Today’s Question: In Lightroom I am able to assign pick or reject flags, star ratings, and color labels to my photos. Which of these do you recommend using, or should I be using all of them?
Tim’s Quick Answer: My general recommendation is to use star ratings as the primary method of identifying your favorite photos. Color labels can be used for supplemental purposes as well. However, I recommend that pick and reject flags not be used unless it will only be for “temporary” purposes.
More Detail: I have two reasons for preferring not to use pick and reject flags in Lightroom. First, these attributes are essentially Lightroom-only features. While other software also employs similar options, the pick and reject flags do not align with a field in an established metadata standard. In other words, even if you save the metadata out to your photos, the pick and reject flags can only be retained within your Lightroom catalog. No other software can read these values if you add them in Lightroom.
The second reason I prefer not to use pick and reject flags is that they only provide two basic options. You can “pick” a photo as a favorite or you can “reject” a photo as an outtake. You could also assign a meaning to the “unpicked” status. But the point is that the attributes are limited to what is essentially a “yes” or “no” decision. Of course, that binary nature is exactly why many photographers prefer to use pick flags in the first place.
With star ratings you have the advantage of using a standard metadata field, so that for example if you save the metadata out to your photos you can view your star ratings with other software applications. Star ratings also provide more “levels” of selecting a photo. For example, I use a one-star rating as a basic “accepted” attribute for my photos, so that after reviewing my images those without a star rating are essentially rejects. I then promote images to a higher star rating based on how happy I am with the photos, especially after working with the photos and perhaps sharing them to get feedback. The result is that I can identify between my very best work versus my lesser images that are still worth keeping and using, but that perhaps won’t end up getting hung on the wall.
Because color labels don’t really have an inherent meaning to most of us (other than perhaps the “priority” aspect that was part of the original meaning for color labels), I tend to recommend using them only for supplemental purposes. You can define your own meaning for each color label you choose to use, and then add color labels to images as appropriate.
For example, I often use the green color label to identify images I want to share with others. Just keep in mind that you can only assign a single color label to an image, so you’ll want to be thoughtful about the definitions you assign to a given color label. For example, using one color label to identify an image that needs some retouching work and another color label to identify an image that needs to be printed would be problematic to assign for a photo that both needs retouching and to be printed.
The key is to give some thought to how you need to identify your photos, and perhaps even go back to your older images and update the attributes you had previously assigned based on a different workflow. This aspect of cleaning up your workflow is covered in Chapter 6 of my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video course, available through the GreyLearning website here: