looking at many different parameters across all of your folders and keywords, labels and ratings. There is no end to what you can do with them. They can become very complicated, so if you don’t really need to use them, stick to collections and collection sets.

I use the smart folders for my live music photography. When I upload the photographs from a live concert, I might have 200+ images. Straight away I create two smart folders, one called [band name] use and [band name] delete. As I go through the 200+ images, I keep my fingers on the right-arrow key, the letter ‘B’ and the number ‘8’.

If I like an image, I press ‘8’ and that gives the image a green label. If I don’t like an image, I press ‘B’, which adds it to my quick collection for easy deletion later. Out of the 200+ images, I might green label 50 of them in the first edit. I will then further refine this because I only want 15 images as the final product.

This is where the smart folders come into play. The [band name] use has search parameters Source>folder>contains all>band name and label>is>green. The [band name] delete smart folder has the parameters  Source>folder>contains all>band name and label>is not> green. This way, all 50 selected images are in the use folder and all the others are in the delete folder. 

From here, it makes it easier for me to see what I like and what I don’t. From here, I can refine the parameters on closer edits.

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Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at and Instagram/craighullphoto