Keywords are a descriptive form of photo metadata. They are used to contain information about the visual content of the image, such as a headline, title, or captions. Keywords assign or tag meaningful words to your photos. Similar to how Instagram uses hashtags, they enable you to sort images quickly and with pinpoint accuracy. In this article, we’ll talk about how you can benefit from using them in your workflow.

The speed of using metadata keywords can add value to your photo library, for example, you can find the perfect shot to submit to a photo contest, or you can build a bespoke collection of your work for commercial inquiries in hardly any time at all. The more information you add to your images using keywords, the more potential value your images have.

Keep keywords organized

There are lots of ways photographers use keywords to tag images in Exposure. One word of advice when applying keywords is to be methodical. There are tools in Exposure that can help you keep your keywords organized. Keyword sets help organize your keywords, and they can help avoid problems caused by inconsistent keyword use. A keyword set is a collection of keywords under a common category.

metadata keywords

You can build detailed sets in Exposure that include keywords you associate together. In this example image from Kate Hailey, the keywords set ‘Animals’ contains the keyword ‘Owl.’ This enables you to search your photo library using the broader parent term ‘Animal,’ to find images for the specialized term ‘Owl.’

Pro keyword advice

Educator, photographer, and avid traveler Kate Hailey uses keywords for her organizing. She believes that the more keywords you use, the better. Kate suggests that you apply keywords liberally. The more time you spend at the front end of your workflow tagging images with unique combinations of keywords, the easier it is to sort through them in the future, which saves you a lot of time in the end.

Kate summarizes it this way: “I find it easiest to apply keywords immediately. Mostly because if I don’t add them at the front end of my workflow, I’ll forget. So I recommend that to anyone out there. Take care of the organization of your images, immediately.

I have about 1,500 keywords in my photo library. That includes tags like the film cameras and film types I shoot with because films scans don’t have any metadata of their own. I also tag the type of gear I shoot with, so I can find images shot specifically with a Yongnuo speedlite, for example. Keywords give me a way to narrow my image library down from 200,000 images to 60 images, fast.”

metadata keywords

When applying keywords, include conceptual terms, such as the keyword ‘nutrition’ Niall Benvie used when describing this photo.

Photographer, designer, and writer Niall Benvie has developed a thorough system for keywording his extensive photo library. His keywording methods make sorting through his work to find specific photos lightning-fast.

In Niall’s words, “Keywords are central to simple image management. Digital images without keywords are the equivalent of shoeboxes full of negatives. That makes it very hard to find what you are looking for. In my system, every image gets keywords. This enables me to find any image I want in no time by simply searching with them. Lots of photographers organize their images using folders, but a folder system can’t contain as much information as keywords can. I start my workflow by applying keywords to the entire shoot, and then I select subsets of photos with similar features and add more specific information.”

Kyle Ford includes descriptive keywords for what you see in the image, such as Utah, Hike, and Zion National Park. He also assigns descriptive terms how the image was made, such as listing the camera gear he used, the names of people in the shots, and other general info like the image orientation.

Seattle commercial, lifestyle, and adventure photographer Kyle Ford religiously uses keywords for all of his work. He heavily depends on keywords as the backbone of his photo organizing structure.

When talking about using keywords, Kyle said, “I use keywords on everything — and I do mean everything — I shoot. I will add keywords for general information such as the location and type of shoot, weather, camera, year, name of person, job, etc. I do this for weddings, elopement sessions, portraits, landscapes, commercial, and even my own personal work.

My reasoning for using keywords on everything is simple: no one knows what the future will bring. I first started using keywords because they used to translate straight to Flickr keywords, which was an important part of my workflow at that time. Now they can be used for SEO purposes, so it’s a good habit for me to keep doing. Maybe even Instagram will use metadata keywords automatically, someday.”


By taking the time to add keywords to your images in Exposure, you can make finding images in the largest photo libraries a quick and easy task. Check out our Organizing with Keywords video to learn more about using keywords in Exposure.

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