Keyword Your People Photos

Last month when Mark was talking about organization, he went through keywording and explained his methods.  At the time, he also mentioned how I did my keywording for people, especially family.  I figured a little more depth might be helpful.  I started keeping notes on my photographs way back in 1979.  (At the time I was on an Army-sponsored “vacation” in Monterey, CA, learning Russian.)  I kept my negatives in individual, numbered sleeves.  I had a “high-tech” system that involved boxes of 3x5 cards that listed the date, location, and subjects of each and every frame of the negative inside the sleeve.  I had marks that told me at a glance if there was a model release and, on the reverse side of the card, I listed the file folder where I kept the model release.  Searches weren’t easy, but they were possible.  These boxes traveled all around the world with me as the Army kept me on the move throughout my career.    

When Adobe Photoshop Lightroom beta came out, I was just getting back into photography.  The day I heard about the program, I jumped on it.  I had the keywording section humming – man, I was loving it.  Surely, this was a program feature that everyone was using, right?  Mark and I went to an all-day seminar with Scott Kelby (, and he spent 20 minutes on keywording and said it was a pain.  I was stunned with disbelief!  Since then, I’ve heard similar snivels from other photographers.  Folks, this stuff is very powerful – embrace it!  OK, maybe I get a little carried away…..

Mark and I use Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.  There are other similar programs, like Apple’s Aperture, that are capable of doing the same thing.  Choosing the best program is similar to choosing a camera, find what works best for you.  We chose Lightroom.  Any way….let’s talk about keywording people. 

My workflow ensures that every image has at least one keyword.  I start from the general and get to the very specific.  Since Lightroom allows multiple and nested keywords, I use them all.  Singer/songwriter Gary P. Nunn (shot his photos at the Kerrville Folk Festival) is keyworded with “famous people” and “musicians.” President Gerald Ford is keyworded with “famous people,” “politicians,” and “golfers.”  (I took his photos at the 1980 Bing Crosby Tournament at Pebble Beach, Ca., so he qualifies as a golfer.) 

Nesting the keywords allows you to see roll-ups of related groups.  For example, when I put “Roger A. Dallman Jr” as a keyword on a photo, Lightroom keeps a tally inside the keyword listing, and I can see how many pictures I have of me (not many).  OK, what is special about that?  Well, my name is nested under “Dallman,” so I can see how pictures I have of Dallmans.  “Dallman” is nested under “Family.”  I have done this for all family members and all family names, so I can quickly find any individual family member or family groups in seconds.  I’ve also done this for all close family friends’ individual names, which are nested under their last names, which are nested under “Friends.”

Hang with me here, it gets even better.  I am an amateur genealogist with a huge database of over 6,000 relatives and 19 generations.  When you list a woman, you use her maiden name.  I have lots of old pictures, and they have to be properly listed, so I also differentiate between those names in my keywords.  For example, pictures of my wife (before she blundered and married me) are listed under her maiden name, Catherine McLaulin, nested under “McLaulin,” nested under “Family.”  And, of course, if I take a picture of her tonight, it’ll be listed under “Catherine (McLaulin) Dallman,” nested under “Dallman,” nested under “Family.”

I know this sounds complicated, but Lightroom makes keywording as simple as clicking the keyword.  You can also enter keywords as you import the photos into Lightroom.  How can all this be practical?  When my son got married, my wife wanted a photo collage of him through the years.  I found his name in the keyword list, and, with one click of a trackball (I haven’t connected a mouse to any of my computers since 1986), I was able to find every picture of him in my database.  All she had to do was pick which ones she wanted me to use.  For me, keywording is fun and keeps my databases organized and my searches easy.

Here are some old family photos that are keyworded:

Charlotte Atkins, Charlotte (Atkins) McLaulin, Robert Staples.

Charlotte Rebecca Atkins (Graduation ) Charlotte Rebecca Atkins McLaulinportraitp62