Keywording Strategy

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Today’s Question: Regarding keywords, could you advise on plurals and capitalization?

Tim’s Quick Answer: To me the most important aspects of a keywording strategy are consistency and (to the extent possible) simplicity.

More Detail: First, in general you don’t need to be too worried about capitalization for your keywords, at least in the context of searching. Most software doesn’t provide a case-sensitive search feature for keywords, meaning you’ll be able to search regardless of what the original capitalization was.

That said, in some cases other people will be able to see your keywords. That would be the case, for example, if you submit photos to stock photography services. If others will be able to view your keywords I would tend to be a bit more careful about always using proper capitalization, such as for proper nouns.

For singular versus plural, again the right approach depends on your particular needs. As a very general rule, for my own keywording I use the singular form unless the plural is noteworthy. My aim here is simplicity and consistency.

In many cases, of course, singular versus plural won’t impact a search. For example, let’s assume you have some photos featuring whales. For the images that feature a single whale you could use the keyword “whale”. For images that feature two or more whales in the frame, you could use the plural keyword “whales”. In either case it is possible to search “whale” and have images with the keyword “whales” included in the search results. This depends, of course, on the settings used for the search, but the point is that it would be possible to see search results for both singular and plural keywords in this case.

If you had also photographed cactus plants, the use of singular versus plural keywords could be a problem. A photo with one plant could have the keyword “cactus”, while a photo featuring multiple plants might have the keyword “cacti”. A search for the singular versus plural form of “cactus” would not yield all of the images you might be looking for.

You also need to consider whether you may ever need to search specifically for a photo containing multiple subjects, where you would want to be able to search specifically for the plural form of a keyword.

The best solution will vary for each photographer. What I think is most important is that you think about your own specific needs as a photographer, and the potential utility of including only a singular form of a keyword unless there is a specific reason to use the plural. And, of course, you could always use both singular and plural to help broaden your potential search results, if that is most helpful for you.