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3 Ways to Add the Power of Keywords to Images in Lightroom

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This post is part of a series called Adobe Lightroom Workflow: Import, Edit and Beyond.
Smart Previews: Lightroom's Most Powerful New Feature
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Picture this: your best client calls up looking for a picture from your archives. "Remember," she says, "that whjen you photographed our VP leading a meeting at the company retreat that time? I think it was 2010. Or maybe it was 2011? Well, they were just promoted. That picture is perfect for our next annual report!" You're about to get paid for a picture from years ago, a picture that's been sitting on your hard drive collecting digital dust. Easy money! That is, it will be if you can find the file.

Photographers accumulate pictures over years of shooting. Adding keywords to your photos in Adobe Lightroom can help you to describe your images and make them searchable and explorable. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to add keywords and use them to their full potential.

Use Keyword Tags to Describe Images

Importing images into Lightroom carries the metadata that the camera adds, like the capture time, shutter speed, and other settings that the camera knows. What the camera can't add, however, is meaningful descriptions to our images. That's where we come in, to add descriptive keywords in Lightroom.

Many photographers with growing collections start multiple catalogs to keep their collections seperate, small, and stable. In the long term, adding metadata like keyword tags is a better approach to keep your photo archive manageable. If you start adding keyword tags while building out your collection even a huge collection will remain easily searchable.

Keyword Tags Add Context

Keyword tags are a simple yet powerful tool to add descriptions of the content and context of your pictures to image files. Adding a tag to an image means simply that it has a keyword attached to it, like "wedding", or "portrait", or "bride." You have ultimate control over how to add these keywords to your images, and they can be as specific as you wish.

In this screenshot, I've opened one image in Lightroom and the keywords are visible in the "keywording" panel at right. You can quickly and easily see the tags I've added to make it effortless to find this image later.

1. Add Keywords Manually

Adding keywords takes place in Lightroom's Library module. The best way to work with keywords is to work in the Grid view to view multiple images simultaneously.

Working in grid view in Lightroom will allow you to view multiple images simultaneously. Enter grid view by pressing "G" on your keyboard while in the Library module.

To add your first keyword tag, find the Keywording panel on the right side of the Library module. You'll need to scroll down slightly to find it. When you're ready to add your first keyword, select an image in grid and start typing keywords in the box. Press enter, and you've added your first keyword to the image!

Entering keywords in Lightroom
Adding your first keyword is easy. Simply select an image and start typing in the Keywording panel in Lightroom. Once you press return, the keywords will be added to the image - it's that easy.

Once you've added keywords to an image you'll notice a new tag icon placed over the thumbnail. This indicates that there are keywords attached to the image. To view an image's keywords, click it and check the Keywording panel on the right side of the Library module.

Keyword suggestions in Lightroom
Here, I've selected an image. You can view keywords by selecting an image and viewing the keywording panel. In this case, "Lincoln Memorial" is the keyword attached to the image.

You can add multiple keywords by separating them with commmas. There's no limit to the number of keywords that can be added to files, so add as many as you need to describe each image.

When you want to add keywords to multiple images, the power of Grid view really comes into play. You'll want to select multiple images at the same time to give them the same keywords simultaneously, and grid view is perfect for that.

With grid view enabled, we can select several images at the same time. Do so by holding Control on your keyboard (or the Command key on a Mac) and clicking on the images you wish to select. You'll notice that they all appear selected. You can also click on an image, hold Shift, and select another image to select all images in a series.

Mutliple keywords can be added simply by adding commas between the keywords.

When you've selected several images, you can add keywords to all of them in a similar way as described above. Typing a few keywords and pressing enter will apply the keywords you've added to all images.

In this illustration, I've selected several images in Grid view by holding control on my keyboard (Mac users, hold the Cmd key). On the keywording panel, you can see that all images have "Lincoln Memorial" as a keyword. The "reflecting pond" keyword has an asterisk (*) next to it because some images in the collection have that keyword, but not all images do.

Eventually, Lightroom will begin to show Keyword Suggestions based on your commonly used keywords. You can also build keyword sets to keep your commonly used keywords at the ready.

Keyword suggestions panel in Lightroom
In this screenshot, you can see that Lightroom has begun suggesting keywords based on other images nearby. With suggested keywords, your workflow can speed up. Lightroom learns your collection and suggests these keywords with increasing power over time. The keyword sets are built into Lightroom and provide commonly used keywords. Try building your own sets to add your most-used keywords to a quick and easy to find set.

2. Syncing & Painting Keywords

We've already looked at some ways to apply keywords to multiple images above, but I want to share a couple more ways that you can apply keywords en masse.

The first of these is to sync keywords. When you've already applied keywords to some images and need to add those same keywords to other images, syncing the keywords will make two or more images have exactly the same keywords.

The Sync Metadata option in Lightroom
The sync metadata option can be used to synchronize keywords between a selection of images. To use it, choose the image that you want to use as the basis for keywords. Then, select other images by holding control or shift clicking. Pressing "sync metadata" and choosing keywords will give all of those images all the same keywords.

Another option for applying keywords is to use the Painter tool. Again, this is best applied in the Library module using grid view so that multiple images can be seen simultaneously. Make sure the filters at the bottom are showing by choosing View > Show Toolbar. You'll see a spray can icon appear. Enter a few selected keywords, and click your images to rapidly apply those keywords to your collections.

Click the painter tool, enter a few selected keywords, and click your images to rapidly apply those keywords to your collections.

3. Keyword Images on Import

Another way to integrate tagging in your workflow is to add the tags at the same time as importing images.

On the Import dialog, the panels on the right side of the window include a panel titled Apply During Import. If it's currently hidden, press the dropdown arrow to show the additional fields. You'll see a Keywords window similar to what we've already seen. Add keywords in this window to apply them to the images being imported.

Keywords can also be applied on import. While importing images, the "Apply During Import" panel and the keywords box can be used to apply keywords to each and every imported image.

When tagging during the import process, your approach may need to differ slightly from applying tags on an image by image basis. The import tags are likely to be more general and apply to all images. You can always add additional keywords later to add detail, but the import keywords should be general and accommodate all images included on import.

Searching by Keywords

Now that we've spent time adding keywords to our collection, it's time to reap the power that a well-described catalog gives us. Searching for keywords shows us how much more structured a catalog with keywords is.

To get started with searching for keywords, press Control + F (Cmd + F on a Mac) in the Library module to bring up the search box. Inputting a keyword to search will show the images matching that keyword or keywords.

Searching by Keyword
Searching for keywords is as easy as pressing Ctrl + F (Cmd + F) on a Mac and entering a keyword. When pressing return, you'll instantly see the images that match that keyword selection.

Filtering for Keywords

If you don't know what keywords are attached to the images in your collection it can be difficult to search for the keywords you're looking for. This is where filtering for keywords using Lightroom's metadata filters is so powerful.

In the Library module, add the filter bar by choosing View > Show Filter Bar. After doing so, click the text that reads Date on the far left, and switch it to Keyword. What results is a list of all keywords on the images in your collection. If you click one of the keywords, your image collection will be filtered to those images.

Filtering by keyword
Filtering to keywords is one of the most powerful options for working with keywords. Choose View > Show Filter Bar to open the advanced filtering options. Then, change the first box from "Date" to "Keywords." With that setup, you can easily filter to images that match your keyword selection.

Conclusion

Lightroom is a powerful tool for managing huge collections of images, but only you can assign the data to helps you find precisely what you need. Taming your collection takes planning and dedication, but every bit of data you enter, every tag, will help your archive stay healthy and explorable as it grows.



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