Introduction to Collections in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

November 18, 2010 | | Comments 16

Collections are one of the greatest features in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for serious digital photographers. The Collections feature really shines when you need to pull together a group of images for a specific project. In this video tutorial, I demonstrate how to use Collections, and the Set as Target Collection option, to quickly gather up  images for my portfolio.

I can easily compile my best photographs into a portfolio even though these photographs have absolutely nothing in common thanks to this subtle Lightroom feature.  Better still, I can make this process even more efficient thanks to the secret “Set as Target Collection” shortcut.

I wish that the Adobe Photoshop Lightroom user interface engineers had given this awesome feature a more descriptive name.  Something like “My Projects” would have been a good choice.  “My Projects” is a much more accurate way to explain what Collections really do for a professional photographer.  In my workflow, I create a new Collection whenever I start working on a new project.

A Collection acts like a cubby-hole.  It’s creates a button, a reference point, so that I can group together all of the appropriate images for the new project without having to move the files around my hard drive or duplicate anything.   Most Adobe Photoshop Lightroom users figure this part out on their own, but many photographers don’t immediately grasp that Collections exists only within their Lightroom Catalog.  ( iTunes, by the way, has a very similar feature but Apple calls this feature “Playlists.”)

The critical piece of the puzzle is understanding that a Collection is not a file folder! A Collection is not a place on your hard drive nor is it a variety of metadata. Adding files into a Collection does not move anything around your hard drive.  Removing files from a Collection does not remove them from your Lightroom Catalog and it does not delete the image from your hard drive.

This is what makes Collections such a wonderful tool. Because Collections are just reference lists, the same image can be used in more then one Collection at the same time.  The same image can be used simultaneously for multiple projects, without needing to be duplicated, because the Collection just creates a “hyperlink” to that image’s thumbnail within your Lightroom index. This is the secret beauty of this feature!

Most photographer’s figure out that they can add images into a Collection by using drag-and-drop.  Drag-and-drop makes adding photos into a Collection using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Library Module is easy.  Many users even figure out that you can drag-and-drop multiple images into a Collection at once but most Lightroom users usually miss of the little secrets to using Collections professional.

It turns out that clicking and dragging is not the most efficient way to add images into your current project.  Using the “Set as Target Collection” option is a much better way to use this tool.  As you will see in our video tutorial, I am going to designate my “Portfolio Collection” as the Target  Collection.  I am going to do this by right-clicking on the Collection’s name so that I can use “Add to Target Collection” keyboard shortcut.  Once I have set my target, I can use the keyboard shortcut to add images into my portfolio without ever taking my hands off the keyboard!

This is much faster, and easier, than the drag-and-drop method.  This Set as Target Collection trick is one of the greatest time-saving secrets in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom!  Check it out and start using this fantastic organizational tool whenever you need to pick out images for a specific project.

Introduction to Collections in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom from David Marx on Vimeo.

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About the Author: David Marx teaches digital photography workshops and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom training classes. David is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop Lightroom and in Adobe Photoshop. David has lead workshops and seminars for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, the American Society of Media Photographers, FirstLight Photography Workshops, and he teaches annually at the world-famous Blackberry Farm Resort. For more information on his Photoshop Lightroom training seminars and digital photography field workshops please visit You can also follow daily updates and see new images from David on Google+.