How I Use Lightroom: Taking Out the Trash

This post is part of an ongoing series related to how I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  If you haven’t read it yet, check out How I use Lightroom: Getting Photos In

In the previous post I described how I use the Import window.  As I mentioned, I don’t exclude any photos at that stage.  I bring everything in and then quickly make a pass where I figure out which need to be deleted.

Shift + X, Shift + U, Shift + P

At this stage I’m using Lightroom’s flagging capabilities, which have 3 options: Flag as Rejected (black flag), Unflagged, and Flag as Pick (white flag) which correspond to the keystrokes X, U, and P respectively.

Tip: you can get to all of the photos imported during your most recent Import by selecting the Previous Import pseudo-collection in the left-sidebar.

This pseudo-collection will show all of the photos you imported during your last import session. I'm on my laptop, so it's showing 0 here.

I then double-click the first imported photo to bring up the single-photo “loupe” view.  If the photo has obvious flaws (unwanted focus or motion blur problems, terrible exposure that I have no interest in keeping, etc.) I mark it as a Reject by pressing X.  If the photo stands out as being very good, or one I want to make sure I come back and notice/edit later, I mark it as a Pick with the letter P.  Everything else I just leave unflagged.

Here’s where the shift key comes in.  Instead of hitting X and then arrowing to the next photo, pressing Shift-X will Mark as Reject and automatically advance to the next image.  Same for P and U.  So I can just hold down the shift key and press X, U, or P and make a quick pass over everything.

Delete Rejected Photos

Why not just hit Delete on each image?  Well once you have all of the bad ones flagged as Rejects, you can just select Photo -> Delete Rejected Photos… from the main menu.

Photo -> Delete Rejected Photos… from the main menu.

The grid will be filtered to just those  you’ve marked for rejection and you’ll be prompted for a delete confirmation.

Oh the choices…

I always choose Delete from Disk because I want everything in my Photos directory (see previous post) to also be in Lightroom.  I don’t want any orphans here, which is what Remove would do – remove the Lightroom pointer and metadata about the photo but leave the actual file on disk.  These are crap photos and I want them gone, so I never use Remove.


After I’ve thrown out the bad photos, this is the point where I’ll do tagging (if the keywords applied during import weren’t sufficient).  I go back into Grid mode for the photos, slide the Thumbnail Size slider so that more images fit on the screen, and then use the Painter tool to “spray on” keywords.

Click the spray can, then enter the keywords to apply. Click and drag to spray those keywords (comma separated list) over photos.

One More Pass

After I have deleted the terrible photos, I make one more pass using Shift + U and Shift + P to make sure I have all of the edit candidates picked out.  I won’t do any more deleting from here on out, mostly because I’m a bit of a digital packrat.  This pass is solely for Picking out images I want to include in the final, edited set.


I’m not going to go into the edit process in this post, but will probably write some articles on specific editing tips and techniques as I think they’d be useful to share.  Let’s just assume I’ve gone through and edited everything I Picked here.

I recommend filtering the photos to only those you have Picked.  This can be done with the Filter Bar at the top of the grid.

Filter by Flagged status, which is in the Attributes section of the filter bar.

Star Ratings and Color Labels

In addition to flagging, Lightroom provides Color Labels (5 or so colors you can tag on images) and Star Ratings.  There’s no “right way” to use them, they’re just there as other ways to help you sort and manage your images.  Here’s how I use them.


I treat colors as temporary markings.  Specifically, if I’m creating a set of files to be sent off to for printing, I use the various color flags to indicate which photos I’m going to crop/print at 8×10 versus 4×6 versus 5×7.

Pick the Color Label to apply to an image. Keyboard shortcuts are 6, 7, 8, 9. Images can only have one color label.

Tip: I like to do the cropping of images myself.  But instead of cropping my “master file” in Lightroom, I create a Virtual Copy and crop it appropriately.  I do this so that I can alwyas see the full-size image while browsing and next to it will be the various cropped copies.  You can Stack these together to simplify viewing, I may touch on that at some point.

So after I’ve exported the various cropped images, the colors don’t really mean anything to me anymore.  I could remove the color label, but I often just leave them as-is.

