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Lightroom Workflow: Using Color Labels to track status

I use the Color Labels feature in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 2 to track the status of my photos through my post-processing and publishing workflow. I thought I’d share how I’m doing this.

Adobe Lightroom 2I. The Technical Stuff:

Adobe Lightroom has five Color Labels you can apply to photos: Red, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Purple. I use the last four of these Color Labels to help me define the process status of selected photos. Here’s how I’ve defined what each Color Label designates.


Yellow – photo perhaps needs some post-processing adjustments.
Green – photo ready for publishing either to blog or gallery.
Blue – photo published/posted on blog (Meandering Passage).
Purple – photo published to gallery (Zenfolio).

Smart workflow collections To make this work efficiently I’ve created smart collections to collect photos labeled with each color. Yellow labeled photos would appear in the “Awaiting Post-Processing” smart-collection, Green labeled photos in the “Awaiting Publication” smart-collection, Blue labeled photos in the “Published to Blog” smart-collection and Purple labeled photos in the “Published to Gallery” smart-collection.

These smart collections are easily created by specifying a matching label color rule–see below.


Using smart-collections means that as I change the label color or status of a photo it automatically moves from one smart-collection to the next.

II. How I use It:

Lightroom Color Label Use

As I import photos I do initial screening. Those photos I judge as having promise I’ll apply a Yellow Label which signifies they need to be looked at again. These photos will be in the Awaiting Post-Processing smart-collection. If I judge the photo is good as shot I’ll apply a Green Label which adds it to the “Awaiting Publication” smart-collection.

As time permits I’ll make whatever adjustment needed on the photos in the “Awaiting Post-Processing” smart-collection. When I deem a photo “ready” I’ll change it’s color label to Green which automatically removes the photo from “Awaiting Post-Processing” and adds it to “Awaiting Publication” smart-collection.

Photos ready for publishing, either to my blog or my gallery, will be in the “Awaiting Publication” smart-collection. This makes it simple if I quickly need a photo for a blog post–all those ready will be in one location.

When I publish a photo to my Blog I change the color label to the Blue Label which moves it from the “Awaiting Publication” smart-collection to the “Published to Blog” smart-collection. If I post a photo to my Gallery I’ll change the color label to the Purple Label moving the photo from where it was, in the “Awaiting Publication” or “Published to Blog” smart-collections, to the “Published to Gallery” smart-collection.

Since a photo can only have one color label I don’t signify if a photo has been posted both to my Blog and Gallery, but for my purposes the Gallery supersedes the Blog and this hasn’t been a problem. If I needed to track exactly which photos have been posted to both Blog and Gallery I could use the Red Label.

III. Benefits:

This process makes it easy to visually track the status of photos in my workflow. Even looking in my date sorted main library I can quickly tell the status of photos with Color Labels. Also when reviewing the main library I can quickly route a photo into my workflow by adding a Yellow or Green Label.

If makes it easy to keep track of which photos I’ve published or posted to my Blog or Gallery. I can go to the appropriate smart-collection and quickly see all of them in that group.

It is a manual process of changing the Color Labels so you have to be heedful about doing so. But, it’s only a matter of a single click of a colored box–not too hard.

10 Comments on Lightroom Workflow: Using Color Labels to track status

  1. It’s funny that you post this Earl. For my Alaska trip, I actually started using a color label to identify images that needed further processing outside of Lightroom. Nice to see you thought it out much further than I have.

    I have mostly used a few colors to track images that have licensing restrictions to them – but this is a great way to identify them through a workflow.

    Good suggestions!

  2. @Mark – I’ve been using color labels for this since earlier this year and it seems to work fairly well for me. However, if you have any suggestions or process improvements ideas, please share! :-)

  3. You have almost convinced me to try Lightroom again. At least, I’m thinking about it, for the first time in quite a while. Great post, Earl, and thank you for taking the time to be so detailed. Your generosity is appreciated.

  4. @Anita Jesse – I find Lightroom to be a very capable tool these days that make the management of photos much easier. In version 2 they’ve enhanced many of the RAW editor tools which allows much more to be adjusted before resorting to Photoshop.

    Detailed yes, but maybe not so clear. I just reread the post and found it full of typos and small errors–I’m fixing all I’ve found. That’s what I get for writing it late at night and not taking time for proper editing.

  5. Drat. There goes my excuse. I can post something full of errors in the middle of the day when I should be fully alert.

    I liked the editing tools in Lightroom, but hated the way my photos were filed in a proprietary way over which I had no real control. Plus, bad memories once the program first ate all my files, then mysterious disappeared itself. After all that, I figured we weren’t meant for each other and never bothered to reload it.

  6. @Anita Jesse – Using presets you can tell Lightroom to use any filling scheme you wish then let it automatically file your photos that way each time you import. Also, you can physically move (drag-and-drop) the files about from within Lightrooms library module and it will take care of keeping track of them. My process is to import all new photos first into a holding master folder, then I do all my key-wording and culling, and drag-and-drop them into my main library folders.

    I’ve not had any file/library trouble with version 2. I’d recommend downloading the current version 2 demo and taking another look at it.

  7. thanks a lot! just had Lr and was wondering what people do with that labeling. I’m pretty sure i’m gonna use it kind of the same way. Your post just saved me loads of time. geetings

  8. I just started to use them for this. Now I just have to worry about everything I published before my new system existed.

    Btw, I mimic’d stoplights, so red is where they start at, needing review. Yellow is ready for publishing, and green is published so I when I break up large sets , I know which ones I’ve already published where “published” means exported to my Published imaged folder tree. I use the “published” tree to upload files to Facebook or wherever. I publish (export ) once, and upload many. xD

  9. Thanks a lot – I was wondering just how to use this awesome feature )))) I knew that there is something to it

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