Skip to content

How To Guide: Captioning and Keywording by Jim West

August 20, 2009

How To Guide: Captioning and Keywording by Jim West

Hello and happy late August to you, PhotoEdit blog readers (time flies, huh?). I have returned once more with a new entry in our “How To” series. One of our photographers, Jim West, who is great at captioning and keywording, has kindly written a post that will assist other photographers in making accurate and succinct captions and keyword lists for their own photos. Coupling those skills with photography is the key to reaching your target audience, the photo buyers, so enjoy the article and implement the advice at your leisure. Or, if you’d like to be more dramatic about it: ignore the advice at your peril! To check out Jim West’s extensive portfolio on the PhotoEdit site, please click here. And now, without further ado, take it away, Jim.

Two White Boy Scouts high in a tree hang a wooden box to create a nesting site for ducks, Redford Township, MI

Better keywording and captioning will guarantee happiness and a long life! Or not. But doing a good job of captioning and keywording definitely will sell more of your pictures. Here are some of the ideas I use when captioning and keywording my photos.

Captioning: Say what’s there – what’s happening. Avoid adjectives. Avoid opinions. (If your photo subject is a jerk, your picture should say this, not your caption. Though they should be, photo editors are not really interested in your opinions, only whether your picture says what they want it to say.) Newspapers usually put these items in captions: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

Most important is What. If your picture is of a crab apple tree, the caption should say “crab apple tree.” (You’re losing sales fast if the caption just says “tree.”) Expand on it a bit if you can. Add the Latin name if you know it (malus, I think). Sometimes that may be all you need, but usually there will be a bit more. Is your 13-year-old daughter climbing the tree? “African-American teenage girl climbs crab apple tree.”

Multi-ethnic group of volunteers serves food to the needy at an outdoor soup kitchen during the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, Washington DC

Why? Sometimes there’s something to add here, sometimes not. For instance, “African-American teenage girl climbs crab apple tree to rescue cat.” But if the cat is not in the picture, there’s usually no point in including the cat in the caption.

Who? Newspapers always want to know people’s names, but for the stock photo market, this is less important unless the person is a politician, celebrity, famous photographer, or someone else who is well known or who may become well known.

Where is often important. Textbooks are often written for specific states, so if your photo is from Texas, you’ll have a better chance of selling it to a Texas-specific text.

When? I always put the date of the photo in the proper IPTC field in PhotoShop, but I don’t go out of my way to advertise it. Some photo editors may shy away from using an older photo, but if you don’t rub the date in their face, they make think an older picture is just fine.

Mexican male baseball player standing on the plate waits for a pitch during a Mexican baseball league game in Detroit, MI

Keywords: The key to keywording is to think like a photo buyer. If you’re looking for a Hispanic teenager playing baseball in Texas, you’ll probably search for “Hispanic” or “Latino,” “teen” or “teenager,” or maybe “youth,” “baseball,” and “Texas.” Add city, country, and geographic region (south, Midwest, etc.). Add variations if needed: USA, United States, America. Add less specific keywords also. A researcher may want a child playing some organized sports, but race and geography may not matter. So “sports” should be a keyword. “Child” or “children” also, if the subjects look a bit on the younger side of teenage years. Maybe “game,” “compete,” and “competition.” Is there a coach or referee in the picture? Does the player look happy after winning the game? Add “happy,” “win,” or “winning.” Season: winter, snow, cold. Weather: rain, storm, hail, lightning, sunny. And so on.

Add synonyms (happy, joy, joyful), but don’t go overboard here. Some photographers seem to add the dictionary to every picture, but all that will do is bring up your photo in inappropriate situations and aggravate the picture buyer (and maybe your photo agency).

Are your photos being marketed in other countries? I usually add British spellings or terms (elevator = lift; labor = labour). If you’re targeting the German market and know the language, definitely use German as well as English keywords.

The bottom line is to look at your picture and think –- what’s there? What are the elements? Occasionally, you’ll add keywords for subjects that you can’t actually see in the picture: a summer camp for children with cancer, for instance, should have “cancer” as a keyword (and in the caption).

White teen girl and Black teen girls wearing costumes perform in the Mosaic Youth Theatre's production of Crossing 8 Mile, a modern adaptation of William Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors that satirizes the urban versus suburban relations in Detroit, MI

This concludes Jim West’s tutorial on keywording and captioning. If you’d like to get in touch with Jim regarding this post, you can email me and I will get you his contact information. Have feedback or a question? Feel free to leave a comment on this post! For more information about keywording and captioning, you can visit the official PhotoEdit Captioning & Metdata Guidelines page.

Also, in case you didn’t realize it, we have a new blogger on the team (which means the team now has two people! I’m not alone anymore!): PhotoEdit Sales and Marketing Manager Kristen Sachs. She will be posting from time to time about news events in the outside world that are relevant to photography or PhotoEdit, so keep a weather eye on the horizon for those articles. Her bio blurb should be up soon on the “About the Bloggers” page. I’ll have a new blog post for you next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel.


No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: