I have this great photo, but I can’t find it! [keywording / tagging]

Have you ever spent an extraordinary amount of time trying to locate one of your photos on your computer’s hard drive, or somewhere else in your system (e.g., a shoebox with a bunch of photo CDs in it)?

Of course you have!  We all have!

But, it doesn’t have to be that way, and the solution is rather simple.  It just takes a bit of discipline and, possibly, an upgrade in the software that you are using to manage your image library.  In short, one of the most important things you can do as part of your “digital workflow” is to add “key words” (sometimes called “tags”) to your photos.

All of them.  Every single photo!

What are key words and why are they so important?

Key words, often written as “keywords”, are just that.  Words that are key to the content of an image.  For the most part, as advanced as technology has gotten, it isn’t smart enough to recognize the detailed content of your images (with the exception being some of the ‘face-recognition’ software that is now available).  So, in order to use some sort of search engine to canvas your collection of photographs and to find a single photo or similar group of photos, you need to apply “words” to the images.  These words make the images searchable.  And, once linked to an image (or, ideally, to all of your images), your collection of images becomes an easily searchable data base.

And, once it becomes a data base, the task of finding that great photo becomes very easy!  What may have once taken you many frustrating hours gets reduced down to a matter of seconds, if not less than a single second!

It is important to note that keywording doesn’t stop at identifying specific people, physical objects, or locations.  Keywords can also be used to identify things like:

  • Emotions (e.g., use the word “happy” to keyword a photo of someone smiling)
  • Color (e.g., if the color “yellow” is a dominant aspect of an image, then identify it as so)
  • Shapes (similar to tagging “color”)
  • Anything thing else that will help you find an image in the future!

Do you need to keyword everything??? 

No.  You only need to take things as far as you think is necessary.  Yes, adding keywords to images takes a bit of time.  But, think of it as an investment.  Add as many keywords, or go as deep into a photo as you feel is necessary to easily find the image at some point in the future.  Would you rather spend a few minutes up front adding tags to your photos?  Or, would you rather spend hours at some point down the road trying to find a certain photo?  The answer should be clear, but it’s up to you to find the balance that suits your needs.  Professionals who submit their work to stock agencies, for example, will require a different keywording strategy than the hobbyist who typically takes vacation or family photos.  Popular software packages such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom make keywording easy by allowing for “bulk” processing and maintaining a common keyword tracking system.

A final note (what not to keyword)…

Though it is important to add sufficient tags to your photos, some information like the date and time is not necessary as this data is already embedded into each digital image file and it is searchable (so long as you keep the date and time setting in your camera ‘up to date’).  Most cameras also record the make and model of the camera, along with the lens that you used, as well as all of your key camera settings, particularly your exposure settings: aperture, shutter speed and ISO (all of this is known as EXIF data, which will surely be the topic of a future got f-stop? blog post!).  So, there is no need to record this information, nor to enter it into your keywords.

When you combine keywording with “catalog” software (again, such as Lightroom), then searching keywords becomes your primary method of locating a photo or photos.  Gone are the days of relying on folders or, worse, your memory to find what you are looking for.  All you will need to do is type in the key word or two and, voila, your search is over!

Do you live in or near to Asheville, NC, and would like to learn more?  Ask David about his private consulting, including one-on-one instruction to establish a sound digital workflow.  He is also available for tele-conferencing / WebEx consultations.

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