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Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know

See how ten talented stock contributors make keywording as easy and painless as possible, while ensuring their images stand out from the crowd.

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Why Keywording Your Images Matters
Keywording is an essential step in preparing your work for distribution. Image by DaLiu.

“Many stock photographers rush through keywording, once they reach the final stage of the process,” Prague-based photographer and Shutterstock Contributor DaLiu tells us. “But, trust me when I say this: keywording is much more important than any of the other steps you’ve taken to prepare your materials, so take your time and try to find the most accurate words and phrases to describe your images.”

Keywording your photos and illustrations is an essential step towards their sales and downloads. The right ones can help your photos show up at the top of buyer search results, while skimping on this part of the process can leave them undiscovered. We reached out to ten talented stock contributors. Here are their top tips.


1. Brainstorm Keywords Before Your Shoot

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Brainstorm Keywords First
When planning your next shoot, use trending keywords as a source of inspiration. Image by Serenko Natalia.

For many photographers, keywording is the final step in the shooting and uploading process, but it doesn’t have to be. Instead, try using trending keywords as a starting point and source of inspiration. For example, if you see a topic trending on Shutterstock or social media, jot it down and keep it in mind when planning future shoots.

“I read magazines, look at popular photos, read about trends, and write lists of topics I want to photograph,” child and family photographer Serenko Natalia says. From those resources, she comes up with fresh ideas, and starts thinking about what kinds of keywords might apply to them down the road.


2. Add Dates and Locations First

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Add Dates and Locations
As a final step in the process, organize your images by location and date. Image by Mike Ver Sprill.

“Once I’m done uploading my work, I organize my images according to the country and state where they were taken,” landscape and night sky photographer Mike Ver Sprill tells us. “I then break it down by specific location (city, town, tourist attraction), followed by the month and year when it was taken. Everyone has a personal preference when it comes to organization, but at the very least, I recommend including a date on the folder your pictures are in.”

These details are essential, and when you’re dealing with thousands of images, it can be easy to forget them. So, get them done as soon as you sit down to your computer.


3. Include Different Types of Keywords

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Include Different Types of Keywords
The more descriptive you are in choosing keywords, the more receptive your audience will be. Image by Elenabsl.

Most keywords fall into one of three categories. Literal keywords describe the “who, what, and where” of your images, while conceptual keywords describe the emotions or ideas they could illustrate. Finally, stylistic keywords refer to art and design choices, like “flat lay” photography or “iconographic” illustration, color palettes, or vertical or horizontal orientations. Including all three will make it easier for buyers to find your photos or illustrations.

“I usually write an initial group of keywords that are more descriptive and simply tell us what can be seen in the image,” Italy-based illustrator Elenabsl tells us. “Then, I add other tags related to abstract concepts and meanings that I want to communicate. It’s also useful to include words that describe the style and composition, as customers also search those terms to look for images that follow the latest design trends.”

In the case of the image above, for example, she’s applied all three types of keywords: literal (buildings, factory, electric car, smart city, etc.,), conceptual (climate change, environmental conservation, zero waste, sustainability, etc.), and stylistic (isometric, vector, etc.).


4. Get Specific

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Use Specific Keywords
Make certain your choices in keywords are relevant to your work. Image by Michalakis Ppalis.

“The level of detail in your keywords can be critical for buyers to find your images,” fine art photographer Michalakis Ppalis says. “Find the most relevant keywords for your photos, including the obvious ones, and create a keyword library.

“Then, think beyond the obvious. The keyword ‘books,’ for example, will return a huge number of results, but ‘antique books’ will return fewer, making it more likely for your photo to appear. Conduct a search for your own photos, using the keywords you’ve chosen, and see whether they pop up within the first pages of results. If not, think about adding more specific keywords.”


5. Use a Thesaurus

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Use a Thesaurus
Don’t be afraid to use outside sources when searching for that perfect keyword. Image by Natalia Ruedisueli.

If you’re having trouble coming up with enough relevant keywords, it can help to look elsewhere for unique ones to use. You can find handy keyword generators online, like keyword.io or Keywordsready, or you could use an old-fashioned thesaurus.

