Organise Your Photos Using Adobe Lightroom Collections

In this tutorial I am going to explain how Adobe Lightroom Collections work. Importantly, we also look at ways you can use Collections to better organise your photography. We will start by examining a common problem you have probably encountered and then develop a solution using Lightroom Collections.

Whilst this tutorial is demonstrating Collections using Lightroom, lots of other software support Collections. Although some of the operational tasks may differ, you ‘ll probably find most of what’s discussed can be applied to other software.

A Common Problem When Organising Photos

Although photo library management tools like Adobe Lightroom can help organise your photos, you also need a file structure to hold the images. It’s not helpful to dump all your photos in a single computer each time you’ve been out with your camera. Instead you need some sort of expandable filing system where you can continue to add your new images as you photograph more.

Use a Folder Structure to Hold Your Images

A typical example structure you could use is a date-based folder organisation.

Folders panel in Adobe Lightroom

Here you can see part of my folder structure in the Adobe Lightroom Folders panel. Each year I create a new folder for that year’s photography. Then when I return from a shoot, I download my photos to a new subfolder. It’s simple, effective and if you want know more, read my tutorial.

The Problem Viewing Finished Photos

Whenever I edit one of the images in my photo library, I save the finished image back to the same folder as the original. This keeps my master file (which I’ve processed) together with the original RAW file. It works great for organising my photos, but there’s a problem. Because all my other photos from the shoot are in the same folder, it can be difficult to see ones where I’ve finished editing. Often, I just want to view the finished images.

My solution is to use Lightroom Collections as I’ll explain in the rest of this tutorial.

What is a Lightroom Collection?

A Collection in Adobe Lightroom is nothing more than a way to group together images that are related in some way. You decide which images to group and why you’re grouping them. Then when you select to view the photos in the Collection you see all of them together. Importantly, the original file stays where you saved it, keeping it together with the original RAW file.

Viewing Collections and Collection Sets in Adobe Lightroom

You’ll find the Collections Panel in a lot of the Lightroom Modules but it’s probably easiest to work with it in the Library Module. This makes it simple to organise and select images from the Lightroom Library into the Collections we create.

Adobe Lightroom Collections Panel

Here you can see the Collections panel in Lightroom which is displaying four Collection Sets. We use Collection Sets to group together different Collections that you decide may be related in some way. In this screenshot you can see the Collection Set called “Website Gallery” which holds Collections of photos I’ve selected for a website.

You can collapse or expand Collection Sets to show or hide their contents. In this screenshot the Website Gallery shows nine Collections which could correspond to the individual galleries on a website. To the right of each Collection name you can see the number of images in that Collection.

Let’s look at an example of building a new Collection Set from scratch.

Creating New Collection Sets

For this example, we will create a new Collection Set in Lightroom to organise the images for a book. Whilst this is a simple example, you can build on it to organise photos for many different purposes.

Adding a New Collection Set

I’ll start by adding a new Collection Set, clicking on the + icon to the top right of the Collections panel in Lightroom.

Creating a New Collection Set in Lightroom

In the popup menu click the “Create Collection Set…” option. This displays the Lightroom Create Collections Set dialog shown below.

Lightroom Create Collection Set dialog

Enter the name of the Collection Set you want to create in the dialog. In this example I’ve entered the title of the book I’ll be creating.

Below this you can see the Location option. It’s possible to group Collection Sets within other Collection Sets as you would folders on your computer. This helps with organising your Collections and images but it’s not essential.

In this example, we’ll put our new Collection Set at the top of the structure, to hold all the Collections for the book. We therefore want the “Inside a Collection Set” option unticked. If we ticked the option, it would enable the dropdown list where we select an existing Collection Set as you’ll see shortly.

When you’ve entered the details for the new Collection Set, click the Create button. You’ll then see the new Collection Set created in the Lightroom Collections panel.

New Collection Set displayed in the Lightroom Collections panel

Creating Hierarchical Collection Sets

With the top-level Collection Set created, let’s add a couple more Collection Sets to help organise our photos by country. As I’ve yet to visit Northern Ireland (it’s on my must-see list) I’ll create additional Collection Sets for England, Scotland, and Wales inside the “UK Landscape Locations” set. The process is the same as explained above except this time I need to tick the “Inside the Collection Set” option.

