It’s Guest Blog Wednesday featuring Seth Resnick!

Photo by Nancy Leigh

Thanks to Scott and Brad for the opportunity to be guest blogger. Once given the platform to blog, my issue became what I should blog about because I wear many hats. I am co-founder of D65  and we conduct Lightroom workflow workshops around the US and have a new book on Lightroom 4 called D'65's Lightroom Workbook, Workflow, Not Workslow in Lightroom 4.  Additionally, I am a partner in Digital Photo Destinations with John Paul Caponigro and we conduct workshops in exotic locations like Antarctica, Iceland, Chile and any location presenting amazing photo opportunities. Of course I am a photographer as well and could easily write about being a cryophiliac "love of Ice." My passion is color but my muse is ice, hence "cryophiliac".

After contemplating all the possibilities I decided to blog about one of my anal habits. KEYWORDING and for continuity decided to write about Keywording in Lightroom.

I have been called the King of Keywording. The best way of using any DAM (Data Asset Management) software is to take advantage of the application's ability to find specific images. Proper keywording is not only advantageous, but essentially the only way of finding specific images in a very large collection. It is one thing to scroll through a few hundred images to find the one you want. It is an entirely different matter to scroll through 50,000 images to find the image you want. With proper keywording one can find any image in a click.

A keyword tag or "keyword" is metadata that categorizes and describes the key elements of a photo. According to one study, it may take more than 400 keywords to accurately describe an image without actually looking at the thumbnail. Building a Keyword Hierarchy can be a tedious and painful task, but it is essential to digital asset management.

Keywords help in identifying and searching for images in a catalog. Keyword tags are stored either in the image files or in XMP sidecar files or in Lightroom Catalog. The XMP can be read by any application that supports XMP metadata.

Keywording Images
To keyword your images, think globally first and then go for local. Think of keywording the same way you would classify an animal. A Spider Monkey would first be a Mammal then an Ape, then a monkey and finally a spider monkey. For example, to classify Palm Beach Gardens (where I live), you would……start with a parent called Continent and a child called North America. A second Parent Inside North America would be called Countries, with a child keyword of United States. A third Parent might be called States, with a child keyword of Florida and finally a parent called Cities with a child called Palm Beach Gardens. You could even add sub categories like South Florida . So the hierarchy might look like this: North America > United States > Florida > South Florida > West Palm Beach> Palm Beach Gardens. So it might take 6 keywords just to classify Palm Beach Gardens. Most images that I prepare have about 50 keywords which really isn't all that much when you consider the concept of hierarchies.

Below is an example of an image of a green iceberg from Antarctica, with proper keywording. The top level Parent Keywords are in CAPS but they are private metadata and act as a placeholder and do not export with the image. All the child levels have the first letter of each word capitalized.

Location is an obvious keyword but there are many keywords that aren't as obvious that make finding and organizing images a breeze. I have a Parent called Technique…

…whose Children include items like Blur, Reflections, Macro, Motion, Silhouette, and Time Exposure. This really helps when looking for certain types of images.

I have another Parent called View…

…with Children like Aerial, Eye Contact, Fisheye, Panorama, and Underwater. Again, the more specific the keyword, list the easier it becomes to find images that you seek.

Creating and Managing Keywords
Keywords can be generated by clicking on the + sign to the left of Keyword List. Keywords can be removed by highlighting the keyword and clicking on the - sign to the left of Keyword List. Keywords can also be created by typing in a keyword in the "Click here to add keywords" box under Enter Keywords in the Keywording Panel.

Parents and Children in Keyword List
The top level parents are in capitals and are private, meaning that they do not export. They are placeholders only. The first letter of each child is capitalized. The number of images that contain a given keyword are displayed to the right of the keyword. By clicking on the number adjacent to any keyword tag, you will go to those images that contain that keyword.

Creating Keyword Tags with Synonyms and Export Options
When creating keywords, you can add synonyms and export options. Synonyms are similar or related terms for keyword tags. Synonyms allow you to apply one keyword and automatically apply additional synonyms. For those of you keywording animals, for example, one very useful tidbit is to use the Latin name or scientific name of the animal as a synonym.

Creating Private Metadata
You can also choose to include keywords or exclude keywords on export. This too is a very valuable feature. I use keywords for jobs, portfolio images, stock agencies and for names of folks I know. I even have a keyword for Scott Kelby. I put this type of information into a Parent Keyword called Private Metadata and exclude it on export. This way the information becomes useful in searching within Lightroom but it isn't included in the images on export.

Keyword tags can be created as children of parent keyword tags. For example, a parent tag might be "Weather" and the child could be "Hurricane" and you could apply a group of synonyms at the same time.

