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Photography 101 – Photo Keywording

Keywording your photographs is a very simple process. However, there are a lot of  photographers out there that find the process to be a burden in their workflow and tend to apply them incorrectly or never apply them to their images. For those of you that don’t know what keywording is, it is a helpful tool to assign or “tag” meaningful words to your photos so people searching for a particular topic in a photograph may find them…quickly; more importantly so that search engines can find them.

If you intend to have a web presence, let me rephrase that; if you intend to have a successful web presence, I highly recommend making a habit of keywording your photographs before uploading them to the internet. None of the photo sharing sites, social media sites, gallery platforms or search engines have the ability to recognize what is in the photograph like our eyes can they need contextual help. With today’s internet activity at an all time high, I doubt very highly that there is still an online photo sharing site, social media site or web gallery that doesn’t use keyword recognition to help people find your images on their platform. Nor is there a search engine that doesn’t index your photographs, if keywords are not present for the search engines; you will never be found.

Keywording photographs can be a time consuming and at time may seem tedious, but it should still be included in your workflow if it is not already. If you are too tired to keyword, step away from the computer and get some rest. There is nothing worse that having to go back and correct what you did while you were tired and not in the best frame of mind to do tedious labors or because you didn’t do your homework on what keywords work best for your image.

There are several free programs that can help you select words, one site I like to use is http://www.arcurs.com/keywording/. However, I still like to brainstorm and figure them out on my own based on who my audience will be. For example, I sell fine art nature and landscape photography prints to collectors; traditional photo prints, home decor items and designer cell phone cases to the average consumer and Interior Designers, so there will be variations in the keywords for each type of buyer. The audience keywords, as I like to call them, will also be an importance when you are choosing what platform you are planning on uploading the image to; some platforms limited the amount of keywords you can use to describe your photograph. And these keywords should also be used when you write your captions or descriptions of the photograph. Don’t try adding all of the key words to the descriptions but use as many as you can; just make sure that when the caption or description is  read that it makes since; search engines also use descriptions to search for relevancy. My best practice when choosing keywords is the K.I.S.S. rule.

I’m sure you have heard of the K.I.S.S. rule (KEEP IT SIMPLE…?!?!… SILLY), I totally live my life by it. Put yourself in the shoes of your audience, don’t get all technical with the keywords unless you are targeting other photographers. The average person has no clue what an ISO or long shutter speed is, nor do they care. They will be searching for what the subject is, by color, by mood..etc.  You could always resort to Wikipedia or Thesaurus.com to help get other ideas.

Types of keywords:

The best way to break this down is 5Ws 1H. Not all of these types of keywords will be necessary, you will need to base your selection of keyword types on your target market.

Who – Unless its a celebrity, a person’s name is not necessary but you should add in things like gender, age bracket, culture, hair color, body type, clothing color, etc ( this is really important if the image is intended for stock photographs with the person as the main subject)

What– These keywords describe what is going on in the photograph or what the object is (this is important for almost all fields of photograph). “What” could also include what the main colors of the photograph are if your audience is more decorative, such as interior designers.

Where– These keywords describe the location (or event) of the photograph (this is also important for almost all fields of photograph).

When– These keywords describe the time the photograph was taken (most important with landscape photograph or when its associated with a particular event.)

Why – Why keywords best describe the concept of the photograph, the mood, idea, or emotions

How – Can describe  2 things:

  1. The techniques used to create the image. (this type is most important when your target audience is another photographer).
  2. How the image could be used, (example: Wall Decor, Home Decor, Artwork, etc)

Again, not all photos will need to be tagged with every type of keyword on the list. It is really going to depend on each individual photo and what elements of the photograph you feel people will search for to find the most to find the photograph.

Using Lightroom to Organize and Add Keywords:

Lightroom is a great tool for photographers to stay organized and to apply keywords and descriptions easily to photographs, either in bulk or individually. In the “Library Module” of Adobe Lightroom you can build a “parent / child” hierarchy method of keywording. By organizing your photographs in this manner you can quickly apply a child keyword to your photo the parent keywords are also applied. You can also create presets that apply a specific set of keywords upon importation into Lightroom. I only recommend using presets for very generic terms like “Landscape Photography”, “Nature Photography”, “Nature Photographs”, “Wedding Photography”,…etc. or if you are shooting an event like “Jane and John Doe’s Wedding Photographs”. If you get too descriptive in the presets you will more than likely have to go back and clean each photograph up, so use the presets wisely. Since I shoot mostly Nature and Landscape photographs, I have presets made for each Genre that have very standard keywords, such as nature scene, landscape photo, landscape photographs, nature photographs…etc.. After I’ve made my selections and done with the post-production edits I apply the more descriptive, unique keywords and description to just those selected images.

I will have an in-depth article on using Lightroom Meta Presets and the Keyword Library soon. ***Please note that if you are using Lightroom 5 and under…it does not have spell check :/.

Examples of Keywording:

Generic keywords from import preset:
Landscape Photography, Landscape Photograph, Landscape Photo, Landscape Photos, Images of landscapes, Nature, Nature Photography, Nature Photo, Nature Photos,

Manually added Keywords:

  • Who: none needed
  • What: silhouette Lighthouse, sunset, beach, shore, bay, ocean, sand, sandbars, ripples, low-tide, sandbars, golden color, gold color, orange, orange and gold sunset,
  • Where: Unites States, Delaware, Lewes, Cape Henlopen State Park, Breakwater Lighthouse,
  • Why: calming, warming, relaxing, romantic, beautiful, glowing,
  • When: Sunset, evening, summer,
  • How: Wall decor, wall art, home decor, office decor, home accessories, decoration, Fine Art, collections, limited editions, fine art nature photography, Fine Art landscape photography,

Once you have compiled a good list of keywords, add them to your image using your editing software of choice, I prefer to use Lightroom for mine, then export your image to your computer or upload it through Lightroom to your website location. Most platforms can now pull the meta-data keywords to populate the required fields automatically for you. As you can see under the photograph there is a caption (description) of the photograph, this description is populated with some of the same keywords that I manually added to the Meta-keywords. When you use software such as Lightroom all of the written content about the image is attached and normally auto populates the correct areas on most platforms.

The little extra work of post-production will save you time and energy every time you want to share that photograph and assist you with building a strong web / internet presence. I hope you found this article to be helpful, please check back for others and happy shooting.