If you have been following advice from me and others, you are taking the time to keyword your photos using the Keywording panel, so that you can find them later.  Now it is time to organize these keywords.

The Keyword List panel, which is below the Keywording panel, shows you all the keywords you have ever assigned to photos in your catalog.  Chances are, at this point it’s just a very long list, sorted alphabetically.   You can clean this up by arranging your keywords into nested hierarchies.  Here’s an example:

Keyword Hierarchy in Lightroom

There are three advantages to using keyword hierarchies in Lightroom:

1.  It is easier to find a keyword in the list.
2.  You can collapse hierarchies in the list, so that they don’t take up space while you aren’t using them (Just click on the downward triangle to hide all keywords within that keyword.)
3.  When you assign the bottom-level keyword, all keywords further up in the hierarchy are automatically assigned, thus saving you time. For example, If I assign Victoria to a photo or group of photos, British Columbia, Canada, North America and Location are automatically assigned to the photos.

Here’s how you would set up a hierarchy:

Let’s say that you have keywords for the names of family, friends and clients, as well as some descriptive keywords for people, and you want to organize them as follows:


  • To add a new keyword, “People”, click on the + to the left of the words “Keyword List” at the top of the panel, and type People as the Keyword Tag.  Click Create.  Note that this does not assign the keyword to any photos.

New Keyword in Lightroom Using Keyword List Panel

  • Right-click on the keyword People, and choose Create New Keyword Inside “People”.  Call this one Clients.
  • Now click and drag your existing Client names keywords and drop them right on top of Clients, to nest them within Clients.
  • Again, Right-click on the keyword People, and choose Create New Keyword Inside “People”.  Call this one Family.
  • Click and drag your existing Family names keywords and drop them right on top of Family, to nest them within Family.
  • etc.
As I mentioned earlier, once you have the hierarchy set up, any photos with a particular keyword assigned automatically gets all keywords higher up in that keyword’s hierarchy.


However, if you look up in the Keywording panel to verify this, by default you won’t see this!!


For example, I have selected a photo with Victoria assigned to it.  Here’s what the Keywording panel shows, by default:




It doesn’t show that British Columbia, Canada, and North America have also been assigned!  By default it is showing only keywords that you have explicitly entered or assigned.


The secret to seeing also keywords that contain this keyword is to go to the drop-down where it says Enter Keywords, and change this to Keywords and Containing Keywords:


Now I can see them all.


There is one more little complication though — with “Keywords & Containing Keywords” chosen, you will find that you can’t type new keywords into the big keyword box where the existing ones are listed.  Instead, assign new keywords to photos by entering them where it says “Click here to add keywords” (in the screen capture above).


I think it is worth sitting down with pen and paper first, and planning what hierarchies make sense for you.   Then create them all using the Keyword List panel and drag existing keywords into them.


Here are a few other examples of hierarchies:


Types of Photography
Potential Composite


You can also create keyword hierarchies in other programs, such as Excel and Word, or purchase keyword hierarchies online, and load them into Lightroom.  Stay tuned for a future post on this.


What hierarchies have you found useful?  Leave a comment below!


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