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Organize and Search your Lightroom Catalog with Keywords

In last week’s tip, we looked at adding Keywords to tag your images in Lightroom. Now that you’ve got them tagged, how do you take advantage of it? The underlying fact is that Lightroom is, in its roots, a database – and databases were made for sorting and searching. This is where Lightroom shines! With a catalog full of images, you may search endlessly through folders and images trying to find that one picture… but if that picture is the funny dog you saw at the fair two years ago (and the image contains keywords such as “funny,” “dog,” and “fair,” you can find it almost instantly.

Let’s begin by looking at Lightroom’s Library Module, where the right hand information panel contains keyword information. Last week’s tip looked at the Keywording panel, which is where you add or modify keywords. But, right below that, is the Keyword List panel, and in there we have the beginnings of some very powerful searching and sorting:


Upon closer inspection, we can see a few interesting things going on within the Keyword List:


  1. Keywords can be nested for organizational purposes. Just drag any keyword in the list onto another, and when you drop it it will be nested one level below. Keywords can be nested in multiple levels, and a keyword that contains other keywords has a right arrow next to it.
  2. Click the arrow to “twist” it down and reveal the keywords within the top level word.
  3. If a photo is selected, any keywords within that photo will be checked in the list. In addition to the checkmark next to the keyword, any containing keywords will contain a hyphen “-“ (as you see next to Landscape above, which contains Mountains).
  4. Next to the keywords is a number indicating the total quantity of images in the catalog with that keyword.

Now, if you have an image selected and want to add a keyword, you can add a checkmark by clicking in the blank square. This adds the keyword to the selected image:


If you have multiple images selected, and only some of the images (but not all) contain a keyword, you will see a hyphen “-“ next to the keyword. You can click once to change the hyphen to a check mark; this adds the keyword to those photos that don’t already have it. Click again to remove the keyword from all the selected photos, and the icon reverts to a blank box:


Now, what about finding those images? Within the Keyword list, you can hover over the right margin next to the number of images, and an arrow will appear. Clicking the arrow performs a search on your full library and displays the filtered results. For example, if I click the arrow next to Alligators, I will get all the images in my catalog that I’ve tagged with that keyword:


The Library Module may look a little different from what you’re used to at this point. The filter bar is visible at the top, and the search criteria are displayed. In this case we can see that Metadata is selected at the top, indicating we are filtering the catalog based on metadata, and un Library Filter we see that Keyword has been set to Alligators.


Notice that the other columns have criteria set to “All” – so those columns have no effect on the results of the filtering. But, we can change that. I’ve got 98 photos of alligators; what if I wanted to quickly find those images I shot during a specific trip in 2005? I can start to make use of the rest of the columns at the top. For example, I can change the criteria of the second column to search by Date just by clicking the header of that column:


With Date selected, you get a list of the dates (with number of images next to the date); you can click on the date to filter further to get the images you’re looking for.



You can use this same technique to search for multiple keywords. For example, I might search for all the images from our Vacation that were taken in Colorado where we ran across some big construction Machines way out in the middle of the mountains. All we need to do is add multiple columns with Keywords in each column, narrowing down the search as we go. Because Lightroom is a database, the results are visible almost as fast as we can click:


When you’re done searching, and want to get back to the non-filtered view of your library, just click the criteria None at the top of the filter bar.


This should give you a taste of some of the search power within Lightroom, especially when you’ve added informative keyword tags to your images! Next week, we’ll take this another step further, and learn how to use these types of criteria based searches to organize our Collections – Smart!

About Michael Hoffman (224 Articles)
Mike has been a photographer, artist, educator, and technophile for most of his life. Early in his career, he created technical illustrations and photographs for electronic equipment manufacturers, and taught classes in computer aided drafting and 3D modeling software. When digital cameras became widely available in the late 1990s, the move was a natural one, and has led to a happy combination of technology, software, photography and art. Mike is an Adobe Certified Expert in Photoshop and Acrobat, and is well versed in Lightroom and Photoshop Elements, as well as Illustrator and InDesign. He has also contributed his time and efforts to the excellent work being done by Operation Photo Rescue, in restoring photographs damaged by natural disasters. As an active member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, he continues his quest for excellence in art, excellence in design, and excellence in education.

2 Comments on Organize and Search your Lightroom Catalog with Keywords

  1. Linda // 12/05/2015 at 3:35 am //

    I’ve been searching for a clear explanation of how to import and apply keywords, then how to find them. Your articles are direct and to the point, just what I needed. Thank you for the tips Michael!

  2. Vai a. House // 10/07/2021 at 4:17 pm //

    I have not followed any article that explained more clearly how To organize my photos, apply and work with key words. Very helpful.
    Where will I find more articles by you, specifically regarding photoshop?

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