As the number of photos in your catalog grows, finding a photo is essential. One of the best ways to do this is by assigning keywords to your photo(s). Keyword tags are text metadata used to describe the content of the photo. Unlike collections, keywords can be stored in the metadata of the files and understood by a wide range of software, so your efforts are not wasted, even if you later move to other software.
Image recognition software is already able to identify many subjects, reducing the need for keywords. If your photos are synced to the Lightroom cloud, you can try it today using Search in the Lightroom Web, mobile or cloud-based Desktop apps. The Excire plug-in adds similar functionality to Lightroom Classic locally. However, it’s likely to be some time before software can correctly name your friends and family, or tell the difference between a lesser spotted and great spotted woodpecker, so some keywords are still important.
What kind of keywords would you use to describe your photos?
If you’ve never keyworded photos before, you may be wondering where to start. There are no hard and fast rules for keywording (unless you’re shooting for Stock Photography). Assuming you’re shooting primarily for yourself, the main rule is simple—use keywords that will help you find the photos again later!
For example, they can include:
- Who is in the photo (people – Face Recognition can also be useful)
- What is in the photo (other subjects or objects)
- Where the photo was taken (names of locations)
- Why the photo was taken (what’s happening)
- When the photo was taken (sunrise/sunset, season, event)
- How the photo was taken (HDR, tilt-shift, panoramic)
Before you start applying keywords to photos, think about the kinds of words you would use to search for your photos.
The importance of consistency
While you’re planning the kind of keywords you’ll use, also think about consistency within your keyword list, otherwise you’ll spend a lot of time tidying up your keyword list later. For example:
- Grouping—as with folders and collections, in Lightroom Classic you can use a hierarchical list of keywords instead of a long flat list. We’ll consider the pros and cons in the next post.
- Capitalization—stick to lower case for everything except names of people and places.
- Quantity—either use singular or plural, but avoid mixing them (either have bird, cat and dog or birds, cats and dogs). Where the plural spelling is different, for example, puppy vs. puppies, in Lightroom Classic you can put the other spelling in the Synonyms field so it’s still fully searchable. For Lightroom (cloud-based) stay with one rule, as it doesn’t have Synonyms.
- Verbs—stick to a single form, for example, running, playing, jumping rather than mixing run, play, jumping.
- Name formats—consider how you’ll handle nicknames or last names for married women. Many use the married name followed by the maiden name (e.g., Mary Married née Maiden), while others choose to put previous names and nicknames in the Synonyms field (Lightroom Classic only).
Need some ideas? While controlled vocabularies are overkill for most amateur photographers, they can be a great place to get ideas for your own keywords and list structure. Here’s a list of some popular keyword lists, both free and paid.
In the next post in the series, we’ll consider the advantages and disadvantages in Lightroom Classic of flat and hierarchical keyword lists, and then we’ll put the theory into practice in the following posts.
Note on keywords in Lightroom Classic / Lightroom (Cloud)
While you can add keywords to both versions of Lightroom, be aware that they don’t sync keywords. So, for example, adding keywords in Lightroom mobile won’t populate them in the Lightroom Classic. If you migrate from Lightroom Classic to Lightroom (Cloud) using the migration tool, then keywords are migrated in a flat (non-hierarchical) form to the cloud.
For extensive information on Lightroom Classic, see Adobe Lightroom Classic – The Missing FAQ.
If you have the Photography Plan, then as well as Classic you have access to the Lightroom cloud ecosystem including the mobile apps and web interface. For more information on these apps, see Adobe Lightroom – Edit Like a Pro.
Note: purchase of these books includes the first year’s Classic or cloud-based Premium Membership (depending on the book purchased), giving access to download the latest eBook (each time Adobe updates the software), email assistance for the applicable Lightroom version if you hit a problem, and other bonuses.
We also have a special bundle offer for the two books. This includes Premium Membership for the first year as described above for the whole Lightroom family!
Originally posted 20 March 2017, updated for latest Lightroom versions May 2020.