I've seen this asked at least 50-100 times in various ways over 5 years but all the answers miss the question or suggest manual methods or workarounds.

How does one apply a fixed set of keywords (2 or more) to 1 or more images without manually selecting each keyword and (egad) without typing in a super long list of comma separated hierarchical keyword strings in the Keywords input box?

One would think it's right there with "Keyword Sets". And there's an option on the Metadata>Keyword Set menu. Yet, the menu action does nothing I can see.

In the Keywords panel, you can recall a Keyword Set but that only lists 9 keywords for easier manual entry one by one. You can also enter them manually, one after the other, separated by commas, in a tiny little boxes. Say what? With hierarchical tags, that would mean hundreds of characters of entry.

Here's one of my real world examples but it could just as well be a Wedding, Commercial, Modeling Shoot, Air Show, or Fashion gig.

Edited Example: I have 300,000 images. Most of which are in LR databases. Of those, I am going back to properly catalog about 5,000 commercial glamour nude shots taken in Nassau for Pro Mag. However, I am only coming across them about 10, 20 or 50 at a time. Most are already imported, so intake processing actions don't cut it.

All of the shots from at gig have mostly the same keywords. So I would logically want to create a predefined set of keywords (not to be confused with the LR term of Keyword Set).

So, I predefined a set of keywords labelled "GSM Nassau 2015" that are common to this gig such as the following:

  • Locale>Bahamas>Nassau>KingBeach
  • Style>Nude,
  • Style>Glamour,
  • Style>Commercial
  • Format>Pal>Color
  • People>Models>Russell, Shirley
  • People>Models>Havens, Wanda
  • People>Models>Chabalier, Pierrette
  • Gender>Female
  • Client>GSM
  • Season>Winter

... and many others ...

I assumed that something named in LR as "Keyword Set" would mean this very thing and I could select a set of images and click on the set and done. However, it seems that LR's KW Sets do no more than display a set of keywords from which you can manually select them one by one.

So, does anyone know how to do this? Define a set of keywords with a name. Select a bunch of images and click the Keyword Set to add all the KWs in that set to the selected images. I really hope I am missing something and there is a way to do this simply thing.

Please don't reply with workarounds or answers to other questions. I think both the question and the type of answer are abundantly clear.

  • 2
    I´m not in front of LR and am not sure if I understand your desired functionnality fully. But wouldn´t copy-pasting the keywords work? So apply keyword set to one photo (manually), and copy-paste it to the remaining 50. – Saaru Lindestøkke Jan 30 '15 at 8:29
  • I would probably stop trying to make Lightroom work the way you think it should (because it doesn't) and look at how Lightroom does things and find a workflow that works with the tool and not fights it. It seems to me you can get close to this using the paint can, for instance... – chuqui Jan 30 '15 at 16:10
  • what does "I am only coming across them about 10, 20 or 50 at a time" mean? if you want to tag 5000 photos with the same keywords, set your filters to select all of those, or create a (quick)collection with all of them, select them, and apply the keywords all at once. – ths Jan 30 '15 at 18:58

The closest thing I can think of to a single-click method for applying multiple keywords to a photo is to create a metadata preset:

  • In the Metadata panel, pull down the Preset drop-down and say Edit Presets...

  • Click "Check None" to clear any existing preset

  • Scroll almost all the way to the bottom of the list to the Keywords section. Type your keywords into this box, just as you would into the Keywording panel.

    As soon as you start typing here, you will notice that the checkbox next to "Keywords" gets checked. This is telling you that this setting (and this setting alone) will be applied when you use this preset.

  • Pull down the drop-down at the top of the window and say "Save Current Settings as New Preset..." This will let you name the preset for later use.

  • Click Done to leave this dialog. Now you will find that the Metadata → Preset drop-down has your new preset in it. When you select it, those keywords will be added to those already on the photo.

This is clearly only suitable if you have a static set of keywords you can define up front. You can use multiple presets on a single photo; the effects merge, rather than replace the prior values.

