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How To Apply Star Ratings, Flags And Labels In Lightroom

We take a look at the various rating and organisation methods available in Lightroom.

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When you have hundreds, maybe even thousands of images you need a way to sort though them that's both quick in practise and set-up. Lightroom gives the photographer several methods of tagging / attributing images ready to be put into collections and you may find you have a preferred method or actually find them all useful. Whatever the outcome, this tutorial will talk you through the various tagging methods as well as give you tips on why rating your images is important.

Why Bother Doing This?

As mentioned above, when you're working with large collections of images you need to be able to search and organise them all quickly and effectively. By assigning these rating methods to your shots will mean you can easily separate and tell the difference between specific shots in various ways.

Flags, stars, colour labels

What Methods Are Available?

Flags, Stars and Colour Labels are the three tools you have for rating / tagging images with. Each method can be used slightly differently and what type of photographer you are will probably change the method you use. Some photographers use just one method while some may use just two or even all of the methods on offer. Whatever system(s) you do pick, make sure you are consistent with the reasons behind your choices. If not, the system can get confusing and can lose the meaning behind applying all the ratings in the first place.

If you find the interface surrounding your images distracting when applying flags, star ratings and colour labels you can press L to dim it out of view. You'll need to click the L key three times to make the interface visible again. You can also hide the interface by clicking the Tab key.

Inferface dark

Interface hidden

Where To Find The Tools

If you look at the toolbar found towards the bottom of the screen (just about the bar where your images sit) you'll see various tools are available. If the flags, stars and colour labels aren't visible, click on the upside down arrow (it says 'select toolbar content' when you hover over it) and click on all the options you want to be visible in the toolbar.


PainterThe tool called the Painter is well worth selecting to appear on your tool bar as this can be used with a number of image attributes such as keywords. The icon looks like a spray paint can and when you click this you pick up the spray can and a small menu option appears to the right of the space where the can was located. Click on this and you can select to use the spray can with the various different options. If you select the star rating and click on an image thumbnail you will 'paint' the star rating to the image. When you are done, click on the empty space where the can was located to return it.


Flags are probably the easiest attribute to apply as you use them to identify the best and worst images. There are two options available: Flag as Pick and Flag as Reject. The Reject ones are images you won't be doing anything further with while the Pick attribute means you want to keep the image.

arrowsYou can apply flags by clicking on the appropriate icon then clicking on an image when in the grid view or if you have Loupe selected so individual images appear larger on your screen simply click the appropriate flag then use your keyboard's left and right arrows to switch to the next image. You can also use the arrows found on the toolbar in Lightroom to do this. You can change the way you view your images by either selecting one of the options from the toolbar (shown in the image) or by double-clicking on a particular shot.
When in the grid view images you've 'Picked' will have a white flag in the top corner. Those which you've rejected will have a flag with a cross in it and the image will appear dimmed when unselected.

Flags applied

If you want to quickly switch between Pick and Reject you can use the following keyboard shortcuts: P (Pick and X (Reject).

To remove an unwanted flag press U on your keyboard or just click on the flag that's in the toolbar or the one that's visible on the image.

You can also apply the various attributes by right-clicking on an individual image (works in various views) to bring a menu up where the various options can be selected from.

Select from menu

If you want to apply flags to more than one image at a time, left click on the images you want to select while holding down the Ctrl key on your keyboard. This will highlight them all so you can then add whichever flag you want to apply.

Multi selection

Star Rating

Stars are a simple system to understand as they are hierarchical – 5 is better than 1. Unlike flags which, in basic terms, say 'yes' or 'no' to an image, stars rank them in order of preference. Stars are something you'd apply after you've first applied flags.  It's best to apply the theory that the more stars an image has the better you believe it is. This will speed up your work-flow and stop things becoming confusing when you're looking back through your images.


As with flags, stars can be applied in Grid, Loupe and Survey views and you can apply your star ratings via the following methods:

Click the amount of stars you want to apply in the tool bar then click on the image you want to apply the rating to. If you want to apply it to multiple images left click on the images you want to select while holding down the Ctrl key on your keyboard. This will highlight them all so you can then add your star rating (this option is available in Grid, Loupe and Survey views).
Star selection
Hover your mouse cursor over a thumbnail and to the bottom left you will see 5 dots appear. Clicking on these allows you to apply a number of stars to the image. If you have multiple images selected you will apply the same star rating to all the images (Grid View only).

You can also right click on an image or a group of selected images and chose to apply a star rating from the pop-up menu using the "Set Rating" option. (This option is available in Grid, Loupe and Survey views.)
If you're a fan of keyboard shortcuts 0 will remove the rating, the [ key will decrease the value and the ] key will increase it.

Star rating menu

Star ratingOnce your star rating is applied it will be visible under the image in the bottom corner when in Grid View. If you still have Loupe view selected just look to the stars in the toolbar and the amount of stars you selected and applied will be visible.

On a side note, you may find the Compare View useful when applying stars as this will allow you to compare two similar shots side-by-side so you can decide which one deserves the higher score.

Colour Labels

LabelsColour Labels can be added to your shots to easily identify its use e.g if it's for a particular client or for sending to a Stock Library.

To Label an image just right click on the image and select “Set Color Label” from the menu. As you do you will see the label options available for selection. You can also use the other methods described above e.g. right click with multiple image, spray or click the colour label from the tool bar. You can also apply a specific colour label to various images you've selected at the same time.

One applied, the colours will be visible around the images. If it's a coloured thin frame surrounding the shot rather than a full block of colour this is because you currently have that images selected.

Colour labels applied

How To Search By Attributes

In the Library window, locate the library filter found towards the top of the library module. Select Attribute and the various options we've been learning about will be visible. To sort by one or more of the attributes simply click on them.

Filter bar

Star search result

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searlem 15 38 1 England
10 Feb 2013 12:11PM
Start this as soon as you possibly can! Having got to the stage that I think I need to bring a bit more organisation to my catalogues, I think it will take a while to do over 15,000 images, so start from day 1.
11 Feb 2013 8:40AM
Good advice Smile

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