10 Things I Would Tell New Lightroom Users: #4

Happy Monday, everybody, and we’re here with #4 of my 10-part series. Just a friendly reminder: if you missed, didn’t read or forgot my official disclaimer for this series posted at the beginning of #1, please give it a quick read, so we all stay on the same page. OK, here’s #4:


Skip Adding Keywords To Your Images For Now (and maybe forever)

OK, longtime Lightroom users — put down your torches and pitchforks — this is advice for NEW users only. I know we were all originally taught to invest our time adding global and specific keywords (search terms) to all the photos we import, but many of us have realized (yours truly included) this can be a colossal waste of time for most users.

Yes, if you’re selling stock photography, or if you’re a journalist, keywording is an absolute must, and if you have a client base that might call up and ask, “Send me all your photos of brides, and they need to all be in vertical orientation, and I only need ones where the bride is holding a bouquet, and the bouquet has to be pink roses,” then you’ll want to keyword like a pro.

However, if you use Collections as the basis of your organization (and I highly recommend  that you do) then ask yourself this question:

“When was the last time I couldn’t find the photos I needed by just going to my Collections panel?”

For example, if I need to find my photos from a family trip I took to Italy two years ago, I’d go to my Collections panel, look under my Travel Collection Set, and scroll down to Italy. If I went to Italy twice, I’d see two collections: one called “Italy 2012″ and one named “Italy 2014.” How hard is that? It’s a no-brainer, right? So, if you’re not having problems getting your hands on the pho­tos you need in just a few seconds using Collections with simple descriptive names (like Italy 2012), you might be able to skip all the keywording stuff altogether (like I do).

I talk to so many new users who are frustrated and confused with the whole Keywording process, and what I find most interesting is that after talking with them, many don’t have any use whatsoever for keywording, and they don’t do searches using keywords, but they read somewhere that they’re “supposed to do it.” This is why I recommend to NEW users to skip this extra, tedious step at least for now, since they have bigger fish to fry (learning the Develop Module, backing up their images, working with the Library module, and so on). If at some point they realize they just can’t find their images (they didn’t use Collections to organize their images), they can always go back and do it now (hey, they saved countless hours so far by not keywording, so they’re still way ahead of the game).

The name of this game is saving time all year long
I’ve talked to long-time users who brag about being able to find any image in their library in less than 10-seconds. They could easily find a bridal photo, in vertical orientation, holding a bouquet of pink roses in 10-seconds flat, and it would take me a good three or four minutes at least. The problem is, that might happen to me (or the average user) once or twice a year — once or twice where we need a very specific photo, and we’d spend three or four minutes finding it (maybe more). So, about 8 minutes a year of searching to find that very specific image.

Now, how many minutes did the keyworder spend adding global and specific keywords to the 20,000 or more images they import into Lightroom per year, just for that 10-second moment of glory when they can find that needle in a haystack instantly? A whole lot more than 8 minutes per year, I can tell you that, I don’t care how fast and organized they are or how many keyword sets they’ve built (which all take time by the way). Yes, there are people who really need keywording. I’ve also met folks who just enjoy the process of keywording, and that’s perfectly 100% fine. If it makes you happy, then there’s nothing I can say to those folks but “go for it!” But for the rest of us, it’s a tedious, extra-step that will give us back lots of time and give us less frustration if we just skip it altogether. Nothing is for everyone. Not even shooting in RAW (that’s it — he crossed the line! Load your weapons!) 😉

One last thing
If you: (a) have been keywording all along and you love it, by all means keep doing it. (b) If you’re an engineer of any kind, you should be keywording no matter what. It’s in your DNA, so you get a free pass on this one. (c) If you’re having a hard time finding images using Collections with simple names, I hate to say it but keywording may not be your biggest issue. (wink). 😉

NOTE: I’m up in Nashville today for the PPA’s “Imaging USA” show. I’ll be teaching a live free session on Sports Photography in Canon’s booth on the show floor today at 1:45 pm. If you’re at the show, I hope you’ll stop by and say howdy! 

Hope you all have an awesome Monday and hope to see you here tomorrow for Part 5.





