The Dreaded Keywording Task

Here is a topic many photographers dread.  However, with today’s workflow tools, it is really easy to add keywords to our photographs.  I use Apple’s Aperture 3 so I know it best. Adobe’s Lightroom also does this plus there are other tools geared towards this work, too.

Easiest way to add keywords is when you import or ingest (ie., bring the photos from your camera or memory cards onto your computer for processing) your photos.  I add captions, keywords, copyright and location information at import.  Here’s an article on how it’s done in Aperture: Always Add Keywords on Imports.

Space Mountain in the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World, Orlando, Florida.

Space Mountain Spires

For me keywording is a two step process. The captions and keywords I add on import are general.  Here’s an example.  After a whole day spent in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, the keyword list would be like this: travel, vacation, orlando, florida, walt disney world, magic kingdom, themepark.  The caption is also very general.  If you have a more specific subject, your keywords and captions can be such.

In the second step, I use Aperture’s batch tool to append more specific keywords.  Say I took 50 photos of Space Mountain in Tommorrowland.  I would add the keywords tomorrowland, neon, ride, roller coaster, space mountain, thrill, white and so on.  With the batch tool I can add those to all 50 photos at one time.  Yes, this step takes time but saves a lot more time for me later when I need to see all my Space Mountain photos or if I want to find all my photos with neon lighting.  I do the same for captions and this is when I really work on them by adding details to the general caption done at import.

Let me note here that before I do the second step, I have already gone through and rejected those photos that are out of focus, bad exposure, bad composition or are photos that don’t make my standards, etc.  Cutting down on the time it takes to do the second step.

I do the same for all my photos and my flickr photostream is one place that benefits.  I only have to tweak a few things before uploading to flickr as the keywords are turned into tags and the captions are already there.  I do need to add a title which is the Headline field in Aperture.  Aperture already has the technical metadata which includes camera model, lens used, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, exposure compensation and other details.  I use FlickrExport for Aperture (highly recommended) which lets me select flickr groups to add the photos to during the uploading process.

Here’s a bonus link for Aperture 3 users about the Keyword HUD (Heads Up Display): Keyword Control Bar in Aperture 3. I’ll be setting this up soon for my most used keyword categories like Walt Disney World, Hockey and Nature.  Should save me even more time. 🙂

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16 Responses to The Dreaded Keywording Task

  1. I’ve never done this before, and most likely never will.
    Do you rename your photos after you get them from the memory card to the computer? That’s what I do (rename them to the date taken, with a number after the date – like “April 30 2010 – 001”, etc. – and then save them in “month” folders.
    If I’m looking for a certain photo, I usually know what year/month it was taken, and know exactly where to find it.


    • I do rename them on import. Probably should have started there but this subject came to me earlier this week so I went with it.

      My system is similar to yours but I use all numbers to keep the photos in order so the files are named such: STP_20100430_001.jpg (or .nef depending on whether I am shooting RAW or not). STP is used to designate Scott Thomas Photography. If I ever have more than one camera, I’ll have to add that in there, too.

      I then place them in folders by year (STP_2010) and month (STP_201004) and let Aperture manage them by reference where I use Projects, folders and albums to put them in subject categories.

      Your memory is a lot better than mine! I use the keyword search feature a lot in Aperture to find photos for the blogs that I write and for family requests and such.

      I do have a article about this on the Disney photoblog: Organizing Your Photos. What I have found is most photographers have faced this issue and have come up with their own system that works from them.


      • Yup, I have folders for each year, and subfolders for each month. Then each month folder has the original (renamed) files, and the edited files go into a subfolder for that particular month. I just add an “e” (or e1, e2 if there is more than one version) to the edited files.
        I pick the photos for my blog as I edit them, and save those in a separate folder (already resized and frame added), so they’re easy to find when I need something for the blog.


  2. Carsten says:

    I wish I had a touch of your systematic skill. Instead of spending my time on keywords, I use my time on investigating and looking at the pictures. I rely on remembering when they were shot. That’s why I’ve spent a couple of hours this morning looking for a specific image.
    Thanks for the Space Mountain image Scott. Let’s see more of our Disney World Images. I can’t get enough. This roller coaster is the best. -Ok, the small one in Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen is my favourite, but that was also the first one I ever tried.
    I could use good advice for “MUST’s” in NYC. One of my own musts is the Oyster Restaurant in Grand Central Station.


    • My memory is good but not that good where I can remember a photo amongst the thousands I have in my photo library. While I do invest some extra time up front with keywording, I know it has saved me a lot more time. For me, it is worth the effort.

      I know Walt Disney got his inspiration from amusement parks in Europe so I can see where your first coaster is special to you. The first coaster I went on scared me silly so I didn’t ride them for years. Now, I can’t get enough of them.

      NYC…I have not been down there much to be honest. Research it on flickr and online to see what interests you. It is a wealth of photographic subjects. Every street has a story to find.


  3. milkayphoto says:

    Wow, Scott, your level of organization is admirable! I’m more along the lines of Carsten and Michaela. I have seperate folders for things, but don’t bother renaming images, I just stuff them in there. THE only images that get names are the ones that I finish. Sad, huh? I do have a fairly good memory, tho and pretty much can recall where/when an image was taken.

    I don’t care for the administrative duties! I’d MUCH rather be out shooting! You give some good info here. I wish I was this organized! 🙂


  4. Anna Surface says:

    I organize by year then to subfolders of month and then on to subfolders as originals, edited, jpeged, and what is signed and placed on the photoblogs. All organized and dated. And all filed and kept on an extra harddrive. The photos are by title and number. It is after importing and completed editing that the finished and signed large image is by name because I may upload to our gallery. My method madness works for me and I click right along moving images to their appropriate folders as I work/edit/process. LOL


    • Good system, Anna! The one thing I really like about Aperture/Lightroom/Capture NX class of photo managers/editors is that the changes are non-destructive so the originals are left untouched.

      I use an external drive to backup my files regularly and upload to Smugmug for online/off-site storage.


  5. kanniduba says:

    Add me to the “Naughty” List….I am SOOO bad at organizing my photos….AND as you already know, I keep alllllll of them. *sigh* It really is embarrassing, since I’m fairly organized in my offline life. Mine are also in folders by date, and I can get to them fairly quickly most of the time. And then Flickr gets all the ones I need for the blog and the ones I would be devastated to lose should all my backups fail.
    However, I really see the need to organize better as my memory (both my own and my computer’s) gets more cluttered and more difficult to navigate.
    I will I will I will.


  6. Hi Scott, thanks for the tip, I should do that more often 🙂


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