Have you ever used colour labels in Lightroom to organise your photos?

It may surprise you that these colour labels are actually not what they are called. There is no colour assigned to a photo, it is a string containing the name of the colour.

You can easily try it yourself. Open Lightroom, choose a photo and set the colour label to red by hitting “6” on the keyboard. Depending on your settings, Lightroom will display a red frame around your image, add a reddish background or show a red square beneath the image in grid view. Once you did that, open the metadate panel, choose the default display and observe the field called “Label”. What do you see? The text “Red”, not the colour.

You can edit this field. Try typing “Green” and observe the colour marking change. Of course you can type in anything you like. Say you want to mark an image as approved, just type in “Approved”. No colour shows up? Well, what did you expect?

Colour Label Sets

If the field “Label” contains just text, how does Lightroom know it is supposed to display a colour? How does this work for different languages? You might write “Yellow” for yellow, I’d write “Gelb” in my mother tongue, still we mean the same colour. The key is a colour label set. You will find it in the menu under “Metadata – Color Label Sets”. Lightroom comes with three predefined sets: “Lightroom Default”, “Bridge Default” and “Review Status”. Select “Lightroom Default”, open the Menu again and klick “Edit…”. You will see this:

That is the complete secret. Lightroom reads the field “Label” and checks the currently selected colour label set to see whether there is a colour to display for the text found. You can use any text you like. The two other default sets use other text and are good examples for what you might want to use this for. You can create and save you rown colour label sets as well.

By the way, switching the colour label set does not alter the label-fiels. So you can use different sets for different purposes and switch between those. Only thing to keep in mind: there can only be one label per photo. So if you mark a photo as Red with the “Lightroom Default” set, then switch to “Bridge Default” and use the colour label yellow to mark the same photo as second choice, the metadata will only contain the word “Second” – the first colour label is gone.

I’ll leave it to you to find out what happens if you switch languages.

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