Create and Organize a Smart Keyword Hierarchy in Lightroom

Let’s tackle the most powerful feature for staying organized in lightroom: keyword hierarchies. When you have a solid keywording system, you can instantly pull up the exact images you’re looking for…which can save you hours of hunting around your catalog. And the time saved here will grow exponentially.

Here’s what we’ll discuss in the following lesson:

  • Creating a keyword hierarchy that matches how YOU think, so you can more easily search and segment your images.
  • How to be strategic when choosing your keywords, rather than randomly applying every conceivable keyword you can think of.
  • How to create, organize, and manage your hierarchies so you can easily add these new keywords to your existing images.
  • Organizing your existing keywords by consolidating and removing redundant ones, and moving them into your new hierarchies.
  • Staying organized moving forward by knowing how to best apply these keywords to your newly imported images, as well as how to nest new keywords into your hierarchies.

How to Create a Keyword System That Suits You Best

2:01Creating Your Keyword Hierarchies
4:21Adding the Entire Hierarchy With a Single Keyword
5:13Flat Keywords vs. Containing Keywords
7:20You Can Always Alter Your Keyword Hierarchy
9:16Keyword Hierarchies Help to Remember Keywords and Stay Consistent
12:05Adding a Master Keyword for All Hierarchies
13:30The “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” Keyword Hierarchies
16:21Cross-Referencing Keyword Hierarchies for More Powerful Searches

More Ideas for Creating Helpful Keyword Hierarchies

0:00Use Polarizing Keyword Hierarchies
0:41Pluralize Keywords
1:16Hierarchies for Organization
2:13Use Hierarchies That Are Not Available With the Library Filter

How to Apply a New Keyword Hierarchy to Images in Lightroom

0:34Using Smart Collections to Gather/Segment Images For Keywording
2:49Smart Collections Will Be Updated With New Images
5:21Library Filters vs. Smart Collections For Segmenting
6:16Adding the Keywords to Images
7:38Quickly Adding Multiple Keywords to the Keyword List
9:39Adding a Keyword From One Image to Multiple
11:06Keyword Shortcuts
12:40Adding Keyword With the Painter Tool
13:36Adding Keywords in Bulk
14:04Check Your Library Filters Before Changing the Source

How to Clean Up Your Existing Keywords in Lightroom

0:00Adding a New Keyword to All Images Tagged With Another Keyword
0:46Merging Two Keywords Into One
1:58Deleting a Keyword From the Catalog
3:40Managing Keywords Not Assigned to Any Image
4:09Reviewing Images With No Keywords

How to Keep Your Keywords Organized in Lightroom

0:00Add Keywords After Rating and Culling, Before Collections
0:45Keywords at Import
1:21Smart Collections to Gather Images Not Keyworded Yet
3:06Final Tips


ASSIGNMENT: Create and Organize a New Keyword Hierarchy

1. Plan out your keyword hierarchies.

Keyword hierarchies should reflect how you think of your images, rather than following a system created for someone else. Browse through your library and start writing down qualities that you would most often search for.

Here are some ideas for creating a hierarchy:

  • Start with the “Who, What, When, Where, and Why” system and create at least one hierarchy for each one. For example: “Who” hierarchies could be “Friends and Family” and “Clients”.
  • Avoid creating keyword hierarchies for metadata or any other quality that you can use library filters for.
  • When creating a single hierarchy, start big and broad, then work your way down to more specific keywords. For example: a containing keyword could be “trees”, which would contain nested keywords such as “oak” and “maple”.
  • Pluralize your keywords to remain consistent.
  • Keyword hierarchies are not just for describing the content of your images. For example: you can use them to mark images that have been sent off to a publisher, or need to be printed.
  • Don’t get overwhelmed. You can add and alter hierarchies as you go along, so just start with one or two for now.

2. Add your keyword hierarchies to the keyword list and organize your existing keywords.

Now that you’ve put pen to paper and mapped out a few hierarchies, add them to your keyword list.

To quickly add multiple keywords to your list:

  • Select any image in your library, and open up the Keyword Tag Box (at the top of the Keywording panel).
  • Set it to “Enter Keywords” from the drop-down menu.
  • Add your entire hierarchy directly into the tag box, using a comma to separate keyword phrases.
  • When finished, click off the box to confirm the keyword entry and check to make sure they were added to the keyword list.
  • Click on the keyword tag box again and remove all of the keywords from the image.

This “shortcut” is the fastest way to add keywords to the keyword list, as opposed to adding them one-by-one via the keyword list itself.

Now that the keywords are in the list, you can rearrange them into a hierarchy.

  • Click and drag a flat keyword and drop it into another keyword to create a containing keyword (thus starting your hierarchy).
  • You can select multiple keywords at once to add to a containing keyword.
  • Containing keywords can be nested in multiple levels, so consider creating a “master” containing keyword for each hierarchy so you can easily expand/collapse a long list of keywords.
  • A semi-transparent triangle next to a keyword indicates that it is a flat keyword, while a solid triangle indicates that it is a containing keyword.

Once you’ve established a new hierarchy, you can then clean up your existing keywords.

  • To merge two keywords into one:
    • Find the “bad” keyword (the one you wish to get rid of) in the keyword list and click the arrow to the right of it (the library filter shortcut). This will bring up all tagged images in your grid view.
    • Select all the images in the grid, and put a checkmark next to the “good” keyword (the one you wish to keep) in the keyword list to add it to all of the selected images.
    • Right-click on the “bad” keyword and select Delete, or press the minus button in the top-left corner of the keyword list panel. If you want to keep the keyword in your catalog but just remove it from the selected images, you can instead uncheck it in the keyword list.

To remove one or more keywords from the list:

  • Right-click on the keyword in the list, and press Delete.
  • Press the minus button in the top-left corner of the keyword list panel.
  • Move keywords you wish to delete into a containing keyword…and when finished, delete the containing keyword to remove all nested keywords.

To edit an existing keyword:

  • Right-click on a keyword in the keyword list and select “Edit Keyword Tag”.
  • Change the keyword phrase and press Save.

3. Apply the new keyword hierarchy to your existing images.

To apply existing keywords to your selected images:

  • Make sure you are in grid view, and select your images. Use the library filter, sorting, and choosing your sources to help target the images you wish to add keyword(s) to.
  • Press CMD + K to jump to the keyword tag box in the Keywording panel. This editable box shows you a list of currently applied keywords.
  • Type your keyword and press Enter to apply, or comma to add another keyword phrase (when manually entering keywords as a string, Lightroom considers the comma to be the end of a keyword phrase).

2 thoughts on “Create and Organize a Smart Keyword Hierarchy in Lightroom”

  1. I appreciate so much how thorough you are when describing what to do. I’ve been using LR for years and am sorry to say I never set up a hierarchy, never even knew about it or how helpful it would be. Thank you so much for these lessons! You are a great teacher!

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