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Posted by Gerard Murphy – August 15, 2013 browse all

Using Lightroom Custom Keyword Sets to Quickly Tag Your Family Photos

Guest Post by David Marx

Keywords are one of the cornerstones of an efficient, searchable image organization system. Keywords make searching through a large volume of images using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom fast and easy. While everybody loves what Keywords can do for us, most photographers dread the data- entry time required to add this kind of searchable text into each and every image.

The cause for this stress is often because many Photoshop Lightroom users lack an efficient keywording strategy. Without a good strategy, we either add far too much or we grow lazy and begin to skip over this crucial part of the digital photography workflow. For those selling images in stock or doing documentary photography projects, adding dozens of keywords to each image is important, but for most Lightroom users two or three keywords is probably sufficient.

If we use this “bare bones” approach, then we must carefully choose our terms. To pick the right keywords ask yourself, “What will I remember the most about these images five years from now?” In other words, what broad category of photography describes these images? What is the most specific detail about an image that you are likely to remember years from now?

Thus, my advice is to add at least one broad categorical keyword onto each and every image that you add to your Lightroom Catalog. For categories, I suggest words like “landscape,” “portrait,” “architecture,” or “family.” If an image spans the lines between categories, then by all means add more than one broad categorical keyword tag. Using Adobe Photoshop Lightroom’s Text Search Tool in the Library Module Grid View, I can tell the program to find all my photos that I tagged with the keyword “family” in seconds.

However, adding only the broad categorical keyword “family” is too vague when I want to find pictures of one particular family member. To find images of just my sister, I need to search specifically for the files that contain her name. This brings us to the other part of my keywording strategy. When adding our bare bones keywords, we need to add something very broad–the category–and also add something very specific, such as my sister’s full legal name.

If I am going to search specifically for images of my sister five years from now, then I need to make sure that I use her name as a keyword on each and every image where she appears. So far this sounds easy enough. The trouble is that typing be very time- consuming. To really speed things up here, nothing beats a custom Keyword Set. With a custom Keyword Set, adding family member’s names is incredibly efficient and push button easy. Watch this video to see what a custom Keyword Set can do for you when you are indexing photos of those that matter most to us.


Using a Custom Keyword Set to Quickly Tag Your Family Photos

Using A Custom Keyword Set For Family Photos in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom from David Marx on Vimeo.

Building a custom Keyword Set for the members of your family is a great start. Once you have saved your custom set, all you need to do is to click the appropriate buttons! Keywording a family photo is literally click, click, click easy!

Things get even faster too once you learn the ALT + a NUMBER trick. Combine the ALT trick with block selection skills and you can fly through thousands of family photos in no time!

Now I need to let you in on one more Lightroom secret. You can only have nine words in a custom Keyword Set. Nine words is the limit because there are only nine numbers, not counting zero, on the ten-key number pad. So while you can only have nine words per set, you can have an unlimited number of Keyword Sets. If you have a large family, break things down into smaller groupings. Make yourself an Immediate Family Set, a Nieces and Nephews Set, a Grandkids set, etc.

If you are clever and you remember Lightroom’s obsession with alphabetizing, you can easily line your family Keyword Sets up so that they follow a logical order by putting numbers in front of the Keyword Set’s name. If you add the numbers 00, 01, 02, etc. in front of your custom sets, then they will line up in a logical order so that the first group is your closest kin folks and the last group are your more distant relatives.

The last trick here is that you can switch from one custom Keyword Set to another without taking your hands off the keyboard! ALT + 0(the zero key) moves you from one keyword set to the next in alphabetical order. ALT + SHIFT + 0 moves you from set to set in reverse alphabetical order. It’s so slick and so easy if you take the time to build the sets before you leap into keywording a thousand family photos.

Before you get carried away, please let me caution you about creating too many sets. Experience has taught me that building custom Keyword Sets for words that I will not use again and again is a waste of time. Lightroom’s Recent Keywords feature, the Painter Tool, and the Smart Typing feature are fine for keywords that you only use occasionally. Save the custom Keyword Sets feature for those that really matter.

Using a Custom Keyword Set to Quickly Tag Your Family Photos

Additional Resources:

David Marx is a digital photography instructor who teaches field photography workshops and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom seminars all over the country. You can find out more about his classes, his Lightroom articles, and video tutorials at

Follow David on Google Plus

Gerard Murphy

Gerard Murphy is an entrepreneurial do-er who is the CEO / Co-Founder of Mosaic. He is also a decent guy who loves his family, taking photos and startup culture. Loves promoting Mosaic to the world. Gerard has written several articles on entrepreneurship, marketing and photography that have appeared in publications including Forbes, LinkedIn and Photofocus.

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  • Shane Baker

    Brilliant post. Many thanks.

    • David Marx

      Thanks Shane Baker. Glad you found it useful

  • Peter Howard

    Fantastic, always try to keyword but that is much quicker.

  • umijin

    Well… Not necessarily easier.

    When you click in the keyword box, and start typing – it will make suggestions before you complete the word or name. Hit return, and start typing the next keyword. So you don’t have to type all of a keyword.

    Also, when you enter a keyword like this, the next time you want to enter than same keyword, that suggestion pops up first – so you often only have to type one letter to get it during the same session.

    And you can use command+arrow to move to the next photo, and keep the keyword field active. That’s time saving as I keep my fingers on the keyboard, instead of mousing around.

    • MosaicArchive

      Good tip as long as you are only keywording the photos. Although I try to do one thing at a time (rate, keyword then develop), I often switch around between modules. Thank you for the comment and for reading!

  • Pierre

    Thanks for the great tip. Definitely will be saving me tons of time. Incidentally, it was your blog tips/articles that lead me to mosaicarchive. I just registered to evaluate it for my needs.

    • MosaicArchive

      Awesome! Thanks for checking out Mosaic! Hope you enjoy!

  • Norm

    One problem with this is that it is very time consuming. If Lightroom had facial recognition then it would eventually associate all of the faces with the names including the the folks with the last name of Marx. You could teach it that these folks are family members if you wish. Best of all, Lightroom would then be able to self populate the appropriate EXIF, XMP and IPTC fields. Location and other pertinent information can by populated during the import process. For heaven sakes, there shouldn’t be any reason to ever have to do any of this manually!

  • cyclephotos

    Is it just me, or the Alt+shift+0 doesn’t reverse the order of the keyword sets?

  • Jan G. Laursen

    Thank you a lot!