News and Views from Dave Wilson

Tag: colour label

Lightroom Tip – Using Colour Labels

by on Aug.14, 2011, under Photography

I had a discussion on Twitter last week with a professional photographer who was bemoaning the drudgery of editing large numbers of pictures. During the exchange, we talked about how we go about marking photos that we’ve downloaded but not yet got round to editing. His solution was to import everything into a single folder and, when he had edited them, move them to their final destination. I told him about the method I use which he has since adopted so I reckoned this may be a worthwhile tip to pass on. This is really part of a larger post I need to write on my overall digital workflow but, for now, here’s how I keep track of pictures in various stages of uneditedness in Lightroom.

The “Library” module in Lightroom offers you a great array of ways to mark photos – collections, star ratings, pick flags and colour labels. How you use these is entirely up to you but it’s a good idea to figure out some convention and stick to it so that you can use these markings to make your overall image management strategy a lot easier. Of these methods, I use three extensively – colour labels, star ratings and smart collections – and this post concentrates on my convention for the colour labels.

The first thing to note about the colour labels in Lightroom is that you can actually edit the labels to say anything you want. The default labels names “Red”, “Blue”, “Green”, “Yellow” and so on, are extremely obvious but entirely unhelpful. The first thing I would suggest doing is changing these to indicate what you are using the labels to signify. In my case, I’ve redefined 4 of the labels to allow me to define the following categories of picture:

“Review Required”
Images I’ve imported but not yet had a chance to do my usual post-import editing on (adding keywords, culling duds, selecting picks).
“Rework Required”
An image that I am partway through working on. This may be a tonemapped HDR that requires some Photoshop work or a Photoshop file that still needs some masking or layering operation completed.
“Unprocessed Panorama”
Images that are part of a set taken for a panoramic image but which I have yet to stitch.
“Unprocessed HDR”
Images that are part of a bracketed set for an HDR that I have not yet processed.

So how do you edit the label names? I had to go to the Lightroom help to answer this the first time but you can do this from the Metadata menu where you will find “Color Label Set” and, under this, an “Edit…” option. Just type the names you want and press OK. Now, whenever you right click on an image in the Library and select the “Color Label….” option, the list you see will contain your own label strings rather than the basic colour names.
The Metadata drop down menu in Adobe Lightroom 3
The colour label editing box in Adobe Lightroom 3
The Lightroom 3 context menu shows your colour label names after editing

Using these categories along with smart collections, I can easily see all the images in my library that fall into each of these categories. With one click, I can show all my unprocessed HDR brackets and pick one to work on, for example. To create a smart collection that allows you to view everything in one of these categories, click on the “+” next to “Collections” in the left-side panel while in “Library” mode then pick “Create Smart Collection…”. You will be shown a dialog box that lets you enter various conditions used to pick the images that will appear when you view the collection. My “Unprocessed HDRs” smart collection is defined as follows:
The dialog box in Adobe Lightroom 3 used to set up a smart collection

Note that I set up two conditions so that a picture is selected if EITHER the label color is green OR the label text is “Unprocessed HDRs”. This may seem like overkill but it’s a good idea since, if you happen to accidentally (or intentionally) edit the label names or reset them to defaults, the smart collection will still show the expected images.

That’s all there is to it. I now have four smart collections that give me single click access to all the images that need work of one kind or another done. After I do basic editing on the “Review Required” shots, I reassign the colour labels as needed, either setting them to one of the other categories or clearing them entirely. This allows me to move the images between states without having to worry about copying files on my disk. Lightroom handles all the searching for me.

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