We all know it’s helpful to assign metadata to photos in Lightroom, but it always seems like a chore. Why apply keywords and captions when you can jump right into the fun part, editing?
The answer, of course, crops up much later when we can’t find the images we need, or we have no information about where they were captured. And then we curse and promise that next time—next time for sure!—we’ll do better.
Instead, bypass the hassle and get started with metadata right at the beginning. Lightroom Classic CC, in particular, makes it possible to do most of the work while importing; even Lightroom CC, with its stripped-down approach, offers a way to assign metadata up front. By taking a few minutes (that’s all) to get that out of the way first, you can quickly move on to the more exciting stuff.
Which Metadata Is Important?
“Metadata” includes all the data about an image, much of which is written to the image file by the camera: date, time, camera model, lens settings, shutter speed, and the like. You can then add data that describes an image in other ways, such as a copyright line, contact information, description, keywords (especially if the images will go out to stock agencies or newswires), and GPS location data. Some applications, like Lightroom Classic, compile other data such as the identities of people based on facial recognition.
Lightroom CC, in comparison, leans heavily on Adobe Sensei technology for its search feature, which uses cloud processing to identify objects and scenes in your images, whether they’ve been tagged or not. (In fact, a continual frustration is that extremely limited local search is built in—if you don’t have an active Internet connection, you can’t use the search field at all, though you can filter by choosing keywords from a long scrolling list.) However, keywords are still important for defining the information you want, and not worry that Sensei might bring up pictures of bears when you’re searching for images of your pet dogs.
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For everyday use, I say a minimum of copyright and keywords are essential, and everything else can be added later if you want.
The Classic Import
The trick to taking the sting out of assigning metadata in Lightroom Classic is to do as much as possible in the Import window. When the image files are copied into Lightroom’s library, and onto your computer, the metadata you add here is automatically applied to each one.
- With a memory card or camera connected to the computer, click the Import button. (If the Import window is small, click the expansion triangle button in the bottom-left corner to reveal all the import options.)
- Expand the Apply During Import panel.
- In the Keywords field, type any terms that would apply to the entire set of photos you’re importing. That can include the name of the location, general descriptors such as the season or type of photos, and so on. The idea is to build a base of terms that narrow the results of your search. For example, in Figure 1, I’ve included location terms (Pike Place Market, Seattle, downtown) and general descriptors (tourism, market, summer). I wouldn’t add something like flowers, because that applies only to a subset of the images.
By adding just these items, you’re already ahead of the game. In this case, a future search of “Pike Place” will bring up all these photos.
Don’t stop there, though. Although the Keywords field is the most prominent, there’s a host of other metadata you can add during import by creating metadata presets.
- Click the Metadata drop-down menu and choose New.
- In the New Metadata Preset window, fill out any field of information you want to write to each image. This is where you’ll find Copyright as well as IPTC Creator options where you can include contact information. There’s also a Keywords field you can populate with terms that you’ll always use for this batch; I include jeffcarlson as a default, for example. You may also want to include something in the Caption field, which can be edited later based on the content of an image.
- Give the preset a title in the Preset Name field, and then click Create.
- Back in the Apply During Import panel, choose the preset you just built from the Metadata drop-down menu.
When you’re ready to start ingesting photos into your library, click the Import button and let Lightroom Classic do the work. If you like, you can ignore metadata for those images from here on out. You can also edit or add metadata in the Library module—for example, adding the flowers keyword to the shots that feature flowers—if you wish. Classic offers a rabbit hole of keywording hierarchies if that’s your style.
The Lightroom CC Maneuver
The Lightroom CC ethos is significantly less complicated, by design. Although the Import window in the newest incarnation of Lightroom is quite simple, it’s also less intimidating for many photographers. You won’t find any options to apply metadata during import, but you can still get ahead immediately after adding the files to your library.
- Click the Add Photos button and choose the card or camera attached to your computer.
- The only import options are to choose which images you want to add, and whether to put them into an album. With those decided, click the Add Photos button to copy the files into your library.
- When that process is complete, Lightroom CC displays only those photos in the Recently Added screen. Choose Edit > Select All, or press Command/Ctrl-A to select all the visible photos.
- Click the Keywords button to view the Keywords panel.
- In the Keywords field, type the terms that apply to those selected images, separated by commas. Press Return when you’re done; if there are a lot of images, Lightroom will ask you to confirm that you want to apply the change to all of the selected images—click OK.
- Click the Info button to reveal the Info panel.
- Add any of the available information in the fields provided, such as Copyright, Caption, and City. Confirm that you want to make the edits if Lightroom CC asks you to confirm them.
That’s not as comprehensive as the Lightroom Classic approach, but you’re still getting a jump on your metadata game. Plus, since Lightroom CC is tied into Creative Cloud, that metadata is propagated with the images among all your devices running Lightroom CC apps.
It’s easy to think that applying metadata to photos is an arduous task, but it doesn’t have to be. With a few minutes of effort during the import process in Lightroom Classic and Lightroom CC, you’ll save yourself time and effort later when searching for just the right shot.