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August 5th, 2009

Keys to smart keywording and captioning

Posted by Jessica Korman

A former photo editor herself, Jessica now crafts the blog The F Stops Here, explaining what photo editors do and sharing important photo news. She also offers her expertise to the photography community on RESOLVE, with helpful posts like this one with tips to help editors find your photos.
Images from a search for "Las Vegas, Atlantic City, luck, risk, chance, chances" on

Images from a search for “Las Vegas, Atlantic City, luck, risk, chance, chances” on

Detail Your Descriptors

Most photographers know that properly captioning and keywording their photographs is crucial if it’s going to show up in an image search, either on a stock site, on their own site, or, increasingly, on a Google Image search. What may come as a surprise is just how detailed those descriptors need to be — down to the color of the model’s shirt.

“For me, a good caption describes the scene exactly.”

For example: Smiling brown-haired Caucasian woman drinking coffee, sitting at the kitchen table. Now go even deeper for the keywords. The woman is smiling, so be sure to include “happy” as a keyword. What does the kitchen look like? Is it modern? Traditional? What is she wearing? If she is wearing a turtleneck, include that since it suggests a specific season. In fact, include the season. All of these details could be important to the person looking for the photo.

Think Like an Editor

Another concept to consider when keywording is atmosphere and mood. A lot of photo editors are looking for an image to illustrate a specific concept. In addition to describing the scene, imagine what ideas your photograph could be used to convey.

For example, if you have a close-up of a pair of dice, think about what that could represent — Las Vegas, Atlantic City, luck, risk, chance, chances, (include singular and plural; photo editors have different searching “styles”).  Or a road sign, those can also be used to illustrate other concepts such as “choice,” “fork in the road,” “decision.” All of these should be included in the keywords.

To help with this more conceptual keywording, look at magazines and see how images are used to illustrate different stories and concepts. Begin thinking like a photo editor, not only when shooting, but also when captioning and keywording.

Check and Copy Edit — Again

One thing you can do to help those photo editors looking for your images is to spell things correctly. There have been times when I purposely misspelled something in a search in order to find what I was looking for (after spending hours trying different keywords). Double, triple, even quadruple check your keywords and captions, then have someone else “copy edit” them. You never know what errors a fresh pair of eyes may find — and who might find your images because of your diligence.


  1. August 6th, 2009 at 7:12 am

    Carlo A. Balistrieri


    Thanks for the insight. I’ve done a lot of thinking about key words vs. captions and titles. My conclusion: captions and titles tell you what the subject IS (think nouns); keywords tell you ABOUT (describe) the subject (think adjectives and categories).

    To maximize the cataloguing power and flexibility of programs like Lightroom, the two should not overlap. Identifiers in the captions and descriptions in key words also help to alleviate the two most common key word problems: 1. too many of them, and 2. key words so narrow that they don’t help to filter your photographs.

  2. August 6th, 2009 at 10:33 am

    Miki Johnson

    From Lourdes Segade on Facebook:
    “i am kind of obsessed with this issue. it helps not only editors but also ourselves in the future when we need to find a photo in our archive.”

  3. August 26th, 2012 at 3:46 pm


    Rachel – This is Rachel (Wilkins). I’ve been checking your blog off and on since Emily told me about your phopgorathy and as I’ve become interested in phopgorathy and started taking classes etc. I’ve been wanting to ask you some questions for awhile. . .thanks for the invitation.I find myself really resonating with how genuine your phopgorathy is with the kids in their own home and surroundings. . .nothing too staged or hoaxy about it. So, I’m interested in learning about your story how you started getting experience, finding your style, starting your business, etc.I wish I could be a fly on the wall and watch you do a session. I’m curious how you interact with the kids to draw them out. Do you compose your shot with lines, lighting, etc. and then position the kids there? How much posing do you do? Or do you just let them do their thing and get to know them and capture great candids? Your shots are just so well composed and yet with such genuine expressions from the kids.Phew. Is that long enough for you or what?August 12, 2007 11:33 PM

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