Making sense of Lightroom flag filters and how to show just non-rejected photos

I have to say that Lightroom’s Flag filter UI has got to be one of the poorest UI designs in the history of UI designs…but I digress…

For a long while, I could not figure out how to display only the photos that have not been rejected. I was sure you could, but I never took the time to figure it out. Well, after some research I found that it’s really simple once you understand how the Flag section of the filters work. As is often the case, none of the information was presented in a way that I liked, so I decided to put my own spin on the subject and wrote this post. Enjoy.

First, you need to understand what Flags are. A photo can be flagged or unflagged. The confusing part is that there are two flagged states: picked and rejected. If either of these are applied to a photo, it is considered flagged.

Ok, let’s look at the Library Filter settings in the screenshot below. Note that the dropdown menu in the top-right is set to No Filter, so we know no filters are active. If you have applied some filters, you can either turn them off individually or choose Filters Off from this menu (seems like this should be called No Filter ;-). You can also click None which turns off filtering, but leaves any settings intact so you can quickly go back to them.

In the Flag section from left to right, the icons are Picked, Unflagged and Rejected.

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Each of the three flag icons can either be on or off. If a particular one is on, it means you want to show photos with that flag state. In other words, if a flag icon is on, it means you want the filter for that flag state off. (Ahhh the logic of programmers.) The flag filter is also confusing because of the subtle on/off icon differences and their less than obvious meanings as we shall see. The best visual cue is to look for the dotted outline around the flag. If you see it, the option is off, if you don’t, it’s on. Don’t worry if you’re scratching your head right now, it will soon be crystal clear.

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Default On states
Off states
Off states

If you click the Picked flag icon on the left to turn it off, you will not see any photos flagged as picks, only unflagged and rejected photos will appear. If you instead click the Unflagged icon in the middle off, you will not see any unflagged photos, only picked and rejected photos. If you only click the Rejected flag icon on the right off, you will not see any rejected photos, only picked and unflagged photos. It’s that simple. Obviously, each icon operates independently, so you can mix and match.

Aside from the poorly designed on and off Flag filter icons, Adobe could have made it so much more understandable by merely providing informative information when you hover over each icon. Instead, when you hover over any of the icons Lightroom says “Filter based on flag status (Flagged and Unflagged Photos).” Geez, could that be any less helpful?!

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Having said all this, Adobe provides (hides?) a super-helpful menu that automates the Flag filter settings. Just right-click on any Flag icon to make it appear. Here you can select what you want to see and Lightroom will automatically set the proper Flag filter settings.

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Note, however, that within this menu Adobe falls victim to it’s own naming problem. If you choose Flagged Only, you should get photos with either a picked flag or a rejected flag, right? Well, you don’t. You only get those with a picked flag. The option should really be called Picked Flag Only. In fact, all three of the Flagged options should be Picked Flag. No wonder users get confused!

On a related note, the keyboard shortcuts for flagging are: P to set the pick flag, X to set the rejected flag and U to unflag.

Well, I hope this helps any Lightroom user that is confused by Lightroom’s flag feature. It’s pretty simple once you understand how it works.

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