  1. Stop Using Keywords in Lightroom? 8 March, 2015 at 01:16 Reply

    […] Scott Kelby writes in the fourth installment of the 10 Things I would Tell New Lightroom Users series, why you would to use keywords and why you do not have to use keywords. It’s a great article and a short read. – 10 Things I Would Tell New Lightroom Users: #4 […]

  2. Steve 12 February, 2015 at 17:17 Reply

    Keywords are included in the IPTC info which I assume will be around “forever”. Or will be absorbed into a new system. However, collections are a construct of Adobe/Lightroom…which be around…hmmm, I don’t know the answer to that one. Do you?

    I agree that less time could be spent on it but you need the basics if you want to be sure you can find images.

  3. Lil 11 February, 2015 at 22:14 Reply

    THIS was the year that I was going to go back through all of my photos and keyword them. So far I’ve made it through about 3 folders before getting overwhelmed by the tediousness (word?) of the process. And then…I read this. Though I probably do need to go back and pic favorites…they don’t all fit on my iPad anymore.

    Thank you!

  4. Peter Nord 11 February, 2015 at 01:20 Reply

    Scott, thanks for helping me not feel guilty. I teach old geezer photography at the local U, have to be over 50. My new users are really new. I have been skipping the part about keywording, saying you can read about it if you are interested. Now I know why I skip it. I don’t keyword either, but I always thought students should know about it. Now I just tell them to watch the Grid segment of you and RC at the 15 minute point where you begin the discussion. All of my students are new to Lightroom, some don’t even have it they are so new. At least you get to teach users with some experience. I sometimes have help them with the problem, “My daughter gave me a camera at Christmas and I haven’t taken it out of the box.”

  5. Frank Blanco 10 February, 2015 at 11:14 Reply

    Great advice!!! Hey I consider myself pretty adept at LR, but these little tidbits are fantastic. I used to keyword obsessively but have also found it to be a waste of time. I will now only keyword a super 5-star winner, or a memorable photo other people may want copies of in the future… and I’m finding more and more this may be a waste of time too.

  6. Erik 4 February, 2015 at 04:50 Reply

    Hi Scott!
    That is some drastic advice but it is a good one! Keywording sucks hours for few relevant benefits.

    I held classes in Photoshop Elements a few years back and remember well the hassle and confusion it caused. After serious considerations I recommended latter classes to use Keywording for one single thing, names – until they could convince themselves for what and why.

    Myself I have wasted uncountable hours on the Science of Keywording and have, for my shooting, found just the one benefit, e.g. finding all photos of a certain person. No matter if it concerns a pro shooter or not, time is too valuable!

    Following you since long!

  7. IanB 3 February, 2015 at 18:55 Reply

    Thanks again for stirring minding into thinking mode Scott. I agree keywording can be a pain/time consuming job so I often dabbled with collections looking for something better bearing in mind I’m just a happy snapper so it’s not all that important. However I can’t work out how to search for a collection/files other than visually looking through a long list of collections names. With folders I could search with via windows, with k/words I could type in a name or part of the name and l/room will throw up some suggestions. So am I missing something? Is there a collection search button? I still need to make (nature) collections and move files into those collections.

    Getting a bit confused. Easier with film LOL; I know i could not find a negative so why bother looking in the first place 😆
    Cheers from Aust.

  8. Adelheid Smitt 3 February, 2015 at 15:50 Reply

    I am a VERY NEW LR user and one of the reasons I am planning to use it is so that I can use keywords (tags) to find my photos. I am very organized, and in my file manager I have everything listed under year, month date and location, but sometimes need to do quite some searching to find a specific photo. For example I spend many winter trips taking winter photographs, and later it is hard to remember which one was where, so by using keywords like “winter” and “Norway” I can let LR bring those up and I can easily pick the one I was searching for. If it weren’t for that possibility I don’t think I’d even be starting to use LR, but having said that, I still need to learn what other uses LR might have in store for me. Adelheid

