How I Use Lightroom’s Labels & Flags

Lightroom gives you lots of ways to categorize your images. One of them is the colour label: red, yellow, green, blue or purple. An image can have only one label, or none.

I don’t think there is any consensus amongst photographers on how to use colour labels. This is how I use them:

  • RED – images that need more attention from me. I add this when I am categorizing a load of images in the Library module when I know an image needs more research. For example I may take a picture of a vehicle I don’t recognize and I’ll have to look it up on the web.
  • YELLOW – images that I intend to upload to my main Flickr account. I use this one mainly for images of Thailand and of vehicles. Once uploaded I clear the flag.
  • GREEN – images that I intend to upload to my secondary Flickr account. I use this one mainly for images of people.
  • BLUE – images that I intend to upload to my Picasa account.
  • PURPLE – images I need somebody’s help with. For example I may need someone who reads the Thai language to tell me what a sign says.

Interestingly the Label field in Lightroom isn’t an enumerated type but a text field. If you label an image Red the text “Red” is put in the field. You can also put your own arbitary text in the field. If you do this the label shows in White in the Library grid.

I wouldn’t advise anyone to put any data they care about as a text label. If you subsequently apply a colour label Lightroom overwrites the text in your label without warning. I’d like to have the option that Lightroom warns me in this case: “This image has a text label. Do you want to over-write it?”. Note I said option – if I know what I am doing I don’t want Lightroom warning me all the time.

How do you use colour labels in Lightroom?

Separate from colour labels are Lightroom’s two Flags: Picked and Rejected. I use the Picked flag as a temporary marker. For example if I am showing someone a range of images I’ll Pick the ones she wants printed or emailed.

I have not used the Rejected label much. I use the One Star rating for images that I’ll probably delete unless I find a compelling reason to keep it – a very bad photo of a unique vehicle for example.

Note that the Picked and Rejected flags are orthogonal. An image cannot be both picked and rejected. Also the keyboard shortcuts are not toggles. If I press P to Pick an image pressing P again does not un-pick it. I have to press U which turns off the Pick or Reject flag – whichever is set. (X is the keyboard shortcut for Reject).

It’s neat that you can assign colour labels, flags and star ratings in any module. So while I am showing someone an “Impromptu Slideshow” I can pick images for printing or emailing. Or if an image isn’t as good as I want when I am in the Develop module I can decrease its rating.

If you have virtual copies of an image each copy can have different ratings, labels and flags. This is useful if I have created more than one treatment of an image.


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2 Responses to “How I Use Lightroom’s Labels & Flags”

  1. GB-in-TH Says:

    One flaw with my labelling scheme is that I cannot mark an image for upload to, say, both Flickr and Picasa. That isn’t a big deal as I normally post images to only one site.

    I do not use Picasa much – it seems to have zero user community unlike Flickr. I may reassign its blue flag to images I intend to post to this blog.

  2. GB-in-TH Says:

    Lightroom calls labels with the user’s text in them “Custom Labels”. I am trying to eliminate them from my catalog. I am moving them to the custom metadata I defined in my “Vehicle Metadata” plugin.

    I wish I could write a query or procedure to do it but I have not worked out the ODBC connector issues yet. Help!

    I think Lightroom supports Custom Labels for compatibility with other software that writes arbitrary text to the equivalent IPTC field. But it implicitly deprecates such usage by overwriting them without warning.

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