I don't know anyone who enjoys tagging their photos with keywords. Most people consider it a chore. Most of us also put it off, do it halfheartedly or don't do it all. This is a shame because keywords can be so very valuable to anyone who loves photography. And it can actually be rewarding. It all depends on your attitude and how you approach it. Let's see if we can make if fun.
Today's image libraries are exploding. The digital age has encouraged all of us to make more photos—many more photos. However the immediacy and instant gratification of the digital workflow can foster sloppy management of the images once they've been transferred to computer storage. Once the files are safe and backed-up we can always deal with the finer details of organization at a later time. It's much more fun to go out and shoot some more or upload our favorites for our Facebook friends. It's kind of like the sock drawer. We'll deal with organization later or maybe not at all.
Therefore our poor photos, like our hole-filled or mismatched socks, languish without identity or purpose. They float in a nebulous netherworld and fade from our memories. Gems and potential masterpieces get lost with the good intentions of someday cleaning it all up. But, as the collection grows and grows it just gets worse until one day we can't find a truly important image and then it all comes home to roost. Keywording is important.
The discipline of keywording lies within the larger category of asset management known as metadata. Metadata are nothing more than data that describe your pixel data. Thankfully, some metadata tagging is automatic. EXIF metadata are assigned by the camera and describe the equipment, shooting conditions and settings of each photo. That's the easy part (unless your you forgot to accurately set the date and time on your camera) because it all happens automatically. The problem lies in the other metadata, the stuff we have to add manually. That's called IPTC metadata (named after the International Press Telecommunications Council, which standardizes such things) and it's our responsibility to manage it.
There's a lot more to IPTC metadata than keywords but keywords are probably the clearest way for us to describe the attributes of a photo. So, we'll focus on our keywording discipline for now. Keywords are single words or simple phrases that describe the important content of our photos. So, you must decide on what is important to you and make a list of keywords. The operative word here is important, don't just make up keywords because someone told you (like me) to do your keywording. The keywords should have meaning for you. That's why the call them keywords.
Keyword lists can quickly grow to be out-of-control. We get started with keywords one day and simply can't help ourselves. The list gets big, unwieldy and unorganized and so we stop before we really get started. So, be careful. Every keyword you adopt becomes a responsibility. You don't need or want 1000 keywords floating around in your brain. Start simply with a few important keywords. You can always expand the list later as you gain expertise.
How do we start? What are the criteria for effective keywording? We'll start from there in our next blog post.