  9. Jackie 3 February, 2015 at 14:13 Reply

    As a NEW USER I got a little frustrated with LR. Then my husband brought home the Scott Kelby Lightroom 4 book for me on his own initiative. It was a rare instance when I read the book from front to back and even did the exercises and just got up to speed a lot more quickly than I would have with a lot less frustration. And I did take most of Scott’s advice, much of which is in this advice to new users. I must have been flagging in the section on Collections though because I don’t use them the way Scott seems to advise. And keywording I must have been making up on my own. I started out doing SOME keywording with hierarchies and letting it add the hierarchy keywords, now whenever I run into one of those I undo it. But I do think at some point when you are not a NEW USER and/or when you have accumulated a high volume of photos you will want to go back and get all of the photos of X. And when you do that it will take you longer without keywords. If it’s a one time thing, OK–it’s fun to stroll down memory lane by being forced to look at all of your photos. If you think you’re going to need to do that again on a regular basis then you should either put them all in a Collection or give them all a keyword or both. So now I do keyword, but just a little, I do keyword every person in the photo, which is good because my memory is horrible and even though I totally knew that kid on the hockey team and his parents–that was a few years ago and now I have no idea what their last name was, etc. Since I’m into some geneaology stuff and love to post for Throw Back Thursday or Flashback Friday from time to time, it’s good to be able to make my search easier. And, as I said, I don’t happen to use collections the way Scott does. So…to each his or her own, whatever works for you. But definitely I agree that NEW USERS should not make themselves nuts keywording every jot and tittle about the photo.

  10. Piotr 3 February, 2015 at 10:40 Reply

    Hi Scott, I also disagree with you. It save a lot of time for me. I use tags during the import, Then I create smart collection. Now you are really save time. Because collection do the job for you. Yes you have to update collection from time to time. Convenient workflow is different for every one.

  11. Henrik 3 February, 2015 at 04:46 Reply

    You keep repeating NEW USER, but even NEW USERs will need to find their photos, right? And if photos are not keyworded shortly after import they probably never will, so when they are not that new anymore it may be too late.

    If I want to find all photos of person A then I need a collection of person A if I don’t use keywords. If I have a photo with 5 people I need to put the same photo in 5 collections. That sounds like a more tedious job than using keywords. And if I want a photo with person A and person B? I have done this frequently and find it very useful. I actually started keywording photos when I shot my first digital photo, and I an VERY happy that I did. My photo collection have transitioned from Windows keyworded photos (you know – right click a photo and select Properties) and on to 2 other photo management software and I never lost any of my data. Collections only exists in LR catalog and may not migrate to other software and is totally lost if LR catalog is broken. A life worth of photos and photo management that relies only on some pointers in a database? No thanks.

    I know people have different needs, so your advice does not apply to all NEW USERs. But they don’t know that because they will listen to the guru that you are 🙂 and they don’t know their future needs.

  12. Gerry Slater 2 February, 2015 at 17:41 Reply

    Scott–I think I have seen everything you have written on Lightroom, but this is one of the best. Very helpful and concise. Thanks. See you in Vegas.

  13. Brian 2 February, 2015 at 13:11 Reply

    This is one reason I really really really wish Lightroom had facial recognition. As an “average” user, my goal isn’t to find the bride with the pink roses, but I might want to find all photos of my wife or kid or myself. Having LR tag all of those (automagically) would save tons of time!

    For the time being, I’m stuck tagging them myself.

  14. Torill 2 February, 2015 at 12:53 Reply

    Thank you Scott!
    Please continue enlighten me about what should be my priority as an absolutely newborn Lightroom user! Perfect, perfect!!

    To all of you who obviously are experienced users; please note the beginning of the text, and the 3 previous tips – ” this is advice for NEW users only.” My guess is that Scott is the most experienced of you all, so maybe “put down your torches and pitchforks”??

  15. Steve Boyko 2 February, 2015 at 11:36 Reply

    You say tomayto, I say tomahto.. I use collections but keywords are often how I find photos. A lot of my photos are train photos and I get inquiries via email or the web for specific types of photos and keywords help me there. For example I had an inquiry on the weekend about a particular type of shipping container, and I was able to find it in a minute using keyword search. I suppose I could have had a collection for containers, but then aren’t you just moving your keywords to collection names?

    I do agree for family / event photos, heavy keywording is probably unnecessary. I do find it handy to keyword who is in the photo from a family keyword list so I can pull up all photos of a particular person easily.

    • Scott Kelby 3 February, 2015 at 00:20 Reply

      Hey Steve: As you noted, because of the inquiries you get for specific shot, you are someone who probably does need to keyword, and that’s cool. My advice is for NEW USERS, though most users can probably skip it as well, but in your case, you need to be doing it for sure.

