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Lightroom Keywords Through Aperture Eyes

Scott Davenport's picture
February 24, 2015 - 12:00pm


With Aperture dead and OS X Photos not cutting it, I've started mapping out my migration to Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I downloaded the trial for Lightroom 5.7 and the Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) to test the waters. I'm going to wait for Lightroom 6 before I do the actual migration (which, if rumors are true, will be really soon now). As I familiarize myself with Lightroom and map my Aperture workflow to it, I thought I'd share my thoughts with you.

Today's topic is keywords

This post is all about keywords. Keyword tagging isn't for everyone, but it is for many. So, why do I keyword? Two reasons.

First, I write books and articles and sometimes that calls for a genre of photos (“seascapes”, for example) which are sprinkled throughout my catalog of images. Having keywords makes finding them easy. I can quickly create a Smart Album (er… Smart Collection; gotta start using Lightroom parlance) for what I need. Keywords are great for ad-hoc queries like this.

Second, I keyword so that others can find my work. I put photos on Flickr and 500px; keywords are essential for potential buyers to find and license my work.

If you don't keyword your images, that's fine. If you're not catering to an audience other than yourself and you can find your images lickety-split, that's awesome. And you can stop reading this post now, too ;-)

Three cool Lightroom keyword features

I am very happy with Lightroom's keywording. Lightroom easily handled an import of my Aperture keyword list and matched up the keywords in migrated photos very well. I still have some exploring to do though. Since I use hierarchical keywords, I have a suspicion there's trouble lurking if keywords with the same name exist at different levels in the hierarchy. General house-cleaning for keywords is on the list prior to migrating out of Aperture, for sure.

Three things I really like about Lightroom's keyword tags over Aperture:

  • Hierarchical Keyword Exports: They work like you'd expect them to work. If I have a hierarchy of Place > North America >Texas > Austin and I tag a photo with “Austin”, the exported photo also gets “Texas”, “North America” and “Place” added to the keyword list. That didn't happen in Aperture and I wrote an AppleScript to expand Aperture keywords to fill that gap. This behavior is on by default and can be tailored per keyword container. This is an excellent level of control. However, “Place” isn't really helpful here… but read on.
  • ​Include/Exclude on Export: Any keyword tag can be excluded from an export. Using the example above, Lightroom lets me edit the “Place” tag and exclude it from exports. The hierarchy contained within “Place” can still be exported. Each and every tag can be customized if need be. This is really, really useful.
  • Synonyms: A keyword tag can have one or more synonyms, which can be selectively included on export. A photo tagged with “Inspiration” can have a synonym “Inspire” and the export process will include both. Tag once inside Lightroom, and gain the SEO benefits on export.
Lightroom keyword tags, and tags contained within a tag, can be selectively exported

Any regrets?

About the only thing I miss from Aperture is the Keyword HUD. The HUD's filtering was smarter. “San Diego” would show only keywords with “San Diego” in it (shocking, I know). However, in Lightroom, the matching is lazier and shows everything with “San” in it. I get stuff like “Pagsanan Falls”, “Sand Castle”, and all of the cities in California that start with “San” or “Santa” (there's a lot of 'em).

I'll cope. The pros outweigh the cons.

About the author, Scott Davenport:

I'm a San Diego based photo educator and landscape photographer and can't get enough of the ocean. I teach workshops, write books and create videos about photography. I'm also much more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it.

See more of my work at

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Scott Davenport

You and Joseph should be on KelbyTV’s The Grid to give your perspectives on switching from Aperture.

Thank you Scott. I wish you well with you transition to LR. It’s not for me however!

Joseph, please will you advise? Are you working away on alternatives for those of us who do not wish ever to move to LR but prefer instead to stick with Aperture for now and see what Photos is offering when the death of Aperture is nigh at the time of the next release of OSX?


Frank, I’ll continue to advise as the situation develops. I think a large percentage of a users don’t use many of the missing features (from Photos), and will be fine without them. Unfortunately that’s not the case for everyone. Once photos is actually shipping I’ll be able to advise better, and of course continue that advisement through what remaining life Aperture has. Of course I shouldn’t call it advisement, but more guidance. My goal is to show the alternatives, compare and contrast, and give us all (myself included) the information needed to make the right decision for ourselves.

— Have you signed up for the mailing list?

Great Joseph.   It’s just that there seems to be quite a rush to head over to Lightroom as a ‘safe haven’.   In my view this is a false destination.

Whilst this route may suite some people it is by no means the obvious route to go.
There are alternatives, including sitting tight and awaiting Photos release before making a decision.

I’m not sure that approach (i.e. do nothing for now) is being given sufficient emphasis at the moment so wanted to air my view.

