Lightroom Keywords Structure

Using Keywords in Adobe’s Lightroom

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Keywords Overview

Using key words in Adobe Lightroom is something you will hear from a lot of photographers. Let’s walk through removing the complexity around using keywords to organize and find your photos faster.

“Just make sure you use keywords to tag your photos” Is something I heard a good bit from reading and watching videos on Lightroom. But how exactly do you know where to start with these keywords if you haven’t been in the industry forever? The thought of where to start was overwhelming to me and I doubt I am alone in this. Some people are just more organized than others; however, for me I had a lot of problems trying to figure out where to start. I knew I needed a hierarchy in my structure because the thought of 1,000 keywords in a flat list was unmanageable. After looking around and not finding anyone sharing a system to manage keywords, I figured I’d share with everyone my system with anyone who needs one.


This blog assumes you are using Adobe Lightroom, my images are from within Lightroom Classic although the concepts apply to any version of Lightroom or photography software which uses keywords. There is also an assumption that you are generally familiar with Adobe Lightroom, photography and have a lots of pictures. If you need help just generally importing and organizing your photos, I recommend the Organizing Your Photo‘s e-book from Stuck In Customs that I used.

In my case, I had a problem. 150,000+ photos to organize. I came from Apple’s Aperture where I had things organized in a way that worked for me, but Adobe Lightroom worked differently and the system I used didn’t transfer. I was completely lost trying to find something if I didn’t know the date of the photoshoot. Thus my problem, I needed to utilize keywords and a structure hierarchy that made sense. But where do you start??

Quick Start to Keywords

After trying a few different home made structures that failed, I finally found an open source project named Lightroom Keyword List Project that fit my needs. It starts with the foundational list and you can add-on things like the birds module if you shoot wild life. You can read more on their website about downloading the list and how to install it here.

After importing the foundational list, I had to change a few things for suit my workflow. As you will see below I have “~Animals” for the our pets, ~Event for my shoot name, and ~Hashtags to help me keep up with what goes onto Instagram for my photos. The foundational list gave me the ~ATTRIBUTE, ~PHOTOGRAPHY, ~WHAT, ~WHEN, ~WHERE, and ~WHO. They may change the structure from time, but this is how it was when I downloaded it. Here is what the root looks like:

Lightroom Keywords Structure
This is the root structure of Lightroom Keywords

Step 1 – Customizing your keywords

Next I had to go down a level for each of these. Attribute is probably my least used, but this is critical for stock photography. The attributes in the photo can help you find things quickly, like under ~Action I have acrobat. I use this for my photos of the Beale Street Flippers, as you can see from this article.  This lets me find all acrobats quickly for photo contests, or to show my friends, family, etc. The foundational list does a great job of filling in lots of items that I would have never thought of; however, you will still need to customize the list to insert your own keywords. They do not have a crystal ball to know what you are taking pictures of after all. A big one from the list is “Time of Day” for me, as I tend to do a lot of sunrise, sunset and night time photography. For more attributes, here is the hierarchy.

Lightroom keywords under attribute
Lightroom keywords under attribute

Step 2 – Customizing your keywords

Under the ~Event I keep a list of the years and then friendly name under the year for the shoot. This works great for me. Because I generally know the year and event I took the pictures, so to get to “Christmas” “2017” I can find that quickly.

I started using ~Hashtags after getting confused with notes for different hashtags. Under my ~Hashtags, I keep a folder for each city e.g. ~Memphis. Under ~Memphis I keep a few tags for things in Memphis. A main #Memphis that keeps the city’s instagram Hashtags like #IG_Memphis and #ILoveMemphis. Each time I find a new feature account for an area, I can just add it to my keywords.

Instagram Memphis Hashtags
#Memphis Hashtags commonly used on Instagram for authentic Memphis photos.

I also keep a section for ~My Hashtags. Under this I keep information about my camera, my blog, etc. It just helps me keep up with these things all in one spot to copy into Instagram quickly.

Instagram hashtags based on my camera

The Photography, What and When bucket are self explanatory when you look in them. Your type of photography, night time, long exposure, headshot, etc. The What is a long list of categories and then things in the picture. You may need to add to these though, like under Art you will see “Statue” but you may want to add the name of the statue you have a shot of e.g. Elvis Presley or Unknown Soldier.

Step 3 – Customizing your keywords

When you get to the ~Where bucket, you will want to add more thought. I group things here by the content the picture was taken, e.g. North America. Under this, I go to the country, state, city, and individual location or attraction.

Lightroom Keyword ~Where
Lightroom hierarchy for where the picture was taken
Lightroom hierarchy for Atlanta Locations
Lightroom hierarchy for Atlanta Locations

For the city of Atlanta I will also add nick-names for the city in the keyword itself. You can find these by using Google for the city. I recommend doing this for your states as well if you want your pictures to be found this way. Sometimes the locals call things names you won’t know as a traveling photographer.

Atlanta Lightroom Keyword
A sample showing the Atlanta Lightroom Keyword synonyms and nick names

Step 4 – Customizing your keywords

My last category is ~Who is in the photo. Most of my photos with people are family members. So I keep each family separated. My family and my wife’s family each get our own bucket. This isn’t a separation of “his” vs “hers” but it is a family tree separation so I’m not looking through more people than I need to to find the right person. For example, my tree goes ~Who -> Immediate Family -> Darrell for pictures of me. I have a bucket for ~Other people, ~Sports Teams, ~Work People, etc. If you shoot people for a living, you will probably have a ~Clients folder with who is paying the bill followed by the subject.

Now that I have the keywords on my photos, it makes finding all of the photos from “Atlanta Georgia” with “4 – 5 stars” of “Skylines” very easy. I can end up with this one really quickly.

Searching for Atlanta Skylines in keywords
Using keywords to search for Atlanta nighttime skylines with 4 stars or better.

And then select the photo that I want to share with whoever I am sharing my photos with.

Downtown Atlanta
A long exposure over the Jackson Street Bridge in Atlanta Georgia over looking downtown and watching the cars as they fly by


In summary, getting the structure for your keywords makes all the difference in being able to find your photos quickly. I hope this article helps with the organization, logic, and how to utilize keywords for you. Incorporating a hierarchy of keywords into your work flow will save you a lot of time on the back end trying to find “that photo from that place”. At least that is the problem I was trying to solve.

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