Add lots of keywords to Lightroom quickly

I discovered a quick and dirty keywording method in Lightroom that has improved my workflow a great deal. Keywording photos makes it easier to find them later in Lightroom and better yet, if you are sharing your photos on Flickr, it will make your photos infinitely more findable for anyone who is searching.

Easy Tagging

I started using Lightroom because of the thoughtful, fast workflow it offered. Keywording in Lightroom is both quick and robust and the metadata I added was exported to Flickr as tags (thanks to Jeffrey Friedl’s wonderful Export to Flickr Tool).

Prior to Lightroom, I used iPhoto to organize my photos which has keyword support that was designed for people needing only a handful of keywords (if any).

iPhoto-Keywords.png

iPhoto Keywords

I always expected more from iPhoto, but I imagine, for most people, tagging is a secondary feature. 1

Why Not Just Use Lightroom’s Existing Keyword Method?

Lightroom’s keyword tool is great if you’re just typing in a few new keywords, but if you have many keywords to enter (with Parent categories and synonyms), it gets a little tedious. Lightroom requires you to switch back and forth from the mouse to keyboard a lot, which can really slow you down.

Second, if you already have a keyword data source that is a long list, you can’t just copy and paste that into Lightroom.

Finally, once you import keywords, it’s easier to keyword photos inside Lightroom through auto-completion (if you type them in) or dragging and dropping onto the keyword.

Getting Started: Export Your Keywords

If you’ve already been keywording your photos in Lightroom, you can get an idea of what your existing keyword data looks like by selecting Metadata > Export Keywords… The resulting file is a tab delimited text file that can be viewed in any text editor (TextEdit, TextMate, etc).

The keywords are structured something like this:

[Folder]
	Keyword
		{synonym, synonym, etc}

Creating a Text File to Import

I have a massive amount of keyword data in Lightroom and I’m constantly adding to it. On occasion, I know what keywords I’m going to add before a photo shoot.

Shortly before the last Ignite Seattle event, Brady had posted the schedule on the Ignite site, including speaker names, their Twitter IDs and the topic of their talk. This made for an easy copy and paste into Excel.

After a little data massaging, I saved the file as a .txt file that was tab separated and ready for Lightroom. It looked something like this:

[People]	
	Hillel Cooperman 
		{@hillel}
	Dawn Rutherford
		{dawnoftheread} 
	Shelly Farnham 
		{@ShellyShelly}
	Dominic Muren 
		{@dmuren}
	Jen Zug 
		{@jenzug}
...

Import Your New Keywords

Lightroom_Metadata_menu.pngNow, before you start importing keywords into Lightroom, I’d suggest that you first set up a new catalog to see what the results from the import will look like.

If you import a lot of new keywords and they aren’t structured properly, you might muck up your existing Keyword List. While you can “Purge Unused Keywords,” this might remove other keywords that you actually wanted.

Create a new catalog, by selecting File > New Catalog.

Select Metadata > Import Keywords and you are on your way.

Keyword entry

Lightroom_Keywords_entry.png
If you do type your keywords, type in the little keyword box, not the big one. If you enter keywords into the big keyword box, they don’t auto-complete whereas they do auto-complete in the little box.

That’s it.

Hopefully, this will help you as much as it has helped me. Having good keywords will help you find and organize your photos much more than without them.

Caveat – Don’t Move/Change Keywords

Sadly, what I really wanted to do was restructure my keywords without breaking my existing keyword set, but this is not possible with the current Import/Export tools. If you want to move a keyword into a category, you must use the Lightroom interface to do so.

For example, if you have a category “People” and a keyword “Randy Stewart” at the top level of your keyword hierarchy, you can’t move “Randy Stewart” under “People” in the text file.

Lightroom stores keywords as explicit paths. For example, you can have both

[People]
	Randy Stewart
Randy Stewart

which I think is a total pain. You can have the same keyword on multiple levels. Some folks think this is a feature, personally, I think that it is a bug.

It would be fantastic to edit this file manually although, I suppose if keywords didn’t work this way, they would have to store keywords in a database rather than a flat file.


  1. The inclusion of facial recognition changes this substantially, but so far this hasn’t translated into more robust keywording, but it makes it much easier for keywording people.

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