LR004 - Use Lightroom Smart Collections & Keywords for Workflow

May 01, 2013  •  3 Comments

Use Lightroom Smart Collections & Keywords for Workflow

In this blog I describe how to use a combination of metadata and keywords with Lightroom Smart Collections to manage post processing workflow.  The idea is that for each step in my workflow I have a Smart Collection that tells me how many, and which, images still need that workflow step to be performed. 

What is Workflow?

09 Workflow Flow Chart09 Workflow Flow Chart

So, what is Workflow (WF)?  This is a term that was coined in the dark annals of time and has been variously applied to many different disciplines and fields of work.  But, it really means nothing more than a sequence of steps you follow to achieve a result.  In photography we tend to have different workflow for different phases of our photography.  For example, you may have a mental workflow you use while shooting (determine subject, checkout different compositions, decide exposure settings, etc.).  You may have another WF for managing your images while on the road (each night: copy memory cards to lap top,  make backup copy on external drive,  put full memory card in Red box, etc.).  But the workflow I’m going to talk about today is the post processing WF in Lightroom.


Let me start with some assumptions.

  1. You use some sort of post processing workflow that you tend to follow over and over.  Maybe not in the same order each time, but pretty much the same steps.
  2. At times, you’ve gotten lost in your workflow and missed some steps or some sets of images
  3. You’d like to have a better way to keep track of what images have had what workflow steps applied to them and which have not
  4. You are using, or intend to use Adobe Lightroom Classic (LrC) as your Digital Asset Management tool to manage your images

Sample Workflow

I think it will help the discussion if we use a specific WF example, and for lack of something better, we’ll use my basic WF. Of course yours will be different but the same techniques can be applied. My post processing workflow goes like this:

  1. Add GPS data to Images – My camera does not capture GPS data but I carry a small GPS Logging device that records a tracklog of my movements. I then use GeoSetter software to match date/time stamps between my Tracklog and the images and to insert GPS coordinates into my image files.  LR has similar technology in the Map Module.
  2. Add “Shoot” oriented KW’s (Keywords) to the images
  3. Add “Location” oriented KW’s to the images
  4. Rate & Rank images and create LrC “stacks” of similar images
  5. Develop (adjust) high ranking images
  6. Add “Subject” oriented KW’s to the images
  7. Add titles and Captions to images I intend to post online
  8. Post best images on my own and various other websites.
  9. Periodically remove images from various websites once they reach certain age and based on my ratings.

In this blog I’m not going to provide all the details for each step but rather use selected steps to demonstrate the concept so that you can adapt the technique to your specific needs.


Not too long ago, as I was reviewing old images, I discovered that many images missed one or more steps in my workflow.  For example, some images didn’t have any subject keywords, or were not GeoTagged, or I forgot to upload them to Flickr.  So, I decided to come up with a way to easily see what images were missing which WF steps by using of a combination of Smart Collections and “special” KW’s.

As you may have figured out by now (or read about in a previous blog) I have sets of keyword hierarchies where the highest level in each set is the name of a class, or group, of KW’s as shown below.  You should note that you do not need to be as expansive in your KW’s as I am.  If you’re just starting I suggest having one KW set for subject and one for location.  Then if you follow the suggestions in this blog add a set for Workflow.  Later you can add more as you find the need.

01 KW Roots01 KW Roots

For each WF step, my goal is to have a visual way to see if there are images missing that step and with a single click make those images my working set so I can perform the missing action.  I decided to do this with Smart Collections and as you’ll see I also added some special WF related KW’s.

Using Smart Collections as a Workflow control Panel

A “Smart Collection” is not much more than a saved “filter”.  If you click on one in LR, your working set of images becomes those images that meet the filter requirements at that moment in time.  You do not need to add or remove images from Smart Collections because the images in the Smart Collection are based on the rules you established for that Smart Collection. 

For example, you can create a Smart Collection to show you all the images that have a rating of 3 or more stars and were taken with a certain camera.  As you add or remove stars from photos they automatically come and go from the Smart Collection.  The filtering criteria in a Smart Collection can be quite complex employing multiple levels of nested true/false criteria (Boolean Logic) but for my purpose I started simple and then added more nuance bit by bit.

