Today’s Question: Some of my photos in Lightroom show up with the color labels I have assigned to them, but others show up with a white color label. What does a white color label mean, since I don’t see any way that I can assign a white color label myself?
Tim’s Quick Answer: A white color label in Lightroom indicates that a color label has been assigned to a photo, but the definition for that label doesn’t match any of the colors available. This situation is caused by different software using different terms for the individual colors available for the color label feature. You can’t actually assign a white color label, other than by intentionally creating a mismatch among color label definitions.
More Detail: When you add a color label to a photo, you aren’t really assigning a color to the image. Instead, you’re adding a word to the Label field in metadata.
Since the color label feature is implemented with the assignment (and display) of a color to a photo, it makes sense that the Label field would be populated by the name of the color assigned to a photo. So, for example, when you assign a color label to a photo in Lightroom, the Label field will be populated with the word Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, or Purple.
Other software might use different words for the Label field when you assign a color label. One of the more notable examples is Adobe Bridge. Instead of using words that define the actual colors, when you assign a color label in Adobe Bridge you are adding the word Select, Second, Approved, Review, or To Do.
If you see a white color label when you expected to see a red color label, it could mean that the word Select was assigned via a red color label assignment in Adobe Bridge. Since by default Lightroom is looking for the word “Red” rather than “Select” to define a red color label, when it finds the word “Select” (or any other word that hasn’t been defined in Lightroom as a color label) then a white color label is displayed instead.
If you have this sort of mismatch among some of your metadata, you can certainly update your metadata based on your newer workflow. If you had only been using Adobe Bridge, for example, and then started using Lightroom, you could change the definition of color label values in Lightroom to match those from Adobe Bridge. You can find those settings by choosing Metadata > Color Label Set > Edit from the menu.
You could also update your “outdated” color label assignments from Adobe Bridge in Lightroom. For example, you could use the Metadata tab of the Library Filter Bar (View > Show Filter Bar from the menu) to view all of the current names being used for color labels, and filter for individual names. Using the example above, you could filter for color labels that were assigned the word “Select”, then select all of those images and assign a red color label to update the word used in the Label field for those images, and thus update the display of the images to a red label rather than a white label.
To learn more about cleaning up metadata and other “messy stuff” in your Lightroom catalog, check out my “Cleaning Up Your Mess in Lightroom” video course bundle here: