In this day and age of multiple online outlets for photographers to showcase their work, the need to have a successful, coherent, and stable workflow is paramount. There are a number of programs that photographers use to catalog and organize their work, but since I only use Adobe’s Lightroom I’m only going to focus on that program. 

Part 2 – Keywords, Metadata, & Geotagging

If you missed Part 1, or would like a refresher on it, find it Here.

Table of Contents
2.1 – Keywords
2.2 – Metadata
2.3 – Geotagging
2.4 – Putting This All Together





2.1 – Keywords:

Keywords are becoming a very important part in a photographer’s workflow these days. Just visit any number of photo sharing websites and you’ll see a plethora of keywords attached to nearly every image. Why are these keywords so important you may ask, and the answer in the broadest sense is simply “Organization”. Keywords are used to group similar content, speed up searches, help identify content, and much more.

The concept and usefulness of keywords goes beyond websites. With Adobe’s Lightroom, keywords can play a valuable and extremely time saving role in helping you organize and manage your work. Within Lightroom’s library module, in the right column, are two areas that pertain to keywords: “Keywording” and “Keyword List”. The “Keywording” area is a rather simple area where you can type in or click on recently used or suggested keywords to associate those keywords with the selected photos. The “Keyword List” area is a more robust area which gives you the ability to manage your keywords in a hierarchy, as well as associate keywords with selected images via checkboxes to the left of each keyword in the list.

While simple keywording can be, and is suitable, for most workflows and situations, I’m going to cover a more detailed approach to using keywords in Lightroom that will better facilitate the needs of organizing and managing a larger collection of photos. To do this, we first want to establish some common terms when discussing keywords:

Keyword Categories – Used as a container, keyword categories help in managing and seperating out what is surely to become a long list of keywords, especially with large and varied catalogs. These are only visible in Lightroom.

Regular Keywords – These are the keywords that will be directly associated with images. These are publicly visible keywords.

Special Keywords – Used mainly as triggers for Smart Collections and Publish Services within Lightroom. These are only visible in Lightroom.

Setting up Keyword Categories is pretty easy and straight forward, just click on the “+” icon at the top of the “Keyword List” area in Lightroom. In the resulting dialoge box, enter in a logical name, and make sure the checkbox next to “Include on Export” is NOT checked. Thats basically it, however there are a few tweaks involved depending on how detailed you want your keyword categories.

Sample view of the Edit/Add Keyword Tag Dialoge box and the three important checkboxes.

As an example, here are all my keyword categories and the settings associated with them (None of these keyword categories have anything entered for synonyms):

Content – First checkbox unchecked, second and third checked.

Locations – First checkbox unchecked, second and third checked.

Models – First checkbox unchecked, second and third checked.

Setting & Theme – First checkbox unchecked, second and third checked.

Special Keywords – NO checkboxes checked.

With this setup, you’ve now laid down a foundation that is easy to understand, easy to maintain, and easy to work with. These categories should be self explanatory, but I’ll give some examples of what my categories contain, starting with “Setting & Theme”. This category is used to describe very broad properties of an image such as “landscape”, “B&W” (for monochrome images), “portrait”, “outdoor”, etc. Regular Keywords in this category can have synonyms (“Landscape” would have “landscapes” as a synonym; “outdoor” would have “outdoors” as a synonym, etc).

Next up would be “Locations”, which I use to tag the country, state, or region (ex: Yosemite, San Francisco, etc) a particular photo was taken in.

If you do travel photography, or otherwise have photos from a vast number of different locations, you can setup sub-categories here (with all 3 checkboxes checked).

The “Content” category is your meat and potatoes, which is used to tag specifics or details of what is visible in the photo. Regular Keywords like “bridge”, “waterfall”, “person”, etc will all fall into this category. The Regular Keywords in here can also have synonyms added for redundancy, just keep in mind that synonyms in Lightroom are not on a per image basis but apply to the keyword itself. Be detailed and plentiful here, especially if you are uploading your images to websites that support keywords.

I do model photography, and as such my “Models” category contains a Regular Keyword with the name of each model I’ve worked with. You can choose to hide these Regular Keywords from public view if you wish by unchecking the second checkbox for the entire category, or editing the individual Regular Keywords and unchecking the first checkbox.

