Updated: January 1, 2024 | Contains affiliate links

5 steps to create precise keywords for your digital pictures


Once you get started with Digital Asset Management (DAM) software you will quickly run into another management issue: your keywords. I believe any DAM software user will eventually ask himself the question: how am I supposed to create my keywords? Reading various internet sources on the subject I usually run into two kinds of advice: some say you should just start adding keywords to your images while others say you should be careful and think through your keywords before creating them. Even though it seems that most advice falls in the first category, I happen to fall into the second category. I do believe that you should be careful when you create keywords primarily because if you create too many, then you will have to manage your keywords as well pretty soon…as if managing your pictures is not enough headache. :)

Why think about your keywords?

Adding efficient keywords to your digital pictures requires significant effort and I believe you have to have a strategy for directing that effort. So, what do you need to be thinking about when developing keywords for your pictures? I created a list of five steps that should help you think through the potential problems when developing keywords for tagging your picture collection.

How old is your strategy for creating image keywords?
choosing keywords for pictures

STEP 1: Imagine what searches you would be performing

Try to think about the kinds of pictures you’re taking and imagine what you would be searching against. For example: You want to find out all the pictures taken in Yellowstone National Park that have deer in them and they were taken at sunset. All these highlighted words would represent actual keywords but at this time try to think in terms of categories that these keywords fall under. So, would you be searching for cities? Or events? Or animals? Or parks? There might be more than one answer to this question, like both events and animals, or both parks and animals. The answers to this question would help you identify the categories (or domains) that you currently have for your pictures.

The example I have given would result in three image categories (or domains): parks, animals and time of day. The scenario I have presented above would represent finding the pictures that belong to the intersection of these three image categories. The more scenarios you can think of the more categories you you may discover for your pictures.


STEP 2: Define image keywords for each category of images

Step 1 will help you manage your keywords so that they’re somewhat organized in your mind. This will help you so that you won’t have too many duplicate image keywords…hopefully none. For example when you think about the parks image category you can create keywords like: yosemite, yellowstone, sequoia, santa monica and others, depending on your pictures. Your software should help you group your image keywords into categories which would represent your image categories. An image keyoword category like animals will be pretty easy to work with; you just start listing the animals in your pictures as you find them. Most people would probably use the events category together with many other domains. The events domain would contain keywords like birthday, graduation, game, hiking_trip, photo_trip, biking_trip and so on. Some people create a date domain as well, even though keywords would not be needed since the “Date picture taken” field would contain all the information about dates.

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STEP 3: Avoid creating duplicate image keywords

When you pick one image keyword category and start creating keywords for it, you only have to be careful about one thing. Make sure you don’t create duplicate keywords like: birthday, birthdays or bday. This WILL mess you up very quickly! So, how can you avoid creating duplicate image keywords? Well, it’s easy at first but it gets harder later because you will not remember what image keywords you have created…unless you look up your keywords.

The easiest thing to do in order to minimize duplicate keywords is to create a few naming conventions for yourself…but only a few conventions. If you create too many conventions you won’t remember your own conventions. Here are a few examples of useful conventions:

  • Always use singular in your keywords and no plurals. This would translate in birthday instead of birthdays.
  • Don’t use any abbreviations…I think this is a must for any keyword since abbreviations are very hard to remember.

STEP 4: Add new keyword categories when new pictures don’t fit in the existing categories

When you would like to assign a keyword that doesn’t exist, don’t just add it but see if you’re actually discovering a new category. For example let’s say you take a bunch of pictures at Sequoia National Park and you transfer them to your computer and start tagging them with sequoia (from the parks domain), camping_trip (from the events domain), sunset, sunrise (from time of the day domain and flower, tree, grass (from the plants domain). Let’s assume you have already defined the keywords for these categories.

However, now you find yourself that you would want to add tags for the friends that appear in the pictures: George, Jerry and Elaine. You could simply add the keywords, but they actually belong to a new category: people. This keyword category could have sub-categories like friends and family. I believe that if you think in terms of categories rather than in terms of individual keywords, it will help you develop great image keywords and avoid creating duplicate ones.

STEP 5: Apply image keywords when you transfer your pictures

This is probably the easiest step to understand but the hardest to implement…’cause you might be lazy like me. However, if you don’t apply at least a minimal set of keywords right when you transfer your pictures…well, you’ll be working very hard later.

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