Here’s what my “Smart Collection” Workflow Control Panel looks like.  These are all just Smart Collections which I grouped into 3 sections;  Editing steps, Publish steps, and Unpublish steps.  If you look at the edit group you can quickly see that 12 images are missing “shoot” name, 12 are missing location info, 28 have yet to be stacked, etc.  If I click on one of these smart collection names it shows me the culprit images in the grid.  Now that I have this, I no longer need to be all that careful about the order I do my steps and I also don’t have to keep track of my steps on paper.

10 WF control Panel10 WF control Panel

Two Cases

When thinking about all of this, it came down to two situations. 

  1. The first case is where there is some available metadata which LR automatically maintains that can be used to determine if an image has had a WF step done or not.  For example there is a field that can be used to show if the image has GPS coordinates or not.  That field can be used to know if the “Assign GPS Coordinates” step has been done.
  2. The second case is where there is no metadata field that can be used.  In this case we must create our own field in the form of a keyword and either add or remove that keyword on images when we perform the related WF step.

Case 1 - Available Standard Metadata

If you take another look at my WF steps, we can identify those where there is already Metadata that can be used to determine if a particular WF step was done or not on any particular image.  Below are my WF steps where this is the case.

  1. Add GPS data
    Does GPS data exist on image or does GPS not apply to the image
  2. Add “Shoot” oriented KW’s
    Is there at least one KW assigned to the image from the “Shoot” KW section
  3. Add “Location” and “Camera Location” oriented KW’s
    Is there at least one KW assigned to the image from the “Location” KW section
  4. Rate, Rank, Stack
    All “rated” images have one or more stars and I do the stacking at the same time as I do the rating so I can use the rating to both determine if it has been rated and by inference has been considered for stacking
  5. Develop (adjust) high ranking images
    Is it a high ranked image (3 or more stars) and have any adjustments been made to it - or were non needed
  6. Add “Subject” oriented KW’s
    Is there at least one KW assigned to the image from the “Subject” KW section
  7. Add “Titles and Captions” to images I intend to post online
    Is the star rating 3 or above and is either the title or caption field blank
  8. Post best images on my website
    Has the image been processed by my website Publish Service or have I decided to not publish it. I use Zenfolio for my website but in my workflow I have a smart collection for each online posting site I use and in many cases for sub areas within those sites.
  9. Remove old low ranking images
    Based on a formula which looks at image capture date and how many stars the image has.  For example, remove all with < 3 stars, 3 star images over 2 years old and 4 star images over 5 years old.

Case 2 – No Available Standard Metadata

Now, for some WF steps it may turn out that there is no standard metadata which can indicate if the step was done or not.  For example has the image been considered for stacking (regardless of star ratings).  In these cases you will need to create a keyword to indicate if the step has been done or not.  The keyword can either be designed to indicate that the step was done, or can indicate that the step was not done. 

When I had “stacking” as a separate step I created a Keyword called “Needs-to-be-Stacked” and applied this keyword using a preset when I imported images.  Then I just removed the keyword when I did the stacking or choose not to stack the image.  By doing this I could then use that keyword in my smart collection.  I could have called the keyword “Has-been-stacked” and then assigned it to images when I did that step.  Either way we can use that keyword to know if the step was done or not.

So, let us take some specific cases as examples and see how to build the Smart Collections

GPS coordinates

Even though I sometimes perform this step outside of LR and sometimes using the Map Module inside of LR, I can use LR metadata to tell me if it’s been done or not by seeing if the image has or does not have GPS coordinates associated with it.  To do so, I set up a Smart Collection like this to check if the GPS coordinates are missing.

11 Geo Tag Rules 111 Geo Tag Rules 1

As soon as I created this Smart Collection LR promptly informed me that I had 15,274 images that were missing Geo Tags.

