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Keywords & Lightroom

I’ve been using Adobe Lightroom ever since it first came out, and during that time, I have always used Keywords for my images (40,000+). Lately, however, I have revisited my ‘home made’ Keyword List, and have stumbled onto a whole sub-topic within Lightroom that I wish I had found MUCH earlier!!

Here is one of the best tutorials on the subjects, which I found on

Why Keyword A Stock Photograph?

It is not that technical or difficult, but the challenge is how deep you want to get into keywords.

What got me revisiting my Keyword List was a need to publish more stock photography, which requires keywords, and the more the better!

What is also kind of fun, along with frustrating, are the words and the various synonyms! As you go through the List, you realize that a given Word can have so many meanings or spellings, especially in English!

Getting Started, Again!

As mentioned earlier, I have been using the Keywords since I started, so essentially it was just a straight alphabetized list of words, without any organization.

After finding the Lightroom Keyword List Project website, which is Open Source and Free, I downloaded the Foundation List (ver 1.0.1), and Imported it into Lightroom.

Mistake One!

Stupid me…

After using computers for 30+ years…

I never Exported my ‘homemade’ List as a Backup BEFORE I started.


So I have the GIGANTIC list of Words, some of which are organized, but most not…

I should have organized my ‘homemade’ Key Word List first, and then Imported the Foundation List.

Lessons Learned

At the moment, I have spent SEVERAL hours, going through my new Keyword List, and reorganizing it into a hybrid.

Again, I wish I had started this from the beginning!

That being said, here are some things learned, so far…

Keywords not equal

Even though the Keyword list itself is nothing more than an ASCII text file, having a Word on a single line does NOT mean it (the Word) will be Counted correctly in Lightroom.

Each Keyword is supposed to be on a Single Line, but there is a big difference between a Word and a [Tab space] BEFORE the Word!

This gets into the heart of Categories, which is covered very well on in their Tutorial.

It does make sense, when you think about it, and thankfully Lightroom gives you a much easier way to move Keywords into the Categories.

Yes, you could do the SAME thing in the Text file, BUT if you are unsure of the meaning of the Word, you can not “see” that, but in Lightroom, you can call-up the images, and “see” the Keyword’s meaning, and Edit from there.

Time to Clean-Up

As you edit your keyword list, you will find ‘bad’ words, for what- ever reason, and here is a get chance to clean-up the list!

At some point, do open up your “working” version of your Keyword list in a Text Editor, and run a Spell Checker on the List.

Lightroom becomes sluggish

While moving Keywords around, I began to notice Lightroom becoming sluggish, and after several large Keyword ‘moves’, I realized Lightroom is re-writing meta-tag data back into the various files!

    1. You Create/Update a Keyword;
    2. The Keyword is Created/Updated in the Lightroom database;
    3. The metadata is rewritten into the file (xmp, psd/psb, tiff, jpg, etc.)

Needless to say, you are going to want to do these operations across fast hard drives, and if possible, have your main collection of images on a separate disk(s) from where Lightroom is installed, so there will be less of a bottle-neck in processing the keyword “move” requests.

Also, remember to back-up and Optimize your Lightroom catalog!

You will also want to back-up your original images too, since these keyword changes are also re-written into the various files: xmp, tiff, psd, psb, jpg, etc.


If you are starting Fresh, download one of the various Keyword Lists that are available.

I started at Victoria Bampton’s ( – Keyword Lists / Controlled Vocabularies, and looked at each list, and then stared with Lightroom Keyword List Project – Foundation List.

If you are starting with an existing list, be prepared to spend some time on this project, but it will be worth it!

        • Backup your Original List, “as is”
        • Review the Keyword List Structure (Foundation List) you have Chosen in a Text Editor
        • Organize your Original List (and Backup)
        • Import the new Keyword List Structure into Lightroom
        • Reorganize and Edit

In just reorganizing my list, I have noticed numerous other Keywords that could easily describe a given image, which can only help during my workflow in publishing to the stock photography market!

As mentioned several times, I wish I had started this sooner!

I hope that you have picked up some new ideas with this post, and feel free to comment or ask questions!

- Andrew
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