Can others find your photos?

Twenty-six years ago in 1993 I started my new job at Georgia Tech after just graduating with my masters degree in communications. The very first project I was assigned was to use the new Nikon Scanner to help start a computer catalogue of the photos shot for our department at Georgia Tech.

I tried to design a system using Filemaker Pro, but found the software that came with the Nikon Scanner. That software was actually Cumulus.

I created the first computer photo catalogue system for Georgia Tech using that software.

In 2008 I was also given the same task for Chick-fil-A’s corporate communication team. I chose PhotoShelter as the system to handle the photos online.

PhotoShelter did a story on how we implemented their online database system. Here is that link.

I have consulted many different businesses, nonprofits and colleges through the years helping them setup their photo catalogue.

Just this week I saw online that Andrew Wiard had posted a great article “THE FOUR CS – METADATA MUSTS”.

I have written about Metadata and the International Press & Telecommunications Council a few times on this blog. I recommend using PhotoMechanic for embedding your text into your photos, so that they are searchable. You can also use the Adobe products Lightroom and Photoshop to do this as well. I just find that PhotoMechanic is the fastest and easiest way to edit and most of all deal with embedding metadata.

When you are adding content to the metadata and you click on the triangle on the right of the Keywords, you will get the pop up you see with what I use is the Structured Keywords.

You can type each of the words or you can use a database that is so much faster.

Carl Siebert has created two videos I recommend to help you speed up the process of creating keywords with PhotoMechanic.

I have created structured keyword lists for my clients as well as use a generic list for my own tagging. For example Chick-fil-A needs what I call industry specific lingo for their searches. This would be true for any business.

Google is the Gold Standard for search. Google continues to work on their system, so that when you search for something you find what you are needing. Now Google is very advanced. If you had 10 different people search the same word each of them will most likely get a different result.

You see Google knows your past searches and goes to great lengths to be sure your search results fit you the best way possible.

Most photo search fields for photo databases look similar to the Google search bar and you can refine those searches like I show here with PhotoShelter.

Andrew Wiard’s “Four Cs, Five Ws and an A” is missing what I think is key. Keywords will help your clients find your photos.

Client Searches

If you shoot an assignment for a client, they most likely will not need you to find those images. Clients will call and ask if you have a photo. They will then describe what they are looking for from your collection.

Do you have back to school photos? Do you have beach photos? Do you have bad weather photos?

While you can remember shooting a photo and find it, you will improve your ability to find your own images had they been tagged with keywords and not just a caption.

Link to blog post explaining that, “Photographers need to understand difference between Captions & Keywords

Too often photographers do a poor job because, “We Assume and Use Our Own Words”. We have to think about the client looking for a photo. Not the words we would use to find it, but they will use.

We often create databases that communicate something beyond the level of comprehension of the target. Use words your readers will be comfortable with. 

Avoid using jargon or acronyms – and if you absolutely must use them make sure you explain them in simple terms. Think about the client. Be clear on what you’re trying to say and structure your words so that they make sense to your audience.

Click on the image above to go to fotoKeyword Harvester if you want to buy a keyword generator. It works great. Especially if you are new to putting keywords with your images.


You need to embed words into your images to make them searchable. The words you use need to be the words that clients will use to find the photos and not the ones you would use to describe the photos.

You need good Keywords besides writing a good caption – that’s the 5 ‘W’s. Who, What, When, Where, and Why. Without this information a picture is useless for editorial purposes. There is no limit to additional details but these five are mandatory.

I suggest buying a Keyword list to start out with and then learn to create custom structured keyword lists for your clients and use PhotoMechanic to embed these into the photos.

One of the best ways to create a custom keyword list is to ask your client to do this for you. Can you give me the search words you would like to use to find photos in your image library? I did this with Chick-fil-A and this really helped me to help them find the photos they needed. You can combine that list with a traditional keywords list.

When you take these steps then you will make your images easier to find for your clients–as well as you.