Here I am on my third post, and I’m still in the planning stages of my Lightroom implementation. Whew! At this point, I am compiling a hierarchical list of my own keywords in an Excel spreadsheet. Yesterday I described how Lightroom behaved when I tried to upload my own keyword list with non-standard characters like é and §, but I left off without explaining why it matters.
Why I want to use non-standard characters
I am going to shamelessly steal one of the best ideas I found on the web for efficient keywording. Eric Scouten describes how he uses special characters to identify the top-level keywords in his hierarchy. If, while he is adding new keywords on the fly, he forgets to place a new word in the hierarchy tree, that word will land at the top of his keyword list and scream out “file me.” Just don’t try to install the special characters into the text file for import; Lightroom won’t import anything at all. This step has to be done afterwards.
In the same post, Scouten also explains how he uses “work list” keywords, also identified with special characters, to quickly sort images that need more tagging. He uses them as a flag to indicate that an image has been tagged. For example, by adding the keyword “People I know” to each image after he does the tagging, he can sort out images which still need to be scanned for that top-level category.
I may invert Scouten’s logic, and import every new image with a default set of keywords, then remove “work list” tags from an image as I complete a subsection of keywords. Either approach will work. The only question in my mind is which strategy am I more likely to follow with rigid consistency. Lightroom will apply a set of keywords as it imports a folder of images from disk, and I verified that it will apply keywords with special characters during that process. So I could create a default set of keywords to use every time I import a folder. It would be nice if Adobe added a preset for keywords as well as the camera metadata to the Import panel, but I can have a text file handy if I go that route.
My top-level categories
I am going to put this project on hold for a week or more to go make some new pictures for my Highway 89 project in Yellowstone. This pause will give me time to think carefuly about my keyword list. I want to take particular care not to forget any top-level categories. I don’t want to get half way through and then have to re-tag my images with another major set of classifications. This approach is 180° from my usual “jump-in-with-both-feet” style, but this project is going to take a huge amount of time as it. A little extra planning on the front end seemed worthy enough that I’m actually doing it.
As I made up my list, I imagined asking “who, what, when, where, why” for each picture, and recollecting what little grammar I studied in school. The actual subject (noun-person, place or thing) of a photo requires a different sort of keyword than the verb (action or state of being) and adjectives/adverbs (physical description, emotion, relationships, etc.). I will also add a few process-oriented keywords, like “client,” “project,” and “model-released” at the top of my list as well.
Here are my still-evolving top-level categories. I will post my final list when as I get started actually importing. Because I can fill in the detailed lower tier keywords – a particular city, for example – as they arise, I won’t necessarily type those into Excel. It’s the organizational structure I want to create right now. I can do the typing work on the fly. For example, I’ve made a list of locations, “continent > country > state,” but I can add the cities, national parks, etc. as I do the image importing.
AT-Meta Checklist [per Scouten]
AT-Meta Uses [client, project, etc.]
AT-Meta Style[Abstract, B&W, Composition, Lighting, etc.]
Activity [Football, Knitting, etc.]
Communications [Signs, text, symbols]
Cultural [Heritage, Politics, Religion]
Fashion & Beauty
Food & Beverge
Material [Glass, Wood, Metal, etc.]
Nature [Animal, Plant, Weather, etc.]
Object [Household, Industrial - I mean isolated objects]
People [Friend, Relationships, Gender, etc.]
Places [location, park/public land, waterfall, etc]
Science & Technology
Time [Season, Sunrise, Afternoon, etc.]
[Convertible, Boxcar, Freeway]
Adjectives [color, emotion, temperature, concept]
Verbs: [Action, Motion, Behavior]
When I return from snowmobiling, er pondering, next week, I plan to create a new, empty Lightroom catalog, import my tab-delimited keyword list, and start importing folders of images. I’m interested to discover by how many keywords my list will grow as I progress through the keywording process. So far, I’m up to about 400, but I haven’t added even simple lists like colors or automobile models.
Besides the enormous task of sorting through 500GB of images (I don’t even know how many, but I know the D70 rolled over 9999 more than once, and the D2X has done so at least three times.) I’m also curious to see how the LR archive file grows in proportion to the images I add. I’ll report back on that when I have some data.
The major outstanding issue remaining is to figure out how to back up of the updated .xmp files. It stands to reason that there will be a way to script this process; I just haven’t explored that yet. As I’ve said before, I’m no code monkey, but how hard can it be? (How many software projects have gone down in flames with those very words?) I’ll report back on that too.