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Using the Paint Can

Lightroom Keywording Tips, Tools, & Suggestions

Keywords are integral for managing and finding images in Adobe’s Lightroom program.

Lightroom includes many ways of assigning keywords, but a few of them are less obvious than others. The goal is to develop some quick methods to let you get back behind the camera. Keywords are simply identifying words or titles you assign to an image that allow the search and filter features in Lightroom find images. From there, you can organize, view, process, export and print results. This page includes a few of my “real life” methods and steps. I photograph a lot of moose here in Grand Teton National Park, so the huge number of images I have in my catalog work as a great example.


Keywords on Import

Import boxYou can always include a set of Keywords on import, but I only use that feature if all incoming images are of the same subject matter. At least in my case, that seldom happens. A typical shoot might include animals of several different species and random landscapes. A wedding photographer, on the other hand, might include keywords on import including the name of the wedding, bride, groom, family members, location, and so forth since almost all of them would apply to the same wedding.


Basic Method

Basic Method

Basic Method: Just click in the text entry box of the Keyword Tags menu and manually type in keywords, separated by a comma. You can also click into the large box above it and add, edit or delete words there. Once you click off the box, the keywords are added into the upper box. LR will ignore duplicate keywords. If you accidentally put in a few repeats like “gold and cottonwoods” in my example, it is no big deal. You can add the same keywords to a group of images at one time by selecting them first, than applying the keywords. (Note: The odd numbers and alphanumeric strings in this example are part of my US Copyright submissions)


Keyword Sets

Keyword Set Blank

Keyword Sets: This one is SO powerful! Just below the middle of the panel on the right is a section labeled Keyword Set. To enter a bunch of keywords quickly into the empty circle, all I had to do was click into any of the nine boxes under Keyword Set. (Note, this is a Keyword Set I created for Moose. More on that in a second).

Keyword Sets After Clicking

By simply clicking the four circled boxes, all the words in the upper box were added. No typing involved! Once one of the boxes is used, text turns white.

Keyword Set Comments: When I first started using Keyword sets, I felt limited to only nine descriptive words. There were only nine boxes. Somewhere along the line, I discovered I could add a series of associated keywords into one box. For example, if I am ever entering “moose”, I also know it is an animal, mammal, wildlife, ungulate, fur, hooves. Those can be added along with “moose” in one click. Most of my moose images are taken inside Grand Teton National park, so that group is Grand Teton National Park, GTNP, Jackson Hole, WY, Wyoming. Most are taken during the “Fall” so that word and any other related words is another group in the keyword set. If the animal is a bull, it will also likely have antlers, and be somehow associated with the rut. You can organize the keywords into logical groupings within the Keyword Sets in any combination that makes sense to you! Again, all it takes is one click for each group.

Keyword Set Access

Lightroom includes some default Keyword Sets like Outdoor Photography, Wedding Photography, Portrait Photography and so forth. Click the up/down arrow to see a list of keyword sets. As you can see, I am currently working with “Moose”, a Keyword Set I created. Here’s how….

Creating a New Set

Creating a New Set: It seems strange Adobe didn’t include “create a new Keyword Set” in this list. Instead, pick any of the existing Keyword Sets, then click “Save Current Settings as a New Preset” and give it a new name of your choice. Then click Edit Set…

Keyword Set Editor

Edit the Boxes: In this frame, simply add any desired keywords in any or all of the nine boxes. (Don’t add a comma at the end) In this case, I am allowing for adding cow and/or calf and an occasional resting moose. Click Change.

Update Set

Update Set: You might notice the word “edited” next to the Keyword Set “Moose”. Lightroom will allow you to work with an edited set without any repercussions, however if you were to choose a different Keyword Set, those changes will not be saved. To make permanent changes to the Keyword Set (preset), click the up/down arrow one more time and click “Update Preset Moose”. (Your preset name will likely be something else).

That’s it! You can create as many Keyword Sets as you need. I deleted a bunch of mine so I could show the lower set of commands in this post. They are easy to make, so it wasn’t a big deal to lose a few. Once a Keyword Set is created and saved, it is only a matter of hitting the up/down button and selecting it.




Painter: I believe that’s what Adobe calls the tool. I think of this as a spray can for applying a keyword or group of keywords to random images while in the grid view. I recently created a Feature Post called Resting Moose: A Collection of Less Seen Lifestyle Images.  For the post, I needed to find resting moose images…lots of them! My folder of Moose currently has 20,000 images in it. If I had been diligent in my keywording over the past eight years, I could have easily brought up only “resting” moose. In fact, I did just that, but I also knew there were lots of them that didn’t appear in the search results. All I had to do was assign the word “resting” to the spray can, then go through the moose images and “spraying” the new keyword onto random images. Later, I searched for resting moose and produced the post using those images.

New Keywords

Spray Paint Keywords: For this example, I clicked on the paint can, then entered several associated keywords into the text field. You can see I already had the base keywords from the shoot using some of the Keyword Sets described earlier. But on this shoot, I had some images with the bull simply feeding alongside the other moose plus I captured some where the bull was doing a “lip curl”. Once the new keywords were set, all I need to do is click on any image while in the grid view.

Using the Paint Can

Spray Paint Keywords in Action: I clicked in three of the four thumbnails while the Paint can was active. Lightroom added all three keywords into each of the three images. This nifty little tool can come in very handy! As another example, a wedding photographer could include the basic keywords on import, then use the Spray Can to quickly add “John Smith, groom” to any photo he is in. You get the idea!


Hybrid Methods

Manual Entry

Hybrid Entries: Just a quick reminder that entering the keywords is not an either/or option. It is more of an AND/AND/AND option! You can build the keyword list by using any of the methods I illustrated, including manual entries like the one above, or by simply copying and pasting keywords into the text entry box or into the large keyword box. You can also enter keywords into one image, then select additional, similar images and use the SYNC command. It’s located in the lower left of the large panel. If you look at the screen grab just above, you’ll see a list of grayed out keywords in a panel called “Keyword Suggestions”. Once you begin to add keywords to an image, Lightroom starts automatically modifying the words in the list based on your previous keyword entries. At any time, you can simply click on any of them and LR will add them to the current or selected group of images. Very nifty!


The Wrap-Up

Both Photoshop and Lightroom offer multiple ways of completing similar tasks. Some methods may be faster or take less steps, but the results are usually the same. Most people find one way, get used to it and never learn of the faster method. Hopefully, some of the tips above will help. I am certain there are ways of accomplishing some the same tasks that are faster than the ones I presented, too. The tips above affect the portion of the program Lightroom calls the “Library” module. You might also hear companies call this segment “Data Asset Management” (D.A.M.). Lightroom does a great job with Data Asset Management, but it can also handle the processing of your images plus a long list of output options.

Lastly…Why use Lightroom? I wrote this page assuming readers already own and use Lightroom. But, for anyone not using it already, I highly recommend the program. If you take very many photos, you’ll quickly learn how difficult it can be to find specific images based on what folder you stored it in, or the date you think you took the image. Lightroom will allow you to find images stored in any of your folders and on any of your attached hard drives. Keywords are necessary to make the search results successful. For example, I could search for “Bull, Moose, Velvet, GTNP, 2012”. Results would eliminate moose in Yellowstone or moose with stripped antlers and only focus on the images I took that year. That’s what this post is all about…getting the keywords into your catalog so they can go to “work” for you!


If this post helps you, please take the time to share it by clicking on any of the Social Media icons below and help spread the word about this site. Cheers, MJ

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