While it may be satisfying for the OCD within you to manually organize your digital mementos into albums in Photos, you can automate the process using smart albums. These albums self-populate based on criteria you set, so when Photos detects an image that matches your criteria, it's automatically added to the smart album (just like iTunes' smart playlists).

Smart albums are insanely handy. For example, you can create one that collects all the pictures you take that include a certain keyword, say, comicon, that fall within a certain date range and that are tagged as favorites. Or how about an album that gathers all the pictures of your kids that also includes the keyword vacation? In this column, you'll learn how to make smart albums and discover a few ideas on how to use them.

Creating a smart album

To create a smart album, choose File> New Smart Album or press Command-Option-N once you've launched Photos on your Mac (you can't create smart albums in Photos for iOS). In the sheet that appears, use the menus to pick criteria. Click "+" to add another row of criteria (to remove a row, click "-"). After adding a second row, use the Match menu to tell Photos to include pictures that match any of the criteria or all of it. Think of any as or; for example, "If a face tag in the photo is Kirk or Spock or Bones, then include it in this smart album." The other Match choice is all, which gathers only the items that match all the criteria.

Finding favorites in other albums

Tagging pictures and videos as a favorite causes Photos to tuck them into the Favorites album (which is also a smart album). Unfortunately, after a few months of happy-go-lucky favoriting, the album gets bloated, so it's no longer useful for finding stuff quickly. One solution is to track down favorites in specific albums. To do it, create a smart album that includes the criteria "Photo," "is," "favorite," and then add another row that includes "Album," "is." Then, pick the album name from the third menu, and then set the Match menu to all.

Finding favorites by date

Another way to tame a gigantic Favorites album is to locate favorites based on a certain time period (alas, you can't sort the Favorites album chronologically). Create a smart album that includes the criteria "Photo," "is," "favorite," add another row with "Date," use the second and third menus to drill down to the date range you want, and then set the Match menu to all.

Finding metadata

If you shoot with multiple cameras, you can create separate smart albums for each model. Create a smart album with the criteria "Camera Model," "is," "Canon 5D Mark III" (or whatever). Add another row to limit the album to a specific lens, date range, album (or several), favorites, and so on, and then set the Match menu to all.

Finding faces

If you spend a little time training Photos' facial recognition feature, you can round up pictures of certain people (handy for slideshows and other projects). Create a smart album that includes the criteria "Face" and "is," and then pick a face tag from the third menu. Add another row that includes "Face" and "is," and pick another face tag from the third menu. Rinse and repeat until you include all the people you want in the album and then set the Match menu to any or all.

Finding certain locations

A smart album with the criteria "Photo," "is," and "tagged with GPS" gathers all your GPS-tagged images. Add another row of criteria, say, with "Text," "includes," "Manhattan," with the Match menu set to all creates an album with all the pictures you've taken (and will take) in Manhattan, New York, excluding any that contain Manhattan elsewhere in their metadata--say, in a description describing the famous cocktail you enjoyed at dinner.

Finding keywords

If you (wisely) use keywords and you frequently use the search field to find certain ones, create a smart album that gathers them instead. That way you get all the images that currently have the keyword(s), as well as any future images you apply those keywords to. So if you keyword your flower shots with flower, create a smart album with the criteria "Keyword," "includes," and "flower." To find your macro flower shots, add another row with the criteria "Lens," "includes," and "Lensbaby Muse" (or whatever macro lens you use), and then set the Match menu to all.

Another scenario is to use keywords to rate images and then have smart albums collect your highest rated shots. For example, if you upgraded to Photos from iPhoto where you used star ratings, Photos converts those ratings into keywords: 1 star, 2 star, 3 star, 4 star, and 5 star. If you use the Keyword Manager (Command-K) to give those keywords a keyboard shortcut (say, 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5), you can keep using the same rating system in Photos that you did iPhoto. To find all your starred items, create a smart album for each rating. For example, the criteria "Keyword," "is," and "5 Star" collects all the images in your library with the 5 Star keyword.

Finding your highest rated pictures in other albums

Once you start using keywords to rate images, you can find your highest rated images in certain albums--say, the graduation album you just made. Create a smart album that includes the criteria "Keyword," "is," and "5 star." Add another row with the criteria "Album" and "is," and pick the graduation album from third menu, then set the Match menu to all. You may even add another row that uses face tags to limit the album to pictures that include the graduate (say, instead of their buddies).

These ideas barely scrape the tip off the smart album iceberg. The more you use them--and the more you employ Photos' favorites, keywords, and faces tags--the smarter your Photos experience becomes. Until the next time, may the creative force be with you all!