Creative Ways to use Keywords in Lightroom 5

One of the things about any software, such as Lightroom 5 that does a lot of things, is that many photographers tend to use only a small number of the available features. For example, I’ve never bothered to use the keywords feature much in Lightroom. I’ve always seen it as a waste of time. It takes time to add keywords to images and I don’t really need keywords to search for images – I know where to find them already.

But since I started writing about Lightroom, and reading what other photographers have written about it, I’ve realised that there are a lot of good reasons to use keywords, and that used wisely they can actually save time.

Like many things, it’s a matter of balance. The more keywords you use the harder it is to keep track of them all and the reasons that you added them, and to maintain a consistent approach (exception: if you shoot stock you will want to use lots of keywords as they are an essential part of your work).

If you use just a few keywords, it’s easy to remember which ones you use and why.

Let’s look at a couple of examples of creative ways to use keywords in Lightroom 5. Of course, if you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments. I’m curious to see how you use keywords.

Keep track of the kids

I really like this one (thanks to Robert Taylor for the suggestion, he left in the comments on Using Lightroom Collections to Improve your Workflow). If you have children, add their name as a keyword when you import the images that you take of them. Then you can create a series of Smart Collections that searches for images with that keyword and organises them by year.

Create a yearbook

Back before digital photography became the norm, a photographer’s best work ended up as prints or as slides. Today, the finished article is often a digital image stored on a hard drive or uploaded to a website. One of my current projects is organising my best images from every year since I’ve owned a digital camera, and picking the best to create a yearbook. The ultimate aim is to use Blurb to create a book creating my favourite photos taken each year, over the last eight years, and to carry this forward throughout my life. Not just for me, but for posterity. These books will hopefully make great gifts for younger family members.

Method: add the keyword “yearbook” to suitable images, then create Collections to house those images.

Taking it further: This could be applied to all sorts of ideas. For example, I could use it to create a book (or simply a collection) of my favourite images taken here in New Zealand. All I need to do is add the keywords “New Zealand” and “book” to candidate images, then perform a search.

Using keywords

Excited? I hope so, because the more you delve into Lightroom’s Library module ,the more you’ll find ways to simplify how you organise your images. Keywords are no exception. Now let’s look at the different ways you can actually apply keywords to your images in Lightroom. There are several options:

Adding keywords when you import images

This method works well if you tend to import images in groups, according to subject matter. For example, if you take some portraits one day, some landscapes the next, and import them all in one go you can’t really add subject specific keywords. But if you import the images from both shoots separately you can add keywords at the import stage (for example, the name of the model to the portraits, and the name of the location to the landscapes). You can do this in the Apply During Import panel on the right-hand side of the Import window.

Use the painter tool

The Painter tool is an easy way to add keywords to images while you are in Grid View. Click on the Painter icon in the Toolbar (it looks like a spray paint can – press the ‘T’ key to reveal the Toolbar if you don’t see it) and select ‘Keywords’ from the drop-down menu. Type in the keywords you want to add (in the box just to the right). Now all you have to do is click on a photo thumbnail to add those keywords to that image. It’s a very fast way of working in Grid View.

Use the Keywording panel

The Keywording panel is located in the right-hand panel in the Library module. To add keywords, select the image (or a group of images) and type the new keywords into where it says ‘Click here to add keywords’. Any keywords already given to the image are displayed above. You can also add keywords by clicking on any that appear under Keyword Suggestions (populated by keywords you have used in the past).

Use Keyword Sets

Keyword Sets are found at the bottom of the Keywording panel. They are there to help you organise your keywords, and overcome the problem caused by the fact that it becomes more difficult to maintain consistency the more you use keywords.

For example, I live in a suburb of Wellington called Island Bay. If I take photos here then I should keyword them with “Island Bay”. But what if one day I use the keyword “Wellington” instead? Or even forget to keyword them completely? Then the power of keywording is diminished, because those photos won’t be picked up in any search based on the keywords “Island Bay”.

The solution is to use a Keyword Set. For instance, I could create a Keyword Set called Island Bay, and add Keywords such as Island Bay, Wellington, New Zealand, landscape, portrait. Then, when it comes to adding keywords, I can select the Island Bay keyword set first, then click on the appropriate additional keywords. This ensures consistency by ensuring that I select my keywords from a pre-determined pool.

There are several Keyword Sets included with Lightroom, with titles such as Outdoor Photography, Portrait Photography and Wedding Photography. You can access them via the drop-down menu at the top of the Keyword Set section of the Keywording panel. This menu also gives you the options to create your own Keyword Sets.

Keyword List

The Keyword List panel lists all the keywords that you have applied to images in your Lightroom Catalog. If you want to see all the photos tagged with a specific keyword together, hover over the keyword and click on the white arrow that appears on the right-hand side. Lightroom brings them together in Grid View. This is one way of searching images by keyword.

Finding keyworded images

The easiest way to find keyworded images is to go the Filter Bar (press the ‘\’ key if you don’t see it) in Grid View and click on the Metadata label. Select “Keyword” from the drop-down menu in the first column. Lightroom displays a list of keywords underneath. Click on a keyword – Lightroom gathers all images tagged with that keyword together. You can limit the search to specific Folders or Collections by selecting them in the left-hand panels (or select “All Photographs” to search your entire catalog).

Using Smart Collections

Finally, you can use Smart Collections to gather together images tagged with specific keywords automatically. Go to the Collections panel, click on the ‘+’ icon in the top-right corner and select the Create Smart Collection option. Set Match to All, select ‘Other Metadata > Keywords’ from the drop-down menu in the first column and then type the required keyword in the blank space provided. The example shows a very simple Smart Collection, you can make it as complex as you like by adding extra rules (remember to give your Smart Collection a name, in the example above “Andes” would be applicable).