11 Mar 2012

Tweaking a custom sort order in Lightroom 3

Posted by dap

Lightroom 3′s SmugMug integration is pretty great: each SmugMug gallery shows up as a collection under “Publish Services”, you drag photos over there, and click “Publish” when you’re ready to upload them. With the latest update, you can even sync from SmugMug to link photos you published prior to LR3 and many other changes made on the SmugMug side.

But one problem I’ve run into with this approach is sorting the photos. There are many sites that explain sorting in Lightroom, but basically it works like this: within a given collection or folder, you can have Lightroom sort by any number of fields like name, shooting time, rating, caption, etc. You can also have a user-specified sort order, where you drag photos around and Lightroom remembers the order you assigned. You can even switch between your custom sort and the canned ones: you can switch from custom to by-date and back to custom again, and it will remember the last custom sort for each collection.

This is great, but there’s one problem: sometimes the initial user sort order appears random, and the other sorts aren’t quite right but they’re close. As an example, my Point Reyes gallery is mostly sorted chronologically so that photos of the same subject (like the Pierce Point Ranch) appear together. But I took this sign photo:

Drake's Bay Oyster Company (1)

after a few other photos from the same place:

Drake's Bay Oyster Company (2)

As you can see, the sign photo makes more sense to appear before the others as an establishing shot. This may seem pretty picky (and it is), but the order of the photos can really affect the experience people have in seeing them, so I pay some attention to it.

In this case, I want to sort by capture time and then tweak the resulting order. But if you sort by capture time and then try to drag a photo to change the order, Lightroom immediately drops you into whatever custom sort was there before, completely reordering all the photos. I couldn’t find a straightforward way to do a one-time automatic sort while staying in custom mode: either you’re automatically sorting by something like capture date, in which case you can’t make any changes, or you’re in user sort mode, in which case you have to sort all the photos by hand. Here’s how I did it:

  1. Start with an empty Quick Collection (or use some other empty collection as a temporary holding place).
  2. Select the collection you want to sort. Select all the photos. Press ‘B’ to add all the photos to the Quick Collection (or drag the photos to whatever other temporary holding place you want).
  3. Remove all the photos from the collection you want to sort. At this point, your Quick Collection should now be full of all the photos from the collection you want to sort, and that collection should be empty.
  4. Navigate to the quick collection. Sort these photos by Date Captured (or whatever you want).
  5. Now add the photos back to the collection you wanted to sort.

That’s it. (If you want, remove them all from the Quick Collection, too.) It looks like all we did was move the photos back and forth, but it works because the initial user sort order for a collection seems to be the order in which you added the photos, and when you add a bunch of photos to a collection they get added in the order they were in wherever you moved them from. By moving the photos from a temporary collection sorted by date, they wind up in a custom sort, but ordered by date. Now you can make whatever tweaks you want to the order without having to manually sort them from scratch.

Of course, do leave a comment below if there’s a better way to do this!

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