Keywording is one of those tasks that many photographers dread, put off, forget about, and then at some point in the future wish they had done more thoroughly from the start. I am guilty of this myself. Applying keywords (or tags) to your photos allows you to leverage the power of Lightrooms database (catalog) to help you find, filter, and organize your photos in a variety of ways (and it only gets more powerful over time). The only downside is that it is a manual process that we just have to make ourselves follow through on a regular basis. In the first segment of this series on keywording well look at the process of developing a keyword list.

Create a Hierarchy

Before you start to apply keywords to your photos it really helps to begin by giving some thought to creating a keyword list in a hierarchical structure inside the Keyword List panel.


Creating a keyword hierarchy provides a level of organization and structure to your keywords that can scale and evolve over time. Creating a keyword hierarchy also allows you to maintain a keyword list with words that have more than one meaning. For example, lets say you have a flat keyword list containing the word kid because you take a lot of photos of your kids, but then you take your kids to a petting zoo full of young goats, which are also called kids. With a flat list of keywords you can only have one entry for the word kid, but with a keyword hierarchy you can have an entry for people > kid and another for animals > livestock > goat > kid and then you can assign one or both as needed to a given photo.


If you are creating a keyword list from scratch you’ll want to start with a top-level keyword and work your way down. Heres how:

  1. Click the + sign at the top of the Keyword List panel to open the Create Keyword Tag dialog box.


  1. Enter the name of the keyword, then choose the options you want associated with that keyword.


  1. Click Create to add it to the keyword list.

To create a child keyword under that parent all you have to do is right-click (ctrl-click on Mac) the parent keyword and choose Create keyword tag inside [parentkeyword] to open the Create Keyword Tag dialog with the Put inside [parentkeyword] box already checked.



Tip: Words in the Keyword List panel are only sorted alphanumerically, so if you want a keyword to jump to the top you can start it with a number or non-alphanumeric character (like an exclamation point) to force it to the top. In some of my screen captures in this tutorial you’ll see the keyword !Curo at the top of the list, which Ill explain in a future installment of this series.

Adding synonyms is useful when you want to have those words added to the exported copy, but don’t want them cluttering up the actual keyword list. For example, for animals you might include singular animal as a synonym. For specific animals you might include latin names as synonyms.

When creating a keyword structure you may have words that are important for your internal structure, but they aren’t words you need (or want) included in exported copies. Likewise if you apply names of people in your photos as keywords you may not want those names included in exported copies. In all of those cases be sure to leave the Include on Export checkbox unchecked.

There is an option to Add to selected photos at the bottom of the Create keyword Tag dialog box, so make sure it is only checked when you want it to be used.

Invest in a list

Another option is to purchase pre-made keyword lists that you can import right into Lightroom. While this can be a time saver I do want to point out that the importing of a new keyword list will not completely replace your existing keyword list. In other words, if you have a long flat list of keywords that youve assigned to various photos and you import a beautifully structured keyword hierarchy it is not going to magically transform your existing flat keyword list into a structure, but rather you will now have your old list with the new list appended on to it, all sorted alphabetically, and it is still up to you to assign the new keywords to your photos, or organize your flat list into a structure. Years ago I purchased an excellently thorough keyword list from Controlled Vocabulary ( that I highly recommend, but if you are just wanting to use keywords for your own purposes you might start with a smaller list from the Lightroom Keyword List Project (

Restructure Existing Keywords

If youve already assigned keywords to photos and you want to retain those assignments while creating a more structured list you should create that structure right in the Keyword List panel. You can drag and drop one keyword onto another to nest them together. Lets say I have a flat keyword list that contains Animals, Dogs, Mammals, and Golden Retriever. I can drag Golden Retriever onto Dogs, then drag Dogs onto Mammals, then drag Mammals onto Animals and create a logical hierarchy while maintaining all the assignments to photos Ive already made with those keywords.

You can also move a child keyword out of a parent-child relationship by clicking and dragging it above its top-level parent keyword until you see the space above the parent keyword become highlighted, indicating you are leaving that structure, and release the keyword.

Another benefit of a hierarchical list is that you only need to assign the lowest level relevant keyword to have all of the parent keywords implicitly applied to that photo as well. So in my previous example I could assign Golden Retriever to a photo and know that Dogs, Animals, and Mammals was also applied at the same time.

Re-Assign Keywords

If youve imported a pre-made keyword list to add to your existing keyword list you may want to transfer your existing tags to the tags in the new list. Heres how to transfer photos from one keyword to another:

  1. Working in Grid view with the Keyword List panel expanded, move the cursor over the assigned keyword until you see the arrow appear to the right of the keyword total, and click that arrow to filter your catalog to only images tagged with that keyword.
  2. Press Cmd+A (PC: Ctrl+A) to select all photos showing in the Grid.
  3. Move the cursor over the new keyword until an empty checkbox appears to the left of the keyword, and click the box to assign that keyword to all selected photos.
  4. Remove the check from the box next to the original keyword to un-assign it from those photos, or see the next section on removing keywords completely. Photos are now only assigned to the new keyword.

Remove Unwanted Keywords

If you simply want to remove a keyword from all photos and remove the keyword itself from your keyword list you can select the keyword in the Keyword List panel and click the minus sign that appears in the panel header (it only appears when one or more keywords are selected). Removing a parent keyword will also remove its children.


Tip: You can select multiple keywords in the Keyword List for removal as well. To select continuous keywords, click the first keyword then hold the Shift key and click the last keyword you want to select. You can select non-contiguous keywords by holding the Ctrl key (Mac: CMD) while clicking individual keywords.

In the next installment of this series on keywording well look at other ways to use the Keyword List panel to apply keywords, how to apply keywords with the Keywording panel, and how to create Keyword Sets. Stay tuned!