Lightroom’s Filter Panel lets you filter by text, attribute and, most importantly, just about any type of metadata you can imagine.
You’ve probably at least heard about Siri, Apple’s voice-controlled assistant that answers even your wildest questions. Fewer people know that you can also ask Lightroom pretty much anything, as long as it’s related to your photography.
Lightroom’s version of Siri is the Filter Bar, and it’s found in the Library > Enable Filters menu. Because it can take up some valuable screen real estate, you can hide (or unhide) it from view, even when it’s active by choosing View > Show Filter Bar. So the Filter Bar can be active and invisible at the same time, something to bear in mind when all of a sudden, you think your Catalog has lost half of its images.
Lightroom’s Filter Bar
You can filter by Text, by Attribute (e.g., flag status or rating) but this post addresses the four Metadata columns. Click the Metadata button to display the columns (if they aren’t already showing).
Before you start to filter, define the “population” you want to filter across: is it just one folder, one collection, a Smart Collection, or your entire Catalog (“All Photographs” in the Catalog Panel)? Always choose the source first, and then start filtering, because Lightroom’s filters are source-specific (or they can be set up to be source-specific). So setting up your filter first and then changing the source might trigger a previously set filter for that source. You’ll reap the most benefits from the Filter Bar if you’re working with a single catalog, which is what I recommend.
What lens do I shoot most with? What is my favourite aperture? Do I really need that f/2.8 lens or will the f/4 that’s half the weight (and half the price) suffice? Do I really need that second camera or is it just collecting dust? All these answers and more can be found in the Metadata section of the Filter Bar.
By default, you get four columns, but you can add or remove columns by clicking on (1). Clicking on a column name itself (2) lets you change that column’s criteria to something different.
The columns work as a funnel, from left to right. Below each filter column are the values Lightroom found in your Catalog (e.g., if you filter by Camera, you’ll get a list of all the cameras you’ve made pictures with, in the source you’ve specified). You can then click on one or more values (Cmd/Ctrl-click to select non-adjacent values) and the values in the column to the right will only pertain to the selected items in the previous column.
Use Lightroom to Reduce your G.A.S.
You’ve probably heard of Gear Acquisition Syndrome. As an unexpected bonus, I’ve found that the Lightroom Filter Bar is an effective cure for that. For example, in 2015, I sold one of my Nikon bodies after noticing that I had only made 100 pictures with it in 2014.
Thanks to the filter panel, I sold one of my camera bodies in 2015, after realizing that I only used it for 100 images the year before!
If I want to buy a new lens, I always check the Filter Bar first to see which lens I use most infrequently, and then I sell that one off before buying a new one (at least, that’s the plan!).
Obviously, you can combine the Metadata part of the Filter Bar with the Attribute section. For example, if you use star ratings to identify your best images, you might opt to first filter by your five-star photographs and then check your lens usage. After all, you wouldn’t want to sell a lens that you don’t use all that often, but that gives you images you love!
Back in the day when I was still using Nikon DSLRs (I’ve since switched to Fujifilm), I often used the excellent—but bulky and heavy—24-70mm f/2.8 in my travels, figuring that it’s a very convenient zoom. But a careful look at the Filter Bar showed me that I used that lens about half of the time in the 24 to 35 mm range (and mostly at 24mm, indicating I might have used a wider angle if I had one) and about 20% at 70mm. The other values were scattered across the remaining range.
So, in light of that, I no longer took that heavy 24-70mm with me; I exchanged it for a 16-35mm and an 85mm f/1.8. This combo covered 70% of my shooting needs and—even better—I was able to go wider than 24mm (as the statistics suggested), and for my portraits, I could now use the 85mm at f/1.8 instead of the 70mm at f/2.8. If I really wanted to, I could throw a 50mm f/1.8 in the bag to cover the in-between range, but I rarely did and I rarely missed it. The result was an improvement in my images, while the total weight (and price) of the gear used remained unchanged. In fact, the second combo was slightly cheaper. And it’s true that I had to change lenses every once in a while, but isn’t that what an interchangeable lens is for in the first place?
Check out Lightroom’s Filter Bar. You might learn a thing or two about your shooting habits. (And to remove the filters, choose Library > Enable filters again.)
Piet Van den Eynde (pronounced “Pete”) is a Belgian freelance photographer, author and trainer specializing in Adobe Lightroom. When he's not teaching or writing, he travels the world on his bicycle photographing the people he meets along the way. Piet is a regular columnist for the Craft & Vision magazine, PHOTOGRAPH. Find him online at morethanwords.be.
If you want to learn more interesting tips and techniques like this, Piet's 400-page Lightroom 6/CC Unmasked eBook has got you covered!