File Under: Multimedia, Software

Lightroom Tutorial Lesson 2

Welcome to Lesson 2 of our Lightroom walk-through. Now that you have a general idea of how the interface works, it’s time to get down and dirty with the individual modules.

We’re going to start with Library module. As we learned in Lesson 1, each specific task in Lightroom is performed within its own dedicated “module,” and the modules are laid out in a linear fashion to match the typical photographer’s workflow.


  1. Getting to Know the Library Module
  2. Folders
  3. Collections
    1. Ordinary and Smart Collections
  4. Adding Keywords
  5. Filtering Images
  6. Odds and Ends
  7. Conclusion

Getting to Know the Library Module

The first module is the Library. It’s where you import, organize and sort your images. It’s also where you start by default when you launch the application. The Library is Lightroom’s brain — it’s where you can tag your images, sort them, group them in folders, apply ratings and build smart collections. The Library module does have some quick-editing tools that allow you adjust your images. But the bulk of the editing happens in the Develop module where the more robust tools are kept. So, for the time being, we’re going to skip the Library’s handful of editing tools and focus on the organizational stuff that makes up the meat of the Library.


Earlier versions of Lightroom were not very smart in the way they handled folders on your hard drive. Fortunately that’s one of the many things Adobe changed in Lightroom 2.0. Be aware that everything that follows is written with 2.0+ in mind.

The Folders sub-panel in Lightroom's Library module.
The Folders sub-panel in Lightroom’s Library module.

If you look at the left hand panel in the Library module, you’ll notice a “Folders” heading with a triangle next to it. Click the triangle to expand that header if it isn’t expanded already. That will reveal a list of available hard drives (you’ll probably just see one hard drive listed, unless you’ve already told Lightroom about others) and then any folders you’ve told Lightroom to import.

In the case of the screenshot you can see I have a drive named “luxagraf” and a top-level folder named “Negatives.” Inside “Negatives” are some date-based folders, and then location folders below that. That happens to be my organizational preference, not something Lightroom imposes.

You can store and organize your photos on you disk however you would like. In fact, you can rearrange your photos outside Lightroom, then go back into the program, select the folder, right-click it and choose “synchronize folder.” That will tell Lightroom to update the list of images in that folder.

Want to add a folder? No problem, just right-click the folder you’d like to serve as the parent and choose “Create folder inside…” If you want to add a new top level folder, just use the plus button at the top of the Folders panel.

Building a hierarchy in Lightroom works both ways — Creating new parent folders above a folder is as easy as creating child folders below it. Just right-click on the child folder and you’ll see an option that says “Add Parent folder.” Select that and presto, Lightroom is now aware of the parent and the original child folder.

Note: In the screenshot above, Lightroom is displaying a photo count next to the drive listing. This display actually shows the amount of hard drive space used and the amount available by default. To change that display, just right-click on the text and select one of the other options.


It’s a good idea to set up your folders in Lightroom to mirror the structure you’re already using to organize photos on your hard drive. But folders alone would be a bit limiting — what happens if you want to have the same photo be in two places are once? If you’re using folders alone to organize things, you’d end up with duplicate files, which isn’t very smart.

That’s where collections come in. Collections are essentially like an iTunes playlist — they’re groups of images that the application groups together in a way wholly independent of where the actual files live.

In other words, collections are a way to organize, group and sort photos without actually moving them anywhere.

Ordinary and Smart Collections

There are two types of collections, ordinary Collections and Smart Collections. Again, the comparison to iTunes playlists works well. Ordinary Collections are static, to create them just click the plus button and choose “create collection.” You can then manually add photos to your collection by dragging and dropping.

The Collections sub-panel. Smart Collections have tiny gears next to them.
The Collections sub-panel. Smart Collections have tiny gears next to them.

While Collections are static, Smart Collections are dynamic and work just like smart playlists in media players. You define a set of criteria — say, all your photos rated with five stars, or everything tagged “Paris” — and the Smart Collection will show only those images. Later, when you add some new photos to your library and give a couple of them five star ratings or tag them with “Paris”, head back to your Smart Collections and your new photos automatically show up in the appropriate collection.

In the screenshot, you can see that I have the default Lightroom Smart Collections folder and then a normal collection called “top” which happens to hold some of my personal favorites hand-culled from my library.

Smart Collections can be as complicated or intricately filtered as you’d like, just hit the plus button to keep adding criteria to the filter.

Create Smart Collections by filtering for various criteria.
Create Smart Collections by filtering for various criteria.

The fun doesn’t stop there. You can also create Collection Sets, which are essentially folders to hold your various collections. I could merge two Smart Collections — say, all of my five-star photos and all of my four-star photos — into a Collection Set called “Highest rated,” which would contain two distinct collections.

Adding Keywords

Smart Collections can also be used to display all images with a specific keyword, like, in our example above, “Paris.”

