Keywords and Aperture.... Lock n' Load

The keyword HUD neatly collapsed showing different sets. Click on the small reveal arrow and you expand the sets. Applying is a matter of simple drag n' drop.There will come a day when you realize the importance of keywords. And, like most of us, you will have an epiphany and decide TODAY is the day you're going to get religion and do a better job of adding keywords to your images.

Then, some months later, you come to the realization that no matter how much effort you put into the process, the results aren't as predictable as you thought they would be. It's tedious, it's time consuming, and frankly, there's not a lot of love. Unlike other good habits we work on adapting, applying keywords never really produces personal joy or satisfaction of a job well done. I mean let's face it, you can find your pictures. I can find my pictures... at least I can today. But what about tomorrow? What about 10 years from now? Unfortunately, for us, keywording is more of a "don't pay me now and you'll really pay me later." Get a good keyword library going and you'll unlock a lot more of Aperture's library management power than you ever thought imaginable. Coupled with the Aperture's custom filter dialog, keywords will make childs play of retrieving your images.

Visitors to my archive are provided with check boxes to keyword searches. These all transfer directly to Photoshelter attached to each file.However, if you're doing any sort of online commerce or sharing of your images, keywords do pay dividends to those that aren't familiar with your archives and need to search for something specific. If you fall into this category, you MUST get your keywords and keyword workflow under control. I think the sheer number of images we shoot dictates EVERY photographer adopt some sort of keyword or tagging method. If you're a pro-shooter, YOU MUST get a handle on this. And, the sooner you do it, the better of you'll be.

My move to a Photoshelter based ecommerce system provided me with a serious reality check. Don't get me wrong, I've been keywording images all along. In my mind, I'd been getting better and better at it. But I began to notice with my SWFL Stock Photo project that my keywords weren't really providing the search results that I envisioned. I mentally had an idea of which images fell into which category... but in practice, my search results weren't returning what I thought they should.

The big picture is this... when you create keywords and want them to produce the right search results, you have to put yourself in the mind of the person searching. After all, you've now put yourself in the role of a mini-Google or search engine. You have to anticipate what people are thinking when they look for an image. Of course, we're not capable of managing or creating all the fuzzy logic of a Google type engine, but we can improve the intelligence of a search by better organizing our images and assigning good keywords with a CONSISTENT logic.

Here the American Le Mans top tier is expanded to display the "team" subsets.So, let's take a look at Aperture and see if we can't wrestle the keyword tool into submission. Don't get me wrong, Aperture's keyword tool is an outstanding feature... however, like most good software, it's only as good as your ability to think through it and your commitment to sticking with it.

What's brilliant about Aperture's approach is you can build your keywords into sets and subsets. That SOUNDS really great. And it is. But in practice, it requires YOU to really think through the architecture of your words and how decide to cluster them. Take a look at the default sets that come with Aperture and see if you can't apply a similar structure to your own specific needs.

In this screenshot, the reveals are opened to display the team heirarchy.If you've been adding keywords to your images, I'll guarantee you that there are duplicates in your list. Well... let me qualify that. They're probably NOT duplicates. They're probably the same word misspelled or with a capital letter... or maybe hyphenated etc. You see, Aperture will add any keyword you manually add to an image onto its ever-growing list. That is, unless you lock it. Let's hit shift key + H and bring up our keyword HUD.

Look in the lower left corner of the keyword HUD. Notice the little padlock icon? We want to be sure this is locked. This will prevent Aperture from mindlessly adding keywords to your keyword library. It's important to know, this will NOT prevent you from adding random keywords to your images. Obviously, there will be times we want to add a keyword to an image that might not be a regular occurrence. Maybe a name or location... something like that. But it will keep your keyword library from growing out-of-control. So, unlock it when you want to add / delete or organize your subsets via the Keyword HUD, but be sure and lock it when you're done.

The other two icons are for creating different sets of words. The first will give you a main keyword, the second will add words under a highlighted word as a subset. Subsets can be subsets of subsets and so on.

OK... I can see your eyes beginning to glass over and the veins on the side of your head starting to bulge and pulse a bit. Relax... let's push away from the keyword HUD and think about this.

