How-To: Rate and Tag Images in Lightroom

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Previously I talked about how to structure your image library using a simple naming scheme for files and directories. Today I’ll describe the next — quite difficult and highly subjective — part of how to care about your image library.

Rating with Stars

In order to achieve consistency in the sorting process you need a library-wide definition of what a particular image rating means. Here is our preference:

  • zero stars – the image has not been rated yet
  • one star – useful as a visual record of a place, person or event; without esthetic value. We usually keep one-star images only if they are tagged as “original,” “funny” or “interesting” (see below).
  • two stars – has some esthetic value but lacks a clear idea or emotional impact. A non-photographer would usually be happy with such an image.
  • three stars – has a clear subject and a “standard” composition (rule of thirds, leading lines); keeps the viewer’s attention for a few seconds; technically competent. A photographer would be happy with such an image, and indeed some three-star images make it into our online-portfolios.
  • four stars – interesting or unusual subject, good light, awakes some emotion in the viewer; interesting angle or composition. A four-start image is worth printing on paper.
  • five stars – depicts a strong idea and causes emotional impact; shows a great subject in exciting light; technically flawless; among our top 50–100 images.

As you see — with two levels for weak images and three for strong ones — we are picky with our ratings. This helps us to easily tailor the number of images to our audience. If they only have a few minutes, we’ll show them the 4- and 5-star images; if they want to see “everything”, we’ll show them the 3-stars also. Images with 1- and 2-stars are just for us, for example for remembering what a hotel room looked like, or to show a funny situation that we couldn’t make a better record of.

Assign stars in Lightroom by typing 1 through 5. Typing 0 removes the rating of an image.

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Tagging with Color Labels

In addition to rating your images with stars, you can also tag them with one of five color labels. When you originally install Lightroom, the labels are called red, yellow, green, blue and purple, but you’ll want to rename these to something more meaningful. Here are our choices (the number in parentheses indicates the keyboard shortcut for the label):

  • original (6) – an image that is part of a panorama or HDR, or the “before” image of a before-and-after pair that I sometimes use when teaching workshops. I keep “original” images only in case I want to reassemble the panorama or HDR with new tools at a later time. “Original” images are always rated with 1 star.
  • funny (7) – a funny image.
  • interesting (8) – typical of a place or an event. I use these a lot in slide-shows, when talking about a trip or a particular location. I also label “making of” or “behind the scenes” images with this tag.
  • cute (9) – a particularly good / nice / cute / friendly image of a person or a pet.
  • technical (no shortcut) – a technically challenging image (something with off-camera flash, light-painting while the shutter is open, a Photoshop composite, etc.).
Tag images in Lightroom by typing 6 through 9. There is no shortcut for the purple label, so use the menu Photo / Set Color Label / technical instead. Assign descriptive names to the labels under Metadata / Color Label Set / Edit...

If you rename a label, the images tagged with the old label retain the label but lose their color. You can find such images by filtering on the Label attribute in grid view. You can also edit the label’s name in the metadata panel, for example renaming it from the old name to the new label name.

Conclusion

Rating with stars and keywording (the subject of a future article) are the most important activities for managing your image library. Color-tagging is also useful but less critical. If you don’t quite like our conventions of what the stars and colors mean, then change them to suit your needs, but take the time, create your own conventions and stick to them.

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