The Keyword Filter
The Keyword Filter is a very useful tool. In my Keyword List, I have over 6,000 keywords all listed in a hierarchy. One of the problems of working with keywords in a hierarchy is locating a particular keyword. The Keyword Filter makes this easy. Simply type in the keyword you are looking for in the filter and it locates it for you in the hierarchy. In the image below I searched for the keyword "Leopard" and the filter traced it to the parent Animals and the full hierarchy leading to Leopard. It also conveniently displays the number of images with this keyword.

Keywording also utilizes autofill. The application tries to fill in the remainder of a word before you finish typing. While most folks find this useful, if you want to turn this off, open Catalog Settings â” Metadata tab then deactivate "Offer suggestions from recently entered values."

Keywording Tips

⢠If an asterisk appears next to a keyword that means that this keyword is present in some but not in all of the selected images:

⢠In the Grid mode, you can see that an image has keywords with the keyword badge. Clicking on this badge will bring you to the Keywords panel and display the keywords in the image:

⢠Clicking on the number of keywords for a keyword will bring up all of those images in the Grid. Below, I clicked on the number 311 next to Neon Light and all 311 related images appear in the Grid. It is an awesome way to cull images and create collections of specific types of images. Every time you add a keyword to an image, the Keywords Tags panel will keep track of how many images in your entire Library have that specific keyword.

Keyword Sets
Keyword tags can also be organized into categories called keyword sets. I might create a keyword set for "Lightning," for example, which includes words like Electrical Storm, Lightning, Thunder, Thunderstorm, Ominous, and Downpour. Every time lightning is photographed, you could choose this set and apply each keyword. Unfortunately you can't apply the entire set with one click.

To create a Keyword Set, go to the Keyword Set Panel and click on drop-down menu, choosing "Save current settings as a new preset."

Organizing Keywords in Workflow
Keywording, while very powerful, can quickly get out of hand if the keywords aren't organized. In order to keep your keywords organized, I suggest creating keywords in the Keywording Tags panel and to regularly arrange Parents and Children in the Keyword List. Do not wait until you have several hundred keywords to begin the organization. My advice is to organize on a regular basis.

Creating and Applying Keywords
You can create and apply keywords in various ways in the Library Module. I will  demonstrate them all below.

1. Keywording Panel: The Keywording Panel is located on the right-hand side of the Library Module. To use it, select one or more images in the Grid and start typing the keyword(s) you want to insert in the keyword tags panel. Hit Return and the keywords will be placed in the image(s). Note: To create parent-child relationship hierarchies, use the pipe key (|) between the keywords or drag keywords from the keyword list into other keywords.

Enter Keywords

2. Copy and Paste Keywords: Select one image, keyword it, and then copy and paste the keywords from one image to another.

3. Sync Keywords: Select one image, keyword it, then select the other images you want to contain those keywords and choose Sync Metadata. Scroll down and place a checkmark in Keywords.

4. Drag Keywords: Select one image or a group of images and either drag the image(s) to the keyword, or drag the keyword to the image(s).

5. Painter Tool: Click on the Painter Tool in the Toolbar and add keywords to the field in the Toolbar. After the keyword(s) are added, hit Return to save them. The Painter Tool can then be used to apply these keywords to other images.

Click on the image(s) that you want keyworded with the Painter Tool. Once you click on the image(s) you will see the assigned keywords on your screen and that the keywords have been applied.

Painter Tool Workflow Tips:

⢠Using the Option key will turn the Painter Tool into an Eraser Toolâ”in Lightroom 3 the Painter automatically became an eraser after applying the Painterâ”the use of the Option key to toggle the Painter Tool to an Eraser Tool is a welcome change.

⢠Remember to click off the Painter Tool when you are done with it, or you will continue to "paint" all your images

⢠If the Painter Tool has a keyword associated with it, the shortcut Shift-K will apply the keywordâ”this is totally cool because you can be in full screen view and use the shortcut Shift-K to apply keywords

6. Check Box in the Keyword List Panel: Select one image or a group of images and click on the check box next to the keyword you want to apply.

7. Keyword Suggestions and Keyword Set: One feature that is truly fantastic is Keyword Suggestions in the Keywording panel. The concept is that if you apply a keyword to a specific image, that keyword will become a suggested keyword for any other images that share a close enough capture time. This feature is great most of the time and should allow a faster way to generate and apply keywords, but just because the capture times are similar does not always mean that the images are similar. To apply both keywords from the Keyword Set and/or from the Keyword Suggestions, simply select your image(s) and click on the keyword(s) in the set or in the suggestions.

Below is a folder of images called 20110123_vumbura_plains. As I browse this folder, I see that there are images with lions and I decide I want to see how many other images in the entire catalog have lions.

Since all of our images are keyworded, I go to the keyword list and click on the number 208 next to the keyword "Lion."

