Keywording your photos is a crucial final step in the stock photography process that provides a link for buyers to find your image amidst a myriad of other images. Though each stock website is a little different, there are universal techniques to increase the likelihood a buyer can find your image when they need it.
When coming up with keywords for an image, I focus on three different aspects of the photo:
1. Subject and Setting
Who – Who’s the main subject? Is it a person, a barn, a salad? Are they young or old, Asian or white? Is the barn red or rustic? Is it a fruit salad or Caesar salad?
What – What are they doing? Are they jogging, conversing, or fishing? What’s visible in the image that supports what you are trying to show about the main subject?
Why – Are the subjects there for a reason? Is it a birthday party, an office meeting, or a camping trip?
Where – Always include a generic location like forest, city, or dining room. I list the actual location only if it pertains to the photo. For instance, I would put “Toronto” if I shot a skyline of that city, but I wouldn’t include “Toronto” if I did a food shoot inside a restaurant there.
When – Include the time of day (dusk, morning) or season (summer, Christmas) if it’s relevant.
You’ll notice I don’t say list every object that appears in the picture. If your image captures two people playing tennis, don’t feel like you need to include the words “hand,” or “fence” as these are not why a buyer would choose your image. However, “court,” “tennis ball” and “racquet” are all terms that are completely relevant and should be included.
2. Conceptual Themes
Conceptual themes are the sum of many parts. An image of a mountain climber might include the keywords “challenge” or “adventure.” These clearly aren’t physical things in the image, but they still might accurately convey the subject of the photo.
Think along the lines of human characteristics (happiness, ambition), big ideas (teamwork, environment), and symbolism (religion, tranquility). Also consider if the image has a dominant color or shade (dark, moody, bright).
I’d estimate that more images sell for their conceptual meaning as opposed to the literal features, so take your time with this step. And better yet, be purposeful of conceptual themes before you even click the shutter!
3. Technical Features
Consider if the image has unique features that buyers might want to know. Is it a panorama or a vertical shot? Was it shot with a fisheye lens or does it have a shallow depth of field? Is the perspective from down low or up high?
The bottom line is this: keywords don’t sell an image, they help buyers find an image.
Give it thought and be accurate, but don’t stress out. I’ve seen plenty of top-selling images with less than 10 keywords, so don’t feel that you need to include every last detail. In fact, all sites caution their photographers to only include relevant keywords.