Keywording for Fun and Profit

Polar Bear WalkingOne of the markets I’ve only recently started exploring for my own work is the stock photography market. It’s a challenging and arguably declining market, but in these financial types I can’t afford to ignore any way I can supplement my photographic income. One of the most parts of getting work ready for stock is keywording, putting together a list of search terms that potential customers might use to find your work. In this post, I’ll talk about a few things to remember when keywording images for stock sites.

Keywording is more a marketing exercise than a descriptive one. To keyword effectively, you must put yourself in the minds of not just one, but a range of possible consumers for your image and think about how they might try and find your image, or an image like it, to suit their needs. You’ll need to approach each image from these several perspectivess. Within this exercise, you also need to be aware of how your particular stock agency or stock agency uses your keywords, and tune the keywords you assign for best effect.

So, what perspectives? For a nature photographer, the easiest places to start (but not necessarily the most important) are location and subject. “polar bear”, “bear”, “wildlife”, “arctic”, “Svalbard” and “Norway” are simple enough terms to add to an image of a polar bear on Svalbard, and these terms will come pretty easily. Perhaps I’d dig up the scientific species identifier for the polar bear and include that, but I’d more likely go to that trouble for rare or unusual species. Depending on your stock agency, you will want to spend more or less time thinking about inflections (conjugations, plurals, etc.) of your terms and possibly including them in your keyword list, Alamy doesn’t “stem” words which means that I’d include both “polar bear” and “polar bears” for their agency.

Another approach might be to look at sensations. “Cold”, “frigid”, and so forth, this would be a great moment to dig out my thesaurus, since there are likely dozens of appropriate words. If the image offered contrasting sensations or other contrasts, I’d be sure to include those, a polar bear by some lava, or a polar bear in what looked like a tropical environment might be a great image to include both cold-related and heat-related keywords in, images with semantic contrasts are often useful at communicating ideas.

I’d skip terms that were descriptive of color or texture unless the images are particularly representative of that color I have many orange images, but only a few use “orange” as a keyword.

Of course, a wider look at polar bears in the media suggests another approach. With the current interest in global warming, any image of a polar bear, particularly a polar bear on a small bit of ice has the potential to communicate an environmental message about risks to the species. So “warming”, “global warming”, “climate change”, would all be keywords and key phrases I’d consider for such an image, ditto “endangered”, “endangered species”, and even “threatened.”

Turning this concern on it’s emotional head, I might then look to aspects of the image that might convey other messages… does the image convey Strength? Persistence? Resolve? It might seem a little too crass to ask yourself “If this image were a motivational poster, what would the title of that poster be?”, but that’s often precisely the approach that will net you some of the most effective keywords for a particular image.

Keywording for stock is a serious business, give it the time and attention it deserves.

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