After I click on the number 208 next to "Lion," I am now in the entire Catalog showing all the images that contain the keyword "Lion." I might consider making a collection of Lion or I might want to go back to my Vumbura Plains images. Most folks end up navigating through the hierarchy of folders and this can be tedious and time consuming.

Instead, clicking on the "Go Back" button in the Filmstrip, I can return to my original Vumbura Plains folder.  While I only went back once in this demonstration, the Go Back and Go Forward Buttons allow you to go back or forward to ten, twenty or even a hundred locations if you so desire.

Keywording may not be the slickest thing in Lightroom but it sure is useful and it certainly is a critical part of a good Digital Asset Management System. If you have ever spent hours clicking away in each folder looking for a particular image then you are an ideal candidate for keywording. When images are correctly keyworded you can find any image in an instant.

One last thing about keywording. Developing your own keyword list can take hundreds of hours. I know because I created a list of almost 7000 words. I would wake up at 3 AM and sit at the computer non stop until about midnight. I did drink some fine wines during this psychotic time but nonetheless it still took about a week of solid work. The good news is that my list can be licensed for your own use.

To learn more about Seth Resnick check out:

Seth Resnick Photography
Co-Founder D65 llc
Co-Founder Digital Photo Destinations llc
Partner PixelGenius
Canon Explorer of Light
x-rite Coloratti
onOne Masters

  1. Hi Seth, Great post. I’m a fan, I even bought the book, the licensed keyword list, the LL tutorial as well :D
    I do have a question, though I suspect I know the answer. I have 54,000 images in my current catalog, which I have keyworded using my own list, albeit a rundimentary one (<100). I would now like to apply your methodology to the my images, and I wonder is there an easy way to do this, or am I going to have to go back and through all 54,000 images and re-keyword them.
    Any advice?

    1. Your keywords will simply go into the list alphabetically. Your older images would be keyworded with your words. I would suggest using the new list with your newer images and over time add my keywords to your older images. Tedious work but a great benefit in the end.

  2. i despise this stuff, it absolutely keeps me from learning software … hate it, in fact. the totally wrong approach for a visual thinker. anal, linear, repressive … i will not do it, tens of thousands of images be damned.

    1. While I totally respect your opinion, it is inconceivable for me to think of finding all my images that have reflections as an example with any way other than keywords. It also makes finding images almost instantaneous

  3. Wow. I’ve been teaching Lightroom for three years and have always breezed over key wording. This article makes me want to do a course on it alone! I now have hundreds of thousands of images and have lately realized that I have been too lax in my key wording, bad am having to search visually for an old image–I absolutely remember the context and where I made the picture…but was it in 2011 or 2009? Was it with my pal Gary, or with my whole club?

  4. Im still absolutely befuddled people put all their images in one ginormous catalog. The weight that puts on LR is immense.

    One job/one shoot = one (or new) catalog.

    I could not fathom a corrupt database and the immensity of every photo I have ever imported into LR potentially going wrong.

    1. If you think of Lightroom the way the public library works it makes total sense for one catalog. A public library may have many branches and many floors of books but it is indexed with one central card catalog and LR really works exactly with this same concept. Having multiple catalogs is one of the prime ways that photographers seem to lose all their images. They can’t remember what catalog has what.

      1. I would respectfully disagree. Not to be a nuisance, but let me explain my workflow as well as tell me your thoughts.

        If you have one catalog that houses thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of photos, regardless of backup, you exponentially increase recovery and failure chances.

        My workflow:
        All jobs when they come in are transferred to a drive, not imported through LR, into a folder with date, client name and job. Drive is backed up/duplicated.

        An individual client job catalog is then created in LR with same naming convention, all work and catalog is backed up, before, during and after editing.

        All jobs are cataloged on drive that are backed up. I have never had an issue finding, retrieving any job for a client.

        When and should issues arise, Im dealing with a single drive, not an entire catalog.

        Again, no argument intended, I respect your work, thankful for what you give to the community and really enjoy this blog as I dont keyword unless needed, not as practice.


      2. My thoughts are that if it works for you that is great. My basic workflow isn’t all that different. I import simultaneously to two drives ( done through LR) The files are renamed yyyymmdd_subject_0001 and a folder is created with same name. Same naming convention applied to releases, invoices etc. The nice part for me is that when I travel I take my entire catalog composed of 1:1 previews but only actual files that I may want to work on.This allows me to have access to everything I have ever done while I am on the road.

        My workflow and yours are not right or wrong just different. Thanks for your thoughts.



      3. Yes, same applies to invoices, etc.

        Again, LOVE your blog and work. Im going to incorporate more keywording into certains aspects of my flow.

        Thanks for the dialogue, best of luck in all your future endeavors!