Lastly are my “Special Keywords” which I will not be discussing in this article, but will be discussing in detail in a future article.

When starting out with using Keywords, you can choose to add new Regular Keywords by typing them in the “Keywording” area of Lightroom, which will create the associated Regular Keywords in the “Keyword List” area, then drag n’ drop them into the appropriate Keyword Category; or create them in the “Keyword List” area individually much in the same way you created your Keyword Categories. Either method leads to the same end result.


2.2 – Metadata:

The metadata of an image consists of two types of metadata: EXIF and IPTC. EXIF metadata usually contains information from the camera or scanner such as focal length, exposure, camera make/model, etc. The EXIF metadata plays a very small role in our workflow, but it is important to understand what it is. I won’t be going into any more detail about EXIF, so if you would like more information, a quick google search will provide you with more than enough.

IPTC metadata on the other hand, plays a large role in our workflow. IPTC can hold information varying from copyright, creator information, geolocation data, and (probably most important to me) title and caption data. All of the IPTC metadata fields are fully searchable within Lightroom, which will better serve your needs down the road in polishing and refining your workflow.

Metadata can be displayed in Lightroom on the right hand side of the “Library” module (below the Keyword List by default). You can choose which type of metadata to display via the drop down box located on the left next to the title of the area. I personally stick with the default, which displays most of the commonly used metadata. Whichever you choose to display, for the purposes of these articles, make sure you see “Title” and “Caption” displayed in the metadata.

Lastly, it is a good idea to set up a metadata preset, which you can use while importing or on already imported images. There is no limit to how many presets you have, but start with one that contains information (usually copyright and creator) that is consistent for all your images (or at least a big portion). This can save you a lot of time while importing if you have a preset that is associated with Keywords. Example: if you shoot a lot of landscapes, you may have a metadata preset that contains “landscape” in the keyword section of the preset. Any image imported using this preset will automatically have the “landscape” keyword applied to it.

The specifics of using this metadata in a workflow will be detailed in another article, but get familiar with it.


2.3 – Geotagging:

Geotagging images, while not an extremely new idea, used to involve special hardware connected to cameras; usually a GPS device and an adapter cable. These days, however, more and more cameras are being manufactured with built in geotagging capabilities. If you have such a camera, or are otherwise already geotagging your images “in camera” via the use of a geotagger device, then you are free to skip this section as all the work is done for you already.

If your camera (or accessories) does NOT have a way of automatically geotagging each image, Lightroom 4 has a handy module that will allow you to do the geotagging manually via a Google Maps type interface. Before I continue though, let me just say that geotagging is entirely optional and can be tedious (or quite fun…depending on how you like to spend your time), and if you have a large body of images in various locations across the map, could be rather impossible. That being said, there are benefits to geotagging your images, even if it isn’t a top priority for you.

A quick look at my map module in Lightroom 4

The interface is pretty straight forward. Just select photos on the bottom, zoom in on the map, then drag n’ drop from the filmstrip to the map. The biggest hinderance is going to be your memory when geotagging images in this way, but guessing and close approximations will suffice for those not looking for exact GPS location.  Thats it!


2.4 – Putting This All Together

So you’ve now got all this information swirling around in your mind, how do you go about actually using it all? To each their own of course, but let me give you a rundown of my methods. You’ll figure out what best suits you after spending some time actually doing this and tailoring it to your own needs as time goes on.

1. Import photos as outlined in Part 1.
2. Select all images in the grid view and apply a metadata preset that only contains copyright and creator information.*
3. Select similar images in the grid view and apply “Setting & Theme” keywords.*
4. Select similar images in the grid view and apply any “Location” or “Model” keywords.*
5. Head over to the Map module.
6. Select photos from the same location in the filmstrip and drag them to the appropriate area on the map.

* Can be done during the import process with a properly configured metadata preset.

You’ll notice that I have not applied any “Content” keywords quite yet. While you indeed CAN tag the finer, more detailed, “Content” keywords, I personally find it easier and less work to hold off on this task until I’m in the post-processing stage of my workflow. Its rare that EVERY image from a set will end up being deemed worthy of post-processing and eventual publication, so why waste time keywording each image with the finer details?


Thats all for now! In the next installment of this series, I’ll be getting into Picks and Post-Processing Best Practices, and I promise the time gap between articles will be much less 😉

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