How Do I Keyword My Images?

Guide to Keywording Images, part 1

In my years as an image keywording specialist, I was asked this question many times by photographers, both pro and hobbyist alike.

In my next several posts, I will show you how to break an image down into all its elements so that you can comprehensively keyword your images whether you use our software, somebody else’s, or by using a system you develop on you own.

The first step is to start dividing your image.  Actually, you are parsing out the language you are using to describe the image, into manageable parts.  There are many useful and logical ways to make these divisions, but for argument’s sake I’m going to describe the system that I devised for KeywordSmart.

I first divided up my potential keywords into six buckets:

  • WHO:  Describe the people in the image
  • WHAT:  Describe the objects in the image
  • WHERE:  Describe where the image was taken
  • WHEN:  Describe when the image was taken
  • WHY:  Describe the actions, emotions, concepts and adjectives shown in the image
  • HOW:  Describe any and all interesting photographic techniques used in taking the photo

I know, it’s not perfect, but it has a certain ring to it, and it works.  I guarantee you that if you did nothing more than just use this punchlist as you were keywording, you’d be doing a better job than most photographers.

Before I go into detail on each of these groups, I’m going to reiterate a theme that surfaces in all my blogs, tweets and any advice I give to photographers.  KEYWORDS are how you sell your images.  Every accurate keyword you add to an image increases the chances it will be found in a search by a buyer, and every time it’s found in a search is a chance for it to sell.

Let’s use this image of a crab as an example.  I’d venture that the average photographer would come up with the following keywords:  crab, claw, wildlife, beach, and then start running out of ideas.

Here’s the list of keywords I would come up with:  crab, crustacean, animal, ocean creature, wildlife, beach, sand, outdoors, outside, close up, close-up, closeup, shallow depth of field, one animal, one.

For any photographer who thinks the first list is plenty and it’s not worth their time to come up with all the extra keywords, I have this answer:  You don’t know what the buyer will search for.  Maybe their first search is for crab, but that results in lots of studio shots of crabs, and they know they want a shot of a crab on a beach.  So they modify their search to crab + beach, or crab + sand, or crab + outdoors, or crab + outside.  This is how buyers find images, they search multiple terms trying to find just the right image.

What if they didn’t care if it was a crab or a lobster, and searched for crustacean + beach or just wanted a picture of a single animal on the beach and searched for one animal + beach?

Admittedly, closeup and shallow depth of field won’t get you many sales by themselves, but if someone searches for  crab + closeup + shallow depth of field, you have a very good shot at selling this image.

You get the drift, and now that you appreciate that more good keywords is essential to your success as a stock photographer.  Read the following posts where I cover how to comprehensively keyword each aspect of an image.
part 2 How Do I Keyword People in My Images?
part 3 How Do I Keyword People in My Images II?
part 4 How Do I Keyword the Objects in My Image?
part 5 How Should I Keyword the WHERE and WHEN of an Image?
part 6 How Should I Keyword the WHY and HOW in My Images?

And, just to reiterate, keywording is as much art as it is science, and I would love to hear your comments and suggestions.  I consider this guide to be a work in progress more than the definitive cyclopedia of image keywording.

 

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  • http://keywordsmart.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/how-do-i-keyword-the-things-in-my-image/ How Do I Keyword the Things in My Image? « KeywordSmart

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  • http://blog.keywordsmart.com/2011/08/17/how-do-i-keyword-people-in-my-images/ How Do I Keyword People in My Images? | KeywordSmart Blog

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  • http://blog.keywordsmart.com/2011/08/25/how-to-keyword-the-where-and-when-of-an-image/ How Should I Keyword the Where and When of an Image? | KeywordSmart Blog

    […] part 1 How Do I Keyword My Images? part 2 How Do I Keyword People in My Images? part 3 How Do I Keyword People in My Images II? part 4 How Do I Keyword the Objects in My Image? part 5 How Should I Keyword the WHERE and WHEN of an Image? part 6 How Should I Keyword the WHY and HOW in My Images? Share this Post: […]

  • http://blog.keywordsmart.com/2011/08/26/how-should-i-keyword-the-why-and-how-in-my-images/ How Should I Keyword the WHY and HOW in My Images | KeywordSmart Blog

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  • http://twitter.com/drsPIX Duane Stevens

    Jody, this blog is getting some traction over on LinkedIn under the ASPP group. Glad to have found you, as there seems to be always something to learn about keywording.

