Where Do My Keywords Live?

By Gene McCullagh
November 23, 2010

We've looked at keywords a few times before. But you can never get enough of a good thing right? Adding keywords to your images can be a simple thing or it can be very very complex. If you've ever done stock then you know that extensive keywords are one of the ways to get your stock noticed and increase sales.

Lightroom has a deceptively simple keyword interface yet allows for some powerful keyword magic. You can create hierarchies. Utilize categories. Add synonyms. Import and export keyword sets. Still, how keywords attach to images and where they wind up remains a point of confusion for many users. So let's take a look at some keyword basics and see where your keywords wind up.

We'll start with a DNG file that has no keywords. You can see that there are no keywords in Lightroom. The inset windows here are from another program (Expression Media) that also show there are no keywords in this file.

First we'll create a category since we plan on using a hierarchical keywording structure. To do this in Lightroom click the + next to Keyword List and the following dialog will appear.

To create a category header fill in the category name in the Keyword Name field and make sure none of the options are checked. To add a keyword to this category right click on the category name in the keyword list and choose Create Keyword Tag inside "[category name]"...

That will bring up the same dialog as before with one additional option to put the new keyword inside the category.

In the Keyword Name field enter the keyword. If you want to (and I recommend this) enter some synonyms in the Synonyms. Check the Keyword Tag Options and Creation Options. In a later article we'll look at the export implications of keywording. If you have images selected the last option will add the new keyword to those images.

After you create a few more keywords you will start to build your hierarchy.

When we apply these new keywords to our image that information is stored in the Lightroom database. If we have metadata automatically saved then this information is written out to the file. If not you can manually save metadata out to the files. To do that select the images then press Command S on a Mac or CTRL S on a PC.

Once saved to the file we can see from the insets that the keywords and categories are saved to the file. It is important to note that synonyms are not saved as part of the metadata but remain in the Lightroom database only. This doesn't mean you shouldn't use them. Synonyms are a great tool for organizing and locating images. For a look at synonyms refer to Just Add a Touch of Synonym! In the next article we'll look at how synonyms can be included in exported images.

You can verify that Lightroom created your hierarchical keyword structure, complete with categories, keywords, and synonyms. Export the keywords to a text file (choose Export Keywords... under the Metadata menu in the Library module). View the file in your text editor to see the structure you created.

I hope this brief tour clears up some confusion about where your keywords live and how they show up in your image files. Keywords become increasingly important as your collection grows so get tagging today!

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