Updated: October 22, 2018 | Contains affiliate links

How to add image keywords with Adobe Lightroom

words on blackboardI have been looking for a long time for some software that would allow me to manage keywords in an efficient manner. What do I mean by efficient? It’s pretty simple: all I want is the ability to group my keywords into categories or domains. For example: I want car, boat, ship, carriage, bus and bicycle to all be grouped into a domain called transportation. This seems simple, but I can’t really find any decently priced :) software to do that. Now, I was suspecting that Adobe Lightroom might do what I wanted but the price was way too much for me! Eventually I decided to give Lightroom a try and found out why people like it.

So, what was I trying to accomplish ?

Well, I decided to apply keywords to a bunch of folders containing pictures from my 2007 trip to Europe…then I got so excited that I started adding keywords to some pictures from my California trips. In total, I added image keywords to 700 pictures as my first exercise. As I have written before, I like to think about my keywords before creating new ones. Otherwise, I know I’ll be creating a bunch of duplicate keywords. My method involves creating categories of keywords first and then assigning individual keywords to these categories. Would Adobe Lightroom be up to the task? I just wanted to make sure it’s a great tool for organization. Who knows, maybe someday when I make a lot of money from my blogs I would be able to afford it :)

Learn how to manage your image tags with Adobe Lightroom
words on blackboard

This article will describe only the management of keywords using Adobe Lightroom. I will not get into editing photos and other meta data for your pictures.

Let’s add image keywords with Lightroom

Adding keywords to lots of pictures will take a long time. So, you’ve got to be sure that you’re going in the right direction so you don’t have to undo what you have done wrong. First, let’s create some categories for the places I have visited. So I created one category called europe. In this category I created one for each country belgium, france, switzerland and netherlands. Then for each country I have added one keyword for each city. This was a no brainer…just simple! Then I started to assign these keywords based on the folders I had. The good thing was that my folder names were very descriptive and it was easy to apply the location tags. Adobe Lightroom is pretty cool when it comes to bulk tagging of images…you can select all the pictures in a directory, then right-click on the keyword you want to assign and choose “Assign keyword to selected images”…pretty simple…so it’s cool!

Imagine how you will be searching

construction-keywords Now let’s go to my first folder again, with pictures from Bruges, Belgium. I’m just looking at the pictures in the thumbnail display…really nice city to visit…I wish I could go there right now. Oh well, gotta stop daydreaming! However, I need to start imagining what would I want to be searching for in the future. This is how I find my keywords. These pictures contain towers, churches, water canals, a really cool city hall building, horse carriages and bicycles. All these words are candidates for keywords. You can actually see my pictures from Bruges, Belgium…if you care. Hmmm…so, I created two categories transportation and constructions. Then I created keywords for the things I noticed in the pictures and I added them inside their respective category.

The one rule that helps you NOT create duplicate keywords

The key rule that I was trying to use consistently was NOT to add a new keyword that was NOT part of a category. This is the easiest way to create duplicate keywords. For example: I noticed that some pictures were taken at sunset and some at night and I thought that it would be cool later on to find all my sunset pictures. So, instead of creating keywords for sunset and night by themselves, I created a category called time of day and I created the sunset and night keywords inside this category.

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What’s the big deal about this rule?

Well…it’s simple! It’s a lot easier to spot duplicate keywords in a category (or domain) than it is to spot them if they are all listed one after the other. There are simply fewer keywords in a category than if all of them would be listed all together. If you want to read more about why a rule like this is helpful, read “Creating precise keywords for your pictures”.


As I got to the California pictures, I created more categories of keywords. For example I created: nature for the different nature attractions like: beach, mountain, lake. I have also added one called amusement parks. This was obviously for Disneyland, California Adventure and the rest of the thousand amusement parks in Southern California. After a while, I noticed that I was NOT adding that many keywords because I would be finding them in the already defined keywords…which was a pretty cool feeling!

Did I like Adobe Lightroom?

I actually did what I wanted to do and…I liked the software too! Of course I did…it costs quite a bit…it better deliver! One really cool thing about Lightroom is that it saves all the keywords into the IPTC fields that are embedded into each image file. This way, all my effort will not be wasted even if I’m will not be using Lightroom. Any program that can read the IPTC fields, will pick up all my keywords. This is the advantage of using open standards!

Essentials for organizing your digital photos

Here are the essential products and services I have come to rely on for many years to keep my media collection organized and safe. Even though these are affiliate links, I wholeheartedly recommend them.

Excellent Lightroom alternative. If you need a cheaper and simpler photo manager then ACDSee Photo Studio for Mac or ACDSee Photo Studio Professional for Windows is my preferred solution for organizing all my media. It has a very fast browser, great image editing and it's simple to use.

If you do a lot of image editing like I do, I recommend using Adobe Lightroom Classic CC via the annual Adobe Creative Cloud subscription. Lightroom has best photo editing capabilities even though it has a steeper learning curve. Adobe Lightroom is my favorite for image editing.

I recommend Backblaze Personal Cloud Backup for affordable & reliable unlimited cloud backup. I have been using Backblaze for backing up all pictures & videos for more than 5 years now. All my invaluable digital memories are safe and secure. This is the best solution especially if you have a large quantity of media files.

Use a reliable & affordable external hard drive for backing up everything on your computer. It is absolutely essential for keeping all your memories backed up and safe.

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