When you can't really define the necessary sets up front, you pretty much have to give up on your "without typing" restriction. Once you do set that restriction aside, several more solutions become available:

  1. Type your long set of keywords into the Keywording box once, say ⌘/Ctrl-A to select your typing, hit ⌘/Ctrl-C to copy the text to the clipboard, then hit Enter to apply those new keywords to the selected photo(s). Now you can find the next photo or group of photos that needs that same keyword set and ⌘/Ctrl-V them onto that set, too.

    I do this all the time, and it really is not that big a deal. The most painful part about it comes from the fact that Lightroom really starts choking when you get into heavy keywording, but that is going to affect any solution as long as keyword application in Lightroom remains slow.

    (Adobe, if you're listening, that's my top LR6 wishlist item: instantaneous keyword application. A net data addition measured in the 10's of kilobytes should not be taking human-scale time in 2015.)

  2. cmason's Keyword Shortcuts answer.

    It's essentially the same thing as the previous option, but you don't have to keep your input focus in the Keywording text box, and Shift-K is easier to hit than ⌘/Ctrl-V Enter.

  3. Use the Paint tool to do the same thing with the mouse instead of the keyboard:

    • In the Grid view, click the spraypaint can icon in the toolbar.

      (Press T to show it if it isn't showing already.)

    • From the drop-down box next to the "Paint:" label, select Keywords.

    • Type your long list of keywords in, separated by commas:

      painter tool

    • Spraypaint those keywords onto the photos in the grid.

Whichever option you choose, I suggest that you combine it with some kind of Text filter. If you're adding the example keyword set above, you can say ⌘/Ctrl-F, then set a filter to make Lightroom hide the photos you've already changed:

keyword filter

The key trick is the ! prefix on the keyword combined with the "Contains Words" option. This tells Lightroom to show you all the photos that do not contain that keyword. Thus, as you add keywords to photos, they disappear from the filtered grid, allowing you to see other photos that you might also want to change.

This is different from using "Doesn't Contain" in two key ways:

  • You can use it in combination with positive terms. For example, you could find photos that are almost certainly missing at least one keyword with "models !style !gender".

  • "Doesn't Contain" uses substring matching, so that it can't make a distinction between "top" and "octopus". As your keyword hierarchy gets deeper and broader, you will cause more and more of these collisions. Whole-word searching will reduce their impact.

With sufficient cleverness, you can often get the Library Filter to do things you might have thought you'd need a Smart Collection to accomplish.

By the way, your use of commas in keywords (e.g. "Chabalier, Pierrette") causes problems with all of the solutions above. "Lastname, Firstname" is fine for paper filing systems, but it offers no benefits in Lightroom. I suggest that you switch to one of two alternative schemes:

  • If you have some OCD organizational need to have the Keyword List panel arranged by last name, use Lightroom's keyword hierarchy feature: "Chabalier > Pierrette".

  • Spell the name out naturally: "Pierrette Chabalier". Lightroom treats that as two words, so you can still search for just "Chebalier", if you want to.


Keyword shortcuts can do this, but the downside is that its tied to Keyboard shortcuts, so you will likely run out of keyboard keys to use (and brainpower to remember them all).

I do not believe LR does exactly what you are seeking, and perhaps you should send your use case to the LR product team.

However, at the risk of disappointing you, here is how you can achieve your desired results without typing in keywords each time:

Keyword Hierarchies

LR allows you to organize your keywords in hierarchies. This means that there is a parent keyword with associated child keywords. So using your example, you would have:



Russell, Shirley

Havens, Wanda

Chabalier, Pierrette

The 'key' to making this work and be useful is to understand that in using keyword hierarchies, Lightroom drives inheritance up the hierarchy. So, by choosing a lower level keyword, the parent keywords are automatically added.

So to add "People, Models, "Havens, Wanda", you would simply add 'Haven,Wanda' to your photo.

