Let’s face it: Sorting and culling your pictures after a shoot can feel like a never-ending task. Whether you’ve spent a wild weekend capturing wildlife or a bustling day capturing a wedding, sifting through hundreds or even thousands of photos to figure out which ones to keep, edit, and store can drive you crazy.
Fortunately, Adobe Lightroom’s star-rating system is a superhero tool that helps you efficiently organize and store your precious images. If you’ve been struggling to keep your photos well-managed, then it’ll be an absolute game-changer – as long as you know the right approach.
In this article, I’ll explain everything you need to know about using star ratings in Lightroom, including what star ratings are and how they work, plus some handy tips and tricks to keep your workflow fast and efficient.
Ready to get your photos organized? Let’s dive right in!
What are Lightroom star ratings?
Star ratings refer to one of Lightroom’s handiest image organizational features: the ability to apply a rating (from 0-5) to each and every image in your catalog.
The star rating option will appear underneath your photos in the Library module:
You can click to apply a rating (and if you choose a rating by mistake, you can always click on the stars again to remove it).
You can also apply star ratings in Grid View. Simply click the dots at the bottom of a photo:
And you’re done! Note that you can always use the Lightroom Sort option to sort photos by rating:
Or you can filter based on specific ratings (e.g., 3 stars and above):
How to improve your workflow with Lightroom star ratings: 4 tips
Star ratings have the power to revolutionize your editing process. In this section, I’ll share a handful of valuable tips to supercharge your workflow, starting with:
1. Embrace the magic of hotkey stars
Earlier, I talked about assigning ratings by clicking on the corresponding stars underneath your images. And sure, it’s an effective approach – but did you know that you know you can assign star ratings from 0 to 5 using your keyboard? These awesome hotkeys are what make the star rating system incredibly convenient.
In fact, if you have hundreds of photos to edit, this can dramatically cut down your time spent in Lightroom. Simply open an image in the Loupe View, press a hotkey to assign a star rating, then press the right arrow key to advance to the next file. You can blow through entire batches of images in seconds!
And if you want to go even faster, enable Lightroom’s Auto Advance feature by selecting Photo>Auto Advance. That way, once you rate an image, you won’t even need to press an arrow key; the program will automatically advance to the next photo.
2. Use star ratings to prioritize your photos
So you’ve just imported a bunch of photos, whether they’re wildlife shots, wedding moments, sports highlights, or captivating portraits. Now comes the burning question: Which ones are worth keeping? When you’re out in the field, you may capture multiple shots of similar subjects in slightly different settings or poses. At a wedding, for instance, you’ll have tons of dance photos, but only a select few will make the final cut.
This is where the star rating system swoops in to save the day. By assigning different ratings depending on the quality of each image, you can quickly categorize your shots and make sure that the best photos get shared and edited and the worst end up in the “delete” pile.
(By the way, here’s why I prefer the ratings system over the flag system: With star ratings, you get to be far more granular. Not only do you select the images to edit and delete, but you can also identify which images to edit first and which to edit down the line. You’re not limited to the binary “yes” and “no” of the flags.)
Now, you can assign rating values that align with your personal preferences, but here’s a suggestion: Let “0” (no rating) be your delete category. Then, designate “1” as the keep-but-low-priority-for-editing category—these could be your b-roll shots for applying general presets. Then, when you set an image to “2,” you’re saying it deserves immediate development, and when you assign a “4,” you’re signaling that it’s one of your absolute best shots. This tiered rating system ensures you only have to go through your images once – and ideally not more than twice. Trust me, it’s a massive time-saver, especially when you’re dealing with a large volume of files!
Quick note: I strongly advise against using “5” in your workflow. Reserve that rating exclusively for your top-notch, highest-quality images.
Once you’ve rated your shots, go ahead and sort them by rating. Then dive into the editing process as needed!
3. Use Smart Collections to create a portfolio
No doubt you’ll capture some amazing shots that you’ll be proud of and will want to keep for future reference, printing, or showcasing in your portfolio. As I mentioned earlier, these exceptional images deserve a five-star rating. (Remember: Only a select few shots should achieve this!)
To gather all your best shots in one place and create a stunning portfolio, Lightroom offers a nifty feature called Smart Collections. Think of it as your personal assistant that automatically gathers all images in your catalog with a specific attribute.
Here’s how you set it up: In the Collections tab, choose the Plus icon, then select Create Smart Collection:
Next, give your Collection a name (such as “Portfolio”), and add some selection criteria. You can base it on any attribute you assign in Lightroom – whether it’s stars, flags, keywords, or more. In our case, we want to collect images with a five-star rating, so we’ll create a single rating rule:
Finally, hit Create, and watch as your Smart Collection – with all your five-star images – appears!
As you continue your photographic journey, your five-star collection will keep growing, beautifully documenting your progress and telling your unique story!
4. Use stars to categorize subjects
This method of using star ratings is quite unique, but it can work wonders, especially if you’re keen on keywording your images.
Imagine you’re a bird photographer. Throughout the day, you’re constantly switching subjects, photographing different bird species left and right. When you import those images into Lightroom, the daunting task of keywording awaits you. Well, fear not! The star rating system comes to the rescue, making it a breeze to sort through your feathered friends in no time.
Here’s how it works: Mentally assign star ratings to particular species, and then use hotkeys to swiftly assign the corresponding star rating to each image. Once you’re done “coding” your species with stars, simply filter them in Grid View.
Now you can focus on completing your keywording, knowing that you’ve effortlessly organized your shots. And if you want to remove the star ratings afterward, it’s as easy as highlighting the images and pressing the “0” key.
Note that this technique isn’t limited to bird photography alone; you can apply it to various photography scenarios!
Lightroom star ratings: final words
Lightroom star ratings are like the secret sauce to streamlining your photo editing game. With just a few clicks, you can assign ratings to your images. That way, your photos will be neatly organized and ready to be edited. No more endless scrolling through folders and scratching your head trying to remember which shots were your favorites.
So embrace the power of Lightroom star ratings. Let them be your guiding stars in the vast universe of digital images. Take control of your workflow, save precious time, and unleash your creative genius!
Now over to you:
How do you plan to use Lightroom ratings? Share your thoughts in the comments below!