After adding these Collection Sets the Lightroom Collections panel should look like this.

Hierarchical Collection Sets in Lightroom

Now we have our Collection Sets it’s time to add some Collections in Lightroom.

Adding New Collections in Lightroom

To create a new Collection in Lightroom is a little like creating the Collection Set. Start by clicking the + icon to the top right of the Collections panel.

Adding a new Collection in Lightroom

Now you can select the option to “Create Collection…” in the popup menu. Be sure to select Create Collection rather than “Create Smart Collection…”. Lightroom Smart Collections are quite different to regular Collections and take a little more setting up.

Adding a New Collection to the England Collection set in Lightroom

When the Lightroom Create Collection dialog displays, you can enter the name of the Collection you want to create. In this example I’ve called the new Collection “Peak District” to hold my Peak District photos. I’ve also set the location of the Collection to be inside the “England” Collection Set.

You’ll notice two options below this which I haven’t set. We’ll look at Target Collections later and won’t need to Sync with Lightroom unless you’re also managing your photos in the Adobe Cloud across different computers (most people don’t).

When I click the Create button the new Collection appears in Lightroom’s Collections panel. I’ll also create Collections for “The Lake District”, “Snowdonia” and “Highlands” in the relevant Collection Set.

Completed Collections and Collection Sets structure

Reorganising Collections in Lightroom

We’ve now created our new Collection and Collection Set structure, but you might decide to reorganise it in the future. One way to do this would be by adding the new Collection or Collection Set(s) and then deleting the old Collection or Collection Set.

The alternative and possibly easier option is to drag and drop the Collections with your  mouse. When you click and drag a Collection or Collection Set you can drop it on a new location. For example, we could redraw the map of the UK and drag “The Lake District” Collection, then drop it on the Scotland Collection Set. As you drag the Collection over the new location, you’ll see it highlighted.

Dragging and dropping a Collection to reorganise the structure

The blue colour in this screenshot is telling me that I can drop the Lake District Collection onto the Scotland Collection Set. If I drag the Collection over another Collection, it won’t shown in blue. That’s because you can’t put a Collection inside another Collection.

Adding Photos to Collections

Once we’ve created our structure, we can start to add our photos to the Collections. As with most things in Lightroom there are several ways to do this.

Adding an Image to a Collection Method 1

Possibly the easiest option is to navigate to the folder holding an image or images you want to add to a Collection. You can do this using the Folders panel in the Lightroom Library module. This displays the image for that folder in the Library grid.

Adding a new image to a collection by dragging and dropping in Lightroom

Here you can see that I have the Collections panel expanded on the left of the Lightroom interface. I’ve then clicked and dragged one of the image thumbnails (1) in the grid over the Peak District Collection (2) to add it. As the mouse pointer moves over the Collection you can see a small green + icon. This indicates I’ll add the image to the Collection when I release the mouse.

You can also use this method with multiple images. First select the images you want to add to the Collection by holding down the Option key (Ctrl key on a PC). Now when you drag and drop the images onto the Collection, you’ll add all the selected photos.

Adding an Image to a Collection Method 2

With this second method you first need to select the image or images you want to add to the Collection.

Having selected the image or images, right click on the Collection you want to add them to. This displays a popup menu as shown here.

Adding an image to a collection in Lightroom method 2

In the popup menu click the “Add Selected Photo to this Collection” option. This adds the photo or photos to that Collection.

Adding an Image to a Collection Method 3

The third method we can use first requires setting a Target Collection. You can do this by right clicking on the Collection you want to target in the Collections panel. This displays a popup menu as shown below.

Setting the Target Collection in Lightroom

When you click the “Set as Target Collection” option, you’ll see a small + sign appear to the right of the Collection name. This indicates it’s now the target for new photos we want to add.

After setting the target Collection, right click on any image or images you want to add to it. Lightroom then displays a popup menu with the option to add the image to the target collection. Click this and you’ll add the image or images.

A quicker alternative to the popup menu is to use the Lightroom shortcut key. As before, select the photo or photos you want to add to the Target Collection. Now press B on your keyboard and you’ll add the image or images. If you press B a second time it removes the image or images from the Collection.

