Using Keywords in Lightroom is the 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.
Keywords in Lightroom are 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.
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. Every once in a while, you can look at the photos in your buckets.
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 of them. What happens if you take a photo of someone in your family while traveling? Well, then 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 have to 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 just knew was in a particular storage place, but it turns out 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 the place and make sure you put your stuff in the right place. That’s even if you created a new bucket later which may be related t your photo, but you never went back to put it in the new bucket.
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 web sites 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. The majority of people who visit this web site do so 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 actually makes it very easy for you.
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 may use “Christmas” or “Holidays” as Keywords. Maybe both.
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 the way you add Keywords. When you enter a Keyword, it will start recommending more Keywords to use, based upon Keywords you’ve used together before.
So it gets to the point that you don’t have to type all of the 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.
Using Keywords with Smart Collections
This is where things get powerful. A Smart Collection is really 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 tag them 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, some place, or some thing.
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.
- 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
Lightroom Classic Performance Hacks
I mentioned on the show that I have free guide to help you understand what slows down your Lightroom Classic CC performance and find out how to fix it.
Just visit my page for Lightroom Classic Performance Hacks to get your free copy of the guide.