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How to Choose Keywords for Stock Photography

When choosing keywords for a photograph, it is easy to get carried away and try and include every word that might be remotely connected to the image, plus a bunch of synonyms and other lexically similar words for good measure. Although this might initially seem a good idea, it generates many false-positive results, causing buyers to lose confidence in the system and move somewhere else. For a detailed explanation of this, I can't do better than recommend Dan Heller's Keywording's role in the future of stock photography page.

He recommends having a set of "Core Keywords" for each image, that concisely describe the photograph whilst omitting all the many synonyms and lexically similar words. The more successful photo-agencies, such as Getty Images (who I photograph for) follow this line as well, choosing a minimal keyword set that includes the all-important Conceptual and Emotional phrases that form much of image-search these days. The 'Photo-Keywords.com' Hierarchical Image Keyword Catalog, is specifically designed to meet this challenge, and the few synonyms it does supply are mainly where cross-cultural spelling differences (Aluminum : Aluminium) are concerned.

So, if your images are not to be lost in a sea of millions of other similar images you need to be very careful which keywords you choose. Lets start by writing the Title, Caption, and Location tags. That way, we can get a proper feel for the photo and its core subject. Consider what your most important keyword is, and use it as the main word in the title, the subject and at the top of your keyword list.

Now is also the time to consider just who you are keywording your photos for. Is it a personal project, for you to locate your own images in the future? Are you in the Stock Photography market, and need buyers to find your images as easily as possible? Is it a business venture that has specific requirements and a narrow set of rules?

If you are choosing keywords for a specific stock photography site then spend time researching their requirements, as each will have different rules. It is worth checking about pluralized words, as some sites will require you to use both the singular and the plural while for others it will be better to only use the plural as this will cover both words. Check the guidelines for amounts of keywords allowed, as many stock image libraries will have an upper limit (even though this may not be rigorously policed). Check on which words (if any) are prioritized, as some libraries only count the first few words in your image, and will ignore the others.

How many words are enough? There is no one easy answer to this, as each image is different. The key is to adequately describe the image using a variety of words your buyers may think of, without getting penalized for 'spamming' your image with keywords that simply don't apply to it.

Should I include plurals? I don't know if there is one definitive answer to this one. Some people say yes, whilst others say no. One website surmised that if you had added the keyword 'tables' the search engine would register a return for both 'table' and 'tables' whereas if you had added the keyword 'table' the search engine would only register a return for 'table', not 'tables'. I don't if this is true or not. I don't add plurals when keywording my own GnomePlanet.Com hi-resolution travel images. You'll just have to make your own mind up here. Whatever you decide, be consistent throughout your list.

What is the photo really about? You will have already determined that when writing the title and caption. There may be multiple uses for your photograph, so you need to decide which one is primary, which ones are secondary, and which ones are incidental. If a keyword is ultimately distracting, reject it. Put yourself in your buyer's shoes. If they searched for the keywords you are considering, would they be disappointed?

What about concepts? This is a little more difficult to specify, but if your image can be defined as portraying an abstract or specific emotion, mood, or idea, then it is a good idea to include some words that illustrate these concepts, as these can be common search-terms in many of the big image libraries. The 'Photo-Keywords.com' Keyword List contains hundreds of concept keywords, organised in a variety of ways.

Maybe some common phrases? Yes, most definitely. If your image can be tied to to a common expression, a catch phrase, a cliché, an idiom or a metaphor, then do include it in your list of keywords as many people are currently searching for images in precisely this way. The 'Photo-Keywords.com' Keyword List is unique amongst all the major commercial lists in that it contains a full range of these expressions, carefully sorted in some 115 different categories for quick and easy location and use.

Did you miss something? Although a lot of the keywords for your image will appear self-evident, it is equally important that you use a pre-defined structure that will describe the photo in terms that the professional buyer is searching for. The 'Photo-Keywords.com' Keyword List is specifically designed to help in this regard, and by working your way down the various categories, you will be minded to add categories to your image that might otherwise have been overlooked. How many people are in the image? What age are they? Is their some relationship between the people? How about Gender and Ethnicity? How are the items in the image grouped? Is there some dominant color? What time of day was it? Was there some special event taking place? The terms that answer these questions, and many more that the professional buyers are searching for are included in the 'Photo-Keywords.com' Hierarchical Image Keyword Catalog, and that is really the prime reason that you, as a professional photographer, will find this Keyword List invaluable.

And a few things to remember to check once you have your keyword lists prepared:

Ultimately, the only important question to be answered is: Can the buyers find your keyworded images, and are they selling? If yes, tweak a little. If no, tweak a lot, or take a different approach.

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