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Keywords and Captions

The use of metadata as a filing aid has it's pitfalls like any filing system - without some simple thought taking place before we start adding metadata in an ad hoc manner our system becomes confused and inconsistent. Whether it's an online search engine, picture library or the software you are using to file your images on your own computer/hard drives the database created contains an index of all the metadata you add. From this it can be used to search based on patterns, words and more. Typically they ignore upper and lower case, they can offer partial matches, match like-sounding words, prioritorize matches etc.

Amongst the metadata that can be added to an image file includes information about the photographer and where the image was taken, as well as keywords and captions. We have a fuller article explaining metadata and looking at what and where you can find it within software. Here we are going to concentrate specifically on Keywords and Captions. Click here to read it.

With billions of images in cybersapce putting the right keywords and captions on your images will move them along way up the large list, and they will crop up in searches more often. The more hits an image gets the more likely it is to sell. Before adding any metadata think about how you would search on the internet, do you use single words, are you specific enough about what you are searching for. Being able to think about what may be searched for will help you to determine what keywords you are going to add to your image file.

Adding Keywords

There are no standard keywording systems, in fact most people are not very good at it, both in terms of getting them right for their image, but also in using them when searching the internet. The temptation is to over keyword and put too many on an image, so to get over this take time to think about not only what is in the image, but also other information that may not be obvious to the image, such as where it was taken, what colours are included, what mood it conveys, for example a charging rhino could illustrate power. Think about who might use the image and therefore what they may be looking/searching for, this will help define the keywords you want to use. It is so easy to go wrong with keywords for example 'horse' could also bring up horsefly, and it's no good saying 'lion, Africa' it's too wide you need to be more specific.

Having said all this it is also too easy to get bogged down in the keywording process and it is not necessarily as effective as it may first appear. You could for instance do some searches yourself based on particular words but the chances are this will throw up an enormous array of possibilities and not all of them being what is being looked for. Have a go, go to Flikr for instance and key in a particular word, how many pages of images did you get, a lot I bet. However it's not practical to do this for every word you thought about using, you would spend more time on your computer than behind your camera. So keep some perspective think about how others might search, but don't try to be too analytical about it. Keywording is supposed to be a useful tool for both you and others to locate items easily.

The following Do's and Don'ts should help.

Do Don't
Index by concept and subject Forget about plurals, different tenses, or alternative spellings
Think creatively about the applications of the image Use slang or abbreviations
Make sure they're relevant and convey the dominant attributes Use too many keywords
Consider categories Discount particular audiences or territories
Put yourself in the position of the searcher Use prepositions such as at, from, to or with
Keep keywords to a minimum, but relevant Repeat what is in the caption
  Under describe by using keywords that are too general

Adding Captions

Captions are an art form and a good caption will get across the meaning or purpose of the image in as few words as possible, but still be relevant and succinct. In fact if you put 'caption writing' into a search engine you will find Caption Writing Courses available, you don't need to do one of these to write captions though. It is possible to be done by any of us with a little thought and some guidance to keep us on the right track.

Captions should be short, descriptive sentences which give an accurate statement about the pictures contents. They are not usually complete sentences in that unnecessary words can be left out and it still make sense. They should be factual and as well as providing another method for search engines and the like to find relevant images to the end user, it also provides the details they need to put under the picture when using it in a magazine, on a website or other publication.

When creating captions you should consider the following:

  • Make sure it clearly identifies the subject of the picture, without detailing the obvious.

  • It is succinct - don't use superfluous words - more than 3 lines could be distracting.

  • It should establish the picture's relevance.

  • It's purpose is to provide context for the picture.

  • Photographs of  individuals ie the Prime Minister, should be named and their role stated.

  • Location information will allow geographical searches to be successful.

  • Colours and visual attributes can make it easier for designers to find a match.

Keywords the captions play an important role in your image being able to be found by the image user, search engines, picture libraries and others will not only search the keywords but also the captions of an image. Without these two it is unlikely that your image will be found as the only item they can search for an image is by it's filename and if that is only a number and not specific it will never be found. So it is wise to begin adding metadata with a structured approach, and being consistent will also make your life easier. Keywording and captioning your images will take time, but it should be time well spent, and by using standards and templates you can certainly avoid re-entering data in the future.

We also have a separate article looking at Geotagging a way of getting the GPS data into the metadata fields.


By: Tracey Park Section: Photography Section Key:
Page Ref: keywords_captions Topic: Editing, Printing and Publishing  Last Updated: 11/2009

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