The Key(word) to Success

Posted Wednesday, 20 October 2010 by Ellen Boughn in Ellen Boughn, Photography
Keywording skills are as important to your success in microstock as your skills with your camera. Attaching the correct words to an image may be a bit tedious, but it’s an essential investment in the images that you worked so hard to create.
Take care when labeling objects in the <br>background that are significant. <br>The animals in the background here should <br>be ignored when keywording. <br>© arosoft/Crestock
Take care when labeling objects in the
background that are significant.
The animals in the background here should
be ignored when keywording.
© arosoft/Crestock
It would be incorrect to keyword this photo with <br> the words "ocean" or “beach”. The shell could <br>be in a studio or perhaps it is on a beach but the <br> photo doesn't show the ocean or a beach. <br>© aldzer/Crestock
It would be incorrect to keyword this photo with
the words "ocean" or “beach”. The shell could
be in a studio or perhaps it is on a beach but the
photo doesn't show the ocean or a beach.
© aldzer/Crestock
This speeding taxi might look like it’s headed for <br>an accident but it’s not a photo of an accident <br> (the photographer has used correct keywords). <br> © corepics/Crestock
This speeding taxi might look like it’s headed for
an accident but it’s not a photo of an accident
(the photographer has used correct keywords).
© corepics/Crestock

Is a photo a great stock photo if no one can find it? Yep, it’s still a great photo but it won’t make any money.

Keywording skills are as important to your success in microstock as your skills with your camera. Putting the correct words to an image requires attention to best practices in keywording.

Here are the basic rules and proven practices:

Wrong keywords. Cutting and pasting keywords from another artist’s photo that appears to have the same elements as yours can get you in trouble, especially if those keywords were incorrect and/or if your English isn’t strong enough to decipher all the words. I call this the “A goat is not a horse problem”. Simply because something slightly resembles something else, does not make it that thing. Yes, a goat has four legs and nurses its young. It’s a mammal and so is a horse. Thus you can keyword them both mammal but only one can be named goat.

If English isn’t your first language: Use care if you are using someone else’s keywords as reference for your own shot. Try using an online translator – they are imperfect, but they can help considerably. Match the image in a visual dictionary to help you identify the correct word. Contact someone whose English language skills are excellent. Yes, it's time consuming, but it’s important work.

 • Think about the customer. Ask yourself: what would you think of a search on a stock photo site that gave you a goat instead of a horse? You would probably think that website was a massive waste of your time. If no one uses your stock agency’s site, you won’t make any money. Everyone in the community helps the community and themselves when they think about the customer first.

• Too many keywords. Don’t attach a keyword to every element of a photo. Every image of a person that shows their entire face is going to indicate that they have lips. Only use lips when that is a key element of the image. Another common keywording mistake is to name every single item in the photo. Look again at the close-up of the goat above. Those blurry things in the background on the right of the photo may be horses, but this is not a photo of a horse and should not be keyworded thus.

• Keyword Spamming. One of the most commonly searched keywords on the Internet is sex. The word business is also equally popular in microstock search words. But if you think that adding those keywords to images not related to sex or business will help you, you are wrong. You will be kicked off the site for spamming.

• Inaccurate action. I found a photo on another site of a moose standing in a field. I had searched on the word camping. No doubt the photographer had been camping when he photographed the moose but the moose wasn’t “camping” and so the keyword was incorrect.

Implied outcome. Another mistake is to keyword a remotely related possibility to a photo. For example, using the keyword, drunk on a still life of a bottle of wine. Or car accident on a photo of a perfectly normal car going down a road with no hazards in sight. It may be possible that the wine will be sipped until someone is drunk or that the car will eventually crash but if the action isn’t in the photo, the keyword shouldn't be used either.

A few of the most important Crestock keywording rules:

  • Captions and keywords must be in English.
  • Each image must have at least 10 keywords, up to a maximum of 50.
  • Check your spelling!
  • Essential information in your photo caption must also be repeated in your keywords.
  • Correctly identify all geographical locations, types of plants and animals, kinds of machinery or processes that are prominent and/or relevant in the image.
  • Include ages and ethnicities of models.
  • Do not use articles and prepositions such as the, in, on, a, and, this, but etc.
  • Only include colors as keywords it they are a central or important part of the picture.
  • Use adjectives. Clients are often searching for images with a certain feeling or mood like happy, sad, energetic, harmony, etc. These kinds of keywords are popular. So, when you have a great image of a happy family, you can expand your keywording further to include other descriptive terms like smiling, cheerful and joyful.
  • Don’t exaggerate. Keywords like fantastic, euphoria, spectacular, etc., should be avoided.
  • Do not use opposites. Example: a winter scene with the keyword summer is not helpful.
  • Don't include words like photo, photograph, image or picture, as these could apply to every image in the collection. Only use them if they are relevant to the content of your image (e.g. an image of a mother holding a portrait of her child).

Good keywording may be a bit tedious, but it’s an essential investment in the images that you worked so hard to create.

Ellen Boughn

Ellen has over thirty years of experience in the stock business gained at such organizations as Dreamstime, UpperCut Images, Workbookstock, Corbis, Getty (Stone), The Image Bank (Artville) and the creative agency, After-Image, she started in Los Angeles at the beginning of her career. Having been directly involved in the creation of four major stock photography collections, Ellen offers her decades of experience to assist photographers seeking success in stock photography.

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Ellen Boughn's best-selling book, Microstock Money Shots, is filled with insights, tips and advice on how to create commercial images and improve your work flow to profit from photography whether you're a hobbyist or a professional photographer.
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