07 Geo Tag 1500007 Geo Tag 15000

Whoa!  Over 15,000 images without GeoTags, what’s going on?  Well, Geo-tagging is a relatively new thing and I’ve only been doing it since 2011.  As it turns out I have over 15,000 images that preceded my use of GeoTags.  I may or may not ever go back and add GeoTag information to these old images, but for now I just want to see images newer than 2011 that are missing the GeoTag info.  So, I modified the Smart Collection like this.

12 Geo Tag Rules 212 Geo Tag Rules 2

Now I can see in the Smart Collections Panel that I have 332 recent photos that still need to be geo tagged.  If I click on this highlighted smart collection I’ll actually see those 332 images in the grid and filmstrip.

01 GeoTag 23201 GeoTag 232

But wait a minute; in this 332 there are some images that really are not the type that should have GPS coordinates at all.  For example, I have some images of a poster advertising a show in which I have some images.  In another case I have an image that is a composite of images taken at several different locations.  GPS tags for these images just don’t make sense. 

To solve this problem I created a Keyword in a new KW Section I named “11-Workflow”.   I then added a KW into this hierarchy called “WF-B GeoTag Not Needed” and applied it to those images that don't need a geo tag.  But now this required another rule in the Smart Collection to not show images with this KW.  So I updated it to take this new KW into account.  Now the Smart Collection uses 3 factors:  Missing Geo Tag Coordinates, After 12/31/2010, and doesn’t have the “WF-B Geotag not needed” KW.

02 Geo Tag Rules 302 Geo Tag Rules 3

Now I see only those images that need Geo Tag attention without any other actions on my part.  As images are Geo Tagged, they are automatically removed from the Smart Collection.

TIP:    When I reference a KW in the smart collection rules, I only use the “WF-x” part of the KW name.  The reason is that rule data fields in Smart Collections are space delimited.  This means that if I used the entire keyword “WF-B GeoTag not Needed” then it would filter on each word separately which could easily wind up giving incorrect results due to other uses of those extra words.  But, I’m sure no other KW’s contain “WF-B”.  Another added benefit of just using a “code’ at the beginning of these KW’s is that I can change the rest of the text without affecting the smart collections.  So, for example, I could change “GeoTag Not Needed” text to “Ignore Missing GeoTag” and the smart collection would not care.

“Location” related Keywords,
“Subject” related Keywords
“Shoot” related KW’s

Here the process is similar.  What I want is for these Smart Collections to only show images that do not have any KW’s contained in one of my top level keyword list items.  As a reminder, here is a sample of my Keywords structure

01 KW Roots01 KW Roots

Using the Shoot information as an example, this is simply done as shown below

13 Shoot Rules 113 Shoot Rules 1

All parent KW’s are implicitly included when any children keywords (at any level) have been assigned to an image.  Therefore, I just need to mention this high level KW.

My other KW hierarchies such as “Condition-Season” are optional (not all images have them) so I don’t use smart collections for those (but I could) if I also included a special Workflow Keyword such as “Condition-Season not needed”.

Rate and Rank

I use stars to rate/rank my images.  I have a cheat sheet by my computer with the definition of what I use each star count for so I can be consistent year after year.

0 stars = have not been ranked yet

1 star = Low grade images or an image that is more or less a duplicate of a higher grade image (which usually means it is buried in a stack).

2 stars = Good quality image meaning it's good enough to post on my web site but have not actually ever posted it

3 stars = Actually posted on my web site at some time but probably won't use for much else

4 stars = These are my favorite shots.  Ones I’d try to sell or enter into contests.  These are also candidates for “my favorites” on web sites I post images to

5 stars = Best of the Best.  At the same level as images I see in National Geographic Magazine (IMHO)

My Smart Collection just needs to look for images that have no stars.  Here’s what it looks like for this step.

03 Rate-Rank Rules 103 Rate-Rank Rules 1

As with GPS data, if I had a lot of old images that were not rated, I could also add a date criteria here as well.


In my workflow I now do the stacking as part of the Rating and Ranking step.  However prior to making that rule for myself I did stacking separately from rating.  However, there is no metadata that indicates stacking state (unless you use a 3rd party plug-in).  And even if there were, not all images wind up in a stack anyway so, even if there were a metadata field available to show stacking status it would still require some sort of manual effort.  Because of this I just used a KW in my Workflow KW Hierarchy called “WF-K to Stack”.

