Metadata & Keywords


Applying keywords to your images in Lightroom or Bridge is essential if you want an efficient workflow and to be able to find images quickly. You can assign any word or words to an image, you could tag where the image was taken, who is in it or what was happening.
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For example the image shown here has several keywords in my Lightroom catalogue. It was taken at Hemel Hempstead music festival in 2009 with a few friends, it has the tags Events, Festival, Hemel Hempstead, Friends, Gavin, Ash, Lynette. Quite a few tags, obviously if I have this many tags on just one image my keyword list for my entire catalogue is going to be HUGE.


keywords2This is where Lightroom comes into its own. You can nest keywords in a hierarchy, or tree. Using this example again, my keywords as stored in Lightroom look a little more structured. You can also set Lightroom to automatically apply all or only some parent keywords. I use the keywords Events, Places and People only to organise my list, so I have lightroom set to NOT include them on a meta-data export.

So when I added keywords to this photograph I just added Gavin, Ash, Lynette, Festival and Hemel Hempstead, the parent keywords were added by Lightroom, but not applied to the image. This way if I search from friends in my catalogue it would find any image tagged with any of my friends names, this image would also show up with a search for any photo including people. You can have as many nested levels of keywords as you like and choose which are exported with the image. Your Places tree could be as Long as The World->Northern Europe->United Kingdom->England->Hertfordshire->Hemel Hempstead.


Another feature of keywords that Lightroom makes use of is synonyms, or alternative names, for example you could use this to tag taxonomic names to animals. This example is for a Common Blue Damsel Fly, and it is stored under Wildlife -> Fauna -> Insect -> Damsel Fly ->Common Blue.

The only keywords from this long list that are exported with the photo are Insect, Damsel Fly, Common Blue and Enallagma cyathigerum. You can see that the Latin name is exported as I have Export Synonyms selected. The other two options define whether the keyword is exported to an image, and whether its parent keywords are added to an image. Wildlife and Fauna are not applied to my image as these two keywords have Include on Export unchecked. If you uncheck Export Containing Keywords then the parent keyword in the list will not be applied.

Another feature with Lightroom and exporting images is that you have en option in the export dialogue, under meta-data, where you can choose to Write meta-data as Lightroom Hierarchy. This forces the keywords written to the exported file to follow your lightroom hierarchy. So with the above example Wildlife, Fauna, Insect, Damsel Fly and Common Blue would be written but not Enallagma cyathigerum, as this is not a defined keyword but a synonym.

keywords4A good way to check that you are exporting the keywords you are expecting to export is to use the Keyword Tags drop down menu to select Will Export. This will just show the tags that will be exported with the image. Keywords & Containing Keywords will show ALL keywords associated with the image. I nearly always leave this set to Will Export, and I also use this menu to add keywords by typing rather than clicking with the mouse on the list. Lightroom will try to auto complete the word you are typing if it is on your keyword list.

Keywords are essential if you have thousands of product photos or stock photos in a catalogue, and can cover any aspect of the images content, colour, even the photographic technique used. A branch of your keyword tree could be colours, with the normal red, green blue etc, but also with shades of each of these like light blue, royal blue, navy blue etc. which can help pin point the images you are after. You may also want to tag how many people are in a shot, is it a couple, a group of 3 or 4? Obviously you can take this to the extreme and spend longer tagging your pictures than editing or enjoying them.
Lightroom keyword lists can also be exported and edited manually in a text editor, you may think why bother, I can drag and drop my keyword list for easy sorting. Editing your keyword file in a text editor or spreadsheet program is a great way to import keywords to your list in bulk without having to add them one at a time. The format of the file is very simple, the hierarchy is set by TABs and using [square] or {curly} brackets you can set if the keyword is a synonym or is excluded from export. [Excluded] {synonym}.

I would recommend using something like Excel to edit your lists as it uses columns and you can save the file as a TAB delimited text file ready for importing into Lightroom. You can find several pre-compiled keyword lists for various subject from wildlife to jet planes on the internet although you will probably want to edit them to suit your own list. I have a few that I have created or edited that you can download from here. I can’t guarantee they are 100% accurate, but they are free and kinda handy if you like British wildlife or frequent Whispnade Zoo.

My personal settings for key-wording are to have Write meta-data as Lightroom Hierarchy turned off within the export menu, I also keep all three options in the Edit Keyword Tag menu enabled. Any keywords that are only in the list to help organise it, such as Events and Places have Include on Export unchecked so they are not exported.

There is an ongoing project on the internet that is creating a generic modular keyword list that follows a set structure, you can find it here.

I have a files for British Wildlife and all the animals at Whipsnade Zoo, and my huge list based on the Lightroom Keyword List Project above. I would recommend saving your keyword list to file before you import any of these lists so you have a backup in case things go wrong.

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