Star Rating

Only after I’ve finished editing do I go and apply star ratings.  Rating photos is very subjective and can be influenced by so many moving factors (time of day, mood, etc) that I treat these as very rough, relative values.  Most photos, even edited ones, won’t get any stars.    Those that do tend to follow something like:

  • 1 Star: decent picture, one I want to be able to find later
  • 3 Stars: good picture, but usually something compositionally missing/wrong which keeps it from being really good or one I want to show others.
  • 4 Stars: Good all-around photo, technically and artistically.  OR it’s a family photo, and one of the better in the set.
  • 5 Stars: A photo I could stare at for a long time and think others may like too.

I often go to my full library and use the Filter Bar to just view All 3-Star Photos or greater.  These are the ones i tend to share with others or get printed.

Filter based on Star Rating.

More to Come

Well that was a quick introduction to how I handle the basic culling and filtering of photos before and after editing.  There’s plenty more to say on organizing everything, mainly the Collections feature.  I’ll get to that a few posts down the line.

Next up will be getting your photos out of Lightroom so you can, you know, actually use them elsewhere.  Stay tuned!





6 responses to “How I Use Lightroom: Taking Out the Trash”

  1. Sam Britt Avatar

    Good post—you mention using labels and virtual copies for your various print settings. I highly recommend checking out Print Collections. They are just like normal collections, but you make them when in the Print module. The collection then takes on whatever print settings you have currently. So, for example, I went into the print module, set up for a 8×10 output to JPEG, then created a new collection called “8×10.” Then, any pictures I put in that collection will be cropped 8×10 (your custom crop), only when in the print module. You get to keep your crop settings in Print but also view your image full-size in the Library. I think it’s a great feature.


  2. EJ Avatar

    Wow, thanks! How long has that feature been in there? I had no idea, and will have to give it a try.


  3. Benson Hougland Avatar
    Benson Hougland

    Great site, especially the Lightroom tips. However, I’ve run into a problem using a version of your “taking out the trash” method:

    Once I’ve imported the photos (~1500 from vacation), I created a collection. Then, from the Library module with the collection selected, I used the “X” key to reject about 365 photos. Then I went to Photo…Delete Rejected Photos, and unfortunately, I don’t get the option to Delete from Disk.

    Rummaging around the Web, I discover that apparently Delete From Disk only works from the Catalog module (not from Collections). But unfortunately, the Rejected Flag doesn’t cross over to the Catalog module.

    Is all that effort flagging photos for rejection while in Collections wasted?

    Apologize for the wordy question. Keep up the good work.



  4. EJ Avatar

    Hi Benson, thanks for stopping by.

    What version of Lightroom are you using? I just checked and Photo -> Delete Rejected Photos is available to me in the Library and Develop module, in and outside of collections. The Flags are a global concept as well, so I’m not sure why you don’t have the option. Is the item just grayed out in the menu or not there at all to begin with?


    1. Benson Hougland Avatar
      Benson Hougland

      Thanks for your reply. My version is LR 3.4.1 64-bit on a MacBook Pro w/ OS X Lion (10.7).

      The menu item Delete Rejected Photos is indeed available. However, when selected, the resulting dialog does not provide the option to Delete From Disk. It reads “Remove the XX rejected photos?”

      And if I switch to the Catalog submenu, the Rejected Flag doesn’t carry over.

      My workaround is to go to Collections, flag photos as rejected using hotkeys, view only flagged as Rejected, label them a color like Red (which does carry over outside of Collections), go to Catalog, filter on label Red, re-flag as Rejected, then Delete Rejected Photos. Now, I have the Delete From Disk option.

      What a pain, but that’s how it goes. Most of what I’ve read confirms that flagging Rejected in Collections only removes from the Collection.

      Let me know if you experience different behavior (whether on Windows or Mac).

      Thanks! -Benson


  5. EJ Avatar

    Well I just tried it and you’re right. I had never noticed that the Reject/Pick flags weren’t global, or that Delete Rejected Photos only does a Remove from collections. I’ve always just worked initially out of the folder.

    Maybe you can do your flagging in the Previous Import ‘meta collection’? That uses folder semantics (“delete” versus “remove”, and the flags are scoped to the folder).


%d bloggers like this: