How to Create Custom Collections in Adobe Lightroom

How To 9 min
Watch how to use Collections in Adobe Lightroom to organize your imagery without moving or duplicating files from Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Julieanne Kost, Principal Evangelist for Photoshop and Lightroom, demonstrates how to group images in Adobe Lightroom using collections, smart collections and collection sets. Creating collections allows you to group photos from the same folder or different folders on your hard drive without creating a duplicate of the image. Using collections effectively improves your file management and workflow, helping you stay organized, work more efficiently and keep up with records management requirements easier. Follow along with the steps below.

A collection set is a folder that you can then place collections into to help keep your collections organized.

  1. Click the "+" icon on the Collections panel.
  2. Select "Create Collection Set."
  3. In the Create Collection Set dialog box, enter a name for your collection set.
  4. Click "Create."

Your new collection set now appears in the collections area along with the default smart collections.

A collection is a virtual set of images that essentially serves as a pointer to that set of images.

  1. Click the "+" icon again on the Collections panel.
  2. Select "Create Collection."
  3. Enter a name for the collection set.
  4. In the "Location" dialog box, click the box for "Include in Collection Set," and select a collection set from the drop-down menu.
  5. To make a target collection, check that option in the dialog box.
  6. Click "Create."

You have created a new virtual collection without images. It appears under the collection set you selected. If you selected the target collection, a "+" icon will appear by the collection's name. The next step explains how to add and delete images to an existing collection, as well as create a collection from an existing set of images.

Images can be added to a collection before or after the collection is created.

To add images to an existing collection:

  1. From the Library module, hold down the “Command” key on the Mac or “Ctrl” key on Windows to select desired images.
  2. Drag and drop the selected images to the collection.
  3. For a target collection, select an image then press the "B" key to add the image to that Collection.

To add images to a collection before it is created:

  1. Select images first by holding down the “Command” key on the Mac or “Ctrl” key on Windows to select desired images.
  2. Click on “+” icon on Collections panel.
  3. If desired, select location.
  4. To include selected images, select "Include Selected Photos" option in the dialog box.
  5. Click “Create.”

You can add the same image in multiple collections as well as add multiple images from multiple folders into the same collection without duplicating the files on the hard drive.

To delete images from a collection:

  1. Open the collection.
  2. Select image(s) to delete by holding the "Command" key for Mac or "Ctrl" key for Windows.
  3. Press the "Delete" key to delete images from the collection.

Deleting an image from the collections area does not delete that image from the hard drive.

Regular collections can be arranged in a custom order.

  1. Open a collection to sort the images.
  2. Selecting all images with "Command" or "Ctrl" key and press the "N" key to go to survey mode to see images larger.
  3. Press the "Tab" key to hide the panels.
  4. To create a custom order, drag and drop the images to re-order them.
  5. Return to the grid view to see they are in that order.
  6. Press the "Tab" key to bring back the panels.

The images in the collection are now arranged in the order prescribed.

There are two ways to complete this step, depending on the end result you want. 

The first method applies the change to all copies of the image, including the master copy:

  1. Click the collection badge icon on the image to see what collections the image is in.
  2. Select the image.
  3. Make the desired change(s).

For example, to convert the image to black and white, press the "V" key. This changes the image to black and white in this collection as well as the original file and all other copies of the image in other collections.

For the second method, create a virtual copy of the image to make the change in only that copy. A virtual copy allows you to have two thumbnails in Lightroom with different processes applied to them. Any changes applied to the copy will not impact the master file or any other copy of the image in a different collection. To change only one copy:

  1. Select an image in a collection.
  2. Go to the "Photo" menu.
  3. Select "Create a Virtual Copy" from the drop-down menu.
  4. Select the copy.
  5. Make the desired change(s) to only the selected copy.

Adobe product screen shots reprinted with permission from Adobe Inc.