When I import new photos into LR, I use a metadata import preset that performs several functions.  It adds my copyright information, my contact information, blanks out any rating stars the image may have had, and at that time it added this Workflow related Keyword to the images.  Once I had either stacked or decided not to stack an image I removed the keyword.  So now all I needed was a Smart Collection to check this one KW

Not adjusted

In this workflow step I adjust my higher ranking images in the Develop Module.  And, as luck would have it, there is a metadata field I can use that shows if the image has been adjusted which pretty much covers all my high ranking images.  Every now and again though one is perfect out the camera and doesn’t need adjusting or I sent it off to Photoshop and adjusted it there and the adjusted image came back to LR as a new file (usually a Tiff or PSD) which has no LR adjustments noted in the metadata. 

Due to these “corner cases”, I created a WF keyword called “WF-H Adjustments not needed” that when applied to an image just hides it from the Smart Collection whether or not it has LR adjustments.  So, here’s what this Smart collection looks like.

01 Not Adjusted 101 Not Adjusted 1

Keywords referenced in this Smart Collection:
“WF-0 No workflow required”
“WF-H Adjustments Not Needed”

Need to Publish

Here again we need to look at multiple things such as is it already published, does it meet the requirements (i.e., has titles and captions) and is it ranked high enough.  To do this I have a Smart Collection, or several, for each such site and each one has variations.  

The case shown below is for my Zenfolio web site.  In addition to a date limit and star rating limit, there is a rule to look at a special KW ("WF-N Publish in Zenfolio not needed")  to allow me to just decide that I’m not going to publish it for whatever reason.  You’ll also notice a trick I had to use to determine if it had titles and captions.  As there is no ‘is blank” or “Is not blank” option, I instead check to see if any letter of the alphabet is present.  Below is my Smart Collection for this step (yes I know I could probably just check for vowels)

01 ZF Publish Rules 101 ZF Publish Rules 1

Keywords referenced in this Smart Collection:

  • WF-0 = No workflow processing wanted at all
  • WF-Ma = Do not publish on my website period
  • WF-Mb = Do not publish in the “by location” section of my website.

Later I decided to get more sophisticated and added in rules that looked at star ratings in relation to how old the images are.  I also put in a rule to exclude images with the “Family” or “tour people” keywords as I typically don’t post those group shots on my business website.  I know this may be beyond your needs, but here is what it looks like now.

01 ZF Publish Rules 201 ZF Publish Rules 2

Keyword Keys:

  • WF-0 = No workflow processing wanted at all
  • WF-Ma = Do not publish on my website period
  • WF-Mb = Do not publish in the “by location” section of my website.
  • WF-Mc = Keep in the Location section of my website no matter what


When I originally wrote this blog, I had just started building and using these Smart Collections a couple of weeks before.  At that time I had some catch up to do on images that got missed.  But, that’s what I wanted to see and prompted me to figure all this out. 

Here were my Workflow Related Smart Collections when I first created this control panel

05 Original Dashboard Counts05 Original Dashboard Counts

And my associated KW’s

06 Original KW's06 Original KW's

If you compare this to the screen shot near the top of this blog, you’ll see that it has evolved quite a bit since then.  As I said at the start, your workflow is different but I hope this blog gives you ideas about how you can use Smart Collections and WF related Keywords to help you manage it and detect cases where you slipped up – if you care.





Rene Shorter(non-registered)
I was really unaware of how to use a combination of keywords with lightroom smart collections to manage post processing workflow. Thank you for your great informative post.
Dan Hartford Photo
Hi KW,

You didn't leave your email address for me, so I can't reply to you directly and send you the screen shots. If you wish me to do this, send me an email using the "contact" screen on this web site. In the mean time I'll try to see why the images are not displaying and if possible get them to show on the web site.
Hey Love this idea but none of the screenshots are showing. Would love to see this in action, trying to come up with something for myself to streamline my workflow.
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