You’ve taken the perfect shot, uploaded it to 500px, and are ready to license it. But how can you be sure your image will be seen by buyers? Keywords!

Tagging your image with the right photo keywords will increase the photo’s visibility by ensuring it appears in relevant search results. The wrong keywords—or worse, too few keywords—could be detrimental to your sales. Although it can seem tedious and tempting to skip it altogether, effective photo keywording is a critical step in preparing your images for licensing. By keeping it simple and factual, keywording can (and should) be a painless part of your workflow.

When should you do photo keywording:

  • Describe what you see
  • Stick to the facts
  • Use conceptual keywords
  • Know when to stop
  • Check for spelling errors
  • Use caution when batch-keywording

When you should not do photo keywording:

  • Describe your camera equipment with keywords
  • Keyword brand names
  • List your business name
  • “Spam” your images

Describe what you see by asking yourself: Who? What? When? Where? Why?
Who or what is the subject of your image? Start by describing your subject in the most basic terms e.g. “skyscraper,” “tower,” “city.” Keywording is most effective when you describe the relevant attributes of your image—the ones that really stand out. Stick to what you immediately see and resist the urge to fill your keywords with less valuable information by describing less-significant details. This is true of any image, whether it’s a landscape, still life, or portrait.

When was the picture taken?
Tagging “day” or “night” is good, but it’s also a great idea to be more specific about the time of day, using descriptors like “morning,” “sunrise,” “dawn,” etc. Or if the season is prominent in the photo, include tags that reference season. For example, a scenic image of colourful trees in autumn could be tagged with the words “autumn,” “fall,” “colourful,” “seasonal.” However, keep in mind that seasons vary in different parts of the world, so if it is not obvious in the photo, there is no benefit in tagging the season.

Where was your photo taken?
Geographical location is more relevant when it comes to landscapes, cityscapes, or any image taken outdoors, where this information lends obvious context to the photo. With landscapes, the location and setting are the sole subject of the photo, making this information even more vital.

Ask “why?”, or, what is happening in the photo?
Describe the action you see: are your models interacting? What are they doing? Is your picture illustrating a particular event? This information should be reflected in your keywords too, although it must be evident to the viewer and not a vague or subtle suggestion of what is taking place.

Using conceptual keywords
Many buyers will know exactly what they are looking for, but many will also be seeking inspiration for their projects and may choose to search by a concept or theme. These tags are not literal, they are words or phrases that convey a clear concept like “the road less travelled” or “thinking ahead.” Buyers will search for the most commonly-used phrases, so be sure your concept is a familiar (and relevant!) one and not something obscure that only you would know.

No need to separate each word with a comma, as the search engine will pick up exact matches only. The following is a good example: if you were describing a dirt road in the countryside, you might use keywords like “road, countryside, rural, the road less travelled, field,” etc.

Know when to stop
In general, 10 – 25 keywords would be ideal to describe most images. Just as having too few keywords can be harmful to your sales, so can having too many. Excess keywords can dilute the search, resulting in your images being pushed further down the page.

Check for spelling errors
Double check your spelling! If English isn’t your first language, consider using a translation tool such as Word Reference or something similar, to ensure you have the right words and correct spelling. The desire to keyword your image in your native language is natural but, unfortunately, our search engine recognizes English words only. Words that are accented have a tendency to become truncated, meaning the search engine cannot read them.

Photo keywording examples
Below, we have provided several visual references with corresponding dos and don’ts underneath to better illustrate the points mentioned above.

Do tag: Woman, Mother, Mom, Mum, Parent, Adult, Child, Baby, Family, Happy, Happiness, Bonding, Closeness, Togetherness, Embrace, Hug, Love, Smile, Smiling, Summer, Sunset, Sunshine, Golden, Warm Light, Backlit, Outside
Don’t tag: Trees, Road, Street, Hair, Sock, Hood, Stripes, Pacifier

Do tag: Woman, Female, Adult, Young Adult, 20-29 years, One Person, Model, Portrait, Studio, African, Black Hair, Curly Hair, Brown Eyes, Makeup, Make-up, South Africa, Confident, Confidence, Individuality, Simplicity, Beauty, Casual Clothing, T-Shirt, Head and Shoulders, Front View, Looking at Camera, Black and White, B&W, Monochrome, White Background
Don’t tag: Ethnicity, Ethnic, Daughter, Friend, Glamour, Bored

