Today’s Question: I have been using Lightroom 6 for a number of years and have created new collections with some regularity. However, it seems I almost never return to the collections unless I am creating one. How and when should I be using collections?
Tim’s Quick Answer: I generally find collections most helpful when working on a project that involves photos from multiple folders. In other words, collections enable you to organize photos with a structure beyond the folder structure you’re using on your hard drive. That said, if you don’t find collections helpful in your workflow, I certainly think it is perfectly fine to not put them to use.
More Detail: I use folders as a primary organizational tool in my workflow. That’s because folders can be managed within Lightroom (or other software), but also exist as a “tangible” organizational tool through my computer’s operating system.
Collections (or albums in some other software applications) are something like virtual folders. You can organize your photos into a collection for any purpose, enabling you to go beyond the folder structure you’ve defined for your photos.
Because of the way collections work, I find them most useful when I want to group photos together from across multiple folders. When photos are contained in a single folder, I can easily use other metadata to filter the images to only those I want to work with. When the photos I want to group together are scattered across multiple photos, using metadata to isolate only certain photos can be a bit more challenging.
Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that collections only exist within Lightroom, and the metadata for your actual photos won’t reflect membership in collections. In other words, if you were to lose your Lightroom catalog, you would lose all collection information. Other standard metadata (such as keywords and star ratings) can be saved out to the actual photos, beyond the Lightroom catalog. For this reason, I recommend using other metadata fields (such as the Keywords field) to record information related to the use of collections, if preserving that information is important to you.