Tagging Photos with Keywords
Taking and storing photographs is easy. I use Aperture, other folks may use Lightroom or some other digital asset manager. The trick is to find the images you want after you've stored hundreds of gigabytes. There's a plethora of metadata available when you import your images, but I've found that the method that works for me is to immediately start tagging images with Keywords. As an example, I've uploaded my keyword hierarchy below:
I exported this list from Aperture 3. I'm not sure if this structure will import into Lightroom or not, but at least it's easy to view in a text editor if you're curious about my method.
Getting your keywords managed in Aperture is a pain. If you don't put some thought into structure as you first begin using keywords, you'll just end up with a bunch of random words. That was my beginning and keywords really weren't much benefit to me in that scenario. Fortunately, I came across an article in Photoshop User magazine about a keyword hierarchy that made sense to me. I've modified it a bit, but it starts with six top level keywords. Everything else goes under one of those six keywords and branches downward.
- Business – Categories of business types and specific names underneath the category
- Description -Information that describes the photo or subject
- Event – Describes the type of event where I shot the photos (e.g., Workshop, Concert, Fashion)
- People – Names of my subjects under categories (e.g., Celebrity, Model, Musician)
- Place – Hierarchy describing where I shot the images
- Subject – Descriptions of elements in the photo
Nothing is perfect, but this process works for me. As soon as I upload my photos, I start adding keywords from the top down. If I did a shoot at a Hooter's Swimsuit Competition, I'll add the Keyword “Hooters” from under the Business section.
Under Description, I keep categories for things like:
- Development process (e.g., which filters used, type of finishing process)
- Lighting Information
- Time of Day
- Number of people
- Physical descriptions
- Setting (e.g., Urban, Rustic, Domestic, Table Top)
Skipping down to Place, I from the Continent level to Nation, Region/State, City, and then specific sites within the city. In some cases, I end up with a bit of duplication in keywords. For example, I may have a path that leads to Las Vegas > Mandalay Bay > House of Blues. Both Mandalay Bay and House of Blues are businesses that could exist under the Business hierarchy, but I've added them at this level because it works for me. When it comes time to search by keyword, it doesn't really matter which level I used to get there. I can still find the shots I took at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay.
In some cases, I may duplicate information that's imported with the image. For example, the Camera and Lens information shows up in other metadata in Aperture. However, that wasn't always the case. I have some images where those fields are empty. Also, those fields don't survive to the versions I edit in Photoshop or some other external tool, but the keywords always transfer over to the new version. I duplicate that information so I can have a consistent experience when I'm searching for images. I don't just want to find some of the shots I took with my D700 and 27-70mm lens in Las Vegas – I want to find them all. My keyword strategy helps me ensure that the system works.
Using keywords is a discipline. It works best for me to tag my images right after I import them. If I start getting into processing the images without keywords, I may not go back and tag them, which means I can't find them in searches or include those images in smart albums. That's me. Perhaps you can edit your images and then tag them, but don't blame me if you forget.