But how do we add keywords to our photos? For that we need to jump over to the right-hand panel in the Library module and open the Keywording sub-panel. This is the interface we’ll use to add keywords to our images.

Keywords, ratings, dates — this is all metadata, or information associated with a file that’s sort of tacked on after it’s been created.

Note that by keywords, I really mean tags. They’re essentially the same thing, and most of the sites on the web that rely on metadata call this labeling system tagging. It just rolls off the tongue better than “keywording,” I suppose. However, since Adobe chooses to call them keywords, we’ll stick with that terminology to avoid confusion. But they are the same thing in concept.

Tags are "Keywords" in Lightroom.
Tags are “Keywords” in Lightroom.

In the screenshot, you’ll notice the selected image has the keywords “2006″, “city”, “Laos”, “market” and “round the world trip” applied to it. To add more keywords, you can click that dark grey box and type them in. Use commas to separate keywords from one another. However, the better option it use the box below that where it says “Click here to add keywords.”

Tip: The nice thing about using the smaller box is that it will stay selected when you move between photos using the CMD-right/left arrow (CTRL-right/left arrow on Windows) keyboard shortcut. It makes for a nice quick way to add keywords to multiple photos without ever taking your fingers off the keys.

Below the Keywords box, you’ll see the Keyword Suggestions area. Adobe touted this quite heavily when Lightroom 2.0 launched, claiming it would be exceedingly smart at suggesting related keywords based on a whole series of criteria.

If by “smart” the company really meant “the single worst keyword suggestion tool you’ve ever used,” then we’d be inclined to agree. Maybe your luck will be better, but in all our time spent been using Lightroom 2.0, it has yet to suggest a keyword that makes sense.

Just below Keyword Suggestions is a tool that actually is very useful — Keywords Sets. The idea behind keyword Sets is that you’ll probably want to apply the same keywords to different photos quite frequently, so why not save them as a reusable set that can be applied to multiple photos with a single click? That’s exactly what Keyword Sets allow you to do. There are some default options, like Outdoor Photography, which has some common keywords you might want to use on your landscape images. But the real power here is in defining your own sets and then applying them to your images. Any time you’ve assigned multiple keywords to an image, you can save them as a set.

The simplest and quickest way to keyword your photos is when you import them. The trick is to apply the more general keywords — location names for instance — at this stage. Then, apply more fine-grained keywords, like say “sunset” or “beach” to your individual images.

Filtering Images

You have all your photos imported, organized, er, keyworded — now what? Let’s look at the main Library view to see how we can use all that data to sort through our photos and find just the images we want.

First, let’s take a quick tour of the Library module’s two views — Grid, pictured below, and Loupe, which allows you zoom in on your images. To change what’s displayed in either view, just right-click on an image and select “View Options…” That will give you a preference pane that you can use to customize the Library module just about any way you like.

Also note that to quickly jump to Grid view, you can use the keyboard shortcut G. For Loupe view, it’s E. No, we don’t know why it’s E either, but it is.

Notice the filter bar across the top of the screenshot. This is where our keywording and other metadata filtering happens. To enable a filter, just click it. To disable it, click again.

Between the three types of filters — Text, Attribute and Metadata — you should be able to see just about every possible combination of images you can imagine. Of particular note is the metadata browser, which allows you to filter every criteria your camera records.

But maybe you don’t want to jump through the hoops of filtering every time you want to find a particular image. That’s why there’s the custom filter tool over to the right hand side of the filter bar. Use the custom filter tool to save your filter criteria so you can quickly jump back to it whenever you want.

The other element of note in the main Library Module is the toolbar along the bottom of the Grid view. This is where you can change settings like the sort order, switch between views (including two we haven’t covered yet: Compare and Survey), adjust the thumbnail size and even apply keywords and metadata using the painter tool.

Odds and Ends

Here some other interface elements within the Library module we haven’t covered:

The keyword browser, which lives in the right side panel. The keyword browser has the same effect as typing a keyword into the text filter in the filter bar, but in this case you see all your keywords. This avoids unnecessary duplicates, and you don’t have to try to remember whatever specific term you used two years ago.

In the left panel, you’ll find the catalog sub-panel, probably most notable for providing quick access to your last import.

Also on the left is the Navigator sub-panel, which is useful in Loupe view since it shows you at a glance, where you are in your zoomed view. Photoshop users will feel a sense of familiarity in the Navigator.


Adobe likes to provide more than one way of doing most things in its software. The result is that Lightroom 2.0 is very flexible, but it can also be somewhat daunting. Hopefully this orientation has given you some insight into how the Library module can help organize your images.

So go ahead and try out some of the things we’ve covered — import some images, move them around, create collections, add some keywords, sort by various metadata criteria and so on until you’re comfortable.

Then come right back, because in the next lesson, we’ll walk through the basics of the Develop module. That’s where the real fun begins!