It is funny how some of the best features of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom get a ton of publicity while others are generally ignored. I did a search online recently for tutorials on one of my favorite Lightroom features and I did not find a single solid video tutorial on the beauty of keyword sets. I see this in my classes too, I rarely get questions on building keyword sets which I find ironic since they are one of the most useful time-saving features in the whole program.
Most Lightroom users already know that adding metadata adds value to your photographs and that keywords are one of the cornerstones of an efficient searchable image organization system. Not to toot my own horn, but I can find any image in my catalog, any image out of the twenty-five thousand on my hard drive, in milliseconds thanks to keywords.
Everybody loves what keywords do, but most folks dread the data-entry time required to add them into each and every image. I think that most Lightroom users dread the data-entry time required to keyword their images for two reasons; a, because they lack an efficient keywording strategy and b, because they are unaware of the huge speed-boost that is hidden inside of the keyword sets feature.
Ready to see what keyword sets do?
Now, would you like some advice on an effective keywording strategy?
I believe that every image needs at least two keywords. The more words we add the better but at a minimum we must have two. In my system, every image needs at least one keyword that places it into a broad category and at least one keyword that is a specific descriptive term.
If I could talk to you before you start using Lightroom, I would urge you to take out a piece of scrap paper and to write down a brief description of your photographic work. I would urge you to write just one simple paragraph about what you do with your camera because you can’t design an efficient strategy until you can describe your work in terms of the essential questions: who, what, why, and how do you photograph? The idea here is to come up with a short vocabulary list that describes all of your images; simple words that describe your style or specialties.
I use words like “landscape,” “portrait,” “architecture,” and “macro” for my categories. Everything that I have ever photographed fits into at least one of these broad categories. If an image crosses the lines between categories then by all means use more than one word. For pictures of people working or playing in the outdoors, both the words “portrait” and “landscape” are descriptive terms that make sense. A close-up of an animal is a “wildlife” shot but the same animal with lots of its surroundings deserves the keywords “wildlife” and “landscape.”
On my first pass, I would add just these simple categorical keywords into every image, but wait…. These broad category terms make for easy searches, but adding them to every image would be a very tedious chore if I had to type each word in over and over again. Yes, it is true that Lightroom has lots of features that speed up keywording–smart typing and the painter tool–but none of these tools are as powerful as a keyword set.
I made my life easy by building and saving my “Styles of Photography” keyword set before I attempted to add meaningful keywords to thousands of images. I suggest that you do the same. Our categories may differ, but once your “categories keyword set” is built adding any of these keywords to an image is push-button simple.
Literally, all I had to do to add these terms to thousands of photographs was to select the appropriate files and then push the right button. Lightroom did all of the typing!
Yes, clicking on one of these words / buttons in the Keywords Panel is fast but there’s another secret. Using keyword sets becomes incredibly efficient, faster even than a mouse click, once you learn the ALT + a NUMBER trick. Combo this trick with block selection skills and you can fly through thousands of images in no time!
ALT + the appropriate NUMBER = the keyboard shortcut for any keyword in the set
Remember when I said that every image needs a minimum of two keywords? Well, the “Styles of Photography” set only covers my broadest terms. The real beauty of keyword sets only becomes apparent when you build additional sets for your more detailed image specific keywords.
Think about the two terms needed to describe, and thus to instantly find, a picture of someone in your family. The broad categorical keyword would obviously be something like “portrait,” but the specific descriptor would have to be the persons name. With portraits, what could be more specific than the person’s full legal name?
In keeping with this logic, I suggest building a keyword set for the members of your family / your closest friends / all of the really specific things that you photograph repeatedly. Typing my father’s name; “Marx Alan,” or my sisters name “Marx Julia,” into the “Add Keywords Here Box” in Lightroom is a waste of time. Entering family members names by-hand is a total waste of time because; a, I will need to use them again and again and b, because they all start with the same word so the smart typing feature is of little use.
Rather than wasting time typing these words in again and again, I built a keyword set for “the members of my family.” Yes, I have thousands of family photos and each one is keyworded with the persons name, but thanks to keyword sets I only had to type the full legal name into the computer once. Again, keyword sets and the ALT + a number trick to the rescue!
Do you see the logic to this system yet? When I do a search for images with the keyword “portrait,” I’m looking for all my people pictures. On the other hand, when I do a keyword search for a person by “last name [space] first name” Lightroom will instantly show me only the images that feature this one particular person!
At this point, I need to let you in on one more secret. You can switch from one keyword set to another without taking your hands off the keyboard! Alt + 0 (the zero key) moves you from one keyword set to the next in alphabetical order. ALT + SHIFT + 0 moves you from set to set in reverse alphabetical order.
Now if you are clever, and you remember Lightroom’s obsession with alphabetizing, you could easily line your keyword sets up so that they follow a loose logical order just by putting numbers in front of the set’s name. If you add numbers to the front of the set names then the ALT + 0 trick will move you through your keyword sets in the right order!
Before you get carried away though please let me caution you about creating too many sets. My worry here is that some folks are going to waste a lot of time creating buttons for keywords that they rarely use. If it’s not a term that you use often– hundreds or thousands of times–then please don’t bother storing it in a keyword set.
The members of my family, or the varieties of skiing that I photograph everyday, are worth the time it takes to make a keyword set because I will use thse words again and again. People, even models, that I only photograph once are not. I certainly keyword people that I photograph only once with “portrait” and with the person’s full legal name; I need to know who they are both for my own sanity and for legal model release purposes, but there is no reason to make their names into keyword set buttons. Making buttons for words that you don’t use repeatedly is just wasting time.
Once you have the ground floor (the category of imagery) and the top floor (the persons name, etc.) on every image then you can go back and spend more time adding in additional keywords. Again, the more keywords the better but adding lots of words takes time so on your first pass add in only the most essential information. Thanks to keyword sets, and a little planning, this couldn’t be easier!
If you need written instructions on how to build and save keyword sets I recommend reading these posts: