Thursday, September 05, 2013

Keywording your photos

Keywording (or tagging) your photos, sounds simple enough, but if you haven’t already started the task could have already got away from you.For someone taking and preparing a lot of stock photographs, some form keywording is probably essential but the time required and benefits trade-off for the rest of us will not be so clear. I take a wide variety of photos anyway, many are just for personal use, for painting reference, for use in collage or panoramic and a lot are family etc. My most important task is to to make these separations in my collection, I could do that physically by storing them in separate folders or even different hard disks. However, using key words and simple filters with do the same job from a unified collection (see my strategy 1 below). Designing a perfect classification or keywording system is a really broad topic but a good start (I’ve been using this approach for a while, but I have to admit not everything is keyworded yet) is to use a hierarchy based on the classic Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.  You probably won’t uses these categories as keywordsExample of a hierachical keyword approach themselves but they should help guide you as the most likely way to “find” an individual photo in the future. The Who? is pretty straight forward, and there are a number of ways to tackle this but a person’s name is usually fine, but this can be a lot or work for big groups/events, Lightroom affectionardos might like Gerard Murph’s method of custom keyword sets. The What? is very obvious you should describe what is the subject of yoour photo. This is likely to be the biggest part of your keyword list and think of this as a hierarchy and including each term for each level of the hierachy (see my strategy2). I remember hearing Varina Patel discussing this on a podcast and giving good advice on keywording by theme particular if you intend to submit photos to stock agencies. Several of the keywords like the When? and Where? will be best to be automatically read from the Cameras EXIF files, or batch such as GPS coordinates in a merge of .gpx files. There is also a lot of How? details also available in the EXIF data, but a few special keywords to relate to technique won’t go astray. It is the Why? that most people probably overlook, but the reason you took the photo in the first place is likely to be the quickest way to find an image!

There is a massive trade of here, adding keywords will undoubtedly make photos easier to find, but how much easier and how munch time is saved is pretty much an unknown at the time you are supposed to be doing the keywording. Against that is the amount of work you have to put in tagging and classifying your photos.In particular everyone will tell you you need to do all this extra work up front. Otherwise it becomes too large a task to tackle. So how do you get started, here are some good strategies I have found

  1. Have a few (less than 12) broad categories (eg. Portrait, Landscape, Family, Event) so one of which at least is used for every photo, and applied as or soon after you upload your photo. These should be based on the themes and types of Photograph you like to take. If one category gets particularly top heavy consider splitting it into some sub-categories and always add those as a second keyword.
  2. Aim to use at least 3 keywords for every photo that correspond to different levels in your classification Hierarchy (Its simple maths the more levels of categories you use the easier it is to find a specific photo). Yet be constrained 7 or more keywords may not give you much advantage in the end.
  3. When creating new keywords, avoid plurals, compound hyphenated terms (it is better just to use the two words as individual tags) and ambiguous terms. Watch out for misspelling.
  4. Use albums (or Collections in Lightroom) to subset important groups when attempting to batch recode keywords into exiting photo collections. The big advantage is you can “see” the collection together. Taking time to make special collections and batch keywording them at the same time is the quickest way to keyword unorganised photo archives and avoiding this being a chore.
  5. Tagging your photos with your keywords, as well as embedding them in your EXIF metedata when you post them on social media for public view if a great way to get extra traction  Unfortunately once again there is no uniform of standard way to do this, but it is worth investigating your favourite publishing places and services (eg in lightroom publishing services you can add metadata and customised presets).
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