In the days when film was all we had, a simple card index or filing cabinet with hanging transparencies would be an adequate way to file. But now with many relying on digital cameras, memory cards and hard drives things aren't as straight forward as an A-Z card index.
Now, folders, metadata and keywords are what photographers have to organise their ever growing photo collection.
"Keywording is something which has grown with more people shooting digital," said John Beardsworth a photographer and consultant who helps photographers with digital asset management and workflow, which revolves a lot around keywording.
"When you can come back with a memory card with hundreds of pictures on, it goes beyond what can be controlled with folders," explained John. "Take an image of a dog in front of the Eiffel Tower. There is an animal and a building so would you put it in the animal folder or the building folder? Key words are independent of folders so you can use both words."
Keywording is something many photographers should be doing but they just aren't: "It's a bit like doing your home work working in the photography industry. Most people know they should do it but they don't," added Tom Hogarty the Product Manager for Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. "Some think I don't need to be reminded what and where the shot was taken as I took the photograph. But it's not now you need to worry about it's three years down the line."
Of course keywording does depend on the photographer. Some need keywords more than others, some don't need them at all. But what is for certain is keywords can help your business needs and goals and help you manage your time more efficiently.
"Believe it or not they are really useful. It is amazing how much you forget about old photos that you have taken in the past. Keywording is something that increases in importance the longer you have been shooting so it is good to keep up on it from day one instead of slacking off and never getting around to it," said Michael Bielat a professional photographer and tutor from the US.
Keywords stop you from wasting precious time searching through file after file for one particular image but make sure you put them in ASAP as if you don't, you will go and shoot other pictures, find something more interesting and forget about them.
"The mass proliferation of digital cameras has created more images than ever and empowered everyone to shoot more, free of cost (though there is admittedly a TIME cost) this produces hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of images in an individual's system. Imagine a library without a card catalogue or a dictionary without alphabetical order and you begin to understand the importance of keywording!" explained Bryan O'Neil Hughes, Adobe Photoshop Product Manager and Lightroom Product Specialist. "There are automated mechanisms, there are functions from the cameras, there are devices that can record GPS coordinates, but at the end of the day, to be truly accurate, at least some information must be added manually. The names of individuals in the images, the event or occasion, the personal information (family information, nicknames, etc.) or relevant data that might not be of significance to others."
The number of keywords you should use is like asking how long a piece of string is. How many you use depends entirely on how thorough, precise and of course how much time you have to spare. A wedding photographer for example will not need as many keywords as a stock photographer would, it all depends who you're selling to and if you're selling at all. The main point, which all of the people ePHOTOzine spoke to brought up was that you should focus on search criteria. You need to think about your use for it in the end.
"If you get a call from Yachting monthly they may want a particular race in a particular place and you need the place name in your keywords to be able to find it quickly," said John. "Relevance is important too. If you have a lighthouse for example you can put in the keywords architecture and buildings but when people are looking for images to illustrate architecture do they really want a lighthouse? Would you be wasting your time putting this particular word in searching through another picture that isn't relevant?"
Bryan on the other hand had a valid point. He said why not use both "buildings" and "lighthouse" and just use more words in your search criteria.
"Personally I would vote for both and say that for the most part, more is more. Some will counter that more information will produce more query results, but to that I would suggest multiple query terms. For instance, "buildings" would bring up the lighthouse and a myriad of other buildings, but "buildings", "sea" and "coast" used together would be much more likely to refine that search and return both fewer results and lighthouses. This can help guard against errors and make certain that images can be found by relation."
Michael uses the obvious words such as lighthouse but then goes on to add words such as the season it was taken in and the location of where it was shot: "If it was a portrait or wedding job then I include the names of my clients and stuff like that. I do include more information than less. All you have to do is type it once and then use the software to apply it to all the files. It is becoming more and more useful. I am using it to find images quickly when I know there is an image that I want."
Lightroom is popular among the photographic community and this allows you to find images by date, shot attributes, metadata in the files and other ways that go beyond keywords. It also has global keywords, which allows the inputting of keywords to be a little quicker. If you live and work in California for example all your photos will need the keyword California. Also gives keyword suggestions that could be related.
"If I go to a particular beach with my dog every week and add these photos in Lightroom. If I type in my dogs name the name of the beach will automatically come up as a keyword," explained Tom.
