Working with Keywords in Lightroom Classic

Adobe Lightroom Classic

While perhaps not my favorite task in Lightroom Classic, adding keywords to photos is a critical part of my workflow as I often need to search through my entire image library to find components for my composite images. Here are several tips and shortcuts for working with keywords in Lightroom Classic:

They Keywording Panel

• Command + K (Mac) | Control + K (Win) will highlight the Keyword text entree field.

• Command + Shift + K (Mac) | Control  + Shift + K will highlight the larger, Applied Keyword box above it. 

• Command + right arrow (Mac) | Control + right arrow (Win) moves to the next image while keeping the keyword field highlighted. Note: this shortcut also works for captioning.

• If a photo already has a keyword applied, you can click the Keyword badge (in Grid view) to highlight the Applied Keyword box. 

• Lightroom displays nine keyword suggestions based on existing keywords as well as capture time proximity. 

• While I love the ability to start typing in a keyword and have Lightroom auto complete it for me, not everyone seems to be of the same opinion. To disable “Auto Complete”, select Catalog Settings > Metadata and uncheck “Offer suggestions from recently entered values”.  Note that you can also “Clear All Suggestions Lists” at any time.

• If you find that you often apply the same keywords, use the Keyword Set drop down menu to create and save Keyword Sets.

Creating keyword sets can be beneficial because:

The keywords in a set are always listed in the same order (making them easy to find) and they are always available. 

Keyword sets can contain keywords that aren’t used often and therefore aren’t likely to appear in the Keyword Suggestions list.

With an extended keyboard, Option + 1-9 (Mac) | Alt + 1-9 (Win) applies keywords from a set. (Holding the Option + (Mac) | Alt (Win) key displays the numeric shortcuts next to the Keyword Set so that you can see which number will apply what keyword.)

• There are a few characters that are not allowed to be keywords including:

Commas, semicolons, and pipes ( | ) are not allowed in keywords, as they are used to delimit keyword lists.

Keywords cannot end with an asterisk ( * ).

Keywords and synonyms cannot start or end with a space or tab character.

Applying Keywords with the Painter Tool

• Command + Option + K (Mac) | Control + Alt + K (Win) will selects the Paintier tool. 

• Use the Keyword text entry area to add keywords or, use Command + Option + Shift + K (Mac) | Control + Alt + Shift + K (Win) to enter keywords in the Set Keyword Shortcuts dialog. Note: with the Painter tool selected, click on any image in the Grid view to apply that keyword. Click-drag across multiple images to apply the keyword to several images.  

• Option -click (Mac) | Alt -click (Win) with the Painter tool to remove the keyword(s).

• Pressing the Shift key displays the Keyword sets (including Recent keywords) enabling you to quickly select different keywords. 

• When finished, tapping the Escape key will put the tool away. 

• After loading the Painter tool with a keyword, Shift + K will assign the keyword to the selected images (even after you have put away the tool). 

The Keyword List Panel

• To correct a misspelled keyword, double click on the keyword in the Keyword List panel and correct the spelling in the Edit Keyword Tag dialog. Click Save to update the keyword on all images that have that keyword applied. 

• To prevent a keyword from being exported with the file, double click on the keyword in the Keyword panel and uncheck Include on Export. Likewise, you can choose whether or not to Export Containing Keywords, Export Synonyms, and designate Person keywords. 

• To apply several keywords to an image  with a single click, you can create a keyword hierarchy. While you can create each keyword separately (using the Keyword list panel), and then drag and drop the keywords to nest them (creating the hierarchy),  it can be much easier/faster to create a keyword list using a simple text editor. These lists can be imported into Lightroom using Metadata > Import Keywords. If you want to create a hierarchical list, use tabs to designate the primary (parent) and secondary (child) category(s). For example:

New Mexico

White Sands National Park



• Once applied to images, hierarchical keywords are represented as: New Mexico > White Sands National Park > Plants in the Keywording panel. You can also create a hierarchy by typing New Mexico > White Sands National Park in the Keywording panel. Note: it can also be written as: White Sands National Park < New Mexico – they both result in the same keywords applied, with New Mexico as the parent and White Sands National Park as the child  (notice that the “>” is changing direction between the two examples). 

• To share keywords with different machines/peers, choose Metadata > Export Keywords.

