Library Module

The Library module is the place where you can sort and organize your photographs in Lightroom. This page outlines how the Library tools work.

The Library
Organizing your pictures
The Library layout
Filtering tools
Collections vs keywords for grouping
The collections panel
The Folders panel
The Metadata panel

The Library

The Lightroom library is a great place to know, view, and work with your image collection. You can browse through many thousands of files quickly, and you can tag and group images so that it is easy to find specific images. In order to make sense of the Library, we will take a quick look at the ways that you can find and group your images in the Library. Once this is done, we'll outline the Library interface. Then we will look at the most important panels in the Library, and describe how to use them.


FIGURE 1 This movie outlines how you can use the Library tools to sort, find and work on images.

Organizing your pictures

If you are not using catalogue software to organize your photos, then you are probably using some combination of file and folder names to help remember where your specific pictures are, what the pictures are about, and maybe even how much you like them. Once you start using Lightroom, however, you will see that there is a better way to organize your photos. The metadata tools in Lightroom let you organize your pictures in a much more powerful, flexible and easy way than by using file and folder names.

There are two basic ways to sort through a lot of pictures: filtering, and grouping. In general, filtering is useful for the way it hides what you do not want to see - 'hide everything that does not have these characteristics'. Grouping, on the other hand, is useful for what it shows - 'these are all pictures that go together'.

Additionally, filtering is typically a more temporary process than grouping is. A filter is applied to a large group of images to hide, temporarily, all those that don't have a certain characteristic.  When grouping images you put images together in some kind of collection that can be more permanent, since the group can exist 'inside' a larger collection of images. 

Filtering images

Filtering is a process that lets you see only images that share some quality. Examples of this include 'show me all photos taken in Maputo', or  'Show me all photos from December, 2010', or 'Show me all photos taken for the Brookings Institution'. Lightroom makes it very easy to filter down to just the photos you are looking for, even if you have a very large collection of photos in your catalogue. You can also combine filters to be even more specific. 'Show me all two-star and better architecture images from Maputo'.

Once you get the hang of using the filtering tools, it is really easy to concentrate only on the photos you are interested in at that moment, no matter how many images are in your Lightroom catalogue.

Grouping images

Grouping images is simply the process of saying 'these photos go together'. This can be some kind of characteristic a whole shoot has, such as 'these are all photos from Maputo'. We saw in the last lesson how we can apply some of this information during the Import process to make groups nearly automatically.

There is another kind of grouping that is even more valuable: you can make groups such as 'This is my current portfolio' or 'These are images I will send to my stock agent'. These are groups of images that represent a higher level of organization.


FIGURE 2 This movie shows the difference between grouping and filtering.

The Library layout

The Library has a more complex layout than the other modules in Lightroom, probably because organizing your photos is a more complex task than the other modules offer. 

Left-hand panel - the Source

On the left-hand side of the window is the Source panel. Something must be selected over here, or no images will show. It is divided into 4 basic sources and the Navigator. In general, you select only one source at any given time.


The Catalogue panel provides several categories of sources, generally based on some kind of status of the images in relation to the catalogue. This includes all images, Quick Collection and recent imports. It can also include a list of missing items if you run the 'Find Missing Photos' command in the Library menu.


The Folders panel lets you look through folders of catalogued images. Note that only images that have been catalogued will show up in the folders panel: this is not a comprehensive list of images on your hard drive. More below.


Collections are groups of images that you put together for any number of reasons. This is a useful place to do some general organization of your images files, particularly when you need to group images for some specific need like a slideshow or for image processing. More below.


The Publish tool is a 'smar'" export feature that can be updated as you make refinements to your images. For some services such as Flickr, it is also possible to import comments back into your catalogue from the published images. 

Read more about Publish in the Export lesson


FIGURE 3 The left-hand panel is the "Source" in the Lightroom library.

