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Keywords play an important part in any archiving setup.  Photo Mechanic adds some extra functionality to this field in both the Metadata (IPTC) Template and Metadata (IPTC) Info.


There are three basic methods for adding keyword metadata to photos in Photo Mechanic. You can type keywords directly into the keywords field in the Metadata (IPTC) Info or Metadata (IPTC) Template. You can use the Keywords Panel and Edit Keywords dialog box to import, export, and edit a flat list of keywords for controlled vocabulary. The most advanced option is the Structured Keywords panel, which allows you to import, export, and edit a hierarchical controlled vocabulary. 

Note: all three methods listed here are available in the Metadata (IPTC) Info and Metadata (IPTC) Template. You don't need to enter the Keywords Panel or the Structured Keywords panel to enter metadata once you have set up your keywords lists.


Entering keywords manually using the Metadata (IPTC) Info dialog box:

Here are three quick examples of adding keywords to the same photo. 

Type comma-separated keywords in the Keywords field. Advantage: This is fast and easy. However, you may use inconsistent variations as you add metadata, and that could cause confusion when you later try to sort and find photos based on keywords. 

Create keyword lists (vocabulary lists) using the IPTC Keyword panel:

Use the IPTC Keywords dialog to set up a master list of keywords and select the ones you want to use. 


  1. Select the dropdown arrow on the Keywords field 
  2. and then select Edit Keywords...   
Save time. Use the Snapshot button to create sets of keywords related to different subjects or jobs.


We recommend you set up as much of this as you can in advance and then export the data and keep a backup. If you have whole sets of data that you use on a regular basis, you can use snapshots to save the entire Metadata (IPTC) Template to be loaded later. 

Clear only selected data 

  1. Hold down the modifier key the make the Clear button change to an Options button. 
  2. Select Options to set which data fields are cleared and which are kept unchanged when you use the Clear button.


You can find the IPTC Keywords panel by selecting Edit Keywords from the triangle button next to the keywords field. From here, you can create a master keywords list by typing in new keywords or import a plain text file (one keyword per line), and you can export your existing file to share with others. You can also take advantage of snapshots to manage vocabulary for different occasions.

You can add, delete, or change keywords from your master keywords list. 


Note: Changing a keyword in the Master Keywords List does not change the keywords on previously-saved photos. It only changes the entry in the list. If you wish to change a keyword that has already been applied to multiple images, you can use Find and Replace.

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You can also combine this with manual keyword entry by adding keywords you've entered into your current keywords list. After you've set up keywords through the IPTC Keywords list, you can access them in the Metadata (IPTC) Template.


Structured Keywords:

Using vocabulary lists gives you more control over your keywords and can be set up quickly. However, large master keyword lists can get cumbersome to navigate in a flat structure. To get started, select Structured Keywords... from the dropdown menu next to the Keywords field.

Keywords are organized in a hierarchical chain. Select items in the hierarchy to see more options, and select keywords at the end of the hierarchy to apply the selected keyword. 

Right-click to see more options for manually adding more items to any level of the hierarchy. 

Structured keywords allow you to maintain a hierarchical controlled vocabulary that you can import, export, and edit. You can add entire paths of keywords to each image at once, making your photo metadata more consistent and easier to search. In this example, selecting the Add path button added: "chicken, animals, animal, beast, beasts, creature, creatures, zoology, livestock, poultry" without additional typing. 

Structured keyword lists require more time to create. However, you can take advantage of free and commercially available vocabularies. 

Create a structured keyword list from scratch

If you want to create your own controlled vocabularies they can be created from scratch by right-clicking in the columns.  Select Create child item or Create sibling item, etc. 

You can Import text files using the Load and Merge buttons, and edited lists can be saved using the Save button. Saving and sharing lists is a good idea when multiple users are adding keywords so that all words are consistent across users and all words are spelled the same way. 

  • Save: allows you to save the current database to a file of your choosing. You don’t need to save unless you want to export the database to another system or share it with a friend. Photo Mechanic saves the database internally for you as you make changes to it.
  • Load: completely replaces the current database with the file you’re loading.
  • Merge: pulls in only the items in the new database that don’t already exist in the current database. This is useful for people who update their database on their machines but subscribe to a standard database (like the Controlled Vocabulary database) and want to get the latest version but don’t want to lose their own additions.

Vocabulary File Format

Structured keywords must be a text file encoded in UTF-8 - which means it is fully Unicode compatible and supports any language. There are free text editors for both macOS and Windows that can read and write UTF-8.

  • The layout of the file is a tab-delimited set of words with special wrapper characters that determine the type of item the word is. 
  • Simple items (keyword items) have no wrapper character at all. 
  • Category items (items used for organizational purposes only and are not part of the hierarchical path) are wrapped in ‘[’ and ‘]’. 
  • Synonym items (items that are synonymous with their sibling item) are wrapped in ‘{’ and ‘}’. 

The easiest way to understand this text structure is to Save out the built-in structured keywords to a new file and then open it up in a text editor and see for yourself.

Commercial lists can be purchased from sources like David Riecks’ Controlled Vocabulary website: http://www.controlledvocabulary.com

As mentioned earlier, you can also manage the keywords from within the Structured Keywords interface. Just right-click on an existing term and the contextual menu will appear.

  • Rename: renames the text of an item.
  • Create child item: Adds a new item that will have the current item as its parent. This new item should be a more specific term than the current item.
  • Create Synonym: Creates a child item that is synonymous with the parent item.
  • Create sibling item: Creates an item that is at the same level as the current item.
  • Set type to Synonym/Category: Changes the type of the current item.
  • Delete the current item and any children underneath it.
  • Cut removes the selection from the current column but allows you to move and copy it to another location.
  • Paste if you have cut an item, use Paste to add the cut item to the current location