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Why does Aperture keep showing deleted keywords?

:: Wednesday, September 5th, 2007 @ 2:48:50 am

:: Tags: , ,

Instead of going to bed at a decent hour, I felt compelled to write about an Aperture keyword issue I discovered a solution to recently. If you’re not an Aperture user, you probably don’t need to continue reading…

As a photographer who sells his images, I have to keyword my images constantly. It sucks.

Aperture has almost too many ways to work with keywords, but I like that because I’m someone who likes to have a lot of different ways to do the same thing. The keyword HUD is a place I end up working in a lot. It’s pretty good, except that when you really start banging on it, it has some annoying issues that I hope Apple fixes in a future version:

  1. You can only search from the beginning of a keyword. This is really, really annoying. Let’s say I’ve just photographed an animal with 10 different common names, but I can’t remember which one I’m using as a keyword. What kind of limpet was it? I can’t just type “keyhole limpet” to see the entire list of keyhole limpets. Instead, I have to remember that it was a “two-spot keyhole limpet” (or whatever).
  2. When you finally find a keyword via search, it hides all of that keyword’s children in the hierarchy. I had this great idea of placing scientific names as children of common name keywords, but since finding the “two-spot keyhole limpet” doesn’t let me expand any further down the hierarchy, that won’t work.
  3. There is no option to automatically export images with keywords and all of their ancestors. Aperture knows that a two-spot keyhole limpet is a kind of limpet. So why doesn’t it let me export the entire hierarchy as an option? Instead, I have to expand the entire hierarchy (the easiest way is to search for the specific keyword, which auto-expands a keyword’s parents), select every single node (shift-click or shift-arrows are fast), and then drag the entire list over to my image(s). Lame.
  4. Single-image mode isn’t obvious enough. I don’t know how many times I’ve accidentally hit the “S” key by accident and entered single-image mode. After 30 minutes of keywording and captioning, I then discover that only certain images are having metadata applied to them. There should be a way to LOCK the mode, because “S” is an easy key to hit by accident.
  5. Deleting used keywords is slow. Why does it take 10 minutes to delete a keyword from 350 images? That’s right. SQL Lite — the Aperture user’s #1 nemesis.

The worst problem deserves its own space: the keyword database does strange things if you use multiple Aperture libraries. Every time you open an Aperture library, all of the keywords it knows about — even the keywords that aren’t used by any images — are merged into a master list. The merged list saved in some global area, and is also copied back into the library itself. I’ll demonstrate why this can make you want to kill yourself.

Here’s something that happened to me just a couple of weeks ago. I was on a boat in Alaska with some bear experts who can’t spell the scientific name of a Kodiak bear (I am no bear expert!). What I got from them was “Ursos arctos middendorfi” [sic]. I added that keyword into my bear keyword hierarchy (luckily, “Kodiak” is easy to remember, so a search is always easy!) and tagged 1800 images with it. Since I use multiple Aperture libraries, at some point I opened a second library and didn’t think much of it.

learning to spell is fun!

Eventually, I learned that the proper name for a Kodiak bear is Ursus arctos middendorffi. I corrected the keyword spelling (but not until after I uploaded all of my images to Flickr and PhotoShelter. ARGH!). Luckily, renaming a keyword that is in use is a very easy operation for Aperture (< 1 second) because of its non-destructive editing workflow, and I thought I was done. But later on (after a few days), I opened the keyword HUD and found that the old, misspelled keyword was present again, sitting next to the corrected one!

old keyword returns to haunt me

Having one old keyword mysteriously reappear isn’t a big deal, but I had changed dozens in the past, and every once in awhile, they would all just appear in my list again! This is confusing and terrible. The reason I wanted them gone was because they had been replaced with new ones, and I din’t want to ever see the old ones again, lest I accidentally use them.

I finally realized that the old, deleted keywords were being copied into the master library from the 2nd library I had been using, which isn’t even related to wildlife imagery. I had opened that 2nd library at a point when the old keywords still existed in the master library, and it inherited them even though none of its images required their presence.