THE GOTCHA (its LR, you knew there would be one)

In practice, HOW you apply the keywords matters for this to work. I have found that it ONLY works if:

  1. You must create Child keywords by choosing the keyword from the keyword list, right clicking and choose "Create keyword tag inside "x", where X is the parent keyword. There is no way to drag and drop that I can find, and it doesn't like to add existing keywords [facepalm]
  2. You must assign keywords from the keyword list panel, not the Keyword Tags box, not the Keyword suggestions or Keyword Set boxes. You can choose the photos, then check the Child keywork or, right click and choose "Add this keyword to selected photo".
  3. Finally, if you do 1. and 2. the keywords won't show in the keyword box, UNLESS you go to the keyword box and change the pull down menu to "Keywords & Containing keywords". Doing this blocks the ability to manually enter in the Keyword box for some reason.

This works, as demonstrated in the image below. The only real pain in this is that you must add keywords via dialog boxes to ensure they get assigned to a parent, and if you already have keywords, you can't use those [shrug]

enter image description here

  • +1: As simple as Lightroom seems on the surface, one keeps learning about features tucked away in the corner. I've been using copy-paste to do this for years. I'd say Shift-K is enough quicker than Cmd-V, Enter that I think I'm going to switch to this method. Thanks! – Warren Young Jan 30 '15 at 16:05

I think this post may summarize the best solution for my question and is based on all the kind input I received thus far.


The consensus is that LR cannot do what I needed so I combined the many suggestions into a hybrid solution that others may find helpful.

Suggested methods:

  1.An LR "Keyword Set" displays only 1-9 KWs you have to pick individually.
  2.KW panel box works but is totally manual needing multiple settings.
  3.Metadata Sync works but needs careful selection and multiple KW settings.
  4.KB shortcutting suffers the same, needing much manual configuring.
  5.Spray Can is the fastest but also needs manual KW entry.

I came up with a simplistic but effective alternative which is a hybrid solution that should suffice until Adobe upgrades Keyword Sets or I find (or write) a plugin to do it right.

To create a Keyword Set feature that is flexible and not too tedious, we can use a combination of a simple text file that holds all your predefined keyword sets in conjunction with the often overlooked Paint Can tool.

To apply a predefined set of keywords stored in the text file, you copy the KW data and paste it into the Paint Can's KW data box. Thereafter, for all images related to that KW set, you need only click (or drag across) them to add the keywords of that set.

If you come upon a different group of images for which there exists another KW set, you repeat that process with that image group's applicable KW set - or make a new set if you find you are lacking one.

Several of have suggested I could just as well type in the new KWs in any of several places. That is true but I guess I failed to clarify the greatest benefit of this approach. You never have to type a predefined KW set in again. You just copy and paste it once then use the Paint Can to touch as few or as many images as you want tagged with those KW's.

In this way, you minimize your operations for a single image group to 1 cut/paste and then single clicks or swipes to "paint" those KWs, additively, into the desired images.

Lastly, the text file provides you with a nicely documented textual record of your keyword sets. When cataloging 100,000 images, I (for one) would never remember the exact keyword string I used to add to images 3,123 through 3,354 some 2-9 months ago ;-)

--- Example Keyword Text File ----

This text file has no special format. It is not used by LR. It simply holds groups of keywords you put here for later copying to LR's Paint Tool Keyword box so you can "paint" those keywords into images.

To make finding my keyword sets easier, I prefix each KW set with a title line that makes finding it easier. It is not used for anything else. The next line(s) contain the keywords themselves. The format of the keyword line(s) should be such that they can be cut and pasted directly into Light Room's Paint Can Keyword text box without alteration. Then you "Paint" all images you want tagged with those keywords.


1. Locate (or create) the desired Keyword Set in this text file. 
2. Highlight and copy the keywords for that set. 
3. Enable the "Paint Can" tool at the bottom of the LR gallery view. 
4. Select [Keywords] as the type of the Paint action
5. Paste your copied keywords from this file into the Paint data box.
   Nb. I've successfully loaded 520+ characters into that data box. 
6. Then Paint the images you want to add those keywords to. 

