Elemental Studios / Alamy

Some simple advice for keywording on Alamy

Being able to take a great photo is a good start to becoming a successful stock photographer. Being able to process your photos to maximise their impact on a website is also an important skill. Being able to describe your photos to a potential buyer however is an essential and sadly often ignored part of the process.

All customers looking for stock photography start their search with words; once that first search has started it might be more of a visual search to find that particular photo that fits their brief, but the journey always begins with words.

We realise we’ve got one of the more complicated set of keywording requirements in comparison to our competition and we’re working on improving this for our contributors. With a database of this many images the complication was a necessity in order to ensure our customers continue to get the best and most relevant images returned in their searches. We’re constantly monitoring and tweaking our search engine to achieve this and this year will see us stepping this up along with trying to make things simpler for our contributors (more on this at a later date).

If you’re taking photos that stand out above your competition then it’s vitally important that you’re describing them to the customer to get them returned in that initial search. We think you as the photographer understand why you took the photo and why you think someone might like to pay to use that photo, which is why we think you’re the right person to keyword your photos.

So where do you begin?


This has a low weight with the Alamy search engine, but it’s still searchable and makes up part of the image comp and pop-up when a customer hovers over an image on the Alamy site.

It should just be a short factual description of your photo and bear in mind who your target audience is; i.e. a customer and a stranger.

On Instagram, Flickr, as part of an artistic photo assignment, or sharing with friends and family, captions such as:  “My brother Chris makes me laugh” or  “The toasted dichotomy of man” might cut it, but on Alamy (or any other stock photography site) you need to be less cryptic and more to the point: it’s a happy and sad face in toast.

happy sad toast
© HOORAY! / Alamy

Essential Keywords

The most important words that describe your image to a customer. It’s deliberately short on the character limit in order to focus the mind and limit irrelevant search results for customers. It holds the highest weight with our search engine.

Unless your photo is super-conceptual, then these words should really be the main crux of the image. What is this a photo of? Don’t include words and information that is of little or no relevance to the photo, for example: “Brazil South America Summer Vacation Rose Close Up”.

You may have been on vacation in Brazil, but if the photo’s a close up, is where you took your vacation relevant?

Tourism customers may be looking for an image for their South America brochure and won’t necessarily want to see close up photos of flowers when they search for images of the country.

The location may be relevant as it may be the flower is only found in South America, but add this to a lower weighted field as it’s more important in the Essential keyword field to say what you see and not what you can’t: “Red rose rosa bloom flower close up sunlit”.

Main Keywords

These should be seen as an expansion of the Essential keywords; the next most important words and phrases. As per the flower example, it may be where a relevant location is added. Don’t feel you have to force words into here. It may be you have a very simplistic image of a red ball on a white background, which can probably be described adequately in the Essential keywords.

If you’ve described your image literally and exhausted all words, then start thinking about the attributes and interactions in the image; smiling or frowning, young or old, running or sitting, etc.

If warranted then maybe think about concepts as well, but be careful that the image portrays a concept that is relevant to a stock image customer and not just your own vivid imagination. If you have to explain the concept to someone, then it’s probably not relevant.

Think in terms of a commercial customer looking for emotive imagery that portrays: speed, strength, romance, happiness, etc.

Comprehensive Keywords

Still got more words and phrases that describe your image and (importantly) they’re still relevant to your image; then this field holds a lower weight than Essential and Main, but is still searchable.

Hopefully you will have thought of a possible end use for your image long before it’s made its way onto the Alamy site, so keep that thought in mind when adding keywords and describe that image to that customer. Obviously there are literal images that have literal uses as well as left of field customers so it’s not always possible to predict end use, but don’t try and force it.

Customers are people too and so there is no need to start reading the thesaurus or doing in-depth Google and Wikipedia research into every permutation of each word you add to your images.

Customers don’t generally look for: “Juvenile female, facial expression, eco-friendly transportation device, mid-adult couple, familial togetherness, non-urban environment”.

Family riding mountain bikes in rural field
© Juice Images / Alamy

Actual people are more likely to be looking for: “girl, smiling, riding, bike, family, countryside”.

Start thinking like a customer long before you get to the keywording stage on Alamy. Check Alamy Measures to see what’s trending in customer searches and check your own images; customers might be looking for what you’ve got, but you might not have the words they’re looking for.

You take great photos, make sure you tell customers about them otherwise they just won’t get to see them.

With a fine art background Ben has a passion for creativity and is motivated by a love of photography of food, candid lifestyle (mostly his kids). However, he also has an appreciation order and structure so he's often looking for symmetry with his iPhone.