Shravan Gupta: Life Series Going Indie – Metadata and Keywords

As you have probably observed in the sequencing of this series, I have attempted to bring the discussions forward as might be required in actual application.

You might ask: “Why not discuss metadata and keywords at the very onset as this is one of the first activities we do after making the image?” If you considered that question, you are absolutely correct. However, it is very much a case of the chicken-and-egg dilemma.

The fact remains we should tailor out metadata and keywords based on the search engine we have decided to incorporate. The metadata and keywords interact with each other when the client in cyber world is doing a search.  Many, many times I have observed photographers write the description text in that window, and then copy and paste the same text into the keywords panel. More often than not, this redundancy isn’t necessary. Many search engines, but not all I am told, search both the description fields and the keyword field during the search function.

One of the challenges I face in writing this entry, is that I leave myself open to correction. I accept that, with the knowledge that there are many variances in accepted practise due to there being no clear industry-wide standard What I will suggest is that in my experience I have found IPTC  (International Press Telecommunications Council) to be the most widely accepted by the photo industry, and as such its adoption should serve you in good stead for years to come.

How you incorporate your IPTC metadata field will have a large bearing on your keyword-application policy.  Not only is the IPTC metadata critical for web-based image searches, it is also an essential “tag” attached to that photography that describes, identifies and tracks the photograph for its life. This metadata, in its most simplistic terms, is the birth certificate and social insurance number all wrapped up in one neat little package. Without this package, you have no benefits.

I could regurgitate everything from the IPTC Photo Metadata standards, but you would be better served by reading and downloading the document directly. This document should be on your desk and thoroughly understood. Much of the field content does not change, and thankfully Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop have adopted IPTC as its standard application; consequently you can populate the fields and save them as a preference for future batch actions.

How you develop your workflow will be a result of trial and error. Personally, I can tell you all of my shots are brought into Lightroom as DNG files to save space. Once those files are imported and placed in the correct catalog, the first function I do is Select All and embed my “Base IPTC” which I have previously established and saved as such. This base data includes each required field that has fixed content; remaining data—such as yjr description field—is applied only to those images that are destined for distribution.

Once all the fixed data is input and the image has been adjusted as desired, or required, only then do I complete the description field. When doing so, the best way to proceed is to think of the Who, What, When, Where and Why. Input this data very carefully as this field will also, more than likely, be “hit” when a keyword search is initiated by a potential client. There are also several rules-of-thumb that should also be entered in brackets following a flora or fauna entry: the complete Latin name and, if an animal might be under human control input the phrase “Captive Animal.”  Again, according to NANPA, if the image is a derivative of several images, the phrase “Composite” should also be entered as metadata.  A potential advertiser may not find this information has any bearing on their final use; however, a natural sciences magazine or educational publisher will most certainly appreciate this knowledge in advance.

And finally, once the metadata has been completed, you are left with applying the appropriate and applicable keywords so a potential client might find the image. Many books have been written on this topic and I certainly can’t do it any justice in a few paragraphs. Suffice it to say, tagging your image with accurate keywords is extremely important, and you would be well advised to research this topic as thoroughly as any you have studied up to this point. Some photographers find this component so critical they contract the work to a third party that has experience working in this field. Only you can decide whether you should contract a service provider—if you do, ensure that you test them with a sample batch before entering into any contracts.

Just to get you thinking about keywords and its nuances, consider this: Is it grey or gray? Is it colour or color? Photographers say horizontal and vertical, while designers say landscape and portrait in describing an image’s orientation. Is an iceberg considered part of global warming, Arctic, clean, pure, pristine, and so on?

The bottom line, when applying keywords, is that you have to think like a potential client. Your keywords should expand on what you have already included in your descriptive field and not repeat those same words. Think back to our discussion of concepts and include phrases, such as: reach for the top, ladder of success, and tip of the iceberg.

As previously mentioned, the interplay between the description field and keywords is critical. Be generous but not verbose; you will want a client’s search to reveal all of the images that may fit the search parameters, but you will also not want to alienate the same client for including too many images that have no relevance. Understanding the importance of accurate and methodical tagging of keywords will have a very direct bearing on your success. By comparison, poor keyword application would most likely translate to lost sales, and that is something you want to avoid.

Once you have made it this far, you should be ready to start offering your images for sale—more on that in the next entry.

Now get to work.


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