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How to Build Keyword Hierarchies in Lightroom?

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Adding keywords to your photos in Lightroom is probably not the most fun part of your photo editing workflow. I guess you would rather spend time on your creative process with making your photos come alive or be out taking more photos.

However, managing your Lightroom keywords is very useful, because many publishing plugins to Lightroom can recognize the attached keywords and use these in your online portfolio (like on Photoshelter), or on a photography portal like on Entering keywords in Lightroom will save you the time of entering the keywords online. Maintaining a good keyword structure in Lightroom can highly benefit your search engine optimization effort online along with improving Lightroom’s ability to find your photos when you search for them.

Keywording in Lightroom is quite flexible, and you can add keywords in several ways.

Besides, from just adding your keywords in the Keywording Panel, you could instead build a hierarchy of keywords. It takes more time in the beginning, but it pays off later when entering keywords for other images.

Example keyword hierarchies

What are Lightroom Keyword Hierarchies?

Keyword hierarchies is a structure or link between keywords. After setting up this keyword hierarchy when you type a keyword, Lightroom will automatically add they rest of the keywords from the hierarchy. You can e.g. make a keyword hierarchy with this structure:
Continent > Country > County > City > Location, or something like this. In a real case example this would be: Europe > Spain > Andalusia > Maro > Maro Beach.

Once this hierarchy is build, you only need to add the keyword Maro Beach in the Keywording Panel (where it says Click here to add keywords), and Lightroom will add all the preceding keywords in the hierarchy. If you instead type Andalusia, the Lightroom will add the keywords: Spain and Europe, automatically.

Using Lightroom Keyword Hierarchies is a quick way to assist you in adding more keywords, instead of having to think it up from scratch for each photo or group of photos.

You also make a hierarchy based on the genre of the image, like with landscape > ocean > waves or nature > forest > trees > tree > leaf.

Building Lightroom Keyword Hierarchy

Suppose you have entered the same keyword in two different hierarchies, then what? If you use the add keyword field just below the keywording panel, Lightroom uses auto lookup and show you a suggestion where you can choose the correct meaning. I.e. the keyword tree, as in a tree > forest (would add tree, forest, and nature as keywords) or just tree > nature (would add tree and nature as keywords).

The essential point is to write one keyword and make Lightroom add several others. Further on we will learn how to use synonyms as well, which will make keywording in Lightroom even quicker. But first, I will tell you how to make the hierarchies for the keywords.

How to Build Lightroom Keyword Hierarchies?

It is very simple to build a Lightroom keyword hierarchy. Go to the Keyword List. Find two keywords that you think should be in a hierarchy. Now select one (e.g. sunset) and drag it on top of the other keyword (landscape) and drop it. Dropping a keyword onto the other creates “parent-child” relationship between the two keywords. It is as simple as organizing files and folders on a computer.

Using Lightroom Keyword Synonyms

Keyword Suggestions

Synonyms are another feature that will make you day easier, or at least you workflow. Double click on a keyword in the Keyword List panel. Now you will see a dialog box where you can enter synonyms. This is very useful for entering e.g. Latin names of both animals, trees and plants that you might photograph. Unless this is a specific hobby of yours, I guess most of us don’t know the latin names of neither animals or plants. However, there are many people, who might use it to be sure they find the right plant. If you do stock photography Latin names are a must have in the keywords if you are doing flower or animal photography. Why not put it as a synonym for the common name of the plant, once and for all and then forget about it.

If you don’t see the synonyms being added to the list, change the Keyword Tags to Keywords & Containing Keywords in the Keywording Panel in Lightroom.

5 thoughts on “How to Build Keyword Hierarchies in Lightroom?”

  1. Peter: Can you build a hierarchy in a LR library that already has photos with keywords. When you move the keywords will all the phots’s keywords change? Or will just the ones you add after the hierarchy has been built?

  2. On my computer I can unzip the preset files but my PC won’t let Lightroom loads into the Preset folder. Please can you give me the correct steps to get from preset download into the Lightroom


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