As I said earlier, we're trying to outsmart our user's search. But let's be real... we can't always save people from themselves. For instance, we can't help their inability to spell. We want to concentrate on sound logic and a reasonable deductive process. Keywords are to assist us. Know this... it will never be perfect. But it can be smart and that starts with you.

Use Aperture's custom dialog box to search out and replace existing keywords that you want to replace with new ones.I'm guessing you already have images already stored in your library that have keywords. As we proceed with getting organized, this might or might not be helpful. For me, once I got into it, I found ways to make my former bad habits work for me. Aperture's own search filters helped me reapply my "new" keywords accurately. It took a little patience and some deductive thinking, but by time I was done, my keyword library was organized, bullet proof AND applied accurately to my 2009 Motorsports library projects and images. I now have the piece of mind knowing I will finish out the year with a solid and consistent keyword library that is accurate, useful, smart and most importantly, FASTER and EASIER to use.

As you know, my job is shooting car races. So... as I share my thought process and results with you, perhaps you can see some overlay to your line of work and the categories you shoot.

I shoot primarily the American Le Mans Series. There are perhaps 30 race cars at any given event. There are 11 events each taking place at a different track. There are four classes of race cars. The race cars are run by teams and some teams have two cars. All cars have two drivers and sometimes three. Some of the cars have sponsors. So, I wanted to know the team, car, class, drivers, sponsor, and the race track. Of course, not all the images from an event are of race cars. But we'll discuss that situation a bit later.

So, my hierarchy for sets was this;

American Le Mans Series


Car make
Other personnel*

Team Car #1

Driver a
Driver b
Driver c

Team Car #2

Driver a
Driver b
Driver c

*(these are always there... but there are some teams that have highly visible people ie; Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal etc., so it's nice to put them under the team set)

Keeping American Le Mans Series as the top tier word, I also add a sub-set called People and add names of people who might be high visibility. I add a sub-set called Tracks. Another sub-set called Officials... and so-on. The thing is, they are all under American Le Mans Series. There is only one keyword that sits under American Le Mans Series that isn't a sub-set, and that is IMSA. IMSA is the acronym for the sanctioning body that runs the Series.

Once I had my list in order, I locked it.

Just as a note, even though all cars run under one of four racing classes, because the class is within the team's subset, when using Aperture's filters, that class will appear as a subset of the team. Checking its box in the filter will ONLY reveal that team. Of course, in an external environment such as Photoshelter, GT2 is going to return all cars running in the GT2 class.

So... LOCKED. I only unlock to add a new team or to edit a team. VERY IMPORTANT: Let's say a team replaces a driver. YOU CAN NOT delete the old driver and put in the new one. If you remove a keyword from your library, it will remove that word from all the images you've tagged with it. BE CAREFUL. In my application, I will simply add the new driver and carry on. I guess I should also point out, if a driver moves to another team, you still need to ADD him... not move him. It sounds complicated, but you have to consider images already stored. You will affect them if you move words around. Just methodically add.

This is how the list looks when opened in a text editor. You can edit keywords this way... but it is an advanced user method and I don't recommend it if you already have images in your library.I will keep this keyword library throughout 2009. In 2010, I will create a new Aperture Library for the season, export my 2009 Keyword library and edit in the changes for the new season once I get an entry list for the first race. You simple export the list using the Export icon at the bottom of the HUD. It will save to your desktop as KeywordList.text. From your new library, you simply hit Shift Key + H to bring up the Keyword HUD and use the Import icon in the bottom right. Simple!

One tip: The keyword library is exported as a text file. You can open the file in a text editor and make your edits there. The subsets are represented via an indentation similar to what I posted above. This is an advanced method and I would not recommend doing this after you've added images to a library. Invariably, you will screw things up. Make your changes in Aperture where you can monitor the effects of keywords already applied to images.

If you want to change a particular keyword, add it to the list in the appropriate subset. Next, using Apertures custom filter, use the keyword option and select the OLD keyword to bring up the affected images. Once the thumbnails are all visible in your browser, select them ALL, then drag the new key word onto one of the images. Once that is done, you can now delete the old key word and it will be removed from those images. Again, be careful. Lock your keyword HUD once your complete.

