This is the first (??) of a series of technical blogs related to photography.

Note: This is for users of Lightroom. Some of these functions can be used through Adobe Bridge as well. You’ll need to translate that from Lightroom-ese to Bridge-ese. 

One of the huge challenges of digital photographic files is trying to keep track and to organize your files. One of the powerful functions of Lightroom is to organize large catalogs of digitil files. Here are some of the features that I use within Lightroom to set metadata and attributes of digital files.

I often have several versions of digital files. The original file, perhaps ones with (camera raw) adjustments, another with adjustments made in Photoshop (as a PSD or TIF format). Scanned film needs spotting and retouching so there might be a few versions of those types of files. Night photographs or high ISO images need noise reduction so I might have a version for that. When preparing images for printing I might have a few version that include a version sharpened with Nik’s Sharpener Pro.

I also have many HDR and Panoramic files which are made up of many files. These techniques also allow for several different versions / looks. I might have color and black and white versions of an image. There are a myriad of reasons for having several versions of the same file in addition to the original digital images. Here are some options that I use.


This is your #1 job on importing your images. Assign keywords when you import the images into Lightroom. I find that if this isn’t done at least in an overarching way then I might as well toss the images into a black hole and/or spend a lot of time later fixing this.

I will often put keywords in that applies to all the items even if I later have to modify my keywords. So if I have some photos from both the town of Brighton and the city of London in a group of images to import, I might put the keywords: London, Brighton, Travel, U.K., England, night photography, tourism as the keywords.

After the import I would take out the keyword – London from the images of Brighton, Brighton out of London images, and take out “night photography” keyword from daytime shots.

Keywords are important and what you leave out you will later have to manually searched for (yuck). You can later add or subtract keywords, but I don’t consistently do that.

⌘-K lets you add keywords from the Library (type G or E to go to the library).

Erase bad images

While you sort through your images – delete the ones that aren’t worth saving. Shortcut keys: type “X” to flag them as rejected. ⌘-Delete will delete the rejected files.


For HDR and Panoramic images or images with several variations of the same photo, I group/stack the images. The final or best version on an image would be put at the top of the group. The stack might be closed so that I don’t have to see all the secondary images. This helps when I’m looking at a large group of images. 

An unfortunate feature of Lightroom is that groups/stacks doesn’t work inside of a collections. 

Shortcut key: ⌘-G to stack, ⌘-Shift-G to unstack)

Using Star Ratings

Typically I use the star rating system (like old-Hollywood). For me, a rating of 1 or 2 would mean a image worth looking at or an image that is a component of a larger and higher rated HDR or panoramic image. Images worth showing might have a 3 star rating. Images selected for printing for a show or entering a contest or for publication online might be given and 3 or 4 Star rating. A 3 or 4 star image might be “demoted” to a 2 star image if a flaw is found or I select another image over it. See the Star system was (and is) quite ruthless.

But my rating system might vary over time, so there are inconsistencies. Also there are images that aren’t rated (rated 0). This inconsistency often leaves to the black hole for the unrated images unless I go back and look at a shoot.

The Shortcut for star ratings are number keys – type 1 for 1 star, 2 for 2 stars, etc. 0 takes away any stars given)

Colors and Flags

These can be further used to mark selected files. I can also use colors to narrow the 3/4 star rated images to those that are picked for specific uses. So a 3 star – Red marked image may make final consideration in a specific show or be put in a book. Again, this varies by project. To improve this I’d need to standardize what each color means (red, yellow, green, blue, purple). For instance, Red – 1st level selection, Yellow – to prep for print, Green – print or put in a book.
Shortcut keys – P- Flag, U-Unflag, 6-Red, 7-Yellow, 8-Green, 9-Blue. No key for purple. 

Collections / Folders (with collections found in the folder)

I use this a lot. So each major project would get a collection or set of collections within a Folder. My recent trip of England got a Folder and within that I created a collection by city/town/day. I might also organize by a multi day shoot or a class that I’ve taken in this way. Also if you preface a collection or folder with an underscore ( “_Current Project” ) it will end up near the top of your collections/folders. This helps as you get a long list of collections/folders. Over time putting collections in folders help to find and organize for easier use. It also lets you revisit projects easily.

Shortcut keys – ⌘-N for New Collection, ⌘-shift-N for New Folder.

Smart Collections – this is a great way to use keywords and rating and any other image file attribute to have images automatically put into a (smart)  collection. So I might have a folder for a show (e.g. Night in SF) and within that I might have smart collection that sorts by keyword (San Francisco + night photography + 3+ stars). BUT this is very dependent on your adding these attributes to a image.

Here are some of smart collection search criteria. There are even more options than this.

This is an example of all the criteria that you can search for in a Smart Collection

This is an example of all the criteria that you can search for in a Smart Collection

Big Comments – when all that isn’t enuf

But what I’ve been needing is a comment field that allows me to specify (in minutiae) what I’ve done to a file especially when I have a series of files that have different treatments done to them and I want to remember what differentiate each version of a file from the other. This also would help if my rating / keywords / color system isn’t descriptive enough or consistent enough (which I’ve already copped to). So files that were printed for a show and printed for gallery sales can be easily identified. I might also track how many copies of a file have been printed for a gallery edition

Unfortunately, Lightroom doesn’t automatically let you do that, unless you want to bastardize a preexisting field like Caption. But that can be a problem when you publish the image on a website or site that might use the caption field and make it visible to others.

No, you might also have seen a Comments section in the right side of the Library Panel. This may be used to show user comments in some web-sites such as Flickr via the Publish Services. But it’s not directly usable by you and I to put in comments about a file in the library. Boo!

Fortunately, there are people who have written plug-in that give you that functionality. One of the easier to used is plug-in,  BigNote. You can find it at – download it.

If you go to FIle / Plug-in Manager in Lightroom, you can Add the plug-in from where you downloaded it (normally the Download folder). This also a place where you can make a donation to it’s author.

Once you’ve done that, go to the Library section of Lightroom and the Metadata section of the right panel and change the drop-down option for Metadata to “BigNote”. You’ll now see the following. You can also add BigNote to a Metadata preset if you want to see it with other commonly used metadata.

Adding the BigNote Plugin to Lightroom gives you this custom metadata field

Adding the BigNote Plugin to Lightroom gives you this custom metadata field

There is also CustomMetaData plug-in that will add custom fields at 
This is a much more configurable option and might be a better option to use.

Well that’s a lot of info. Sorry if some of it wasn’t clear. I’ll try to answer questions that you might have.

I really want to hear from you