Displaying Images in a Collection

Once you’ve worked through all your images and added them to the Collections, you can display the Collection contents. All you need to do is click on the Collection or Collection Set in Lightroom’s Collections panel.

Displaying all images in the Collections in Lightroom

In the above screenshot I’ve clicked the top-level Collection Set. This causes the grid in the Library module to display all the images in the Collection or Collection Set. It also includes any images in the sub-Collections or sub-Collection Sets.

Lightroom Collection Management

So far, we’ve looked at creating a structure for our Collections and adding photos to this. But there are a few other Lightroom Collection management tasks you’ll find helpful.

Deleting an Image from a Collection

To delete one or more images from a Collection, select the Collection in the Lightroom Collections panel. This displays all the images from the Collection in the Lightroom Library grid. Now you can select the image or images you want to remove by clicking them with your mouse.

Now right click on one of the selected images with your mouse to display a popup menu. You can then select the option “Remove from Collection”.

When you remove an image from a Collection you don’t affect the original image. It’s still in the same original folder. Remember, Folders and Collections are separate things.

Deleting an Entire Collection

Start by selecting the Collection or Collection Set you want to delete by clicking it in the Lightroom Collections panel. Now click the small “-“ icon in the top right of the Collections panel.

Deleting a Collection

If there’s anything in the Collection your deleting, you’ll see a warning message asking you to confirm the Deletion.

The alternative to using the – icon is to right click on the Collection. You can then select the “Delete…” option from the popup menu.

Renaming Collections

To rename a Collection or Collection Set, right click it with your mouse. This displays the Rename Collection dialog where you can make your changes. When you’ve entered the new Collection name, click the Rename button.

Duplicate a Collection

To duplicate an existing Collection right click on it with your mouse. In the popup menu select the “Duplicate Collection” option. You’ll then see the new duplicated Collection with the same name as the original but with the word “copy” after it.

If there are any photos in the Collection you duplicate, the images are duplicated as well.

Coloured Labels

If you look back to the screenshot, you’ll see a coloured label next to one Collection and a Collection Set. You can add one of five coloured labels to a Collection or Collection Set by right clicking it your mouse. In the popup menu select “Add colour label to Collection” and pick the colour to use.

The labels themselves don’t mean anything so you can use them to indicate whatever you like. If you use them, it’s a good idea to keep a note of what you intend them to mean. It’s easy to forget if you don’t.

Master the Lightroom Library Module Fast

Everything you need to know about managing your photography in Adobe Lightroom.

30 day, no questions money back guarantee

Buy now or learn more...

Summary of Organising Your Images Using Lightroom Collections

This tutorial should have provided with an understanding of using Lightroom Collections. Hopefully, the example also demonstrated how you can use Collections to better organise your images and you can apply that to other situations.

Even so, this is just an exceedingly small part of what’s possible when using Lightroom to manage your photos. If you want to understand how to harness the power of Lightroom’s Library module, I’d recommend my book on the subject. It could save you lots of time as well as helping you keep control of your photos.

I’ve also created the following video to demonstrate the information in this tutorial using Lightroom.

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel

You can also watch this video on my YouTube channel. I publish new videos regularly, often based on subscribers’ requests and feedback. Subscribe to my YouTube channel now and be sure not to miss future videos.


More Lightroom Tutorials

You’ll find more high quality, free tutorials on my Adobe Lightroom Tutorials page.

Book Offer


Get your copy of "6 Steps to Shooting Brilliant Landscape Photography"  by subscribing to Lenscraft in Focus, my free monthly newsletter.

Follow the advice in this deceptively simple book to significantly improve your landscape photography. Organised into 6 simple lessons, this valuable and detailed guide provides information that’s often overlooked. In fact, lesson 3 is so obvious that most photographers ignore it completely.

If you want to improve your Landscape Photography fast, follow this book.


How to Get Your Book

  • Enter your details using the form on the right. I will then send you an email to confirm you’ve entered your email correctly.
  • Follow the instruction in my confirmation email.
  • After that, I’ll send you a link to download your free book (PDF, ePub and Kindle formats. The email might also include discounts for my other courses and books so be sure to read it carefully.

My Promise to You: I will never share or SPAM your email.

6 Steps to Shooting Brilliant Landscape Photography Book Cover email

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Please Share This

Please share this post with fellow photographers!