  16. Wolfgang 2 February, 2015 at 10:54 Reply

    Keywording is part of my workflow, but I usually just use some global keywords and use specific keywords just for things I know I gonna need one day (for example I don’t use keywords for the sights I photograph while traveling – that’s the point I totally agree with Scott – for that my collections are more than enough. If i search for Space Needle, I just go to my Seattle Collection and so on) but there is one thing I am really glad I use the keywords from the beginning: names of friends and family members. This isn’t anything that takes me lot of time but I get frequently asked: We gonna make a birthday party for cousin x – can you send me your photos of him? And so on…and then I am really glad I got them tagged in my pics.

  17. Kim 2 February, 2015 at 10:27 Reply

    ok, so I am at that point where I am going back and keywording old images. I hate it! But, I’m confused about how using collections instead would work better. Upon import, what are you doing to get them into a collection that makes it easier to find? I feel like I’m missing a crucial step. Thank you so much!

  18. Paul H 2 February, 2015 at 09:51 Reply

    Great article. It seems to me that MOST users don’t need any keyword tags. Some users might be helped with a few tags on a small percentage of their photos – and the time would be minimal. Some users (busy pros) would need more tags. Personally, I don’t tag but since I am an Engineer – I have always felt extremely guilty about not tagging, so I guess I need to start – but who has the time to go and tag all of those thousands of pics in my extremely detailed file structure 🙂

  19. Bill 2 February, 2015 at 09:50 Reply

    I’m (b) and you nailed it. 🙂

    Seriously, nice series of posts. I’m not a professional photographer. I am the steward of about 40k digital photos in our family archive. One thing nice about keywording in this situation is looking for things like specific people (and then adding further qualifications such as holidays, school, etc).

    One other thing I find useful about keywording is exporting–the keywords follow the files, so family members that I share the archive with can also do the searches, even if they don’t use Lightroom. The biggest drawback in this scenario is the lack of a standard keyword hierarchy delimiter. It’s always something…

  20. Paul C 2 February, 2015 at 07:42 Reply

    Hi Scott – Totally agree at the start… there are higher priorities – I think your comment about engineers is closer to the truth than we would like to admit to! However I would extend it to “Technical professionals.” I feel that there are 2 main ways to approach this:

    (a) No Keywording – instead use plain collections – if an image needs to be in two collections at once then create virtual copies…. job done. Each shoot probably has one folder & one collection

    (b) use keywording PLUS Smart-collections – they were designed to work together. If an image needs to be in two or more collections then put the effort into creating robust Smart-collections and meaningful keywords. Each shoot contributes toward a body of work that needs to be searchable

    For most people (a) will be sufficient. As an ecologist who keeps a library of images that may show 10 to 20 components I may one day need to search for then I find comfort in knowing that when a new image comes in, as soon as I keyword it I know I can locate it in one of 10 different collections or at least have the option to search for a specific butterfly in a specific type of woodland under a specific management regime…… so for me it is (b), BUT…. if you need keywords then it becomes a responsibility to always include them or a photo will vanish.

  21. Lars 2 February, 2015 at 06:41 Reply

    What’s so difficult about using the keyword list, seriously? I use it e.g. for marking people in photos, so I can easily find all pictures of a certain person. You could also create a smart collection to automatically collect pictures with that special keyword. But dont’t make the mistake to give keywords for everything. Keep the keyword list small and use a hierarchy. That gives you the advantage of picking one keyword and automatically assign all upper keywords in the hierarchy. The painter tool is a nice thing to assign keywords in the grid view.

    • Scott Kelby 2 February, 2015 at 09:13 Reply

      If it was as simple and easy as you say, why do I talk to so many new users who are upset, confused and frustrated with the entire keyboarding process? I’m glad you found it useful for you, and that’s fine for YOU, but I wouldn’t recommend it to NEW users, as I stated numerous times in the article above.

      • Lars 2 February, 2015 at 11:10 Reply

        I partly agree. I’d rather suggest to only use keyword list and not the keyword field. People tend to write too much stuff into the keyword field. And as a result you lose track and find yourself in an overloaded keyword list. That’s why you get frustrated. I made this mistake, too.
        But by using the list you can’t make any typing error. But as I said before, keep your list as small as possible. Don’t use synonyms.
        Another advantage of the keyword list, you instantly see how many times a keyword is used and show these pictures by one click.

    • Scott Kelby 3 February, 2015 at 00:24 Reply

      Lars: Yup, those are all things a more advanced user, with different needs than a NEW USER might want and use. Why does everybody forget about the whole NEW USER part of this series. Have I not mentioned it enough that this is for brand new users — beginners?

