How To Find Photos In Lightroom Classic With The Filter Bar

by Andrew S. Gibson
How To Find Photos In Lightroom Classic With the Filter Bar

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Have you ever wasted lots of time trying to find one photo amongst thousands? Or wondered why you have to import photos into Lightroom Classic before you can do anything with them (such as put them in Collections or develop them)?

Strange as it may seem at first the two questions are related. When you import photos into Lightroom Classic two important things happen.

1. Lightroom Classic builds previews so that you can view your photos (and even develop them when the hard drive containing your photos isn’t connected to your computer, in the case of Smart Previews).

2. Lightroom Classic saves each photo’s metadata in the Catalog. This lets you search photos according to just about any information recorded in a photo’s metadata (which, as it turns out, is quite a lot).

These are two massive benefits. In today’s article we’re going to explore some of the search options that Lightroom gives you, and learn how to use the Filter bar  and Library filters.

Where is the Filter bar?

The Filter bar is found in the Library module, at the top of the Content Window, underneath the Module Picker (the strip at the top that lists Lightroom’s modules and lets you move between them). If you don’t see it, that means it’s hidden. Press the ‘\’ key to bring it into view.

Lightroom filter bar

Filter bar and Library filter behavior

The Filter bar appears deceptively simple to use, but there are certain behaviors that can catch you unawares. It helps if you think of the Library filters and the Filter bar as two separate tools.

Library filters are the search rules applied by Lightroom Classic to the current source (a source is a Collection, Smart Collection, Collection Set or Folder).

The Filter bar is the tool that lets you decide which Library filters are activated.

The distinction is important because the two operate independently. Library filters are either on or off – that is, a search is either being applied or it isn’t.

The Filter bar is either visible or invisible. Hiding the Filter bar doesn’t turn Library filters off, it just hides the Filter bar.

As a result, if the Filter bar is hidden but the Library filters are turned on, then you may not see the photos you expect to in the Grid View.

If the Library filters are set to show only photos flagged as a pick, but your Filter bar is invisible, then naturally you may wonder why your unflagged or rejected photos are not showing up in the Grid View.

Don’t worry if this sounds confusing. It will make more sense as you practice using Library filters and the Filter bar!

Filter bar and Library filter shortcuts

We mentioned this earlier, but if you can’t see the Filter bar in the Library module, press the ‘\’ key. This shortcut hides and reveals the Filter bar, so that you can free up screen space when you aren’t using it.

Use the Cmd+L (PC: Ctrl+L) keyboard shortcut to turn the Library filters on and off. This is a good keyboard shortcut to remember for those times when what you see in Grid View doesn’t match your expectations!

You can also open the Filter bar from anywhere in the Library module using the Cmd+F (PC: Ctrl+F) shortcut. The shortcut takes you to Grid View (if you’re not there already) and opens the Text Filter (see below) automatically.

What about the Toolbar?

The Toolbar (located underneath the Content window) also comes in useful when searching photos. The Filter bar and Toolbar work together, so it’s handy to have them both visible when searching photos. Press the ’T’ key if you can’t see it. We’ll cover what the Toolbar does later on in the article.

Lightroom filter bar

What are you searching?

Before we look at Library filters, we need to address the question of what you are actually searching.

If you want to search all the photos in your Lightroom Classic Catalog that’s easy – click on the All Photos Collection in the Catalog panel.

Alternatively, you can pick specific Collections, Collections Sets, Smart Collections or Folders to search in the Collections and Folders panels. You can search multiple Collections or Folders by holding the Command (Mac) or Control (PC ) keys down when you click on them.

You can’t search more than one Catalog at a time – another reason why it’s a good idea to keep all your photos in a single Catalog, unless you have a good reason not to.

How to search photos using the Filter bar

There are three types of Library filters you can apply in the Filter bar – Text, Attribute and Metadata. You can also click on None to remove all search conditions. Let’s take a look at the three types of search you can do with the Library filters.


When you click on Text the Filter bar opens up to reveal three search options.

Lightroom filter bar

1. Tell Lightroom Classic what text to search for.

For example, you might want to search for a filename or keyword. If you are searching for keywords, you can enter multiple keywords, separated by commas or spaces.

You can exclude a word from the search by adding an exclamation mark before it. For example the search ‘black and white, portrait, !children’ would return photos that have the keywords black and white and portrait, but not children.

Now’s a good time to point out that complex searches like this work best if you have a consistent and well-thought out approach to keywording – it’s not going to work if you forget to add the keyword portraits to some of your portraits, or if you use the keyword ‘black and white’ with some black and white photos, and the keyword ‘B&W’ with others.

2. Tell Lightroom Classic what text to search.

Some of these menu items are self-explanatory. If you want to find a photo and you know what the filename is (or part of it is) then choose Filename. If you want to search Virtual Copies, select Copy Name. Need to search for a specific keyword? Choose Keywords.

Others require further explanation.

Searchable EXIF refers to data embedded into the photo’s metadata by the camera. This includes filename, camera settings, camera model, lens type and so on.

Searchable IPTC is data added by the photographer. This includes information such as Creator, your address, caption and image title.

