Gears: & Lightroom Collections



Looking for a simple way of gathering images for a multi-layered Photoshop composition? Lightroom can probably do the job using either Collections or Smart Collections. This post might give you a few ideas on how to make your life easier!

My Lightroom catalog currently has 823 images stored in a folder I call “Gears_Chains_Latches”. I’ve been photographing them when I can for the past eight or nine years. Additionally, I have thousands of rust, peeling paint, stains, and similar textures stored in my Lightroom master catalog. Most of the images have appropriate keywords to help find and organize them when needed. (I still cling to my “old school” method of organizing my images into folders. I like the safety net feel of it, but the folders aren’t absolutely necessary.)


Lightroom allows me to make Collections and Smart Collections. They are similar, but each are better at specific tasks. Collections require me to drag or assign images to the collection, while Smart Collections take advantage of the metadata and dynamically adds images to the collection when defined criteria is met.

As an example, I can create a Collection called Rust and drag images into the folder, even if they don’t contain rust or the word “rust” in the keywords. The collection is static…meaning it doesn’t grow unless I add images to it. A Smart Collection for “rust” could grow anytime I add “rust” to images keywords. Very nifty! (there are dozens of parameters available to customize the Smart Collection).

I can create a basic “Collection” by clicking the plus sign in the upper right corner of the Collections tab, then giving it a name. For this project, I created a Collection called “Gears”, then right clicked on it to assign it as the Target Collection. (change the Target Collection at any time by applying the Target Collection designation to another Collection). The current Targeted Collection has a “+” sign next to it as seen in the screen grab above.

Collection of Gear

To gather potential images for this project, I scrolled through my folder of gears, clicked on a candidate, and then hit the “B” key on the keyboard. The image will be added to the Gears Collection. In this case, I found 17 images I considered using. The images are not physically moved to the Collection—only a bit of code to let Lightroom know to point to the actual image.

There's More

But wait, there’s more! I did some minor tweaks to a few of the images in the Develop Module of Lightroom, then selected the six images. All I had to do was right mouse click on one of them to see the “Edit In” option—which includes a flyout menu containing “Open as Layers in Photoshop”. I clicked that option and presto, Photoshop opens with the selected images conveniently layered in a single document. At that point, I like to save that file with a new name and it automatically gets added to the Lightroom Catalog. In Photoshop, it is just a matter of ordering the layers, adding layer masks and polishing the image to taste.

Smart Collections

Create Smart Collection

To Create a new Smart Collection, click the large Plus button in the Collections tab.

Name Collection

Name Collection…Rust in this case. In the Match box, Rating is default. Click Rating and pick from a large list of options. For this example, I chose Other Metadata>Keywords


Add the desired search Keyword (rust), then click Create. You can click the “+” sign to add additional parameters if desired.

Rust Results

For this example, the new “rust” Smart Collection yielded over 6000 images in my Lightroom catalog in which I had assigned the keyword “rust”. Better yet, the search results may have found images on numerous computers and in numerous folders.

Spend a little time with this feature and I believe you will be blown away by the potential!

Collection Sets

Collections and Smart Collections can be organized into Collection Sets. That’s a big deal once I create a lot of either. For example, there’s a good chance I will create a new Collection for each upcoming project for Over the period of a year, that could become a long list. A Collection Set could be titled “GrungeComps” while another Collection Set might be called “NatureComps” to help organize them.

This post is intended to prompt you to consider using Collections on your own projects. Just make a Collection and start dragging images into it. Delete a few from it, make another one and drag images around between two Collections. If shouldn’t take long to get the hang of it. Collections, Smart Collections and Collection Sets have been part of Lightroom for quite a few versions, so even if you are not using the most current Creative Cloud programs, the features should still work. Adobe recently added Lightroom Mobile which also uses Collections to help sync files to an iPad or iPhone (and most android devices). That feature requires Lightroom CC.

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2 thoughts on “Gears: & Lightroom Collections

  1. I have several collections in LR and love how easy it to use. I have not tried smart collections however, and I can see how that would be so easy. I’m usually pretty good at tagging my photos on import anyway. Since I’ve been using some of my own texture images in PS I love being able to batch export.

  2. Hi Mary,
    I use Smart Collections to help me organize my images when I need to do a submission to the US Copyright Office. My parameters are: File Type = RAW and Dates = January 1 to January 31, 2016 for a January Submission. This disregards JPGs I might have captured on an iPhone or iPad or anything I might have imported from Darla’s point and shoot. Setting up a simple Smart Collection is WAY TOO EASY to ignore!

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