“I have learned not to use keywords that are too common but to focus, instead, on getting really specific ones,” Swiss-based photographer Natalia Ruedisueli tells us. “It’s a matter of quality over quantity. When looking for these precise and accurate keywords, I use a dictionary and a thesaurus. And, I sometimes ask my family members, even my kids, what pops into their minds when they look at the image. That helps a lot.”


6. Do Some Digging

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Research Location and History
Educating yourself on the history of a particular location shoot will aid in applying the right keyword for your photo. Image by Chris Dorney.

“If you are shooting images of a landmark or place, then do some research on the location and its history, and try to incorporate the ‘key’ facts into the keywords that you are adding,” London-based photographer Chris Dorney advises.

“I have found that I have learned so much about the history of places, thanks to adding keywords to my travel images. I think that the keywording is arguably just as important as the photo itself — they are vital to finding your images amongst other possibly similar images. Without a decent set of keywords to accompany the image, then it will effectively hinder its performance and saleability.”


7. Keep All Your Keywords in One Place

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Organize Your Keywords
Store your keywords in a photo-management app for organizational purposes and future use. Image by Lilawa Studio.

One of the first things any stock contributor should have is an organizational system for keywords. Most photo-management apps will allow you to save your keywords as part of a native metadata editor, which you can organize and arrange according to themes.

It’s a good idea to set up some basic hierarchies within your keywords. For example, in Lightroom, you can put specific keywords under more general ones, so that when you apply one, the others are automatically added.

If you prefer to keep your keywords elsewhere, consider opening a Google spreadsheet to keep everything organized. “We’ve developed our own system that helps us keyword images, and at this point, it is based on Google Sheets,” the team at Lilawa Studio explains.

“The main advantage of this is that it lets us keyword an unlimited amount of images at the same time, while having the ability to apply keyword groups to the images. This saves a lot of time for concentrating on choosing the most relevant keywords.”


8. Embed Keywords as Metadata

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Embed Keywords into Your Metadata
Embed keywords in the picture file as a reminder. Image by Mike Ver Sprill.

Instead of applying keywords to every single photo during the upload phase, do it just once, and embed them in your metadata.

“For Adobe Lightroom users, this can be achieved under the Library module with the box ‘Keywording’ and ‘Keyword List,’” Ver Sprill explains. “Those keywords will be embedded in the picture file, so they should appear whenever they’re uploaded.*

“Another great tool that I started using is Xpiks. This is a free, open-sourced software program that allows you to keyword your photos, and then upload to multiple sites, at the same time, with a couple of clicks.”

*Hint: You can use the Lightroom painter tool (the one that looks like a spray can) to click and apply groups of keywords to images of your choice.


9. Take Advantage of the Shutterstock Keywording Tool

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Use the Shutterstock Keywording Tool
Shutterstock’s keywording tool is a great option when saving keywords for future use. Image by Beto Chagas.

“First of all, use the tool that Shutterstock gives us,” Brazilian photographer Beto Chagas suggests. “It’s right there on the contributor site, under the portfolio button. I always save the keywords in the JPEG file, afterward, so I don’t have to do it manually on the site.”


10. Save Batches of Keywords as Presets

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Save Keywords as Presets
Save your keywords in batches by theme. Image by Antonina Vlasova.

This tip is a major time-saver. Instead of manually entering individual keywords every time you upload a new photo, save them in batches as presets in Lightroom, or your preferred management app. Maybe you have one preset for portraits and another for product shots. That way, you can apply them to dozens (or hundreds) of photos at once, without any trouble.

“I either delegate keywording to someone else, or I save metadata presets and use them everytime I apply corrections to a set of similar photos,” food photographer Antonina Vlasova explains. If you want to go back later and add more specific keywords to individual photos, you can always do that after you get the general keywords out of the way.


11. Check Your Spelling

Keywording for Stock: The Tips You Need to Know — Check Your Spelling
Make sure to check your spelling when entering in your keywords. Image by Elenabsl.

“One last tip is to always write keywords in English,” Elenabsl adds. “If you are not a native English speaker, you can always check your tags by searching for similar images and comparing the keywords used there to yours.”

Looking at what other photographers and illustrators are tagging as keywords will also give you insight into what topics are trending on Shutterstock. So, if you’re looking for new ideas, make sure to check out the keywords section on images that are performing well.


Cover via Beto Chagas.

Want more tips on planning and sharing your stock photography? Check these out.

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