The Importance of Keywording Your Photos
Over the course of the past few years I’ve become increasingly aware of the importance of keywording. By keywording I mean the act of using software to add identification words i.e. keywords to individual digital photographs. Keywording is often confused with tagging as in when you tag your photos with identifying words on photo sharing sites like Flickr or Zooomr.
When I first started out in the online photo sharing world I was not aware of the importance of keywording my images. Instead I spent hours and hours and hours tagging my photos with descriptive keywords on Flickr. That was a mistake. It was a mistake because that time should have been better spent keywording my actual image files where I could permanently control this meta data and where it would have automatically been read by the various photo sharing sites anyways.
Even more important than keywording your images for today, will be keywording them for tomorrow. As technology creates new ways to utilize photo keywords, their inclusion with your photos will become increasingly more important. I really wish I’d spent more time keywording many of my earlier archive photos when I started out.
First let’s talk about how you keyword. Personally I use Adobe’s Bridge software to keyword mine. With Bridge keywording is pretty simple. You can keyword two easy ways with Bridge. You can create a directory of commonly used keywords and just check the boxes that apply to an image or you can also right click on an image and under the “File Info” menu item type in keywords.
Apple’s Aperture software also has keywording tools as does Adobe’s Lightroom. If you don’t have money to buy image keywording software you can always use Google’s Picasa software to keyword which is free.
The reason to keyword before uploading your photos online is simple. Once you keyword once it will forever (or until you change it) be associated data with that image. By keywording at the image level, you can then later use your computer to search the keywords to find image files locally on your computer — and by tying this meta data to your original images you should only have to enter that data once as it should be automatically picked up by most online services where you might want to host your photos.
Also, particularly as amateur photographers begin to sell their work online, it will be important that your keywords are useful in having your photography accessed for search.
So once you understand the usefulness of keywording your images locally on your computer, the next important discussion has to do with what keywords ought you to include in your photo meta data.
Some of the basics are as simple as Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. There is no exact science as to what and how you should keyword your images but here are some of the ways I keyword mine.
Who: This is pretty simple. Is there someone in the photo? If I take a photo of my friend Robert Scoble, I will keyword the photo with Robert Scoble. I’ll also add Scobleizer in there because this is Robert’s nickname. Sometimes I might also add the name of the company where someone works — but this is not as fool proof as people change companies and in the future Scoble tagged at Microsoft or Podtech might not end up being current. Usually if someone is particularly tied to a company I’ll use this. For instance, Getty Images’ CEO Jonathan Klein’s photograph will also get a “Getty Images” keyword. Who can also be a band, or a group “Stanford cheerleaders” for instance, or “Pussycat Dolls.”
What: The key here is to be as descriptive as possible. Is the picture a photo of a car? Then tag it car, automobile, auto. Maybe also tag it the make of the car, Ferrari, Dodge, Chevrolet (don’t forget Chevrolet keyword = Chevy keyword) Malibu, Camaro, etc. Is the photo a picture of a puppy. Then consider tagging it dog, puppy, black labrador, labrador, pet, etc.
Where: This is where you enter in keywords associated with the location of your photo. In my case I always use the city. So I have many shots tagged San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, etc. I might also use this to tag even more specific location info. Eg. Market Street, 444 Market Street, Hyatt Regency, , etc. Some people also will include country and state, but I find that this is probably a bit overkill.
When: When is most useful when using a tag associated with an event. The date the photo was taken and uploaded is already automatically captured. But sometimes I’ll use a modified date/event like “photowalking 110507.”
Why and How are typically less useful for descriptive photo.
Other tips to consider: consider using both plural and singular keywords for images. Do you have a photo of a group of ducks? Consider keywording it both duck and ducks. Consider abbreviations. Is the photo of Market Street. Consider using both “Market Street” and “Market St.”. Consider using emotive keywords. Is the photo of a happy couple? Consider adding the keywords happy, love, affection, etc. You might want to include other techincal keywords. I use bw for black and white for instance. You might also want to include vertical or horizontal. Or macro, silhouette, aerial, day, night, etc.
Watch other photographers for how they are tagging. What are other common ways that they are tagging the same object. Baby = infant = child, etc.
Consider geotagging the photo at the photo level as well. I’m on a Mac an
d use Geotagr, a great free app that works with Google Earth and allows you to geotag your original image files.
Is there a particularly dominant color in the photograph? Consider adding that keyword in, green, yellow, red, etc. What about the extraneous objects in a photo. Is there a cake on the table in the background? Consider adding cake or “chocolate cake.” Is there a phone on the table in the background? Consider adding phone, telephone, etc.
One thing to avoid though is keyword spam. Like all spam, as keywords increasingly begin to be used for photo search inevitably photographers are tempted to apply common keywords to images that don’t contain them. I’ve seen lots of photographs where a photographer will just randomly dump 80 popular keywords on an image irrespective of what is in the image. dog, cat, vacation, sunset, baby, flower, etc. quickly will fill up the tags of a photo of a pencil for instance. Don’t be this guy.
Do you keyword your photos? What other tips would you share with people in terms of keywording strategies.