The Workspace

The centre window is the Workspace. This is where you can browse a set of images, examine one single image closely, or compare multiple images to see which one is best. There are 4 display modes in the Workspace:

  • Grid View - this is a thumbnail view.  When you are in grid, all selected images are ctive. That means that work you do to one adding labels, using Quick Develop, etc) apply to all images
  • Loupe View - This is where you can examine images one-by-one. Note that only the 'most selected' (the image in the center window) is the one that would get labels, Quick Develop settings etc, even though other images may be selected
  • Compare View - This mode lets you compare two images side-by-side. It is useful to check critical focus, facial expressions, etc
  • Survey View - This mode shows all selected images. I have found very little reason to use this view mode

Selected and most selected images

  • Unlike a lot of programmes, Lightroom has a concept of 'Most Selected' images, as well as Selected images. You can tell which is the most selected image because the light highlight around the image is slightly lighter on the Most Selected image. If you are in Loupe Mode or in the Develop Module, the most selected image will be the one in the workspace. 


FIGURE 4 This movie outlines how the workspace works, as well as the difference between "Selected" and "Most Selected" images.

The right-hand panel

The best way to describe the right hand panel, is probably to simply say 'some other useful stuff'. 
  • There is a histogram up top, which can be useful for a quick check of shadow or highlight clipping. 
  • The Quick Develop tool lets you adjust many images quickly
  • The Keywords tools offer a flexible way to classify and sort your images
  • The Metadata panel lets you enter or examine metadata for one or more selected images.
  • Read more about Histograms and Quick Develop in the Develop lesson

The Filmstrip

Running along the bottom of the window in any of the modules, the Filmstrip lets you lets you see the images you are working on. 


FIGURE 5 This movie outlines the functions in the filmstrip and the right-hand panel.

Filtering tools

Now that we've gotten a little more familiar with the overall Library interface, let's examine some of the tools more closely. We'll start with the tools in Lightroom to filter images. Lightroom offers 4 basic ways to filter:

  1. You can filter by the source, such as the folder or any of the items in the Catalogue panel
  2. You can filter by by using the Filter bar, which allows you to select lots of different characteristics to choose from. (You also have access to these filters directly above the filmstrip at the bottom right of the window)
  3. You can filter by keywords, using the right-hand panel
  4. You can use Smart Collections to set up rules for filtration. Smart collections will automatically add images as they are added to the catalogue

The Filter Bar

The Filter bar lives above the Grid view, and lets you choose between a number of metadata fields to filter a given source. It is a little annoying at forst that the filter takes up space that the thumbnails occupy, but once you get used to using it, it is an invaluable tool.  

The Filter bar is also useful because it only shows the metadata values that are contained in the source images. This helps you understand what images might be contained in a particular source.

Here are some usage tips:

  • The filter is progressive from left to right. (Check the movie in Figure 7 to see what I mean)
  • If you find yourself using a particular filter combination, save it as a pre-set.  Then it will also be available in the filter tool above the filmstrip
  • Some fields, like date, keyword and Location can be displayed as wither a 'flat' or a hierarchical set (check the movie)


Figure 6 This movie shows how filtration can help you hide images you are interested in at any given time

Collections vs keywords for grouping

There are 2 basic tools in Lightroom to group images; you can use Collections, and you can use Keywords. In many ways they are interchangeable, but there are some good reasons to use each for particular tasks.

Sort order

The order the images appear in a group can also be an important factor. If you are telling a story or making some kind of presentation to persuade someone, the order in which the images appear can be crucial. In Lightroom, this is only done with Collections.

Grouping with collections

Let me take a quick look at collections, and see what they offer.

Collections can be seen in every module

Because Collections can be seen in each module, they are an ideal way to group images for work in Develop, or for output in Slideshow, Web or Print

Collections are a 'source'

Because Collections are in the left hand panel, they are easy to select as a source, and they are easy to filter

Collections remember sort order

If the sorting order is important, you need to do the organization with Collections

Disadvantage - Collections are not written to the file

The work you do to group the images with collections is only visible in Lightroom. If you want the grouping to be visible to other programmes, you will want to use something else, such as Keywords

Grouping with keywords

Keywords offer a couple advantages that collections do not have, along with a disadvantage

Keywords 'nest' hierarchically

You can put keywords inside of keywords. That lets you easily subdivide a group of images into one or more smaller groups. This is a very efficient way to organize your images. Perhaps you are looking for portfolio images. You can add many images to a 'Portfolio' keyword, and then further refine your grouping into 'Portrait', 'Landscape', etc. 

