How To: Adobe Bridge Reference Library

For anyone drawing from the imagination, the right reference material can be a great help. And happily, these days the whole world of reference material is right at our fingertips, provided that we have an internet connection and some vague idea of how to search. In addition to this invaluable resource, we can add our own personal reference photographs, sketches, magazine clippings and books to come up with one heck of a reference library.

But how do you organize all this digital information? As your collection grows it become increasingly tedious to skim through. Using folders is a good start, but sometimes an image is interesting for multiple reasons: it might be a great reference for a person riding a bicycle, and also for a desert, and a lion jumping. Do you put it in the “Bicycles” folder? Or the “Animals” one? Or would this go in another category altogether, under “Vintage Advertisement”?


What we need, my friends, is a database. That way we can search “Lion” or “man riding bicycle” or “chasing” or even “Raleigh advertisement” and the image will come up for the right reason. There are various programs out there that can handle this task, but for this I use Adobe Bridge.

1. Decide on Your Keyword Structure

Start the process by determining to the best of your ability the keywords you’ll be using to tag your pictures. You’ll want to do this first so that you don’t have to go back and re-tag. The last thing you want is to tag dozens with “pine tree,” “oak tree” and “palm tree,” just to decide later that you’d rather have a larger keyword of “tree” with sub-tags “oak,” “pine” and “palm.” If you change your mind about the keyword structure, you’ll have to go back and re-tag all those images.

The structure of your keywords is entirely up to you, and should be something that makes sense and is appropriate for your needs. Ideally you’ll want to be able to tag your images quickly, and a logical structure will help. Brainstorm, writing down everything that comes to mind. Think about which qualities of an image will be useful to you. Is it the lighting? If so, maybe you need a “lighting” tag category. Or maybe you’re a news photographer and need to tag every location. Write it all down.

2. Add Your Keywords to Bridge

Once you’ve narrowed down your top-level tag categories, you can go ahead and add them to Bridge. If you don’t see the “Keywords” window, look under “Window” in the menu bar and click on it to show the Keywords window.

Here are the top-level keyword categories I use. Remember, yours don’t have to be anything like this.

Adobe Bridge Reference Library Keywords list

Under the top-level categories are sub-categories. Here are my “Animals” keywords, organized into something that makes sense to me. Feel free to add tags as you go. Don’t try to think of every kind of animal in one sitting. (There’s no point in adding a “giraffes” tag until you actually have a picture of a giraffe.)

Adobe Bridge Reference Library Keywords list

3. Tagging Your Images

Now that you have a tag structure in place, you can easily tag images as you add them to your library. If you have a glut of images to go through, don’t feel overwhelmed. I like to do just a few a day to keep chipping away. I keep the un-tagged ones in a separate folder (my holding pen) and after tagging them I move them to their final folder destination. Keep at it, and before long you’ll find that you’re staring to have a useful database.

It’s better to over-tag than under-tag, so go ahead and be generous. Tag everything you think might be useful in the future. In order to tag an image or group of images, highlight them and then click the boxes of the tags you want to add. To remove the tag, click the box a second time.

Adobe Bridge Reference Library Keywords list

Note that some of these boxes have a dash instead of a check. That means that not all of the selected images are tagged with that Keyword. In this case, this is because one selected image is a mule deer, not a mule.

4. Searching the Database

Finally: searching! This is what it’s all about. The quick search in the top-right corner of the screen is okay, but the full search is much more effective for finding exactly what you need. You can search any folder and practically any criteria you can think of. The best way to learn about searching is to experiment. Try looking for something obscure? Did it work? If not, you might need to add a different sort of tag. As you use your database, you’ll get ideas for how to improve it.

Adobe Bridge Reference Library Keywords list

One last note: There are many images out there on the internet that already have tags. These are someone else’s tags, which will keep their original keyword structure. If you open one of these images in Bridge, it will add all of the other person’s keyword boxes to your structure, thus totally bogging it down with clutter. (You could end up with six different “dog” tags in different places. Ugh.) You can’t actually delete a keyword until there are no images tagged with it (you can try, but be aware that it will come back as soon as you click on the offending image again.) In a nutshell, the permanent solution is to un-tag the offending image, delete the foreign keyword boxes, and then re-tag the image with your own keywords. There may be a better, less tedious way to fix this problem–you might be able to use a metadata-stripping program to remove the data before you upload the image to your library or something–but I haven’t tried this yet. If you have a good solution, please leave it in the comments!



Posing Horses
Lettering for 2014

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.