  5. I agree with Seth that keywording is important.

    One thing that may not be immediately evident about all of this is that even if YOU are able to find your images, keywording vastly assists OTHER people in finding your images.

    By default, keywords you apply in Lightroom are embedded within images as they are exported. Google and other search engines index those keywords when they crawl image files and thus those images can appear in the results on mainstream search engines.

    Moreover, as with Seth’s business and any situation like stock photography where others may be searching for images to license, loading your photos with keywords is an absolute MUST. Photo hosting sites like Flickr (and Photoshelter, which I use and highly recommend) automatically index your keywords when you upload images.

    You might know and remember enough about your photos to find them using a folder/directory structure, but nobody else will. If you’re keeping all your images to yourself, keywording might not be as important as other methods, such as Lightroom’s Collections. But if you don’t use keywords, your images will essentially be invisible online.

    Although as Seth pointed out keywording your existing library can take a lot of time, going forward, keywording new images doesn’t take much time at all once you have a good list set up.

    Using metadata is essential in modern photography. I believe if you’re not taking advantage of the tools available you’re actually making more work for yourself.

  6. I really wish the Lightroom team would put more thought into the keywording functionality. To gregorylent’s point, keywording is not exactly a “fun” task, but I think more photographers would make use of this very powerful organizational tool if it were easier to use. For example, once a list of keywords is created, make it easy to assign the words from that list rather than typing in the keyword every time (yes, I know this is possible, but typing seems to be the default – and is the only option on import). Typing, if you’re not careful, can result in multiple versions of the same keyword (e.g. United States, United States of America, USA, U.S.A., etc.). Also, I know that Lightroom will automatically assign parent keywords on *export*, but why not just do this automatically within the program itself? There are times when I want to search through all of my family photos, but if I just click on the parent keyword “Family”, some images won’t be included because I forgot to include the parent keyword. Again, this is my fault, but shouldn’t any software seek to minimize the possibility of user error? I think keywording functionality is long overdue for some love from the Lightroom developers.

  7. When creating a hierarchy for animals, you might want to use the official taxonomy, and include the official (latin) names as well, along with translations for the languages you tend to sell your images to. Keyword hierarchies like this can be downloaded (I’ve once found one for marine life).

  8. I’ve been keywording for a long time, but learned several very good tips from this post. Seth: how about using your influence to convince Adobe to give us the option of displaying keywords in the order we choose instead of alphabetically? This would make it a lot better/easier for dealing with keywording on Alamy and PhotoShelter. I also believe that being able to prioritize keywords might be better for Google SEP.

  9. What Seth DIDN’T tell you in this blog is WHEN he keywords. Sure — he keywords on import as he is building his 1:1 previews. But he keywords as soon as he is done shooting. A small group of us went on Seth’s trip to Iceland to photograph the erupting volcano in 2010. Every time we stopped to shoot, when got back on “the man truck”, we would all be scrolling through images on the back of our cameras while Seth was importing and keywording!. How many times have we all had the best intentions of keywording, only to put it off until later? Surely we won’t forget where we were (ok –GPS helps, but to a point). We think we will remember the name of the specific area or the name of a small school, ranch, etc. in the middle of no where. We can keep an ongoing handwritten or electronic list of keywords, but how quickly we forget how to piece it together if we don’t keyword soon after we shoot, not to mention it is an extra step or as Seth would say: “workslow”. Those of you reading this, even the young ones, know what I mean. To watch Seth’s discipline when it comes to keywording is remarkable. Thank you Seth for continuing to teach us this important step in our workflow.

  10. Great post, Seth! I’ve been keywording for several years myself and getting them together in Lightroom has been a task. However, I am floored with your “Technique” and “View” parent lists. I’ve added similar terms but they’re nowhere near as beautifully organized as yours. Thanks for this.

    I’ll see you this coming Friday in your Full Day Seminar at the Nature Visions Expo ( in Manassas Virginia!


  11. I use a program called Dragon Dictation to generate emails that are 98% accurate in terms of recognizing the words I speak and then “translating” them into written words in an email. Any chance that Adobe would integrate some kind of Siri-like voice dictation/recognition into LR for the purpose of keywording?

  12. One problem I have with keywords in Lightroom is when I export an image or edit it in a plug-in such as Nik. When the image is imported back into LR (as a tiff, psd or jpeg) many of the keywords are duplicated at the top of the hierarchy, creating new keywords that are out of place in the LR keyword “tree”. Synonyms in particular cause these problems. Is there any way to stop this behavior other than remove all the keywords prior to processing outside of lightroom?

  13. I have found this extremely useful However, how do you handle the names of people who appear in pictures? A flat list, some sort of hierarchy? I would be really interested in your approach to people.

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