Keywords can be written back to the file

Keywords are a good place to store any important grouping information about an image. Because you can write the keywords back to the file (or sidecar file), the organizational work done with keywords can be available to other programmes, such as Adobe Bridge, PhotoMechanic, etc. The Collection name does not get written back to the file, so it is only available when you are looking at the photo in Lightroom.

Disadvantage - Sort order is not saved

When you group images using keywords, the sorting order of the images is not saved. So, keywords are not a good grouping tool if the order of the images is an important part of the grouping.

Disadvantage - Keywords are not a source

In order to see a group of images with a particular keyword, you need to make sure that you first select a source that includes all possible images with that keyword. 


FIGURE 7 This movie shows how you can group images with Collections or Keywords

The collections panel

As stated above, Collections are a great way to group your images. In addition to regular collections, there are 2 other types of collections.

  • Collection Sets are a tool to group collections together. Collection Sets can contain Collections and Smart Collection, but cannot contain images
  • Smart Collections are really groups of saved filter settings

The movie in Figure 8 outlines some ways to use collections.


FIGURE 8 This movie shows how you navigate the folders panel


Keywords are one of the most flexible tools for organizing your images. You can create as many ways to describe images as you need, and put them all here. The Keywords metadata fields are very well supported by most programs that work with image files, so the information you put here is very accessible. 

Keywording for internal use vs. external use

There is a big difference between the kind of keywords you need to organize your own collection (internal use) and what you need to make images discoverable by a stock photo search. Organizing your images for your own use is a much easier task. In many cases, you will simply want to keyword according to client or project name, and maybe a couple other terms. 

Since this course is primarily concerned with the creation and maintenance of your own collection, we will be looking at internal use. If you want to find out more about external use, check out the Stock Photography section.


Should I use keywords to tag locations?

Sometimes the location of a photo should definitely be a keyword. When the picture is about a location, it is helpful to tag that image with a keyword. A photo of Table Mountain, for instance, is about the location, and that should be part of the keywords for that image. But sometimes the location is not important to the subject matter of an image, but it can be helpful for you in making sense of your own collection. A portrait of someone that happens to be taken in Cape Town may not actually be about Cape Town. 

I suggest that all images should be tagged with the location they were taken in using the Location tags. But if the image is also about that location, then the location should also appear in the Keywords.

Create a keyword hierarchy

Lightroom supports 'nesting' of keywords. This is a helpful way to make sense of the many different descriptive terms you might attach to your images. I suggest that you should make a small number of top-level hierarchies, and build out the keyword tree inside these as you see necessary. For instance, I have a top-level hierarchy called 'Jobs' and inside that I make a keyword for every client I work for. Inside the Client keyword, I make a new keyword for each job for that client. If the job is made up of multiple shooting situations, I make keywords for those situations. By using these top-level hierarchies, I can make my image collection easy to navigate. The movie in Figure 8 outlines how this can work.


FIGURE 9 The filter bar helps to both filter and examine a source of images

The Folders panel

Lightroom gives you a way to see your whole folder structure in the Folders panel. Here are some tips on using the folders panel.

  • The folders panel only shows the bottom level folder that your images live in.  
  • If you want to show the whole folder tree, you need to right-click on a folder and select 'Add Parent Folder' which will then show the folder one level up
  • If you only want to see the lower level folders, right-click and select 'Promote Subfolders'
  • A question mark next to a folder indicates that Lightroom cannot find the folder
  • If the folder has been renamed or moved, you can right-click and select 'Find Missing Folder' to rest the folder path


FIGURE 10 This movie shows how you navigate the folders panel

The Metadata panel

The Metadata panel lets you examine and enter metadata for one or more selected images.

  • If you select an image, you can see what metadata is entered for that image
  • You have the option of showing only particular sets of metadata, or all metadata for an image
  • You can click into a field in the Metadata Panel, and add or change the matadata
  • If you have multiple images selected - and you are in Grid Mode - you can add metadata to multiple images at the same time. (Make sure 'Show metadata for targeted image only' is not checked).


FIGURE 11 This movie outlines how to work with the metadata panel