Many thanks and here’s looking forward to the non-LR way, which is an exciting prospect!


Hey Frank,


You are absolutely right that waiting for OS X Photos to mature is an option.

A little back story…. one Aperture was announced as end-of-life, I spent months looking an Lightroom, Capture One, and on1 Perfect Browse as potential alternatives. All the while waiting for OS X Photos to be unveiled. 

In the end, LR is the right choice for me. Hopefully you'll forgive future articles like this for those that are making the switch to LR. :-)

And a call to others that migrate to Photos, Capture One, or something else… how about some articles talking about the switch? Like Joseph said, having good data means making a well-rounded, informed decision on life after Aperture.


Many thanks Scott.

I entirely agree with, applaud and appreciate the work that you and others have put into looking at ’ … potential alternatives…’ to Aperture.   ‘Potential’ being the key word.

It is most helpful research that will eventually feed in to people like me being able to make an informed decision about the direction to go after Aperture.

My point is however that by making the decision to move from Aperture to Lightroom (or anything else for that matter) right now is a premature decision to make.

Why?   Because, although we can make some guesses as to what photos will or will not offer, it is after all only a guess.

Why jump ship now when Aperture is still providing everything it always has done and BEFORE knowing for certain what Photos will offer?

Hence, my approach.   Don’t make a decision until you have to and until you have all available facts at your disposal.

“Decide in haste and repent at leisure” comes to mind!


I subscribed to the “wait and see what Photos OS X will be” philosophy when end-of-life for Aperture was announced last summer. There was zero information on Photos then. That was the right approach. When the announcements came, I also budgeted time in the spring of 2015 for a migration. I can't afford to freeze my system on a certain OS and stay on Aperture indefinitely. There's other tools in my tool chain that will continue to march forward. And I have a sizable library of images to migrate. I need to allocate the time in my schedule for a move.

Fast forward to now. The developer preview of Photos has been out for a few weeks. There is data to review. There's plenty of reports on what the first release of Photos is and isn't. There's enough information to know what will be available when Photos drops. And one can make an informed decision if Photos will or won't suit your needs. For my needs, Photos doesn't pass muster. So I've chosen to migrate now.

And I'm not saying Lightroom is a panacea. It's not. Plenty of room for improvement. As there was plenty of room for improvement with Aperture. As there is for on1's suite. I'll hazard a guess folks using Capture One want improvements, too.

And I'll stress it again – this is what makes sense for me. If Photos suits your needs, awesome. If Photos suits most of your needs, and you can wait for an iteration or two and see if the gaps get filled, awesome. If Capture One is a better fit for you, awesome.

Get informed, do your homework, and then make your decision. And be comfortable if the right decision for you is to wait longer.

““San Diego” would show only keywords with “San Diego” in it (shocking, I know). However, in Lightroom, the matching is lazier and shows everything with “San” in it. I get stuff like “Pagsanan Falls”, “Sand Castle”, and all of the cities in California that start with “San” or “Santa” (there’s a lot of ‘em).”

This is not a shortcoming of Lightroom, but rather a user oversight.

If you filter by keyword “San Diego” and select “Contain all” from the drop down instead of “Contains” … you should get only those photos tagged as “San Diego” …

Often, what we find “lacking” in other apps actually boils down to different UI settings to get where we desire to be. This is also true for folks going from Lr to Aperture … when it comes to DAM … they both do a rather comparable job, if you know where all the dials and buttons are to get there.

Thank you, Butch! I completely missed that.

That’s ok … I didn’t always know about that either. If we don’t continue to learn new things we rust … ;-)

Taking a second look…. when I wrote that paragraph in the article, I was referring to the “Keyword List” in the right hand pane of the Library module. That doesn't seem to offer a “Contains All” option.

I do see what you're talking about in the filter area. And that's great the options are there.

The “same keyword in different places” in the hierarchy is an interesting one for me, so I just did a little testing and, once again, LR wins hands down.

I had the following in Aperture and it was perfectly happy to do so, but it was a bit fiddly to work with and often not obvious when looking at existing data.

aircraft -> Cessna -> Citation -> Mustang

aircraft -> North American -> P-51 -> Mustang

In Lightroom it took me about 5 minutes in a test catalogue to work out how to create the same structure (just follow your nose really).

Now when I type “Mustang” in the Add keywords box, the following auto-complete options present themselves

Mustang < P-51

Mustang < Citation

Brilliant! And they show that way in the meta data fields, too.

In the Enter keywords view, I see

Mustang < P-51

In the Will export view, I see

Mustang, North American, P-51, aircraft

Good article, Scott. Completely agree with you about the missing Keyword HUD from Aperture. One of the things I miss daily.

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