The Smart Way to Use Keywords in Lightroom

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Adding keywords in Lightroom is a smart way to organize your photos. While most Lightroom trainers emphasize using Collections, I find that searches with Keywords are far more effective and easier to use.

Why Are Keywords in Lightroom Better than Collections?

Someone needed to say it.

If you aren’t familiar with either Keyword or Collections, let me explain the concepts in very simple terms.

1: Collections Are Like Buckets

Think of a Lightroom Collection like a bucket. It only has what you put in it – manually. There’s no intelligence involved. You give the bucket a name and it just sits there and waits for you to put stuff in it.

You can drag photos into Collections and they sit there like leaves in a bucket. You can look at the photos in your buckets every once in a while.

The most clever part about Collections is that you can put the same photo in more than a single bucket.

Let’s say that you take a photo of someone in your family. That could go into two Collections. One for Family and one for Portraits.

The problem with these buckets is that you start getting too many items. What happens if you take a photo of someone in your family while traveling? Well, it may go into Family, Portraits, Travel, and perhaps a bucket for photos you took in your destination.

Worse, imagine it was a holiday!

Now you need a bucket for photos you took on New Year’s Eve!

You can see how this could get out of hand. You end up with buckets all over the place. You want to find a photo in Lightroom, but first, you must traverse a long list of Collections.

You can then create Collection Sets, which hold other Collections. Now you have buckets filled with more buckets!

It gets worse. Have you ever looked for something that you knew was in a particular storage place, but you never put it in that spot in the first place?

That’s what Collections do for you. It’s a place for your stuff, but it’s up to you to manage it and ensure you put it in the right place. That’s even if you created a new bucket later that may be related t your photo, but you never returned to put it in the new bucket.

2: Keywords Are How You Use Search Engines

When you want to find information in the modern age, you use a search engine like Google. Even other programs and websites have search engines.

You type in the words that relate to the information you want to find, and then the search engine gives you possibilities that it thinks could be the results you want.

For the most part, this works very well. Most people visit this website because they found an article in a search engine.

They never thought of looking in buckets to get their results.

Here’s the thing.

It’s up to you to put Keywords in Lightroom when you import your photos. It’s not that hard, and Lightroom makes it very easy for you. Adobe even provides several keyboard shortcut for Lightroom to speed up your process.

Let’s say I took a trip to West Virginia. I may use Keywords like “West Virginia” and “Mountains” to describe what I see in those photos. As luck would have it, you can add even more information.

If this was a holiday trip, I might use “Christmas” or “Holidays” as Keywords. You often need multiple keywords to describe your photos.

Now I can go to Lightroom and search for “Holidays” and see all of my photos taken on a holiday, whether it was Christmas or Independence Day.

After a while, Lightroom makes it easy because it sees relationships in how you add Keywords. When you enter a Keyword, it will start recommending keyword suggestions based on Keywords you’ve used together.

So it gets to the point that you don’t have to type all keywords for a photo. You enter one, and then you start clicking to add related Keywords.

If a bunch of those photos ought to have the same Keywords, you can copy them from one photo and paste them on the rest.

3: Using Keywords with Smart Collections

This is where things get powerful. A Smart Collection is nothing more than a saved search. You can combine Keywords and other types of metadata into your search. For example, you could have a Smart Collection that uses the Keyword “Portrait” and the Lens “Nikon 70-200m” stored in the metadata.

As you take more photos with that lens and add keyword tags using the Keyword “Portrait”, they automatically appear in the Smart Collection.

All you have to remember is to add the Keywords to the photo.

How to Use Keywords in Lightroom

This is part of the post (linked below) that I wrote about using Keywords to avoid creating Collections.

When you’re taking photos, you’re taking photos of someone, someplace, or something.

If you have a subject that isn’t a person, place or thing, please let me know.

I use a system that’s been around for thousands of years.

Everything collapses under these top-level headers, as you can see in this screenshot of my Keyword List panel.

Keywords in Lightroom Classic
  • Who – If my subject is a person, the name goes under this part of the keyword hierarchy
  • What – If my subject is a thing, the related keywords go here
  • When – Why bother creating a keyword when Lightroom reads the data information from your camera?
  • Where – If my subject has a location, I add a keyword here
  • How – Technical details for lighting, cameras, post-processing or anything else used to get the image go in this keyword level
  • Why – Did I shoot for a client? I don’t want to list them under Who, as that’s for subjects. This category tells me if I did a shoot for myself, a restaurant, etc.
  • Reference – It’s a catch-all for other information. I put my Copyright Registration codes in here as keywords, as well as anything else descriptive that doesn’t fit above

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