Lightroom 5 Technique: Keywords

An important aspect of a digital asset management (DAM) of your photographs is to tag all images with proper keywords. This will make it possible to find relevant pictures in the future. Without this it will be almost impossible to find (or at least very time consuming) a specific image in the future. Tagging your images with keywords is also a must if you want to sell your images through a stock agency.

Hierarchical keywords

One of the features of Lightroom is the method of hierarchical keywording. Hierarchical keywording means that if I create a nested list of keywords, like Plants > Tree > Maple, and apply the keyword "Maple" to an image, the other keywords "Plants" and "Tree" are automatically applied to the image as well.

Another plus is the fact that Lightroom will auto-complete keywords as you begin to type. This makes it faster and easier to find the right keywords. In addition you can create keyword presets for keywords that you apply often to save even more time.

Optimizing LR for key-wording

If you are going to tag your images with keywords, there is one thing you should do right away to speed up the process of key-wording your images in LR. Let Lightroom generate previews of all the images you are going to key word. This will make the process of looking at the images much faster.

To have Lightroom generate previews, select "All Photographs" under Catalog in the Library module. The go to the menu Library > Previews > Render Standard-size Previews and choose Build All. This will take a while, go get a coffee and read the rest of this article while Lightroom work.

Hierarchical keyword lists

The best way to get started in an organized way is probably to buy a keyword set as a starting point. That will get you up to speed quickly, and you don't have to use your time reinventing the wheel.

David Rieck’s Controlled Vocabulary Keyword Catalog (CVKC) is a very good start (see Other Resources). It’s a well-organized and comprehensive keyword set, based on a good general taxonomy, with over 11,000 keywords. This was my starting point when I created my own keyword list.

Another starting point to buy is D65's Digital Workflow Lightroom Keywords (see Other Resources). D-65's keyword list contains over 5,500 keywords in a hierarchical order to allow you to easily keyword your images in Lightroom. This list is more targeted at photography of the kind that Seth Resnick does, but if that is your type of photography it may be both a simpler and better starting point for you.

For Norwegian keyword lists I recommend Naturfokus, the general Norwegian list contains 3,400 words.

If you want to create your own keyword lists outside LR for import, there is a very good article by Richard Earney on (see Other Resources).

Quiet winter light

Quiet winter light

Flesberg, Norway / January 2009

Factory Butte, first sun rays

Factory Butte, first sun rays

Capitol Reef, Utah, USA / November 2012

Winter tree

Winter tree

Lørenskog, Norway / February 2010

Top level keyword concepts

Probably the most important aspect of your hierarchical keyword lists, is to get the top level words/concepts right for your need. If you buy one one or more of the lists mentioned above you will probably want to modify them to suit your needs.

I have settled (for now) on the following 16 top level concepts that I keyword:

Keywords for descriptions of activities and action.
Architecture. Buildings and details.
Occupation etc.
Concepts and expressions.
Disasters, energy etc.
Landscape, seascape and agricultural.
Relations, age etc.
Color, type etc.
Geographic location of the image.
Animals, fish and plants.
Food, beverages.
Natural and man made. Materials.
Hobby, sports, recreation.
Seasons and time of day.
Plains, trains, boats, cars.
Weather types.

This is the concepts I use, but the placement of the words in the hierarchical list follows more or less the CVKC, meaning that when I go through a concept I will sometime keyword in several toplevel categories in CVKC. The reason for this is to make it a bit easier for me to track updates and changes in CVKC, but I will probably at some point reorganize my keyword list to match the concepts I keyword.

My toplevel keywords

This is view of my toplevel keywords that i use in LR. Some of the keywords show the next level expanded to give you an idea of how I use synonyms and sub-categories. keywords inside "{}" are synonyms.

Keyword Strategies

Using the CVKC as a starting point really makes tagging my images with keywords much richer. But applying all those words to your images, and making sure you have tagged all the words that you want, can also be intimidating. 11,000 keywords? Or in my case, with my additions, it's probably closer to 15,000? How do you manage that at all?

Eric Scouten has written a good article that describe how you can manage keywording a lot of images using a lot of keywords in a hierarchical keyword list. You can find a link to it at the end of this article under Other Resources.

The clue to manage this task is to use smart collections in Lightroom. Smart collections is a really powerful feature that I use a lot to manage all aspect of my workflow in Lightroom.

To get started you create a keyword that is used to keep track of which images you have reviewed for a subject area. Let's use the toplevel word ACTIVITY from my list of categories that I keyword. For this category I create the keyword §Activity§.

The next step is to create a smart collection to show all the images that is not yet scanned for possible ACTIVITY keywords. I call mine "Missing Activity" to tell me that this collection contains images that have not yet been consdiered for ACTIVITY keywords. This means that this collection will show all images that doesn't contain the keyword §Activity§.

The last step is to go to the "Missing Activity" collection and start tagging images with keywords from the ACTIVITY hierarcy. When I'm done I finish by tagging tge image with the workslist keyword §Activity§. If an image don't need any ACTIVITY keywords applied, I will still tag it with §Activity§. This way the image will be removed from the collection when I'm finished, and the collection will only contain images that I have never considered for ACTIVITY.

And then you set up the same schema for all the other categories you want to keyword. This is the basic concept. I do use additional worklist keywords like §Ignore§ (usually test images that I don't want to keyword or use) and §Delete§ (images marked for deletion).

Ronny A. Nilsen
Norway, November 2010

Keywording Worklist Collection

This is the smart collections I use to keep track of which images that is missing different types of keywords.

The settings I use to create these collections can be seen here.

Other Resources

Here is a list of other resources that you will find useful in your quest to keyword your images:

Eric Scouten: Staying Organized with Controlled Vocabulary

David Rieck: Controlled Vocabulary Keyword Catalog

Seth Resnick (D65): Digital Workflow Lightroom Keywords

Richard Earney: Keyword list creation outside Lightroom