One last note about your keyword HUD and the sub sets, use the little reveal arrow to close your subsets to keep your HUD visually organized.

Now let's use the keyword HUD in our workflow starting with importing new images from the camera.

My import step includes adding my preset IPTC data that contains my name, location, copyright etc. In addition I have my custom file naming set and I'll adjust the location time if necessary. My IPTS preset has an open field for Caption and Keywords. I'm don't have to rely on captions per se`, so I use the complete formal name of the event I'm shooting:

This week was: Time Warner Cable Road Race Showcase featuring the American Le Mans Series, Elkhart Lake, WI, US - I use the same format for every event.

The screen grab doesn't show the cursor, but if you look at the list and the superimposed words over one of the thumbnails, you'll see how I'm just dragging the words onto an image.In the Keywords field I have a choice. I can type in; American Le Mans Series, IMSA, Road America (track), or I can leave it blank and add those later. For our purpose I'm going to add it later since it's safer from a consistency stand-point. In other words, no spelling mistake and I don't run the risk of calling the track a nickname or a version of it's name. Example: Sebring International Speedway or Sebring Int'l Speedway - see what I mean? I want to be consistent.

Once the images are in their respective project, I will go about my editing, sorting, ranking and post processing. But now, because my keyword catalog is organized and structured, I can hit Shift Key + H, bring up the keyword HUD, reveal the appropriate team, select the keywords and drag them on to the image. Even if I do this later, I can simply visually select all the "keepers" of one particular car and once they're all highlighted, I'll drag the appropriate team keywords on to one image and that appends them all.

And here's a hot tip if it's a two car team where it's difficult to distinguish the cars from a thumbnail, let's say Flying Lizard Motorsports, I'll highlight all the shots of that team, drag the team name keyword (Flying Lizard Motorsport) along with car make, class and other common words on to them all. Then using Apertures custom filter dialog box, filter the keyword Flying Lizard Motorsport. Now, here's where it gets interesting... I'll make the thumbnails larger, or use the loupe, select all of the #45 car and then drag Flying Lizard Motorsport #45, and the driver's names onto one of the selected images. Next... and this is very cool, keeping the images selected, go under the Edit menu in Aperture's main tool bar and select Invert Selection. Now you have all of the other car's images selected and you can drag the appropriate keywords on to those.

Having your keyword library organized will allow you to take full advantage of Aperture's flexibility. Drop the keywords on as you edit images or in groups of selections. It's your call. And don't forget, dragging keywords onto an image only appends the its keywords... so you're not overwriting and it will not duplicate words. Clever!

Another subset of keywords I created is called Descriptive. Here I have miscellaneous but useful words.... like paddock, pit lane, background, atmosphere, start shot, grid, podium, crowd, pretty girl, flag girl, flag, ... and so on. These are words that are helpful for finding shots that are more specific than just a car on track. This set will be a catch-all for terms that become repetitive and can be easily dropped on a single image.

Finally, if I didn't do it on import, I can now select all the "keepers" and drag three more keywords onto all my images; American Le Mans Series, IMSA, Road America (track).

I now have a complete project where all the images are authored and copyrighted with the appropriate IPTC information, ranked by Aperture's star system, post processed and fully searchable by event, track, team, car, driver, sponsor and even specific type. All of this information will transfer into my Photoshelter archives. And, everything but the star ranks will be visible and useable to potential clients visiting my ecommerce galleries.

I'm not going to lie to you, my current keyword list took a good 20-30 hours to sort out. This was in part due to the mess I had on my hands going into it. But now it's done, I have the piece of mind that all my images are searchable and will continue to be going forward. Furthermore, this will happen efficiently, accurately and with consistency. I don't know at this point if it will save time in my workflow, I do know it won't add time. So, even if it's the same amount of work but the results are better, (and I know they are since my library is now up-to-date with my current keyword library) then I've won. Time well spent and job well done.

So figure it out. Think about it before you begin... it's really no different than creating a filing system. Just use your head and sound logic. You can figure this out.Thanks for listening...