It's far more tedious to describe than to actual do it. It's just 1 copy/paste. With the text file left open, it's a very few quick mouse actions to set up the Paint Can's keyword data. Then use the Paint tool as usual to quickly add those keywords to any images. To change to a different keyword set, flip back to your open text file, copy a different keyword set, paste them into the Paint data box and you're ready add the 2nd set of keywords. Voila!

=== Example Keyword Sets ===

--- GSM W2015 Issue
Typ>Fashion, Typ>Glamour, Place>Bahamas>Nassau>OldPort, 
Client>GSM, People>GizelleP, Season>Winter, Fmt>Pal>Color, Age>30-40

--- PoulinG Wedding 2014-12-31
Loc>Can>Que>Mtl>Carre-St-Louis, Client>GrenierJP, Season>Winter, Fmt>Pal>Color

=== That's it.

Thank you all again for your contributions here. Over and out.

  • Criticism #2 is incorrect. You do the paste in the one-line "Click here to add keywords" box, not the multi-line box that lists all the current keywords. It is a purely additive process, merging the new keywords in with the existing set. – Warren Young Feb 1 '15 at 23:46
  • +1 for taking the time to write all this up, but I doubt it's actually faster. Just to take your longest single line — the last one — you can probably type that with about 3 characters per keyword to get the unique value, plus commas, coming to about 15 characters. Is Alt-Tab, search, mark, Ctrl-C, Alt-Tab, move mouse, click, Ctrl-V really faster than "OldP,Pou,Win,Col", possibly interspersed with a few down-arrow keystrokes to pick from a list of matches? – Warren Young Feb 1 '15 at 23:51
  • Actually, thinking more on it, Criticism #2 is doubly incorrect. You can paste them into the multi-line box, too. Just add a comma to separate the new set from the existing set. You don't end up with duplicate keywords, either: Lightroom merges those. The only way to lose existing keywords is to accidentally overtype them, and you have to go out of your way to do that, since a single click in the box puts your cursor at the end of the existing input with nothing selected. All you need to do is type comma and Cmd/Ctrl-V. The single-line box is still faster, though. – Warren Young Feb 1 '15 at 23:55
  • Thanks for the reply, Warren. You're right about KW panel box. I was thinking of something else. However, my goal probably got lost in the shuffle. It was to define many keyword sets, any of which I can apply as I come across related image groups, piecemeal, as I rebuild my catalog. The text DB holds the KW sets which I copy and paste into Paint's KW box. I then need only enable Paint and click on the related images. I can switch KW sets with another single copy/paste and then repeatedly use Paint again. This reduces the copy/paste aspect to just once per KW set. Hope that explains it better. – XOR42 Feb 2 '15 at 5:48
  • See my updated answer. The new metadata preset option might be just what you're looking for. – Warren Young Feb 3 '15 at 16:47
  1. Switching to Library mode from Develop mode, choose ONE image and add selected keywords in "keyword tag" box at right. (Ignore "keyword suggestions" and "keyword list boxes" at this time.) USE COMMMAS to separate each keyword.
  2. View multiple images in "Grid View" by clicking on icon at bottom right that looks like a bunch of little boxes, if you don't know what that icon is. Select ALL images you wish to tag, i.e. assign with keywords. On MAC it's the option button.
  3. At bottom right, click "Synch" button (not "autosynch"), then scroll all the way down to keywords box. Click that box. Now press "Synchronize." That should be it. Glad to share info that I just spent so much time figuring out. Every software has its own UI and for some reason they think their particular UIs are intuitive. They are not.

I have been searching for a way to do this and stumbled upon this thread. In the end, I played with LR a bit more and think I may have come up with a bit of a work around that I couldn't see listed... (but could be because I am new to LR and easily confused)...

I have created keyword sets but instead of putting the keywords in the 9 different 'boxes', I have put all in 1 comma separated list in 1 box and saved it as a unique keyword set. Then, all I have to do is click on the single box in the keyword set and it populates all of the keywords in one go.

a) does this make sense and b) does this do what was being asked for? Here is a screen print of what I mean. By clicking just the first box, I get all 3 keywords in and then choose if I want any of the others.

enter image description here

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