Much needed keywording help for photographers

As a professional photographer, one of the parts of my job that I dread the most is keywording.  Send me on a 50 mile hike with 90 pounds of gear, just don’t make me keyword!   Sadly, if I choose to forgo this loath activity, the odds of my images ever being found in an online database are slim to none.  This equals no sales and one very unhappy photographer.  

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, keywording is something that you use on a daily basis without knowing it.  Every time you search Google or another major search engine, you are searching key terms or keywords that describe what you are looking for.   To find specific images on the internet, or within a stock photo library like Aurora Photos, the problem is compounded.  The old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words is quite true, however, as a photographer I have to boil down those thousand possible descriptive terms to about twenty five key words that capture the essence of the image.  Once boiled down, I then type these words into the metadata of the file, embed the metadata into the image and get the images online.

Before yesterday, my keywording process would often involve me staring at the computer screen for a few hours with my mind a complete blank.  I would then rally into procrastination mode and read the news, answer all my emails, and daydream about being anywhere but in front of the computer screen keywording. Finally, when I realized I had just wasted a few hours of my life,  I would begin the arduous process of convincing my girlfriend to do my keywording for me.  On a good day, I (she) could get about 30 done. 

fotoKeyword HarvesterThis week, a lifeline appeared on the keywording front when Cradoc Software, makers of the much loved FotoBiz, released a product called fotoKeyword Harvester.  I purchased it yesterday, learned the program in about 15 minutes, and in less than an hour had 12 images keyworded and ready for upload.  Now, for me, that is some sort of all time speed record — not even my girlfriend could get it done that fast.  The brilliant idea behind the software is you begin, as the name implies, by harvesting keywords from similar images already online.  You then cull the unnecessary keywords out of this list, fine tune the existing keywords from a brilliantly implemented list of controlled vocabulary built into the program, and export the keywords to your clipboard.  Once the keywords are in your clipboard they can be pasted into whatever program you are embedding the keywords with.  Thank you Cradoc — my girlfriend thanks you too!



Regulus and Leo

Cabin under a full moon night, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by, Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)

The moon is radiant and clear bathing the ground in her pale light.  Under a cloudless sky, the trade wind blows through the Koa forest and only the brightest stars are visible.  Regulus and Leo take my vision, their light captivates me.  Light that started its journey before I was born to reach this earth.  Rarely has the lion in the sky seemed so luminous as it does tonight, but perhaps it is just my vision that is clear this evening.   

Trees and stars under a full moon night, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by, Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)

I am happy to announce that Rikki Cooke has started a blog which can be found here.  I for one, am certainly looking forward to his insights, photographs and other words of wisdom as he has time to share them with us. Please take some time to take a peek.  You won’t be disappointed!


Jonathan Kingston photographing at Moomomi, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by, Richard A. Cooke III)

Photo by, Richard A. Cooke III

The happy week has been a blur.  Old friends, new friends, good food, good wine, good talk, and lots of laughter – the sum total of being alive and open and free.  Tonight we gave a slide show of the images everyone created during the week, and the images sang with this joy of being alive, and participating in this world with good company, food and the occasional cable release.  I can only speak for myself, but my greatest lesson of the last six days has been to understand at a deeper level what it means to take the experience of making a photograph as the reward.  Sure it is thrilling to ‘snap a good pic’ as my Indian students would often say, that’s the gravy, but if you are not falling in love with the experience of making the image – what’s the point?  This lesson translated into something amazing as I watched my images come up on the screen in the darkened room this evening.  Rather than feeling critical judgment of my work, I felt the joy of being there in the moment and was reminded of something my friend Paul Liebhardt would often say. “The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep looking.”  I, for one, am looking for joy.