Searchable metadata is a combination of EXIF and IPTC data.

Any searchable plug-in field is data added by any plugins you may have used.

You can get a feel for what data comes under each category by going to the Metadata panel and selecting one of the options from the menu at the top of the panel (see below).

Lightroom Classic Filter bar

3. Select the rules of the search.

For example, if you are searching for a keyword, choose the Contains option (but see the note below first!). If you are searching for photos that didn’t contain a specific keyword, then choose Doesn’t Contain.

There’s even a way to combine search rules. Let’s say you were searching for photos with the keywords ‘portrait’ and ‘Alex’. But you weren’t sure whether you keyworded your portraits of your friend Alex with ‘Alex’ or ‘Alexander.’

In that case you could enter a search like this: ‘portrait, +Alex’. The plus sign tells Lightroom Classic to search for keywords that begin with Alex.

You can also put a plus sign at the end of a word (i.e. ‘Alex+’) to apply the Ends With rule to that word. Unfortunately I can’t think of an example to illustrate why you would use it!

There is a trap for the unwary here. Let’s say you use the keyword tag ‘black and white’ for some of your photos. If you type in ‘black and white’ as a text search, with the condition Contain, Lightroom reads it as a search for keywords ‘black’ or ‘and’ or ‘white’. It returns photos that contain keyword tags like ‘New Zealand’ and ‘island’ as both these contain the word ‘and’. Use the condition Contains All instead.

These apply to all searchable fields, not just keywords.


Click the Attribute heading to search by the following criteria. These are quite straightforward and don’t require much explanation.

Lightroom filter bar

1. Flag (i.e. Flagged, Unflagged or Rejected).

2. Rating – find photos with a specific star rating. Click on the mathematical symbol to the right of the world rating to change the search rule (see below).

Lightroom filter bar

3. Color label.

4. Kind (i.e. Master Photos, Virtual Copies or Videos).

You can combine searches. For example, you could search for all Flagged and Unflagged photos with a rating of three stars and higher that had the color labels red, yellow and green and that included both Master Photos and Virtual Copies. I don’t know why you would want to do that – but I’m sure someone, somewhere has a use for it.


The Metadata filter lets you search photos by metadata. This is very powerful and gives you lots of options, as we shall see. With nearly 30 search criteria to choose from (including some you won’t find in earlier versions such as Smart Preview Status) you can search using just about any combination imaginable.

The screenshot below shows the default setup, with four columns – Date, Camera, Lens and Label.

Lightroom filter bar

You can add or remove columns by hovering over the column heading and clicking the icon that appears on the right.

Lightroom filter bar

Here, for example, I’ve reduced the number of columns to two – Date and Lens. If I click on the year 2016, Lightroom displays a list of all the lenses used in that year in the Lens column.

Lightroom filter bar

The numbers on the right tell you how many photos are in each search. You can see that I made 11,659 photos in 2016, and that 1,723 were taken with my Fujifilm XF 14mm f2.8R lens.

Now, if I add an extra column (Camera) and click on X-T1 you can see that I made 1,251 photos with my 14mm lens on my X-T1 camera. You can also see that the each column is dependent on the results from the column to its left. The Date column includes all the photos in my Lightroom Catalog. The Camera column includes all the photos taken in 2016. The Lens column includes all the photos taken in 2016 on my X-T1 camera.

Lightroom filter bar

How to refine your search

You might be impressed by what you’ve learned so far, but it doesn’t stop there. You can combine searches by clicking on the Text, Attribute or Metadata headings one after the other (click on the heading again to remove it from the search if you need to).

For example here is what a search looks like that returns all photos taken in the year 2016 with an X-T1 camera and a 14mm lens that are flagged as a Pick and contain the keyword ‘Devon’.

Lightroom filter bar

The Toolbar

As you know, the results of a search carried out in the Filter bar are displayed by Lightroom in the Content window. The Toolbar gives you control over the order in which the results are displayed.

How to change the sort order with the Toolbar

You can control the order in which the photos are displayed in the Toolbar. The default setting is by Capture Time, which simply displays the photos in the order that they were taken. Use the Sort menu (marked below) to set the display order criteria. You can also click the AZ icon (also marked below) to change the order in which the photos are displayed from ascending to descending, and back again.

Lightroom filter bar

Finally, you can use the Thumbnails slider to change the size of the thumbnails displayed in Grid View.

Taking search further

That covers the basics of using Library filters and the Filter bar. If you are new to this I suggest you have a play with the Library filters and see if you can find some ways to make them work for you.

Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book One – The Library Module

You can learn more about importing, organizing and searching your photos in my ebook Mastering Lightroom Classic: Book One – The Library Module. Every aspect of the Library module is covered so you can speed up your workflow and use Lightroom Classic more efficiently.

Introducing Lightroom Classic ebookThanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about Lightroom Classic and photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic and 47 PhotoTips cards. Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.

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1 comment

Rosemary April 21, 2023 - 7:12 am

Thanks for your well set out and simple explanations in How to find Photos using the Filters. I learned a lot and look forward to learning more.


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