Workflow #4 – Keywording

Earlier in the workflow we covered how to import images from the camera to your computer and how to process files to make them suitable for sale. But we’re not yet ready to send the files to the agencies: if we would send them as they are at this stage, even if they were to be approved, the images would never appear among the search results of potential buyers. You still need to edit the files metadata in order to append some basic informations that will make your images “searchable”: among them undoubtedly the title and the description of the image, but also a set of relevant keywords associated with every image.

Post-Produzione PS3

Result of the processing in Photoshop

Therefore first thing to do is to identify the relevant keywords, being careful not to overdo using words not strictly relevant or redundant. For example, in this case, the words “New York“, “USA“, “Brooklyn” and “Manhattan” immediately seem appropriate to identify the key elements of the image. To these we could add more generic but equally correct words as “bridge“, “river“, “building“, “landmark” and more conceptual words as “architecture“, “transportation“, “link“. It is quite unuseful to add words like “sky“, “clouds“, “water” unless these elements are crucial in the frame or have a relevant role in the composition of the image. Absolutely to avoid words that have nothing to do with the image itself or have an absolutely vague link, such as “los angeles“, “capital city“, which in many cases could be considered as spam and even lead to the rejection of the image. Some agencies are very careful not only to the quality of the files that you send, but even to the keywords appended to them. Ultimately there is not a precise number of keywords to use and of course it depends on the image itself, but generally a range of 10-15 keywords can be enough in most cases, and however almost all the agencies do not accept more than 50 keywords appended to each file.

The identification of relevant keywords is a very delicate and therefore time-consuming activity, especially if we have many files to process. However, there are some free online tools that can help to automate the keyword research and select them quickly, by drawing them from similar images already on sale at the major agencies. The keywording tool by Shutterstock is perhaps the best known and used, but in this workflow we’ll use a very similar tool available at

Let’s click on the site and fill the research field with what could be considered a short title of the image, in this case, “brooklyn bridge“. In the same form you can specify any keywords to exclude, as well as select the number of results you want to achieve (I suggest 50), the language (English of course) and the type of files, in this case only “photos“.


Microstock Keyword Tool by

Now just launch the research, which will eventually yield 50 image results related to “brooklyn bridge”, as in the following screen. Among the results, you need to select all those images that you believe to be most similar to yours, in this case avoiding night pictures or those with a significantly different framing.


Search results in the Microstock Keyword Tool by

By clicking “submit“, you will see a new screen with all the keywords associated with the images previously selected. Now simply click on each word that you believe fully relevant and you will see it automatically appear in the box on the right. Once you finished selecting the keywords, simply select and copy the list of words in the box.


Selection of the relevant keywords among the search results

After copying the relevant keywords, you just need to append them as tags in the file. To do this it is necessary to reopen the jpg file with any software that can write metadata, such as Adobe Bridge or Adobe Lightroom, previously used in the first part of this workflow.

Just launch Lightroom, then move to the “library” module. You need to select the image or images to which you want to apply the keywords. In this case we have a multiple selection, because we can apply the same keywords to all 4 images previously exported, as they only differ for the processing with different filters. After selecting the images you need to open the “keywording” panel and just “paste” in the box the words previously copied with the MicrostockGroup tool.


Keywords setting in Adobe Lightroom

Finally, let’s move to the “metadata” panel and select from the drop-down menu the “IPTC” set. In the fields of metadata available you need to find the “content” section, where you must fill the headline of the image (eg. “Brooklyn Bridge“) and the description, which should not be identical to the headline but should be a larger sentence (eg. “The scenic Brooklyn Bridge, New York City“). You should also repeat the headline in the “title” field of the “status” section. It’s important to include this metadata because the agencies automatically retrieve them from the files, therefore you won’t need to add them after the uploading process, saving a lot of time. However, some agencies detect only the description and not the headline (eg. Photodune and Shutterstock), while others detect only the headline and others only the title from the “status” section. Therefore it’s good to fill all the 3 fields above mentioned.

A quick clarification concerns the so-called editorial images, ie pictures that are sent to the agencies for editorial use only. For these images some agencies require a particular description, written according to specific rules. A very accurate tutorial about editorial caption is the one provided by Shutterstock, which you can read at the following link. However, many agencies do not accept editorial images (eg. Fotolia) while other agencies decide during the review whether to accept an image as royalty-free or editorial, even without requiring a particular description for the file (eg. 123RF).

The image of the Brooklyn Bridge of course is not editorial, therefore there will be a standard description included in the metadata. At this point the process of keywording, titling and description of the image is complete and the file is fully indexed for the search engines of the microstock agencies.

Go to the next phase of the workflow: 

5. Uploading


Go back to the previous phase of the workflow: 

3. Editing in Photoshop

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Expert in Marketing and Communication in a major company of the Italian FMCG market, traveler by vocation, passionate photographer, contributor at all major international microstock agencies, founder of Marcor$tock, a blog focused on Microstock Market and Digital Photography.