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


Adobe Lightroom's catalog system is excellent because it can handle colossal image archives. But without the metadata to divide and conquer your library, you'll quickly be bogged down.

In this article, you'll learn four techniques for keywording images in Adobe Lightroom. Keywords help you manage an ever-growing library. This set of methods will help you become a master of metadata and keyword your images quickly.

What is Metadata?

Keywords are a type of metadata, a bit of extra information added to your files to help describe them. All metadata is designed to provide information about an image so that you can manage a library of images. Without metadata, we're left to sift through images like a stack of disorganized papers on a desk. When you use an app like Lightroom, however, get tools to explore your images in powerful ways, all based on metadata.

I like to think about metadata in two key categories:

  • Camera-added metadata: these are the technical aspects like the shutter speed, capture time, aperture, and more.
  • User-added metadata: this type of metadata is added in the workflow and is more "qualitative" in nature, like keywords and people tagging.

The lines are starting to blur as technologies like AI and image recognition are automating keywords. But for now, you'll need to add keyword tags to help you find your images later.

Facial Recognition in Lightroom
Facial recognition blurs the line between user-added and technology-added metadata, but the technology is still a work-in-progress.

Keywords are one of the most important metadata fields because you describe the image. Without keywords in your image library, you're going to spend a ton of time searching for images in the future. Think of keywords as an investment in the usability of your image library.

Four Ways to Add Keywords

So, you've decided to take the plunge and tackle the task of keywording your images. If you have an extensive library, you know that it's going to be a journey to update your entire image library.

It takes time to add keywords. Of course, it's worth the investment, but you need techniques that help make the process manageable. Let's look at four methods and steps to keyword even the most extensive library.

1. Add General Keywords on Import

Once you've decided to take keywording seriously, it helps if you don't add more untagged images to your library. The best way to do that is to keyword as you capture.

Lightroom's Import dialogue is a complete set of tools to grab images from your memory card or a folder. It's also an excellent opportunity to add keywords to your images.

On the Import menu, find the Apply During Import menu. There's a Keywords box that you can add generalized keywords (separated by comma) to start tagging your images.

Add keywords on import
Use the Apply During Import panel to add keywords while you're importing your images.

Use the Import menu to add general keywords while importing. Not every photo in your import will share every keyword. But adding a few basic keywords during the import goes a long way to start taming your library.

These types of keywords are ideal for general additions while you're importing:

  • Location: if your shoot is mainly in the same area, you can apply some general location keywords to the entire shoot.
  • Subjects: add the subject names if they're featured prominently during the shoot.
  • Style: capture the type or style of shoot. For example, I tag all engagement shoots with a single keyword.

2. Keyword Multiple Images Simultaneously

Keywording on import is a good first step, but you'll need more techniques to tag your image library fully.

Most keywording takes place in the Library module. Remember, Lightroom is made up of a series of modules, each of which gives you different tools to work with your images. The Library module is really for managing your images and their metadata.

To add a keyword to a single image, select it and then start typing in the Keywording panel. Separate multiple keywords with commas, then press enter to add them to an image.

Add keywords to image in Lightroom
Type in the Keywording panel, and then press Enter to add the keywords to your image.

This process moves much more quickly if you keyword multiple images at the same time. If you aren't in Grid View, press on your keyboard to switch into that mode. Then, hold Control on your keyboard (Command on Mac) or Shift-click to select a series of images. Now, type in comma-separated keywords and press enter.

Multi select images to keyword
Select multiple images, then add keywords in the Keywording panel.

There's no need to keyword images one-by-one! With this multi-select approach, you might be surprised by how quickly you tame your library.

3. Sync Keywords to Similar Images

After you've invested the time in keywording a few images, it helps if you sync other images. Lightroom lets you sync visual settings as well as metadata like keywords.

Start by selecting a source image that already has your keywords added. Next, choose the images that you want to add keywords to. 

Hold Control on your keyboard (Command on Mac) and click around on the images you want to add. (Or, you can hold shift and click on the last image in a series to add everything in between.) Make sure that your source image (with your ideal keywords) stays selected as the active image.

Selected image in Lightroom
Select a source image to sync keywords from, then hold Control (Command on Mac) and click on the images to sync those keywords to.

Now, you're ready to sync. Click on Sync Metadata, and you'll see a new window pop up. Scroll down and make sure that only the Keywords box is checked. This will only sync keywords between images instead of other metadata. Now, click Synchronize.

Sync Metadata
Leave only the Keywords box checked, then press Synchronize.

That's it! You've synced up the keywords between your images.

As you sync your keywords, the two images don't have to be a perfect match. Sometimes it's easier to sync up the images with all keywords, then remove the ones that are unrelated. 

Learn more about syncing settings in the quick video below:

4. Paint-On Keywords for Spot Updates

After you've invested time into keywording most of your library, you might still find that there are a few images that need a "touch-up" on metadata. In that case, I love to use the Painter tool. 

In Grid view (switch to it with the key.) Make sure that you can see the toolbar below the grid by opening the View > Show Toolbar option (or press on your keyboard.)

Then, click on the Painter icon, the spray can icon. Once you click on it, you can type in a keyword in the box to the right. Just spray the images that need a keyword added.

Add keyword
With the Painter tool, you can click all over the grid and spot-add keywords to your images.

This range of tools is helpful for efficient keywording. Each of the tools has a place in your toolbelt, ranging from general (import keywords) to highly specific (like the Painter.)

Bonus Tip: Find Images That Need Keywords

When you're keywording your library, it helps to find the images that you haven't already tagged. 

With a filter, you can pinpoint images with no keywords so that you find what still needs work. In the Library module, press the Backslash (\) key on your keyboard. This will open a set of filters.

Make sure that you're on the Metadata tab on the screenshot below, then click on one of the column headers and choose Keyword. Then, filter to images with no keywords by clicking on None.

Lightroom untagged images
With the None Keywords filter, you'll show only the images that still need keywords.

That's it! Now you'll see only the images that have no keywords added. 

Add Visual Styles to Your Images With Presets

In this tutorial, you've seen techniques for keywording images rapidly in Adobe Lightroom. If you want to work as efficiently as possible in the app, it helps to use the shortcuts and features to expedite the process.

That includes Adobe Lightroom presets that transform your images with just one click! You can use a preset to borrow visual styles from other photographers and apply them to your images.

The best source of Lightroom presets is Envato Elements. For a single, flat-rate subscription, you can download all of the presets in the library. If you're accustomed to paying for preset after preset, this is a total game-changer.

Adobe Lightroom Preset Envato Elements
On Envato Elements, you can download all of the preset packages - many of which include multiple styles.

When you subscribe to Elements, you'll unlock thousands of presets. Each one of them can bring a different visual style to your images. That single-click transformation saves you hours of pulling on adjustment sliders.

For even more Adobe Lightroom preset selections, make sure to check out the article below:

More Adobe Lightroom Resources

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