Take command of keywords

[ This article is an excerpt from iPhoto 6: the Missing Manual (2006; reprinted by permission of O’Reilly ). ]

Want to find every close-up taken of your children during summer vacation? When put to good use, iPhoto 6’s keywords feature makes complex searches like this easy. Keywords are descriptive words that you can use to label and categorize your photos, regardless of which album they’re in. More important, keywords are searchable.

Editing keywords

iPhoto 6 comes with a few sample keywords to get you rolling, including favorite, family, kids, vacation, birthday, movie, and raw. But you can add new keywords to create a meaningful, customized list.

To add, delete, or rename keywords, choose iPhoto: Preferences and click on the Keywords button to reveal the Keywords pane.

Adding Keywords Click on the plus-sign (+) button to produce a new untitled entry in the Keywords list. Then type a name for your new keyword and press return.

Deleting Keywords To delete a keyword, select it in the list and then click on the minus-sign (-) button. You can select multiple keywords for deletion by shift-clicking or Command-clicking (for noncontiguous selections) on them in the list. When you remove a keyword from the list, iPhoto also removes that keyword from any pictures to which you had applied it.

Renaming Keywords To rename an existing keyword, select it in the list, click on the Rename button, and then edit the name. But be careful about renaming keywords after you’ve started using them; the results can be messy. If you’ve already applied the keyword fishing to a batch of photos, but later decide to replace it with romantic in your keyword list, all the fishing photos automatically inherit the keyword romantic. Depending on your inclinations, this may not be what you intended.

The Choice Is Yours iPhoto gives you two ways of assigning keywords to photos. You can use the Photo Info dialog box to activate relevant keywords (top) or drag a group of photos onto a keyword in the Keywords pane (bottom).

Developing a keyword strategy

It may take some time to develop a good master set of keywords. The idea is to assign labels that are general enough to apply across your entire photo collection, but specific enough to be meaningful when conducting searches. Here’s a general rule of thumb: use albums to group pictures of specific events—a wedding, family vacation, or beach party, for example. Use keywords to focus on general characteristics that are likely to appear through your entire photo collection—words like mom , dad , friends , and travel .

Say, for example, you have photos that you shot during a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Rome last summer. You might be tempted to assign Rome as a keyword. Don’t. You probably won’t use Rome on anything other than that one set of photos. It would be smarter to create a photo album called trip to Rome to hold all those Rome pictures. Use your keywords to tag the same pictures with descriptors like travel or family. It might also be useful to apply keywords that describe attributes of the photos themselves, such as close-up, landscape, portrait, and scenic —or even the names of the people in the photos, like Harold, Chris, and Uncle Bert.

Assigning and unassigning keywords

iPhoto offers two methods of applying keywords to your pictures. No matter which method you prefer, you can apply as many keywords to a photo as you like. A picture of your cousin Rachel at a hot-dog-eating contest in London might bear all these keywords: relatives, travel, food, humor, and medical crises. Later, you’ll be able to find that photo no matter which of these categories you’re hunting for.

Method 1: Drag the Picture If it’s not already visible, expose the Keywords pane by clicking on the little key icon below the Source list. You can drag photos onto the relevant keywords one at a time, or you can select multiple photos (hold down the Command key while making multiple selections) and drag an entire group over at once.

This method is best when you want to apply one keyword to a whole bunch of pictures. It’s pretty tedious, however, when you want to apply a lot of different keywords to a single photo.

By the way, you can also use this method to remove keywords from a photo. Simply press the option key as you drag a photo onto a keyword.

Method 2: Get Info Highlight a picture’s thumbnail and choose Photos: Get Info. In the Photo Info dialog box, click on the Keywords tab. Here you’ll find a simple checklist of all your keywords. Turn on all the check boxes that correspond to the currently selected photo.

You can keep the Keywords window open on the screen as you move through your photo collection. To remove keywords using this method, just deselect the appropriate check box.

Viewing keyword assignments

Once you’ve tagged a few pictures with keywords, you can see those keywords in one of two ways. The first is to look at the Keywords window. When you select a photo, its assigned keyword check boxes light up in the Keywords list. The second option is to choose View: Keywords, or press Command-shift-K. iPhoto will display the applied keywords under the photo.

Putting Keywords to Use

Whether you tag photos with the check-mark symbol (see “Using the Check Mark”) or a series of keywords, the big payoff for your diligence arrives when you need to get your hands on a specific set of photos.

Start by opening the Keywords pane below the Source list. When you click on one of the keywords, iPhoto immediately rounds up all photos labeled with that keyword, displays them in the photo-viewing area, and hides all others. Click on Reset to restore the view to the whole album or whole library you had visible before you performed the search.

Search Multiple Keywords To find photos that match multiple keywords, click on additional keywords. For example, if you click on travel and then on holidays, iPhoto reveals all the pictures that have both of those keywords. Every keyword remains selected until you click on it a second time.

Exclude Photos Based on Keywords Suppose you’ve rounded up all your family pictures by clicking on the family keyword. The trouble is, your ex-spouse is in half of them. No problem—as long as you have a keyword set up for him or her. Just option-click on the appropriate keyword. iPhoto obliges by removing all photos with that keyword from the current group. In other words, option-clicking on a keyword tells iPhoto to find photos that don’t contain that keyword.

Narrow Your Search You can confine your search to a single album by selecting it before clicking on any keywords. You can also select multiple albums and search only in those.

Broaden Your Search By default, iPhoto searches for photos that match all selected keywords. But in iPhoto 6, you can change this behavior to have it find photos that match any of the selected keywords—for example, finding pictures with either the travel or the holidays keywords. This will help you expand your search to include more photos. To set this up, choose iPhoto: Preferences, click on the Keywords button, and set the pop-up menu to Match Any Keywords When Filtering.

Using the check mark

You may have noticed that one entry in the Keywords pane is not a word but a symbol—a small check mark. The check mark works just like the other keyword entries, with one exception. Instead of assigning a particular keyword to photos, it flags them with a small check-mark symbol.

You’ll find the check mark extremely useful for temporary organizational tasks. For example, you might want to cull only certain images from a photo album for use in a printed book or slide show. As you browse through the images, use the check-mark button to flag each shot you want. Later, you can perform a search using the check mark to round up all of the images you marked, and then drag them into a new album en masse. After moving your check-marked photos to an album, remember to remove the check mark from all of them while they’re still selected. That way, you won’t get confused the next time you want to use the check mark for flagging a batch of photos.

[ Contributing Editor David Pogue is a weekly tech columnist for the New York Times . Derrick Story is a professional photographer and the editorial director of the O’Reilly Network. ]

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