You use Lightroom to process batches of images because you know how important efficiency is. But if you're not fully utilizing Lightroom's available rating (and sorting) options, you're not running as tight a ship as you could.
We are often burdened and overwhelmed by the massive numbers of images that require sorting and editing — even from a single day of shooting. To make matters worse, clients can demand fast turnaround, leaving us up at all hours of the morning and night, scrambling to create deliverables in a timely manner.
But the challenge of a "dump" of hundreds or thousands of images onto your hard drive can be manageable. With its efficient rating system, Lightroom's ability to rate and sort in bulk becomes your secret weapon in the battle against over-long edit queues.
First, this article will share the three main rating features within Lightroom (star, flags, and color flags), then I'll make suggestions on how to utilize these to maximize your efficiency. You should finish this article with a deeper understanding of the rating functions, and perhaps have a new approach to rating. Don't be overwhelmed by the three rating systems. You might find efficiency with just a single one.
Before last year, I was using a simple "green flag" rating system, attributing a green color flag to each "keeper" image as I edited. I had no idea how inefficient my editing technique was until I was nudged by a colleague to implement a stronger system. Once I did so, I was thrilled with how much faster my workflow became. And I know clients were happier too. In order to divulge everything to you, let's first delve into the basics of Lightroom's three rating functions, starting with star ratings. After that I'll explain just how the systems can be implemented.
Star ratings are arguably the most versatile of the rating functions available in Lightroom, but depending on how you use them they can also be the most time-consuming. Star ratings allow users to apply a 1-to-5-star label on an image, reflecting its perceived importance. This is especially useful for projects in which you want to assign different hierarchies of importance or quality to a batch of images.
For example: You've taken a set of images for a wedding client. You begin by culling the batch of images, selecting any photos decent enough to be potential "keepers" with a simple 2-star rating. You can scan through the batch with your arrow keys by pressing the "2" button on your keyboard for each selected image. You have the option simply ignore rejected images in this process, and you can flag reject images with the X button. More on flags later.
Now that you've thinned your batch a bit, select the 2 star button in the filter module (above image image filmstrip). You are now viewing your 2-starred selections. If more rating is needed, you can go through these 2-star images and create another layer of hierarchy by selecting the best-of-best with 3-star ratings, and so on. Here's a situation in which you might have multiple layers of star labels:
- 2 Stars to begin, creating a baseline of usable images for your own collection
- 3 Stars for the selections you will send your client
- 4 Stars for images you'd like to share on social media
- 5 Stars for the images you're adding to your portfolio
That's just one example of how the star rating system can be used, and the process can be simplified or customized.
You can adapt this rating system for your particular needs. Perhaps you're narrowing your batch to select the best-of-best-of-best, and the 2-5 star system is your way of analyzing your images until you reach your "top picks" that lead you to your end goal of just 5-star photos. Although going over the batches multiple times and narrowing to a higher star rating might seem time-consuming, since you narrow your selection, the process gets shorter each time.
Any time you want, you can revert to a star rating setting in the filter module and see those images as rates lower or higher. Selecting 2 stars on the filter will show each image at 2 and above (etc).
Flags are a useful, simple option to rate images as you make selections. Flagged, unflagged, and rejected are the three settings that can be applied here. The key shortcuts for flagging images are: P for pick flag, U for unflag (which simply removes the "flagged" status), and X to reject.
One nice feature of the flag system is simplicity: either you keep the image or trash it. Rating by stars requires more immediate decisiveness; assigning flags is a lower-pressure alternative. Once you've set your flags, you can view images by flag status with the filter panel, just as with star filtering.
If you have a batch of images and only a handful of them won't make the cut, you can use the Reject flag to cull those images from your batch. This will gray the rejects out, making it easy to skip over them while you edit.
Color flags offer a more customized approach to rating, since any flag color could represent any status you select. For example, you might mark images meant for social media with "green" flags, and use "blue" flags for images you plan to keep in your personal archives. The possibilities are endless.
To quickly flag an image by color, use the numerical values on your keyboard in Develop or Library mode. The color flag keyboard shortcuts are 6, 7, 8, and 9 for red, yellow, green and blue, respectively. Once you've set images to a color flag, you can view flagged images by color, by selecting appropriate color filter buttons next to the star filters.
Which Should You Use?
Your choice of filters (stars, flags, or color flags) should be determined by your needs. Some or all of your jobs might only require a once-over with a flag, 5-star, or "green" label (green being “best of," for example). You might have multiple uses for images, and even find that some combination of rating types works best.
For instance, after setting your 2, 3, and 4 stars to narrow down top tier images, you could go through once more and color flag the ones you're posting to your portfolio as "green". Since multiple rating systems can be applied to a single image, you can efficiently flag an image, label it as 5 stars, and slap a green label on it. It's up to you to decide how simple or complex your ratings should be.
Workflow: Rate First, Then Edit
I mentioned earlier in this article that I used to rate images as I edited. That is to say, each image in the batch queue was rated one at a time, then edited one at a time. This is inefficient for obvious reasons, but I had convinced myself that only needing to go through the batch one total time was saving me time. The truth is that Lightroom's main function and use is batch editing, so rating and editing one-by-one doesn't make much sense. You'll find that if you can quickly go through your batches and rate (those keyboard shortcuts will speed this process up), applying a batch edit to your rated images, then going in for fine adjustments on singular images will save you much time. Don't be afraid to go through a batch more than once; despite what you may think, it can end up saving you a lot of time!
- While keyboard shortcuts are the fastest way to apply image ratings in Lightroom, you can also set ratings by right-clicking (control+click on Mac) the image and using the pulldown menu.
- Setting the "reject" flag to an image doesn't remove it from your Lightroom library, it simply applies the "rejected" label to the photo. To actually remove an image from your Library, press Delete or right-click + Remove Photo in the pulldown menu.
- You can set rating attributes in any view module (Loupe, Survey, or Grid View) as well as in both Library and Develop mode.
- Use Collections along with ratings for maximum organization within Lightroom. Collections within collection folders provides extra organization within groups of shoots (multiple sessions for one client, genre, etc.)
If you aren't utilizing rating systems with Lightroom yet, I hope I've convinced you that it's a worthwhile practice for your editing workflow. Even if you're using a simple single-rating system, I urge you to expand it (as I did) to better organize and rate, if not improve your entire selection process. If you have any extra tips on rating images in Lightroom, please leave them in the comments section below.