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Lightroom Keywording Tips

Seán Duggan is a fine art photographer, author, educator, and an Adobe Certified Photoshop Expert with extensive experience in both the traditional and digital darkroom. His Lightroom Viewfinder series provides photographers with the tools they need to effectively use Lightroom for organization, editing, and printing.

Lightroom Keywording Tips

by Seán Duggan

Keywords are an important part of the organizational workflow for maintaining an image archive that is easy to work with, and one where photos can be found quickly. In an earlier article, I covered some basic keyword strategy and concepts for how you might use keywords to add more meaning to your images. In this article, we’ll concentrate on the procedural side of applying keywords with a look at some essential techniques for adding keywords in Lightroom.

Apply Keywords on Import

The first step in taking full advantage of keywords in Lightroom is to apply them as early in the workflow as possible In the Import dialog there is a place to add keywords in the Apply During Import section in the right panel. Location, event, or client names are all things that can be applied to all of the images on the card (assuming it contains a single shoot). Even if the card contains a mixture of images, you might be able to apply a couple of very general keywords (i.e. Europe, France, travel) that work for all the images on the card.


Start Broad, then Narrow the Focus

Once the images have been imported you can then apply more specific keywords. Let’s say you have a card full of images taken at several locations in California. The basic location keyword of “California” would have been applied on import. Now you can apply more specific location keywords and any other identifiers to the rest of the images. The idea here is to apply a keyword to as many images as you can before moving on to the next group of images and the next keywords. If I have 4 main locations on my most recent import of California images (San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Monterey), I will select the larest group first. If you’re sorting by capture time, images at each place should be grouped together. With all of the San Francisco images, I can apply the San Francisco keyword, Before moving on to specific places in San Francisco, I’ll select the next largest group of images, Yosemite, and apply that keyword, then continue with the remaining locations. Once the primary location names are assigned, I’ll add more specific locations (i.e. Chinatown, North Beach, Golden Gate Bridge, etc), as well as other content-specific keywords that may help me find the image in the future.


Batch Apply Keywords in Grid View

Start by selecting all the thumbnails that are from the same place, such as Reykjavik, for example, and then use the shortcut of Command-K (PC: Control-K) to activate the keyword entry field in the Keywording pane, and type in the relevant keyword. A single keyword entry will be applied to all selected images as long as you are in Grid view. Then move on to the next batch of images taken at a different location. For some locations you may be able to enter several keywords at once to both identify the location and describe some of its primary characteristics (i.e., Hallgrimskirkja, church, architecture) Once the different locations have been keyworded, you can apply any other relevant keywords that might help you both identify and find the images in the future.


Use Keyword Sets for Common Keywords

Keywords Sets are a great way to create a set of nine frequently used keywords. To get you started, there are already three sets for outdoor, portrait and wedding photography in the Keywording Panel of the Library module. If you hold down the Option key (PC: Alt key), you will see numbers appear next to the keywords in the active set. These reference the keyboard shortcut that can be used with the Option or Alt key to apply the keywords. Click on a keyword “button” or use the shortcut of Option + 1–9 (PC: Alt + 1–9) to apply it to the selected photos.


To create a new set, choose one of the existing sets and from the drop down menu choose Edit Set. Change the nine keywords as needed and then open the menu at the top of the dialog and choose “Save Current Settings as New Preset”.


Use Nested Keywords

In the Keyword list (under the Keywording panel in the Library module), right-click to add a new keyword tag. If you have already selected an existing keyword, right-clicking it will give you the option to create a new keyword inside the first one. This lets you build a structure of nested keywords so you can organize them in logical groupings. I use this approach for locations. Within a keyword set called “Places” I have additional keywords sets for general regions I have traveled to (North Americca, South America, Europe, Asia, etc).

Duggan_nested_keywords1 Duggan_nested_keywords2

Within each of those sets are more nested sets, each level becoming more specific in terms of the name and location of a place. For instance…Places > North America > USA > California > Death Valley National Park > Mosaic Canyon. Adding one keyword, “Mosaic Canyon” will also add the related “implied keywords”…all the other keywords associated with the one you added. So the image will show in a search based on “Death valley” or California”, even though you did not actualy enter those keywords.


Keyword List Tips

At the top of the Keyword List panel, there is a search field that lets you search the list for a specific keyword. This can be another way to apply keywords when you know that a specific keyword is already in the list. Once you’ve drilled down to where you need to be you can apply a keyowrd to the selected files by simply clicking the checkbox on the left side of the panel. Another useful feature when working with the keyword list is showing only the images with a specific keyword by clicking the image count number or the arrow on the right side of the panel. In the filtered view of the Keyword List you can also use the right-click functionality described earlier to add new keyword tags or edit existing keywords.


Using the “Without Keywords” Smart Collection

Smart collections are automatically populated when the metadata in an image matches the specificed “rules” for the smart colleciton, and they can be very useful to track images based on a variety of criteria. One of the default smart collections in Lightroom is for images “Without Keywords”. By automatically gathering all the files that have no keywords, it provides a direct shortcut for you to see which images still need some keyword attention. In the illustration below, you can see that there are nearly 8,900 images in my archive that have no keywords. That may sound like a lot, and it’s certainly not ideal, but the entire archive is over 100,000 photos, so it’s less than 9% of the entire catalog. Still, after creating that illustration, you can bet that I’m going to go back and deal with that keyword issue very soon!


Seán Duggan is the co-author of Photoshop Masking & Composting, Real World Digital Photography, and The Creative Digital Darkroom. He is on the faculty of the School of Visual Arts in New York City and leads workshops all around the world. See all of Duggan’s Lightroom tips below:

Creative Jump Start: Shooting with Fisheye and Ultra Wide-Angle Lenses
• Adding Value to Your Image Archive with Keywords
Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: Merging a Travel Catalog with your Main Catalog
Adobe Lightroom Tips for Beginners: The Island of Lost Files
The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending JPEG Files Back and Forth
The Lightroom-Photoshop Connection: Sending RAW Files Back and Forth


Tags: , , Last modified: May 22, 2020