  22. Roger Walton 2 February, 2015 at 05:27 Reply

    Even the simplest keywords are better than none! Then use Smart Collections to save work.

    If in doubt, have all your folders available then use ctrl (cmd) F and enter a keyword that you may have entered before following this (IMHO) doubtful advice! It’s the quickest way to find any image (if keyworded) in a fraction of a second – much quicker than looking through a long list of collections.

    BTW I used to be a Physicist so perhaps Scott’s got it in one.

  23. ME 2 February, 2015 at 04:26 Reply

    Sorry, I strongly disagree.
    When you have kids, you SHOULD tag the best Photos. There will come a time when you collect images for photobooks, calendars etc for the grandparents, or even for the kid’s 20th birthday. Tagging in time can save you a lot of time.
    You definately don’t need a big catalogue of keywords. But you should make up your mind about tagging and should using them. Even if you only take photos on holiday trips and family events.

    • Hannes Löhr 2 February, 2015 at 07:21 Reply

      It is no great effort to define keywords during the process of importing the photos. The photos of a photo-session have often the same keywords, so you have them to type only one time for all in the iport window of LR. The main advantage of keywords is in my eyes that in every circumstance you use the photo, you have the capability to use these keywords.

    • Scott Kelby 2 February, 2015 at 08:52 Reply

      Hi Me (me?). I have kids, two in fact, and I’ve had to do all the things you mentioned plenty of times, and it just takes a few minutes once a year. Maybe twice. I don’t keyword (though I used to religiously) and I finally “saw the light” and not only do I not miss it — I can’t remember the last time I would have used it if I had keyworded every photos, outside of maybe that once-a year Mother’s Day project, or calendar, etc., but I’m not sure I would even have needed it then.

      • Sean 2 February, 2015 at 21:06 Reply

        Hi Scott,
        I normally agree with your advice, but definitely disagree on this one. I guess I need to find specific photos more often than you, and I don’t think tagging is that time consuming unless you go crazy tagging everything about every photo. I can usually select a range of many photos and tag them simultaneously. Quite often when I am putting together a book, or even just looking for a photo to share with someone, I will use keywords to find the photos… A photo of one of my kids with their aunt for example. Oh sure I could use collections, but it takes longer to put a photo into three collections than it takes to apply three keywords (which will allow me to make a smart collection later). I don’t go crazy with keywords. I tend to use them mostly to identify things that matter to me (mostly family). I can tag hundreds of shots in very little time, and avoid lengthy searches later. For me it’s a huge time saver, and I will admit to being one of those weirdos who kind of enjoys it! My advice to people is to find a balance. Tag what’s important to you, but don’t get so obsessive about it that it ends ups costing you more time than it saves.

        • Scott Kelby 3 February, 2015 at 00:18 Reply

          Hi Sean. It’s OK to disagree, which is good cause I disagree with what you wrote in your comment. LOL!!! Don’t forget — I said this advice is for a NEW USER (everybody seems to forget that part). Anyway, I’m going to with what Gerry Slater said in this comment on the topic here, instead. 😉

      • Jim Cutler 4 February, 2015 at 12:26 Reply

        Scott I couldn’t agree with you more. I would LOVE to have every image key-worded properly..BUT, even if you decide to start doing it today with today’s session…you have 60 new images for example: One set of keywords for all 60 images won’t cut it for all the images. Yes all of them are “New York” but 3 are of your kids there, 2 are of buildings , 10 are street shots, 4 are of the bridge, 2 are your dinner, 25 are of a client who’s headshots you did that afternoon. Each different image requires the time to keyword them all differently. Would I like ll of that done? Sure. But I’d rater have the time for my wife, my family, for more shooting. So it’s basic collections for my money.

  24. Rob 2 February, 2015 at 04:04 Reply

    Yeah, maybe I agree. For me, keywording was a huge waste of time, EXCEPT, there’s one thing I do most years: make a calendar of my family’s events. I don’t want to put my family pics in a collection (it would be huge and take them out of my event collections). So I do spend a minute and put, where appropriate, the keyword “family” as well as the name of the family member as a keyword.

    It makes it easy to grab the photos for calendar candidates. It also makes it so easy to grab a portfolio of individual family members, which usually gets brownie points.

    So, I’d say the average person might do well to “lightly” keyword their pics.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *