How To Organize Photos in Lightroom Using Smart Collections

My Lightroom Catalogue was such a mess few days ago.. And my backups weren't really up to date and after reading some horror stories on loosing your images I wanted to make this my priority number uno. It's not a sexy task, but definitely something I had to do.

The Collections and Folders were unorganized and was literally scattered all over the place. So I decided to go on and manage my photos and build up a system because I really want to backup my photos regularly, and don't want to include unnecessary photos in those backups.

I know there are lot of different ways to do organizing. I believe this works for people who are not organized or have always just imported their photos anywhere where is space left in their hard drives. Here is couple of tricks I found easy and working well for my purposes. 

1. Create a Collection Set

First thing to do is create a set where you will be having all the images from one year. Click on the small + sign in the Collections Panel and choose Collection Set. Name this what ever year you are going to create. For example I named it 2009. 

Add Year by Creating a Collection Set

Add Year by Creating a Collection Set

2. Create Smart Collection for a Year

Click on the right mouse button inside the Collection Set you just created and click Create a Smart Collection. Name it All and click on the Inside a Collection Set and choose the set you just created. Check Capture Date from the Rules Panel and check "is in the range" and provide the dates you want the images to be, for example 2009-01-01 to 2009-12-31 and click Create.

Create First Smart Collection with ruling.

Create First Smart Collection with ruling.

3. Create Smart Collection for a Month & File Type

This time use the same criteria but change the time line to 2009-01-01 to 2009-01-31. And after this lets add another rule File Type is Raw or JPG. (Which ever you prefer to shoot). This is not necessary, but I really enjoy just see the RAW files without all the other TIF files etc. 

Now when you have your first month set, go ahead and create all the rest months of the year, only changing the month dates.

Adding the month Smart Collection

Adding the month Smart Collection

4. Create Smart Collections for Other File Types

Now this is where I really had an aha moment. I have always been annoyed how many JPG copies I had all over the place so I just simply created a JPG Smart Collection by using The whole year Dates as previously in the Year part of this tutorial. I also did this part for TIF files to see how many duplicates I would have for the same photos. This is how you will be able to delete all the unnecessary duplicates. Just select the unnecessary duplicates and hit X and go to All Photographs and use CTRL (CMD) + Backspace and Delete from Disk. Of course be careful not deleting the files you don't want to.

Here is an example on adding JPG -files from the year into one Smart Collection

Here is an example on adding JPG -files from the year into one Smart Collection

5. Copy Collection Settings

So you have now created a one year Collection system. Create another Collection Set and name it "2010". Select the Smart Collections you just created for the another year and hit ALT (Option) + and drag the Smart Collections to 2010 and voila you have almost setup another year.. Now just double click on those copied Smart Collections and edit the dates to match the year you chose to create. Do this step to all the years you want to create and you are done with the Collections.

Drag the Created Collections to new Collection Set by holding down the CTRL (CMD) - key

6. Create Folder System From The Collections

After creating a Collections you can easily use them to create folders. Just click on the first Collection you want to create a folder and use shortcut CTRL (CMD) + A to select all photos inside that Smart Collection. Now go to your hard disk drive you are going to build the folders and select with your mouse right button and Create Folder. Name it for example 01, set it to Include selected Photos and now your files are being transferred to this location, no matter on where the images were before.

Adding the Folders from Smart Collections.

Adding the Folders from Smart Collections.

If you don't want to do all these steps, you can easily just apply this how you want to organize your photos. And of course you can go even further with the management by adding Collections for events, trips etc. 

Now after I have this system up, I can easily backup the whole Folder System to another Hard Drive. 

Mikko Lagerstedt - Lost

And for anyone who wanted to see some photo here is one from 2012, I ran into while going through the photos. It's supposed to get colder in the next few days so I'm just waiting for views like these! 

UPDATE: Thanks to Matt for pointing out a shortcut not working.

How To Photograph Stars & Night Sky, Top 5 Tips


I got few emails regarding photographing the stars. So here are few of my tips to photograph stars and what I do to plan before going out. If you want to learn more about star photography, check out my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass


1. Location Scouting

This is actually the first thing I do when I plan a trip to photograph the stars. There are various tools you can use for this. I mainly use Google Maps to search for a location that would work good in low light situation. This means that it should be somewhere that has low light pollution. I try to find a place that is at least couple kilometers from a small town or 20 kilometers from a city. I sometimes also go out drive around without a specific place in mind to search for an interesting place.


Something About a Tree - Hanko, Finland - Nikon D800, 35 mm f/4.0, ISO 6400, 15 sec.

2. Weather Forecast

f course, you cannot really rely on the forecasts, but you will get a quite good look if there will be clouds in the sky. I also recommend using at least couple of different weather forecast sites to have a wider look at the possibilities in a clear sky. 


Sometimes there might be some clouds you were not thinking to photograph, but in that case, you could just try out something different if you can't avoid them. Use clouds as a different approach.

Storm Approaching - Kerava, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm f/4.0 ISO 100, 25 sec.

3. Timing

Plan the trip for the darkest moments of the night. This is how you will get most out of the stars. The darker it is the more the stars will show in your capture when you have the correct camera settings. Planning a trip when the moon wont be the brightest also is very important if you want to capture stars. Moon can easily get in the way of milky way.


4. Equipment & Settings

So this is not a list that you should go and buy, just my tools of use.

Tripod, or something to keep your camera steady for long exposures. I have used quite a few tripods and I really like what I currently have a Sirui Tripod R-4203L and Sirui Ball Head K-40X

Use wide angle lens if you want the stars to appear as dots not trails. My go to lenses for my Nikon D800 are Samyang 14 mm f/2.8 and Nikon 16 - 35 mm f/4.0 VR. By using a remote controller it allows you to use longer exposures than 30 seconds. I use Hähnel Giga T Pro II  for Nikon and it works nicely for my purposes.

As for settings: Always take photos in RAW file format.

Focus to infinity either manually or simply using one bright spot to focus on. Use the widest aperture your lens has as far as the result is not too blurry. Boost up ISO, I would recommend start from ISO 1600 and go up as much as your camera can handle with a decent end result. I tend to take 30 second exposures to have the stars still when you use something like I have above with a full frame camera. For a crop sensor camera I used 11 mm lens with aperture 2.8 and 30 seconds exposure.


Balance - Sipoo, Finland - Nikon D7000, 11 mm, f/2.8 ISO 1600, 30 sec.


5. Experiment

The last but not least tip is to experiment on a location, and it's lots of fun! So if you have found a location you think fits for the purposes of taking pictures of stars try experimenting with different exposures and perspectives. Don't just settle on one spot try search around if you see something interesting to include in the frame. In fact, I rarely get the shot I was looking for in one shot.. I take multiple shots and experiment with perspectives and subjects. 


Blue Night - Kuopio, Finland - Nikon D800, 16 mm, f/4.0, ISO 3200, 30 sec.

Next tutorial, I will give you an example of what kind of settings I use to combine a photo like below. Also some Lightroom 5 tips on making the adjustments on star photos.

If you liked this tutorial feel free to visit my eBook: Star Photography Masterclass