Managing Digital Images: Applying Ratings and Keywords
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Assigning Keywords

Keywords are words or phrases that you associate with a picture to describe the subject matter, style, usage, or connotations of the image. These descriptions can be of great use when organizing and searching your picture collection.

Keywords can be abstract terms (like "victory") or subject-oriented terms (like "cat" or "Maddy"). Subjectoriented terms are generally easier to apply because they require less careful consideration. Abstract terms are generally economical to apply only to the very best images, such as ones that will be made available in a searchable stock photography database.

What's a keyword?

The term "keyword" can have two meanings: it can refer to the term itself, or it can refer to the place where the keyword lives (in the IPTC Keywords field, or in the virtual sets in your DAM program). It's important to understand these differences—just because you want to associate a term with an image does not necessarily mean that you want that term to live in the IPTC Keywords field.

Some of the keywording that you will do should be best left as private metadata (information intended for your use but not to be shared with others). Anything you write into the IPTC Keywords field becomes embedded metadata, and is therefore public. (See the "Storing Metadata" section for further discussion about private and embedded metadata.)

Controlled vocabulary

As your collection grows, finding an image by its associated terms (keywords) will become more useful and feasible than trying to find an image by remembering when you took it or where you stored it. To maximize the value of your sorting work, you should develop a method of tagging that is consistent.

Your designation for both ratings and keywords should be standardized, so that you are performing only one search—collection-wide—to find all applicable images. To do this, you will need to use a controlled vocabulary. A controlled vocabulary is simply a set of descriptive terms or keywords that has been standardized into a list.


Figure 2-13. Keywords: Jobs, Annual Report, Executive Photograph, Group Shot, Portraits

Advanced Grouping: Making Virtual Sets

Ratings are qualitative assessments of images, whereas keywords are content- based or usage-based assessments. Groupings can be rating-, content-, or usage-based assessments, or some combination of all three. Groupings are collections of images that share a particular quality, such as "these came from the shoot today," "these are my best pictures from the last year," "make 4×6 prints of these for Mom," or "these are all my pictures of Josie."

Some groupings may be generated by a simple keyword search, such as pictures of "Josie," or a keyword search combined with a rating search, such as "two-star and better pictures of Josie" (Figure 2-14). More complex—and valuable—groupings may be made by hand-picking images from these search results and saving them as a virtual set ("Selected images of Josie for slideshow").


Figure 2-14. Cross-referencing quality with some kind of subject matter information can let you generate a specific set of images. (This screenshot is from iView MediaPro.) Using cataloging software, you can take these cross-referenced sets and do further selection.

Groupings are valuable because they turn your collection of images into smaller, subject-oriented "haystacks" (called virtual sets). Using virtual sets can greatly increase the speed and efficiency of any searching or browsing that you do. By systematically creating groupings of images as you look at and work with your pictures, you will gradually add considerable value to the collection.

The ability to create multiple "virtual" groupings of images is one of the most important capabilities of cataloging software. All assignment photographs, for instance, can live in a virtual set ( Jobs) that can be expanded and collapsed for easy viewing. Because the virtual grouping adds little data to the catalog file, and does not involve making duplicates of the images, you can make a practically unlimited number of these virtual sets, and you can nest them together in multiple hierarchies.

Examples of virtual sets that I use are Jobs, Personal, Collections of images to print, Collections to send to my stock agency, and Collections to consider for portfolio use. These groupings are quick and durable identifiers of my most valuable images. I also find that the best of my images may live in many groups (e.g., Web Portfolio, Print Portfolio, Stock Submission 050202, and so on). When I want to find an image quickly, one of the first places I look is in groups that I have already made.

As you consider making groups, again remember a few of the DAM rules:

Do it once...

The most effective way to make groups is simply to save the results of every search or division of images that you do into a virtual set. In the course of doing your regular work with your images (for example, doing a stock or portfolio search, making a slideshow, or selecting images that the client want to have made into master files), you will often find that you are culling images into groups. If you use your cataloging software to make and save these groupings, you will be creating valuable virtual sets that can speed up your work for the lifetime of the collection.

But don't overdo it

Groups are very useful, but don't go too crazy here. Don't make groups just because it's possible; instead, make them (and save them) as you actually need them, and not before. The groups you make because you need them are the ones that will turn out to be most valuable to you.

Remember that by assigning bulk metadata, keywording images, and rating your pictures, you can generate some pretty specific groups automatically.

If you are a professional, or ever foresee licensing your photographs to anyone, deliver files with the license and your contact information embedded in the photos, and keep a record of those licenses. As an aside, you should also register copyright. You can find a complete tutorial on how to copyright images at


Figure 2-15. There's a place to put nearly every kind of information you want to keep about an image. Keywords: Jobs, School, Motion, Lockers, Students, Long Exposure, Blur

Peter Krogh is regarded as one of the world's leading experts on DAM, or digital asset management. You can see his photography work on his website, Read more about the book, and participate in an online discussion about the principles he promotes at

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