• To remove unused keywords from the Keyword list choose Metadata > Purge Unused Keywords.

Finding Files Based on Keywords

• In the Keyword List panel, click on the arrow to the right of the Keyword to filter all photos in the catalog and display only those which contain that keyword.


• To find images with specific keywords applied within a selected Folder/Collection, use the shortcut Command + F (Mac) | Control + F (Win) to enable the Text filter. Next to Text, choose Keywords from the drop-down list and type in the desired keyword. To further refine the filter, choose from Contains, Contains All, Contains Words, Doesn’t Contain, Starts With or Ends With. Add an exclamation point (!) before any word to exclude it from the results. Add a plus sign (+) before/after any word to apply the Starts With/Ends With rule to that word.  Note: the Keywords drop down is “persistent” so the next time you use the shortcut, remember that you will only be searching on keywords, not all metadata fields.

• If you find that you are constantly filtering your photographs using the same keyword criteria, you can streamline the process by saving your custom filter as a preset. For example, when working on my composite images, I often look for photographs of rough paper to use as texture overlays. This requires that I click on the Text option (in the Filter bar), select Keywords from the drop-down list, and enter in the desired keyword (Texture). Then, I refine the filter using the Attribute option to select 2 or greater stars. Instead of doing  this each time I need to filter for paper textures, I set up the criteria once, then click the double headed arrow to the left of the Filter Lock icon and select “Save Current Settings as New Preset”.

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Posted on 03-10-2020


  • By Johan Schmidt - 6:58 AM on March 10, 2020  

    LOTS of info – thanks! Is there a logical build up of keys in the shortcuts? – e.g. Shift + XX = Action1, Option + Shift +XX = Action 2, Shift + Option + CMD +XX = Action 3 etc.? – a blog to explain that would be very useful

  • By David Foster - 4:54 AM on March 11, 2020  

    Thanks Julieanne, this is a really useful post. I keyword all of my images – employing some of these tips will save me a lot of time!

    • By Julieanne Kost - 4:30 PM on March 12, 2020  


  • By Paul Parkinson - 8:00 AM on March 13, 2020  

    I’m looking for some way of managing keywords after the event. The keyword “tree” in the Library module can easily end up looking like a dog’s breakfast. How can we tidy it up? Mine needs quite a bit of work and I am looking for tools to make that process easier. It’s really not a simple process to move Keywords and the underlying images around.

    Also, when applying them in the first place (on import) how can I add and image to the “Southbank Centre” keyword contained within the “< United Kingdom < Greater London < Southbank < Southbank Centre" hierarchy?

    • By Julieanne Kost - 9:57 AM on March 23, 2020  

      I’m not sure that I understand the first question, but if you’re looking to create a hierarchy, you can use the search bar in the Keyword List panel to type multiple keywords and then drag and drop them. I hope that helps, -j

  • By Steve A - 2:16 PM on March 13, 2020  

    Thanks for the great tips! However if keywords are so beneficial (and I agree they are), why doesn’t Adobe allow Lightroom Classic CC keywords to be synched with Lightroom Mobile so we can rap into the power of keywords anywhere anytime? When ca.n we finally expect this feature to be finally added?

    • By Julieanne Kost - 9:52 AM on March 23, 2020  

      Hi Steve, I will definitely forward your request to the Lr mobile team. You can also post your request here so that other members of the community can support the request:

  • By Callmebob - 3:22 PM on March 13, 2020  

    Good post. The lead picture looks a little grainy.

  • By David Kravitz - 11:49 AM on March 18, 2020  

    Thanks for this informative blog. I have a question about hierarchical keywords. I have created a number of keywords under larger categories, such as Crow under Bird. In some cases, they appear to be hierarchical in the keyword panel (Bird > Crow), but in other cases they are not (Bird, Crow). Also, I would like to be able to enter the lowest-level word (Crow) and have the entire hierarchy appear. How do I arrange that given my current set of keywords? Thanks!

    • By Julieanne Kost - 10:03 AM on March 23, 2020  

      Is it possible that you have Crow listed twice in the Keyword List panel (once in the hierarchy and again nonhierarchical)? If so, when you are adding the keyword in the Keywording panel (and Lr is auto-completing), be sure that you select the one that has the hierarchy. I hope that helps!