I have 7 libraries in my Aperture collection, and because my library hierarchy has changed over the past year, those 7 libraries collectively contain very different versions of what I want my master keyword library to look like. To solve this problem, I had to choose one library to be a working library master, and open all of the libraries, one at a time, so that the keyword library would become an über, merged version. Then, I made sure to open the working library master last, to make sure that it held the final, merged keyword hierarchy. I then opened each of the lesser libraries in turn and deleted every “bad” keyword from their list. (I actually deleted every keyword that wasn’t being used — same effect, but fast.)

Now I know that none of my bad keywords will work their way into my master library again because they don’t exist in any library in my collection, but I’ll bet that I’m going to have to do this again sometime in the future.

Addendum: I had lunch with Randy Ching today, and he told me that I’m the sort of person that wants features that only 5 people in the world care about. I think it was a complement. :) But is that true? My feeling is that anyone who is REALLY using Aperture to try to manage a photo library is going to run into this problem. Maybe they don’t care as much about keywording, or maybe they only use a single library. Feh.

Addendum 2: I wanted to show what my master keyword hierarchy looks like, but Aperture is busy right now. It may be some time before it comes back. :) (see below)

Addendum 3: I thought about this some more, and what I really want as another input method for keywording and captioning that have more convenient quick-access methods. In a perfect world, I envision hitting a keyboard shortcut to have a “search keywords” window come up (it can just be the HUD with search focus). I could then start typing immediatey, with a smart search displaying all matching entries by rank, in real time. The top 10 could be given single-key shortcuts so I could just hit the matching key.

The same is necessary for captioning. We need to be able to access the caption field with a keystroke, and navigate from image to image with keystrokes while any IPTC field is active. After you edit one, you are likely to want to edit the next, and there is no way to do it right now without multiple mouse clicks.

Finally, I’d love to be able to have keywords associated with each other. So adding “shark” would automatically also add “predator”, “powerful”, “elasmobranch”, etc.

| Oakland, CA | link | trackback | Sep 5, 2007 02:48:50
  • http://www.tonywublog.com tony

    Randy was wrong. 4 people…max :-)

  • http://www.deepdreams.com Rogier

    Hi Eric,

    My short 2cent’s to your points regarding Aperture is that I think that you are using the key-works way to refined. There are plenty of options in the IPTC data where you can put the exact name, location (even GPS coordinates) of the image. And yes this IPTC data is searchable and can be included in the smart albums :-). The other advantage is of utilizing the IPTC more is that you have the information about the subject available to for every one in the production prosses. Needless to say have it displayed in your web gallery.

    My suggestion is to “limit” your keywords to in this particular case to “Bears”. Other keywords will point to location etc.

    Also do you know that you can disply the keywords as “botton’s” at the bottom of your display? Next to it will be a pull down menu of the different groups of keywords you have created.

    My structure is more like: FAMILY, Bob, Chris, Rogier, etc. FRIENDS, Dick, Joe, Harry, Torri, etc. Not only are is the namen in CAPS the name of the group but I also check this as a keyword. So its easy to find all the family pictures. Or just Bob. You know what I mean.

    Smiles across the wires,


  • http://echeng.com echeng

    Rogier: I use all the IPTC fields I can. Don’t worry — I am quite familiar with them, and what they are used for. But I am a nature photographer, and it is very important to include scientific names and taxonomy in the keywords. There is no place in the IPTC for this, other than in keywords. I’ve read that Lightroom and other apps have explicit support for hierarchical keyword export, and Aperture needs to do the same.

    Mixed case is a nightmare in Aperture keywording, since it’s case-sensitive. I lower-case everything except for the Genus.

    Having all of the keywords out of a top-level hierarchy means that they get cluttered and are beyond anyone’s ability to organize. For example, if you import 1000 images from another photography, their keywords get merged with yours. Let’s say they use “bob” instead of “Bob”. The next time you try to keyword “Bob”, you may select “bob” on accident. Now, you can no longer look for all your images of Bob without doing a search for both.

