Today’s Question: I’m sure this should be simple, but I can’t wrap my head around the concept of collections in Lightroom Classic. Can you briefly explain what they are and how I should be using them?
Tim’s Quick Answer: A collection in Lightroom Classic CC is simply a way to group photos together that are related by some concept beyond the folder structure on your hard drive. Adding a photo to a collection is similar to adding a keyword to the image, with a collection providing quicker access to those photos.
More Detail: In many respects from the perspective of a Lightroom user, collections and folders are very similar. You can click on a collection or a folder on the left panel in the Library module in order to view the photos that are contained within that collection or folder. The key difference is that folders reflect the actual organizational structure on your hard drive, while collections simply reflect a logical organization of photos within Lightroom.
In other words, the list of folders in the Folders section of the left panel in the Library module directly relates to the folder structure you could see on your hard drive if you browse that drive through your operating system. Collections only exist within Lightroom, and are not reflected on your hard drive.
It may be helpful to think of collections based on an analogy. Imagine you have added a keyword to a set of photos, and then have a saved search result that enables you to quickly see only the photos that include the specific keyword. That is the same concept for collections, but instead of adding a keyword and saving a search, you simply add a photo to the collection.
Collections can be used for a wide variety of purposes, enabling you to organize your photos beyond the folder structure on your hard drive. For example, I often use collections to organize photos for various projects that include my photos, such as presentations. You could also use collections to organize photos by category, similar to how you could add keywords to various photos.
So, folders are a reflection of what you might think of as the physical storage structure on your hard drive, while collections are extensions of that concept, enabling you to group photos together regardless of which folders all of those photos might be contained in.
It is important to keep in mind that collections only exist within Lightroom, and are not saved to the metadata for your photos. That means that while the folders you see in Lightroom actually exist on your hard drive, if you lost your Lightroom catalog you would also lose all of the information about the collections for your photos. This is one of the reasons it is important to regularly backup your Lightroom catalog.