Working with Target Collections in Lightroom

Piet Van den Eynde

One of the best features of Lightroom’s database architecture is that you are no longer bound by whatever folder structure you have set up. If you want to use images for a specific project that are in different physical folders, you can simply put those images into a collection. I won't go into the details of collections, but I would like to draw your attention to a specific type of collection, the Target Collection, that is outrageously underused. In fact, this blog post came to be because Mr. Craft & Vision himself, David duChemin, once told me he never used them. So David, this one's for you!

What is a Target Collection?

A Target Collection isn't really a specific type of collection; rather, it is a state that any regular collection can be in. A smart collection cannot be a Target Collection, by the way. You can have many collections, but only one can be the Target Collection. By default, the Quick Collection (found in the Catalog panel) is the Target Collection. The interesting thing about the Target Collection is that you can add images to it simply by selecting them (e.g., in Grid View) and either pressing the B key or clicking on the small circular icon in the upper right corner of the thumbnail in Grid View.

 Adding an image/multiple images to a Target Collection can be done by selecting it/them and pressing the B-key or clicking on the small circle in the top right corner of the image thumbnail. For the latter to work, make sure Grid View Style in the View menu is set to Expanded Cells.

If you want to put images in a collection and you don't use the Target Collection trick, generally you can do two things. The first is to select the images and then click on the + sign in the Collections Panel and add them to a collection you create. However, if I have to make a large selection by clicking on image thumbnails and then Cmd/Ctrl-click on other images to add them to the selection, I can be sure that somewhere down the line, generally seconds before I have finished with my selection, I will ruin my selection by clicking on the wrong image or accidentally deselecting whatever I had already selected and I will have to start the process all over again! The second option is not much better, because it means you have to drag individual images or small groups of images to an already created collection but that is a rather slow procedure. And dragging images… Well, that’s just a drag.


You can set up any regular collection to be the Target Collection by right-clicking on it and choosing Set as Target Collection from the contextual menu.

You can also set up a collection as the Target Collection when you’re creating that Collection.

The Advantages of a Target Collection

I find things to be much easier if I select the collection first, and then right-click on it and choose Set as Target Collection from the contextual menu. A little plus sign will appear next to the collection’s name, indicating it is now the Target Collection. As mentioned, I simply have to select images and either click on the B key or on the little circle in the thumbnail of an image (or a selection of images) to add them to the collection.

Bringing in the Painter Tool

That's a lot easier than dragging them to that collection. But there's an even easier way, especially if you want to add a lot of images to a collection that aren't necessarily all next to each other in Grid View. That way is by using another one of Lightroom’s forgotten features: the Painter Tool. 

Unlike a Photoshop paintbrush, this tool isn't used to paint brush strokes of pixels on your images, but it is used to paint metadata!

 The Painter Tool, set up to add images to a Target Collection.

If you activate the tool by clicking on its icon, you can select what metadata you want to paint with it from the drop-down list next to it. If you don't see the toolbar, press the T key. As you can see, you can paint with keywords or star ratings or colour labels, but this particular use is to paint with the status of Target Collection.

Just try it! Turn a collection into a Target Collection, then enter Grid View, activate the Painter Tool in Target Collection mode and spray across a couple of images. You'll notice that they get added to that collection. On a slower computer, you might want to refrain from painting too fast, as you need to give Lightroom the time to process the information. Skip the images you don't want added to the collection and then start spraying again on those that you do want to add. It's really the quickest—and also the most fun way—to add large numbers of images to a collection. If you've accidentally sprayed on an image that you didn't want to include, simply paint over it again with the painter tool while holding down the Option (Mac)/Alt (Windows) key: this turns the Painter Tool into an eraser. Instead of adding metadata (in this case adding an image to a specific collection), you now remove that metadata again.

So there you have it, a plea for two highly underused tools in Lightroom: the Target Collection and the Painter Tool.

If you like this article, Piet shares even more of his knowledge in his eBook, Lightroom 6/CC Unmasked

Piet Van den Eynde is a Belgian freelance photographer, author, and trainer specializing in Adobe Lightroom, and has written several eBooks for Craft & Vision. When he's not teaching or writing, he travels the world on his bicycle photographing the people he meets along the way. Find him online at


Lightroom & Photoshop Piet Van den Eynde

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  • Yes! I agree with Colleen. I just discovered target collections and was wondering the how and why.


    Katrina Adams on
  • I needed this article desperately. I laughed aloud about creating a collection by Cmd/Ctrl clicking and losing the group at the last second … Every single time! Also, I created my folder structure years ago and I don’t want to go through all the images for a mass rearrangement. Thank you so much for this easy and pertinent explanation.

    Colleen Gutschenritter on

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