Limitations of Smart Collections


Today’s Question: Other than being able to change the order [to a custom sort order], is there a reason to use regular Collections instead of keywords with Smart Collections in Lightroom Classic?

Tim’s Quick Answer: The only other reason to use a regular collection in Lightroom Classic rather than a smart collection based on keywords is to synchronize the collection to the cloud. Cloud synchronization is only available for regular collections, not smart collections.

More Detail: Since collections and smart collections in Lightroom Classic are only saved in the catalog, not to the metadata for the source images, a common approach is to use smart collections based on metadata rather than using a regular collection. For example, you can add a keyword that identifies the purpose you want the applicable images included in the collection, and then create a smart collection based on the keyword.

With this approach you still have the same basic effect of adding images to a regular collection, by using a smart collection based on a keyword. The added benefit is that should anything ever happen to your Lightroom Classic catalog, you could still identify the images that were in the smart collection based on the keyword you used.

However, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, as noted in today’s question, the custom sort order option is only supported in regular collections, not smart collections. In a regular collection you can drag the thumbnails around into any order you’d like, but in a smart collection you can only sort by the various metadata-based options that are available on the Sort popup.

In addition, you are not able to synchronize smart collections to the cloud. You could work around this by creating a regular collection with synchronization enabled and then adding all images from the smart collection to the regular collection. However, as the contents of the smart collection updated based on the rules that had been defined, those changes will not be reflected in the regular collection.

So, the main limitation of a regular collection is that it only exists within the Lightroom Classic catalog. The limitations of smart collections are that you can’t use the custom sort order and you can’t synchronize to the cloud. Using a keyword (or other metadata) to identify the images you want to have included in a smart collection is a great way to preserve collections beyond the Lightroom Classic catalog.

You could also make a point of similarly adding a collection-specific keyword to all photos in a regular collection. This would provide the benefit of having a keyword in metadata that identifies which photos belong in a given collection, while avoiding the limitations of smart collections. However, both approaches involve some potentially cumbersome limitations depending on your workflow needs.