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Photography – Keywords and Tagging

Posted by Tom Benedict on 03/12/2010

There are two aspects of photography I really don’t have a good handle on.  The first is very subjective:  I have a hard time knowing what will be interesting and what won’t.  I belive I’ve posted on this before.  What I like is rarely what other people like.  The long and the short is that I’m a very bad judge of what people want, what sells, and what an agency like Getty is looking for.  Thank goodness for Flickr!  There’s a group set up for people who have sold through Getty to post the images they have sold.  I spent some time looking through it, and learned a lot.  There’s a look and feel to a stock image that has less to do with subject matter and style, and more to do with composition.  For the most part this is good news since a good number of my photographs are composed in a way that would work.  But it also explains why some of my pictures really aren’t of any interest.  In short, it would be hard to use them for anything but a poster.  Lesson learned.  The next time I get out with a camera, I’m going to play more with composition and see what I come home with.

The other is less subjective:  Keywords and tagging.  It was eye-opening to see how Getty tagged my photos, and to look through the Flickr group of selling images and see how they were tagged both on Flickr and on Getty.  I took notes, shuffled things around, tried to categorize as much as possible.  Then I had my epiphany:  Keywords follow the same rules as journalism 101:  The Six W’s:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • How (Yes, I’m aware this is not a W word.)
  • Why

Keywords really need to answer all of these.  This is how I broke it down:

Who:  Include all information on the people in the photograph

  • “People” / “No People”
  • Children / Adults
  • Single Person
  • Man / Woman
  • Boy / Girl
  • Occupation: Doctor / Machinist / Artist / Engineer / Teacher / Executive / Custodian / Cowboy / etc.
  • Name (if a recognizable celebrity)

What:  Include all compositional elements.  This is a sample from some shoreline seascapes:

  • Landscape / Seascape / Nature / etc.
  • Sky (if visible)
  • Blue Sky / Cloudy / Clouds / Weather
  • Ocean / Sea / Water / Calm Water / Choppy Water
  • Beach / Coast / Coastline / Shore / Shoreline / Water’s Edge / Bay / Inlet / Sound / etc.
  • Land / Hills / Mountains / Volcanoes / Valley
  • Rock / Sand
  • Grass / Forest / Trees / Grass / Plains / etc.
  • Animals / One Animal / Animals in the Wild / Animals in Captivity / etc.
  • Lighthouse / Hotel / House / Cabin / Tent / etc.
  • Transportation: Boat / Car / Train / Bus / Airplane
  • Activities: Swimming / Hiking / Running / Relaxing / etc.
  • Colors: Blue / Green / Brown / White / Red / etc. (This is more important than I ever gave it credit for)

When: If this is an event that is tied to a particular time (e.g. tearing down the Berlin wall) mention it.  But also mention these

  • Sunrise / Sunset / Daylight
  • Dawn / Dusk
  • Morning / Evening
  • Day

Where: Give as thorough a description of the location as possible

  • Location Name
  • City / County / State / Country / etc.
  • Outdoors / Indoors

How: Technical aspects of the shoot or the image

  • Orientation: Horizontal / Vertical / Square / Panorama (2:1 or greater)
  • Point of View: Aerial / Directly Above / High Angle / Low Angle / Distant / Close / Macro
  • Methodology: KAP (in my case) though I don’t think this will necessarily drive viewers to your picture.
  • Color Image / BW Image / Black and White Image
  • Vivid / Muted
  • Photography (as opposed to some other digital medium)

Why: These are descriptive words you can use to describe a scene and convince the viewer why they should invest emotional value to it

  • Vacation / Holiday
  • Travel / Travel Destination
  • Tranquil
  • Idyllic
  • Beauty in Nature

Keep in mind that the entire reason for keywords is so that your pictures show up in more searches, and drive more viewers to look at them.  They have to be relevant.  For example, don’t tag an image with “airplane” if it’s a picture of a flower.  But they should cover as many aspects as possible that people might search for.  For example, that flower image should be tagged with “flower” as well as the common name of the flower, the latin name of the flower, the primary colors in the flower, its season, and a whole host of descriptive words: “colorful”, “vivid”, “cheerful”, etc.

So where does this leave me?  I now have a plan for how to tag all my future images and sets that I upload to Flickr.  But what to do with the 1000+ images I already have on the site?  That’s a tough call.  Retroactively going through a Flickr stream to add keyword tags is exhausting.  Practically anything you can do to speed it up runs the risk of being inaccurate (airplane = flower? no).  I do think I’ll go back through and try to tag the ones I think lend themselves to stock photography.  But that brings me back to the first point I learned: I really don’t have a good handle on what people want.  Not yet, anyway.

I’m learning…

– Tom

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