Lightroom: Keywords v. Collections

category: Lightroom • 2 min read

Lightroom supports keywords and collections. What’s the difference? It’s a different way of looking at the world.


  1. The keywords exist both inside Lightroom and outside of Lightroom. When exporting photos to JPEG, TIFF, DNG… The image will still have the keywords attached. Almost all programs can read the keywords attached to a photo.
  2. Keywords are always inserted manually or during the import.
  3. Keywords can be hierarchical, to give it a structure such as: Animals > Dogs > Chihuahua
  4. Keywords do not have to be hierarchical such as: Chihuahua without using the Animals > Dogs
  5. Keywords do not change “by themselves.” A person needs to add, change or delete the keywords.
  6. I use the keywords to give meaning to the photos, for example the image is a photo of a Chihuahua…


  1. Collections only exist inside Lightroom. Other programs also support collections, but they do not know about the Lightroom collections. Only Lightroom knows about the Lightroom collections.
  2. Collections can either be “manual” by dragging and dropping the photo into the collection. It’s completely arbitrary. Or the collection can be smart and the criteria of the smart collection is executed each time you click on that collection.
  3. Smart collections change by themselves. Smart collections do not contain any photo. The smart collection is executed when you click on it. If you have a photo in a smart collection and change the item that is the criteria, like a 1 star smart collection and you change the rating from 1 star to 2 stars, the photo will disappear from that collection.
  4. I use collections for grouping and workflow. That way, I know (or sometimes I pretend to know) what I’m doing, like identifying which photos have a description and which one do not…