  • http://twitter.com/jainlemos Jain Lemos

    I recommend adding name locations to all images (you probably cover this in part 5). But looking at the keywords for your crab, we don’t know where this was taken. If I was looking for an image to illustrate a specific beach, it would help me to know where this crab can be found. Most editorial and educational uses require locations to be specific. I start big and drill down, which only adds about five or six keywords: Continent, Country, State/Region, City/Town, Place. Keep up the great work!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Jain,
    There are definitely two schools of thought to this issue. I usually side with keywording the place name only if there is something in the image that really hits home that the image was taken there.

    Some examples:

    A well known landmark like the Eiffel Tower or Yankee Stadium should definitely get the city, state, country etc keyworded

    Similarly something like a typical brownstone in Brooklyn or town square in New England should get the location keyworded.

    That being said, editorial content, regardless of the setting, such as Brad and Anjolie anywhere, should probably get the location keyworded.

    However, if the image could really be taken anywhere, or in this case, any beach, keywording the location is generally considered a no-no.

    However, I gladly agree to disagree, there is a lot of gray (grey) in keywording.

    Thanks for the comment

  • Anonymous

    Hah, the subtleties of keywording are much much more complex than most photogs give it credit for.

    Thanks for reading, and I’m happy to answer any specific questions.

  • http://twitter.com/jainlemos Jain Lemos

    You are welcome! I agree that some images, particularity styled lifestyle and food, don’t need location keywords. But this crab image is at a beach and without an area, you’ve potentially eliminated travel guides, destination-based industries and other hospitality clients who have beach locations they are trying to illustrate. In my world, it is not considered a no-no for a close up of a crab on sand to name the place, if known. Coming from years at Lonely Planet Images, I am probably biased but I made a lot of sales with my methods!

  • Anonymous

    I can see, particularly if you know the audience you are selling to, keywording the location of any outdoor shot, if it gives the feel of the place.

    And I certainly can’t argue if its working for you.

    I will keep thinking about this issue, you are probably on to something, thanks for the input.

  • Mikeledray

    exoskelleton animal, aquatic, arthropod, astrology, beach, claw, crab, craw, crustacean, hard-shell crab, life, marine, nature, ocean, crab, sea, seafood, shell, shellfish, wild, wildlife, zodiac

    I could come up with many more
    Keywords are very important

  • Anonymous

    Hey Mike, thanks for the input.

    Arthropod was a good call. Marine animal, nature and sea creature also should have made my list.

    I would argue that Astrology and Zodiac are pretty much spam keywords. These should be used only if there really is something astrology related. If you tag every twin, lion, scales, goat, fish, etc with these keywords, searchers are going to have a very hard time finding any images that are really about the zodiac. If they are searching for zodiac, they don’t want this picture

    I definitely believe that seafood and shellfish should NOT be used for this image. Food keywords should be used when the image is really about food. Again this will dilute the keyword “food” if anything that could be possibly be eaten is keyworded “food”

    Remember, the key is not simply more keywords, but more good keywords that will lead searchers to the kind of image they are looking for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DmitryRukhlenko Dmitry Rukhlenko

    the problem is that more keywords you have then less “weight” the each keyword gets. So sometimes it may be better to have just keywords and the image will have good search ranking by these words than to have a comprehensive list of keywords with so-so ranking…

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comments Dmity,

    To the best of my knowledge, ALamy is the only major stock house that truly weights the words, and you are in control of which words should be considered most important.

    Weight and order has much more to do with Google Search SEO. Image keywording from my perspective is about getting your images found inside stock house websites.

  • Bruno Sappadina

    Hilarious! I don’t think anyone is going to this particular beach to see this particular crab. I’d say anyone using this crab pic to illustrate their beach is missing out on showing the actual beach. Well, that’s my opinion, if you could see the beach, the sea behind the crab then ok, a crab by itself has no touristic value, the little critter will probably bite the tourist’s foot as he peacefully walks on that beach. Come visit us, we have crabs!???

  • http://twitter.com/SteveAphotos Steve Atkins

    I find listening to music really helps me get through the process of keywording. Albeit my CD player has broken, oh dear. And house renovations have been a temporary (long lasting) distraction from carrying out such mind~munching activities. It’s such a mundane part of photography; keywording.

    As a bonus, I do believe many stock photographers have populated their grey/gray matter with an omniscient knowledge of words. To the point where they are capable of supplying an opulent plenitude of word interpretation far exceeding the median homo sapien.

    Structuring all of these words to form sentences that ordinary people can understand, that’s the really hard part. innit.