Guide to Keywording Images – Part 4: by Jody Apap

How Do I Keyword the Objects in My Image?

This is the fourth in a series of posts about how to keyword your images. While this guide is written primarily for stock photographers who need great keywording to ensure robust sales of their images, any photographer or image librarian would do well to think about the concepts being covered.

This post will cover the details of keywording the WHAT in your images, basically anything that is a “thing” in the image, including the subjects of the image and the background things.

The first thing you should be keywording is the number of objects, animals or servings of food shown in the image.

  • one object
  • two objects
  • three objects
  • four objects
  • many

The object keywords should be used for the main subjects of the image, a close up of three balls. Don’t try to count all the objects in the image, just the subjects. Think of a child’s counting book, it should be instantly obvious what is being counted and how many there are.

  • one animal
  • two animals
  • three animals
  • four animals
  • group of animals
  • one serving
  • two servings
  • three servings
  • four servings

The animal and serving keywords have less strict guidelines for use. Any animal in the image should be counted, and any serving of food, as long as easily seen should be counted.

While this first step in keywording objects is pretty straightforward, choosing which objects to keyword and which to ignore is a source of debate and difficult, if not impossible, to definitively define.

I find it easiest to first keyword all the objects that are the subject of the image. In this image the great egret is clearly the subject and needs to be keyworded completely (wading bird, bird, animal). And since there are no other objects in the image. For this image, there is only one object, and no background objects. Easily done.

However, in this next image, the subject of the image and the background are related and certainly some of the background objects should be keyworded.

So, the obvious subject is the salamander (plus newt, amphibian and animal). What in the background is worth keywording? What is an essential element of this image? I’d say rock, stone, stream, creek, pond, water, and lichen are all important keywords

Admittedly, anyone searching for rock or stone would doubtfully be interested in this picture. Even someone searching for lichen or pond would probably pass this over. Yet I think these keywords are essential, because you most definitely want anyone searching for newt + rock, or salamander + stone + pond to see this image.

A reminder, as Google and other search engines have gotten more powerful, and the content on the web has exploded, users have gotten used to doing sophisticated searches and expecting good results. Back in the dark ages of the internet, if someone wanted to know the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear, they would have searched on google for “bear,” and then spent a while chasing links trying to find an answer to their question. Now, they would do a search for “what is the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear,” and they would get a great answer instantly.

This same logic applies to stock photography houses, and really any search in any closed search environment. Users are getting better all the time at doing multi-variable searches to quickly find exactly what they are searching for.

Remember, looking at the bigger picture (sorry for the pun) will help you understand how to keyword your images better to achieve better sales.

So, back to our image of newt on the rock at the edge of a stream. If the object is in the background and supports the subject of the image, or if it adds to the story of the image, then you really should keyword it.

This of course leads to the question of if it’s not part of the story, why is it in the image at all? I recently wrote a post about this, Can Keywording Your Images Make You a Better Photographer?

I think its important to divide your workflow into two separate entries:

  • Objects that are the subject of the images, and
  • Objects that are NOT the subject

This is to help you spend a couple seconds assessing what is the subject, and then figuring out what is supporting the subject in telling the story of your image.

In summary, odds are good that for most of your images, the objects will comprise the majority of the keywords, and will usually be the primary focus of your potential buyers. Thoroughly keywording them will go a long way toward improving your sales numbers. But you can take it a step further and keyword all the supporting keywords to help your images be found by buyers who are doing sophisticated multi-variable searches.

So, that covers how to keyword the WHAT in your images, my post next week will explain how to keyword WHERE and WHEN in your images.


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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