Do tag: Toronto, Ontario, Canada, North America, City, Cityscape, Skyline, Architecture, Building, Skyscraper, Office Tower, High Rise, Dusk, Dawn, Twilight, Modern, Contemporary, Design, Business, Finance, Illuminated, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Travel Destination, City Life, Urban, Sprawling, Elevated View, High Angle View, Blue, Blue Hour
Don’t tag: Traffic, Windows, Glass, Winter, Cold, Lake Ontario, People

Do tag: NYC, New York City, New York, USA, United States, America, North America, City, Capital City, Manhattan, Empire State Building, One World Trade Centre, Freedom Tower, Skyscraper, Buildings, Office Tower, High Rise, Skyline, Cityscape, Sky, Clouds, Morning, Dawn, Sunrise, Bird, Seagull, Bird’s Eye View, Elevated View, Freedom, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Travel Destination, Famous Place, Tourist Attraction, International Landmark
Don’t tag: Avian, Feathers, Rockefeller Centre, Hudson River, States

Do tag: Abu Dhabi, UAE, United Arab Emirates, Middle East, Gulf Country, Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Mosque, Building, Architecture, Architectural Feature, Dome, Minaret, Gold, Ornate, Traditional, Detail, Sunrise, Morning, Holy Place, Place of Worship, Faith, Religious, Religion, Spirituality, Islam, Peace, Tranquility, Sacred, Landmark
Don’t tag: Landscape, Prayer, Praying, Pilgrimage, Quiet, Sky, Clouds, Blue

Do tag: Haew Narok Waterfall, Khao Yai National Park, Prachinburi, Thailand, Southeast Asia, Asia, Khao Yai, National Park, Waterfall, Water, Cascade, Flowing, Cliff, Ravine, Mist, Forest, Trees, Jungle, Rainforest, Tropical, Lush, Mountain, Hill, Hillside, Landscape, Rock, Nature, Scenic, Exploration, Adventure, Travel, Travel and Tourism, Travel Destination, UNESCO, UNESCO World Heritage Site, Natural Landmark, Green, Vibrant, Rainbow, Elevated View, High Angle View
Don’t tag: Amazing, Summer, Hot, Vacation, Bangkok

Do tag: Bagan, Myanmar, Burma, Mandalay, Asia, Southeast Asia, Hot Air Balloon, Field, Trees, Sunset, Sunrise, Pagoda, Temple, Buddhist Temple, Building, Architecture, Traditional, Ancient, Historic, Historical, Heritage, Buddhism, Sacred, Holy Place, Spiritual, Religious, Atmospheric, Backlit, Silhouette, Fog, Haze, Warm Tone, Golden Hour, Golden, Scenic, Landscape, View, Vista, Breathtaking, Tranquil, Tranquility, Serene, Serenity, Elevated View, Adventure, Freedom, Travel, Tourism, Travel Destination
Don’t tag: Grass, People, Transportation, Cityscape, Nature

Do tag: Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona, USA, United States, North America, Antelope Canyon, Slot Canyon, Navajo, Sandstone, Erosion, Geology, Sand, Rock, Rock Formation, Sunlight, Long Exposure, Orange, Red, Vibrant, Natural Landmark, Travel, Tourism, Travel Destination, Tranquil, Serene, Arid
Don’t tag: Religious, Rock Climbing, Hiking, Summer, Sunset

Do tag: Elephant, Animal, Wildlife, Baby Animal, Trunk, Chiang Mai, Thailand, Asia, Southeast Asia, Happy, Smiling, Bonding, Togetherness, Connection, Friendship, Playful, Cute, Pair, Close-up, Grey
Don’t tag: Ground, Leaf, Toes, Herd, Family, Babies

Do tag: Polar Bear, Bear, Animal, Wildlife, Nature, Water, Underwater, Submerged, Swim, Swimming, Dive, Bubbles, White, Blue, Predator, Powerful, Aquatic, Refreshing, Cold
Don’t tag: Iceberg, Ear, Nose, Fur, Environmental Issues, Freezing

Do tag: Dandelion, Taraxacum, Weed, Plant, Seed, Uncultivated, Nature, Growth, Texture, Softness, Fragility, Delicate, Simplicity, Close-up,
Don’t tag: Beautiful, Beauty, Garden, Toronto, Canada

Do tag: Muesli, Granola, Cereal, Milk, Dairy, Blueberry, Berry, Fruit, Breakfast, Healthy, Food, Snack, Spoon, Nutrition, Nutritious, Spoon, Spoonful, Close-up
Don’t tag: Bowl, Yogurt, White, Diet, Vegetarian, Table

Learn more about 500px Portfolios
Learn more tips and tricks on licensing your images in our Support article.

Main photo: Oscar Nilsson

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