Lightroom Keywording (Part 1 of many)

Lightroom Keyword List

Another thing I am compulsive about is adding keywords to my photos. I want to be able to locate any photo I have taken at any time by any criteria that come to mind.

All the books and training I have read on image management skip lightly over keywording. the attitude is “just add some keywords and you’ll be fine”.

Most image management software offers both keywords and some concept of container or collection. Lightroom has manual collections (the photographer allocates her photos to one or more) and “smart” collections which to me are like stored queries.

I could go on for pages about the pros and cons of keywords versus categories. I want to keep each blog entry short so I will focus on one topic here.

The image is the top level of the keyword hierarchy I have built for Lightroom. Broadly for any image I want to know where it was taken and what it is of. 99% of my images are of people or vehicles (in the broadest sense – air, land, sea).

Unlike ThumbsPlus Lightroom allows the user to build hierarchies of keywords. Unlike ACDSee Pro 2.5 it allows the user to change that hierarchy as she pleases.

(The latter is another of my huge beefs about ACDSee – it’s unbelievable they do not support it. What kind of a database are they using?)

Lightroom allows the user to add a new keyword to the hierarchy and optionally apply it to any selected images. But if the keyword does not exist when the user is adding them it will create one automatically.

I would strongly prefer an option that users cannot add keywords in that way. They must define them first. If I am permitted to define them on the fly then I am likely to include many spelling errors and unintended synonyms. This leads inevitably to a mess when you try to use them for searching.

Often I don’t realize that I have entered a new keyword rather than using an existing one.

I worked around that by adding a new top level keyword ZZZ which is meant to be empty. I set the Lightroom option to always add new “automatic” keywords under ZZZ. Every so often I check to see if any keywords have ended up there. If so I find the images that have that keyword and add the keyword I intended to them. I then delete the keyword under ZZZ.

Wow – this is hard to explain. I know why writing books about software is difficult.

Does this make sense at all? I think this is an important area that isn’t well covered in existing work. Please give me some comments.

3 Responses to “Lightroom Keywording (Part 1 of many)”

  1. Nathan Chapman Says:

    I’ve been organising my photographs like this, when it comes to the keywords:



    And so on and so forth. I don’t generally go any lower than “Bird” or “Mammal” (that is, second level keywording), however with “Places” I needed to split it into countries then states.

    For dates, I use my windows folder hierarchy and then implement that with Lightroom’s categories.

    There are flaws with my method… and this method is quite interesting.

    By the way, I completely agree with Lightroom automatically adding keywords for a misspelling or similar offence.

    The other thing I’d like to see is some sort of drop-box based method of keywording. Hmm… sounds overly complicated, perhaps?


  2. bkkphotographer Says:


    I think we have both converged on a similar keywording scheme.

    I liked ACDSee because it had Calendar Views that enabled the user to see all photos taken on a given date or range. But it seemed to be buggy which was one of the reasons I gave up on it. The software would hang “Updating Calendar…” or claim there were no photos taken on a particular date when there clearly were. Lightoom has a more robust database so it works a lot better.

    The major issue I see with keywording is that it is just a list of values. Maybe in a hierarchy but typeless values nonetheless. Many times we really need name-value pairs. That’s why people came up with schemes like ‘aerotagging’ – aero:man=Boeing, aero:model=747 etc.

    This is more meaningful than merely tagging a photo ‘747’ What does that mean? It could be a type of aircraft or it could be a bus on route 747 (Heathrow to Gatwick Airport in London) for example.

    I want to write more on this and learn from others too.

  3. Lightroom Keywording Bug « Bkkphotographer's Blog Says:

    […] I could circumvent the problem if Lightroom had an option to prevent users from adding new keywords in the Keywording panel. I suggested that weeks ago here. […]

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