Birthday celebration at Hui Ho\'olana, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)


Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by, Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)

4:30 am alarm.  Dark outside.  Sleep fills my mind and whispers for me to stay in bed.  Come back, it says.  You don’t really need to get up.  You can stay in this comfortable bed.  Wouldn’t you rather dream than take photographs this morning?  Then something wakes up just enough to swing my legs off the bed.  If there is anything photography has taught me, it is that the pain of getting up early is never a waste.  Today proves to be no exception.  The morning air is still and heavy.  Unusual for this island that seems to have a perpetual breeze.  Dawn begins to break over the ocean.  Water, light, rocks, sky, the elemental simplicity of the earths visual poetry.  My gift for getting out of bed.


Mimo\'s pasture and the worlds tallest sea cliffs. (Photo by Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)

A long nondescript path rolls gently downhill through the moss filled forest where sound is dampened and all that remains is the hiss of the ocean wind through the treetops.  Although they cannot yet be seen, the 2000-foot precipice diving down to the Pacific Ocean alerts my soul as I walk towards one of the more spectacular spots on earth known as Mimo’s pasture.  It is an unusual walk in so far that the trail often comes within meters of the edge of the cliff, yet visually never leaves the security of the dense forest.  Glimpses of the ocean over the low horizon accompany the regular rhythm of my feet walking in the forest.  Soon the tree line breaks open into a vista.  A small window of branches opens to the cliff face.  Further on the trail spills out into a magnificent green pasture that wraps over the edge of the cliff and tumbles down to the ocean floor.  The reward for the walk.  

As a metaphor, this particular hike is poignant.  How often have I, as a photographer, walked a path with my vision that chooses to remain within the visual security of the forest of my successes? How often have I felt the cliff edge of visual risk call me to take a peek into something new?  Most importantly, how often do I have the courage to follow this risk to the edge and see what lies beyond the trees.

Today, I step to the edge and raise my camera to answer this question one frame at a time.

Jonathan Kingston looking down on Kepali, Molokai, Hawaii.  (Photo by Richard A. Cooke III)

Photo © Richard A. Cooke III

National Geographic photographer Rikki Cooke, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)


Lab day, photography workshop, Molokai, Hawaii. (Photo by, Jonathan Kingston/Aurora)Lab Day.  I look out on the faces in front of me.  Some nodding in comprehension, some frowning in seeming disbelief, some blank as Buddha’s face waiting for enlightenment under the bodhi tree. Unfortunately enlightenment seems to have mis-read the schedule for the day and is getting a massage instead.  I am speaking about Photoshop in class.  For some the word photoshop sends chills down their spine.  For others it conjures a feeling of somehow being able to digitally cheat a photograph into existence.  For me it is simply a tool that I have become more familiar with then I ever dreamed I would sitting in my first photoshop class at Brooks with the blank look of Buddha on my face.  

I find my mind wandering even as I speak to what lies beyond the technique and into the meat of the whole reason we do this.  The vision.  If technique without vision is meaningless and vision without technique is blind, Photoshop is the ultimate conundrum! Gaining a mastery of its tools takes months to years depending on ones skill, and very few programs I know have the ability to instantly jam someone’s creativity more than Photoshop due to its simple complexity. 

I think of the story Dewitt tells in his lectures of the two stone mason’s.  A man asks one mason sweating in the hot sun what he is doing, and he replies ‘I’m chipping stone’, he then asks a second mason what he is doing, and he replies ‘I’m building a cathedral’.   Vision.  It all comes back to vision.  Can you see the image you want?  Can you see it before you put the camera to your eye.  Can you see it before you turn on the creative kill zone of the computer?  Can you see the cathedral from the clone stamp?

Before heading to bed, Rikki drops a philosophical cluster bomb on my brain.  He says, “You know, all this stuff about art affecting the viewer is rubbish.  The art has to first affect the artist.  If your working in photoshop and it is not resonating with your soul, your images sure as hell aren’t going to resonate with anyone else’s.”  Or, to say it in the words of Nikki Giovanni, “I cry when i write, so that those reading my words can cry when they read them.”  

Jonathan Kingston Explores the World in Search of Images and Insights