"On the professional digital imaging side, I think that applications such as Lightroom and Bridge do an exemplary job of making keywords powerful, flexible, consistent and easy. To the last point, Lightroom 2 introduced the notion of suggested keywords, where we look at neighboring images to learn more about possible keywords. In addition to reading the rich EXIF data coming off the camera or peripheral device, in an application such as Lightroom we allow keywording upon import or after (either by clicking, spraying, suggested keywords, etc.) in the library module. Keywords can be copied, shared, updated and are consistent among our professional applications. An example of how powerful this can be would be in the case of an image with GPS metadata, not only does it tell me where I took the shot, but if I double-click on the GPS metadata in Lightroom, my web browser launches google maps and marks the location which I took the photograph," added Bryan.
Metadata is another area some confusion lays but this isn't necessarily the photographers fault. At the moment there isn't one standard for all companies to follow but the Metadata Working Group, which Adobe are apart of are hoping to change that.
"We are part of the Metadata Working Group as we want to make sure we are all working from the same page and that we are structuring correctly. We are working towards a standard, we want to make sure we are all moving in the same direction. We realise how important it is and if something like the date for example is just different it can give photographers a real headache," explained Tom.
"A good point to remember with this is that your camera will automatically record dates and times so don't needlessly input information you don't need," Explained portrait and wedding photographer Chris Hanley. "Most systems will let you search on EXIF data and IPTC data so inputting repeat information into your key words would be a waste of time."
As not everyone searches keywords captions are an important place to input information in too. Having the same words in the caption as the keywords but written in more detail is a good idea. You may miss something out of the keywords that can be included in the caption too. Also, if you have a caption it will stop someone putting the wrong image with a piece of text. John always starts with his captions before moving on to choosing his keywords: "I start out by writing the caption as if I was describing the image to a person who is blind. So if I was describing a lighthouse at the coast I would say it's a white lighthouse on the north sea with a beach next to it etc. I then take the words such as "the and background" out which leaves me a list of key words (sea, coast, lighthouse, beach etc.) Once I have this list I then think about it more abstractly. For example, if it's a picture of a tractor you could put farm, barn, agricultural and farming. After that the third stage is to enter personal knowledge such as the name of the village it was taken in. This method ensures hardly any words are missed."
This method of Johns is a good idea as it gives you a technique to follow which can stop you becoming bored.
"You have to do it in some sort of simple, logical order otherwise words will be missed out. It may be boring but it saves you time in the long run," explained John. "The payback is when you get a call from a potential buyer. I got a call from someone called me and asked if they could have a picture of the Japanese tree they saw on my site. I had tree as a keyword so while she was on the phone I was able to go through my other photos too and describe them to her so instead of selling one image I sold three."
This process not only gives you the opportunity to sell more photographs it also speeds everything up which means you have more time to do what you enjoy which is taking photographs.
"Indexing a back catalogue is a very time consuming job. Once you've done this you'll never forget to keyword as you go along ever again," explained Chris.
Chris is a successful wedding and portrait photographer who uses keywords all of the time and finds them extremely useful. He can quickly find clients, their particular shoot and any particular type of image: "In my film days we used to have a card index system cross referencing negatives / trannies with name, date, subject, location and comments. Nowadays we use Aperture to look after our images. I really don't know what we'd do without it. Every card we download gets a reference name and sequential numbering with a caption, keywords, copyright info and credit.
I tend to use the info for two reasons, firstly clients request images. We have regular clients who may have had several shoots with us. Secondly, we are the photographers for Live Cheshire and Live Manchester and my editor is often requesting stock images or images from a shoot for particular features. Eg if they ask from something with a pigeon in I can type in pigeon and say I have x amount of pictures with pan fried pigeon in. When clients say do you remember the shot on the sofa, well I don't but if I put sofa in it will come up. I don't have to think when and where it was taken."
Finally Chris said: "Keyword as you go along, but give it some serious thought first. Will others be able to understand your system. Can you easily explain your system to someone. Keep it as simple as possible. Be rational about what you need, if you never needed to search across folders you might not need keywords. But if you do and you use them well they are very useful."
For more information on the photographers visit Chris Hanley's, Michael Bielat's and John Beardsworth's websites.