lightroom 2 – tip #5

1/50 f/3.5 ISO 800 Handheld (D300, 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6)

As I said in the beginning, these tips are from Scott Kelby’s The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 Book for Digital Photographers. I highly recommend this book for anyone learning LR2. That being said…

This tip is a kind of counter-recommendation. Kelby’s workflow goes something like this (highly simplified):

  1. Import.
  2. Flag or reject.
  3. Delete rejected.
  4. Make a collection out of the flagged.
  5. Flag the best of the collection.
  6. Make a collection out of the best in the collection.
  7. Continue working within collections until output stage.

In step six, he ends up putting the very best of each collection in another collection of the same name but with the word “selects” after it. For example, he would have a collection called Example AND a collection called Example Selects at the same level.

I have tried his method with a few of my shoots and have switched back to using folders instead. Here are my reasons:

  • The makers of Lightroom clearly intended for photographers to work in folders most of the time. I worry that a future version of Lightroom will implement a feature that assumes folders and collections are used as intended, thereby causing me to have to make modifications to my workflow. Here are some good uses for collections:
    • Showing images to clients for review without them seeing how the sausage is made.
    • Grouping images from different folders.
    • Grouping images that are normally printed or exported together.
  • I don’t like the idea of the two collections being at the same level. I organize everything in my life hierarchically and expect my photographs to be no different. It is possible to create a Collection Set and put the normal and selects collections under it, but that just seems like too much hassle for every shoot.
  • I am an IT professional who appreciates that technology advances. I have to assume that inevitably something better than Lightroom will come along and I’ll most likely switch to it. When I do, I want my files named descriptively, I want my folders named descriptively, and I want those folders to have descriptively named subfolders. If I do all this using collections, I am unnecessarily locking myself into LR. Don’t get me wrong, I think LR is the best tool out there right now to manage the entire photographic workflow. If you didn’t notice, the key words in that sentence were “right” and “now.”
  • By working in collections alone, you lose the ability to stack similar shots. For example, if I shoot portraits of the same exact pose of the same exact person, it is useful to stack them together for later review. You can’t do this currently in collections, only when working in folders.
  • Collections reset your flags so you can further refine your picks (I think this is why Kelby prefers collections). Unfortunately, when you edit in Photoshop, the flag you chose in the collection does not get applied to the resulting PSD as it does in folders. You have to go back and flag the PSD manually.

Now for some praise. Kelby has a deeply insightful suggestion about star ratings that I have come to appreciate. Don’t use them. The reality is that you want to get to the very best photographs in your shoot. Star ratings muddy this goal by giving you the ability to mark photographs as great, good, so-so, etc. I can tell you from experience that this is counter-productive and will waste much of your time. If you need a rating system in addition to flags and colors, use the star rating system as I do: treat it as if there are only two choices, one star or five stars. My workflow only differs from Kelby’s in that I work in folders instead of collections and I use stars just like flags. Here it is:

  1. Import by date with descriptive folder names and descriptive file names.
  2. If multiple shoots on the same day, create descriptively named sub-folders and move files into them.
  3. Using flags, choose picks and rejects.
  4. Delete rejects.
  5. Filter by picks.
  6. Using a single star, mark favorites of the picks.
  7. Filter by a single star.
  8. Using all five stars, mark the single best image from the shoot.

This is a much simplified description of the actual process (and leaves out keywording). You should really buy the book to understand when to use the various viewing modes during this stage of editing.


4 Responses to “lightroom 2 – tip #5”

  1. November 16, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    OMG! She is so beautiful! xxc

  2. November 17, 2008 at 8:58 am

    I’ll be the devil’s advocate here and throw in my two cents about collections which I also believe in over folders.

    From your comments above:

    1) I wholeheartedly believe Adobe intends you to use Collections most of the time instead of folders. Folder structures break down and as an IT professional I can see your point. Everything to IT is folder based and I thought (and organized) the same way as you, as I come from the same background. The problem is that folders just break down and I’ve heard this come straight from Adobe many times over the last 5 years. If anything, just look at how Collections show up in every module throughout LR and folders don’t.

    2) Again, I think this is the IT guy in you coming out. Probably a personal choice. I used to do it that way but I’ve been much happier since I started doing things logically (for me at least) instead of only hierarchically.

    3) You can’t not do things right today because you think that something better may come along. Something better always comes along, and it always will. It’s like saying I’m not going to go buy the car that I absolutely need today because next year one “may” come out that is better. You pick something (if it makes sense to you) and stick with it. If LR doesn’t make sense then definitely don’t settle on it and keep looking. But if it does make sense to you then forget about what “may” come along later.

    As for naming descriptively, I have to say that I personally never use file names. If you catalog correctly in LR then the physical name of the image never even becomes an issue.

    4) I can see this point but the collection is not a place for things “for later review” as you said. The collection is the final “I’m done and ready to show these off” point. For me, a stack is grouping similar images together when I’m just not sure which one I want to delete. However, the collection is the best of the best for me. I’m never going to bombard a client with 7 versions of the same image (mainly because I don’t like it when it’s done to me). Just pull the trigger and pick one – as a photographer (and probably your own photo editor) it’s your job to pick the best one and make things simple for your clients (less choices = simple). The collection is the result of me picking the best one from the stack. If a pano is stacked then the collection has the “final” pano image in it – not the stack because the pano stack means nothing at this point.

    5) I agree. This is an absolute issue/possible bug. It used to get flagged back in LR1 and I don’t know why it doesn’t happen anymore. Trust me, if I ever get the ear of anyone at Adobe that’ll be one of the first things on the list to mention (I’m sure they already know though).

    Great blog post though. I think it’s great to spur discussions like this. Take care!
    – Matt Kloskowski

  3. November 17, 2008 at 6:03 pm


    That Adobe has not been quick to address the issue in #5 suggests to me that collections were intended as an “I’m done and ready to show these off” tool, as you stated. I’m not saying collections aren’t useful, I just don’t want to be making picks and rejects inside them. Can we agree to disagree? ; )

    Thanks for taking the time, Matt. If you guys ever need a local IT professional (who happens to be passionate about photography) you know where to find me.

    Keep up the good work.


    EDIT: Just found out my office is only 10 minutes down the street from Kelby Training headquarters!

  4. December 1, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    Hey Dan,

    I just got started with Lightroom recently. Until now I’ve been using Picasa to organize things and I really love the concepts that Picasa’s “workflow” embody but now that I want more granular tools for editing I’m finding that “I’m Feeling Lucky” just isn’t enough any more. Granted, I’m just taking my photostream-of-life shots and uploading them thus far, but I’d like to get in good habits before I shoot everything in RAW.

    Until now here’s what I’ve been doing with my SD1000 shots:

    1) Copy to PC using Canon CameraWindow (because it auto-rotates my photos from EXIF data and stores in directories by date, useful for my many-days-without-importing binges)
    2) Use Picasa to “star” the best ones and apply basic color/contrast corrections
    3) Sift through the list of “starred” items appling finer corrections and cropping the best frames
    4) Export, upload, and tag.

    That process is quick but I’ve found a few situations where it’s totally failed me. For instance, I recently shot at a indie rock show with my SD1000 and came out with incredibly grainy shots – far more grainy than I’m used to. So I had to break my work flow and add a new 4th step – manual cleanup in Photoshop prior to their inevitable upload – thanks to Picasa’s inability to do any measure of decent noise reduction.

    Anyway, thanks for the recommendation on the book! I’ve steered clear of alot of modern photography books but once I pick up a good DSLR I’ll need more than dpreview.com and photographer blogs like Ken Rockwell’s to get advice.

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