    And you talk about having location in the IPTC. I do. I’m not talking about the things that already exist in IPTC. Look at the specifics of my example.

    So I think you’re wrong about me refining the process too much, but you’re of course welcome to have your own opinion about it. :) Having tens of thousands of images to keyword makes this organization very important…

  • http://lolcats.com/ Victor

    Why do you need thoz keywordz? I have one keyword “icanhazlolcatz”

  • http://www.ruaux.net Craig Ruaux

    Well, count me as one of the 5 (or 4) users in the world that want this dealt with, and for essentially the same reason. I have a veterinary images library, a “landscapes and nature” library and use a separate library on the laptop when traveling, which I then merge into the second when I get home… I really have yet to get my head around a good keywording work flow with Aperture.

  • Roger

    I’d like this, too.

    hope you’re using the aperture feedback button for this and not assuming that apple uses users’ blogs instead of a bugbase.

  • Glenn

    Apparently, the keywords reappear in Lightroom also.

  • http://maryjanemidgemink.blogspot.com maryjane

    You can add your own metadata catagories by clicking on “Other” at the bottom of the inspector. When you click, 2 boxes open where you enter: New Custom Metadata and Metadata Value.

    That said, I haven’t tried it out to see exactly how it functions. I’m told its where you can include “secret metadata” for your own use, and need not be exported with the standard stuff.

    You can also customize the keyboard buttons to say whatever you want.

    What I want is to merge my bad keywords, I want to change bob to Bob…..

  • http://www.bagelturf.com Steve Weller

    It looks as if you have discovered Aperture’s haunted keywords:


  • http://www.thelivingsea.com Laz

    Count me in as the 5th person who would love these features. Adobe Bridge CS2 and CS3 (before the 2.1 update where they changed everything up) have the closest thing to what you want where selecting a parent keyword (common animal name) will select the child keywords (taxonomy, etc.).

  • http://www.peterllewellyn.com/fieldtrips.html#manu Peter Llewellyn

    Hi Eric

    I use Aperture for everything except keywording, for most of the reasons you have stated.

    As a nature photographer I have tried lots of keywording strategies as I needed a hierachy structure. I now use Photomechanic (www.camerabits.com)for all keywording which I do prior to bringing the images into Aperture. Aperture reads the keywords into the library and I am done with it

    Peter Llewellyn

  • http://www.thelivingsea.com Laz

    Bare with me here as today is only the 2nd day as a first time Mac owner (and loving it!), but I found a web site where the guy created an Apple Script to add the parent keywords when only a subordinate keyword is added. I know nothing of Apple scripting (for now) but I wonder if it could be reversed so adding the parent keyword would add all subordinates?

    Here’s the url to the script: http://tinyurl.com/yv6mtk

    Any thoughts?

  • http://www.controlledvocabulary.com/ David Riecks


    You are not the only one to be asking for changes with some of these obvious issues. I pointed out the major annoyance of not being able to see any “child” terms further down the hierarchy on my help page for Aperture, when I posted that in early 2007. http://www.controlledvocabular.....rture.html

    I also point out how to include the full hierarchy when you are keywording with Aperture, though do agree with you that it would be nice if that was done automatically.


  • http://triconium.com David Fendley

    I realize this post is a couple years old and Aperture has changed a bit since, but working with keywords is still a pain.

    I’m like you: I want discreet control over my keywords. A huge headache would be solved if keywords were case-insensitive. Also, I’d like a “related” keyword feature as well so tagging with one keyword auto-tagged with others.

    We can dream, eh? Anyways, thanks for pointing out that I shouldn’t worry about my keywords too much. I’ll just end up tearing my hair out! I use 90% Smart Albums so they auto populate as I add things, but working with Aperture is far more tedious than it should be.

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