Guide to Keywording Images – Part 2: by Jody Apap

Last week I wrote an introduction to my guide to keywording, emphasizing the reasons that you need to give some time and thought to your keywords, and there will be a direct increase in sales if you do. This week, I will delve into the details of keywording people. People are such an important part of stock images, and buyers will be searching for a lot more than just woman or boy.

A search for woman at Alamy.com returned 2,608,284 images.  Obviously way too many to search through, so buyers almost always start adding other keywords to the search.

So, for example, they know they are looking for an image of just one woman, and a search for one woman only gets 322,700 results.

But, in quickly looking through these images, they realize they need a Caucasian woman search for one woman only Caucasian gets 173,633 results.

Then the searcher adds living room and front view, and a search for one woman only Caucasian front view living room gets 520 results.

You get the idea. You need to get found in the last search because your image has a much better chance of being seen and bought. If you didn’t get seen in that last search because your image didn’t have one of the qualities, that’s fine, it wasn’t going to get purchased by that buyer anyway. But what if your image did have all those qualities, but was lacking the right keywords? Then you might have missed a sale.

Alright, let’s get to the list of people qualities you better be keywording, starting with an obvious one that is often missed by photographers:

How many people are in your image?

  • one person: these first five keywords are used to describe the number of people who are the subject of the image.
  • two people
  • three people
  • four people
  • five people
  • group of people:  GettyImages divides this into small group of people, medium group of people and large group of people and you might as well follow their lead.
  • nobody or no people: use both, every time there are no people in the image.
  • background people:  use this every time there are people in the image who are not the subject of the image, whether in the background or foreground, and regardless of whether there are other people as the subject of the image or not.

A little disclaimer here. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward, complete list of “industry standard keywords.” The major stock houses have different standards and specific terms, I am doing my best to lump them all together to give you the most useful set of keywords to choose from, that will be useful for most stock houses.

Age/Gender Groups
Here are my “industry standard terms” with the rough age group:

  • newborn: under 1 month old
  • baby: 1 month to 1 year
  • toddler: 1 to 3 years old
  • child: 3 to 10 years old
  • tween: 10 to 13 years old
  • teenager: 13 to 19 years old
  • young adult: 20 to 29 years old
  • adult: 30-39 years old
  • mid adult: 40-49 years old
  • mature adult: 50-69 years old
  • senior adult: 70 and olders

Don’t get me wrong, these are not perfect or hard a fast, just a guide to be used to the best of your ability.

Now each of these needs to be combined with either one gender, both genders, no gender or as a couple (for the teens and adults), for example:

  • male child, female child or both
  • male adult, female adult, both, or both and adult couple

While this form is somewhat industry standard, you will also need any synonyms and categorical terms:

  • male child, boy, childhood, lad, people
  • female child, girl, childhood, lass, people
  • male adult, man, people
  • adult couple, male adult, female adult, man, woman, people

You may also need plurals of all your keywords if your stock house’s search engine requires that you submit them also.  For more info about stock house search engines read my post How Does Your Stock House’s Search Engine Work?.

Now that you have all the keywords for the age group, you might as well take an extra 10 seconds and get specific with the age, for example  1 month old, 2-5 months old, 4-5 years old, 20-25 years old, etc.  People really do search for these keywords.

Family Relationships
Unless your dealing with famous people, you can take creative liberties with ascribing family relationships when keywording. If the children in the photo look like they are brother and sister, then use the keyword brother and sister.

I did a search for boy and girl at Alamy.com and it returned 144,641 results.  A look through the first 120 results revealed that easily 100  (83%) of these images could have been keyworded brother and sister as well.  Extrapolating this out, we should expect a search for brother and sister to return around 120,000 results.

Yet the search for brother and sister only returned 41,362 results or approximately 28% of the results for boy and girl. In other words, around 80,000 images probably should have been keyworded with brother and sister. But, since they weren’t, they will not be shown to buyers searching for brother and sister. 80,000 images that missed out on a possible sale because they didn’t add a keyword that is commonly searched for.

You should be using any of the following that could reasonably apply to your photo:

  • brother, sister or brother and sister (along with sibling and family)
  • mother and son (along with motherhood, parent and child, and family)
  • mother and sons (along with motherhood, parent and children, brother, sibling and family)
  • mother and daughter (along with motherhood, parent and child and family)
  • mother and daughters (along with motherhood, parent and children, sister, sibling and family)
  • mother and children (along with motherhood, parent and children, brother and sister, sibling and family)

You get the gist, you can replace mother with father, parents, grandmother, grandfather, grandparents, great grandmother, great grandfather or great grandparents, and change the added keywords appropriately

Ethinicity
This would seem pretty obvious, and leads to a social commentary that I won’t get into here, but a race or ethnicity is usually keyworded for any images with non-caucasians in them, and more than half the time, by my extrapolations, Caucasian ethnicity is not keyworded for images of Caucasians. Keyword the ethnicity or race of every person in your image!

And also, the more specific you can be, the better. For example, Hispanic ethnicity is great, but Dominican ethnicity along with Hispanic ethnicity is even better as long as it is accurate.

The other important keyword to remember is for when you have an image with multiple ethnicities in it, you should keyword multicultural group, mixed race group and multi-ethnic group. I would also recommend multicultural couple, mixed race couple and multi-ethnic couple or multicultural family, mixed race family and multi-ethnic family if appropriate.

That covers the biggies for people. Next week, my post will coves the less obvious, yet just as important keywords, such as length of body, angle of view, and facial expressions, among others.


I’ve been working as a keywording specialist for years, keywording images for publishers and photographers. From this experience, I have developed KeywordSmart, a web-based image keywording tool.

In KeywordSmart we have created the easiest and quickest process to guide our photographers through every aspect of the image, while supplying synonyms, variant spellings, as well as teaching our users the industry standard keywords and phrases.

Company: KeywordSmart
Phone: 914-388-5202
Email: jodyapap@keywordsmart.com
Website: http://KeywordSmart.com
Twitter: @KeywordSmart
Facebook: http://facebook.com/KeywordSmart

Image Keywording Tip of the Day

© 2011 Jody Apap

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