Stock Photo Keyword Zen

- - Stock

I consider myself a pretty good stock researcher. Mostly because I’ve done so much of it and partially because I like doing it (exceptions here and here). This is what I think makes someone good at stock research: The ability to identify great images as thumbnails, a massive list of agencies to search (here’s mine), persistence and keyword zen.

Keyword zen is the most important part.

The majority of searches begin with a laundry list of different places and things and people and events and activities that I need to find images for. To make it easier I break that down into a list of keywords I want to search, so knowing what makes a good keyword is critical.

Ok, this is the least helpful part of this post: I don’t really know how to explain what makes a good keyword, because it’s like talking wookie, it’s a special stock researcher language all it’s own and until you get in there and do it for a bit and experiment you can’t possible know the structure of a good keyword sentence.

Ok, this might be helpful: A good trick I’ve learned is to just drop in and browse (I call this trolling… as in trolling for sharks) with a couple keywords then when you find an photo you like, check and see what keywords they’re using and use those to head down that path to see where it leads. Another technique I use is to start with the most constrictive set of keywords first (zero hits is the goal) and then start backing out till the results are too much then head back in to the sweet spot and do a search.

The weirdest trick I’ve ever discovered was several years ago when I was looking for a photo that I swear didn’t exist (at least in any semi-publishable form) and was getting nowhere fast so I decided to try misspelling the words. It was like unlocking a secret door and discovering a room full or abandoned pictures, gathering dust, just sitting there waiting to be discovered wondering why nobody ever visits. At 11pm in an empty office in the middle of midtown Manhattan it’s feels like you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole.

There Are 14 Comments On This Article.

  1. As a daily reader I obviously love your blog and as a Stock shooter, I really appreciate this post. Many posts are about assignments and how to get them, which is cool, but any chance of more Stock coverage?

    This business is going through a major upheaval with part-time shooters fuelling the MS sites and old farts like me are having to make major and often painful adjustments if we are to maintain our income (and most of us aren’t).

    Some regular words of wisdom from this site might help us to keep our sanity. Thanks.

  2. Picture This

    I just wish there was an easy filter to weed out all of the cheesy stuff. Something like: “not perfectly groomed” “not blond/blue-eyed/white” “not overlit” “no plastic smile”or just “doesn’t look posed/set-up/cheesy”…

  3. It’s interesting to hear your end of key wording. Aside from my own photography, I work as a photo assistant at a stock photo agency. I am often tasked with key wording the shoots I assist on, which, to be honest, is a nightmare. Getty sends us updated key word requirements about every two months, so we have to go back through all of our volumes and change everything. It’s tedious and time consuming. In short, I understand what you’re talking about – the universal groan that accompanies key wording, whatever its context.

  4. this may be counterintuitive but having a couple keywords that aren’t used that often helped me find great photos. not sure if that’s allowed by getty and corbis and others.

  5. @Picture This – You’ve hit the nail on the head for the dilema in shooting Stock.

    Unfortunately, shooting the common perceptions is what sells. Don’t blame the shooter (well, sometimes) blame the buyers who want the tried and true formula shots.

    Stock is by nature, generic, because you never know who the end user will be. Don’t want the same old, same old? I think those shots are called assignments, aren’t they?

  6. It’s funny you mention this. I run my own stock site ( ) and I can see what people type in
    the keyword box. I have seen, sex, poop, rodeo clown among other things that have nothing to do with surf… and last it is funny when people type in their version of surf lingo. As a surfer myself, I know we have a language of our own, that many people don’t understand.. What is really bad is when you see
    Hollywood movies doing surf lingo, that is when they make surfers seems so dumb….


  7. I work as the photo editor for Canadian Sports Magazine.
    I tend to use Getty a lot… sometimes (like midnight last night) I’m just looking for one more image to finish off a section (last night it was the “gallery area”)
    Instead of looking through all the sports shots done in the last week or so for the one keeper I needed, I just start searching by my favorite photographers and look at what they’ve done the last few days. Then I pick from those.

  8. A little offtopic: Congratulations, Rob — I noticed the “Deadliest Animals of North America” piece you directed at Men’s Journal (shot by Craig Cutler) made it into PDN’s Photo Annual.

  9. But there are many ways to misspell a single world!

    Well, indeed a magic world, like a science fiction sphere linked to the editorial planet. An area where only a few selected knows how to navigate fittingly. ☺

  10. Keywords.Another weird and mysterious part of the internet!
    I just finished reading APE(which is a fascinating insight into the “other side”,thanks Rob) and went to have a look at my site stats.
    Funnily enough,I found someone had been trawling my site through something called KeywordSpy(Google it,I’m not going to advertise for them!).
    Basically it helps you rip off keywords from “the competition” or whoever you like.I can understand hitting up Getty or Corbis for more keywords but I don’t think they will get much from me!
    It just seems that the photography world is beginning to be taken over with desperate, obsessed people doing e-mail blasts,checking IP addresses, etc (and I’m guilty of this too by checking my stats!),to get one up on the competition.

    And now the paranoid battle of the keywords! It appears almost more important to have good keywords than good photographs.

    It would be funny if it wasn’t so awfully sad.

  11. @Tony Stringer – If you listen to Ron Chapple, a guy who knows a thing or two about Stock, Keyword is first, shot is second.

    It may be sad, but if someone can’t find your lovely shot, it’s going to languish and never be seen. So much of Stock is to illustrate a concept which is defined by (key)words and that’s how a buyer will find you. It may be the tail wagging the dog, but that’s the way it is.