ARE YOUR ONLINE PICTURES GATHERING PIXELDUST IN A DIGITAL SHOEBOX?

You upload your best shots for the world to see. You wait a few weeks for comments and kudos to roll in. You check the stats…no-one’s looking.

 One of the great things about the Internet is the ability it gives us to share photos with a wide audience. Prior to the development of this communication revolution the only way to share photos was through physical photo albums, pictures on the wall, slide shows for bored relatives, or, if you were really lucky, to get them published in a magazine or newspaper. Even truly remarkable amateur photographers could only ever hope to find a somewhat limited audience for their pictures.

For most of us, though, no-one except a few friends and relatives ever got to see the pictures we made. Now we can all share our pictures with the world via social networking sites like Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, 500px and  Twitter, among others.  This assumes, of course, that we actually want people to see the results of our creative efforts, and that we believe we have images worth sharing.

I’m always amazed when I see pictures loaded up to websites with nothing more than the camera-assigned file number as their title. I mean, who’s ever searched for DCSF0295862013? If you want people to find your pictures a title like this isn’t going to do the job. Just as bad as this is “Untitled” .  When people are conducting searches on the web they are hardly likely to use a camera file name name, or the word “untitled” as their search term. Below is a search result doing exactly that:

untitled - Google Search As you can see there are 594 million results matching the term “untitled”. If you post a picture titled “untitled” you are competing with each and every one of those results…no easy task! Actually, typing in a specific, camera-assigned file name narrows the field down considerably, as the screen grab below illustrates: dscf6288 - Google Search-1 Now we are down to just over 44 000 results, which is really quite manageable, I suppose. “DSCF” is part of the file naming protocol for Fuji cameras. Other manufacturers have different, but similar, protocols. However, the fact is that although typing in an image file name narrows down the field considerably, there are not too many people out there who are ever likely to use this method to find pictures. If you look at the screen grab above, you’ll notice that the two entries I’ve shown both link to shots posted to Flickr. (Neither of these pictures is mine, btw.) I’ve had a look at both of them. One is a  shot of the back end of a zebra standing in a room of sorts, peering out through a doorway covered with one of those translucent plastic strip doors that you normally see in industrial settings. Now lets say I have an idea for an ad that depends on a picture of a zebra looking through a doorway. “Maybe,” I think, “I’ll find the shot somewhere on the ‘Net. After all, with billions of pictures online someone is bound to have uploaded a picture of a zebra looking through a doorway, right? Hmm, what should I use as my search term? Oh! I know, I’ll type in DSCF6228 and see what comes up.” Well, I’d be pretty dumb if I did that. Surely I’d be more likely to type “zebra looking through doorway”? And that’s exactly what I did: zebra looking through doorway - Google Search Surprisingly, we’re now up to over 18 million results. At first this may seem counter-intuitive. I mean, why name pictures in a way that increases the competition? But that’s missing the point. Because what’s interesting in the above result is not so much what does turn up, but what doesn’t. And what doesn’t show up is the exact picture I’m looking for. Nor will it ever show up, because “DCSF6228” doesn’t match my search query. If the owner of the zebra pic had simply added the title “zebra looking through doorway” it would be an exact match and, more than likely, show up as the #1 result. I could then ask the picture’s owner for permission to use the shot and quite possibly they’d get a nice little cash bonus as a result. You don’t have to get ridiculously creative with your titles and descriptions either, just a simple description of the subject of the picture should be enough. You may think that it’s pointless to have a picture of a couple walking on a beach titled “Couple walking on beach”, after all, anyone can see that’s the subject of the picture. But you’re not writing the title for your human visitors…you’re writing it for search engine spiders. If your picture is competing with thousands of others of a similar nature, then you want to make sure you use every opportunity a site gives you…title, description, tags, hashtags, “@” symbols or whatever.

Even though I don’t post pictures for commercial gain I’ve had several requests over the years to use one or other of my shots in ads or for other commercial uses. These pictures would never have been found if they were either posted as “untitled”, or had a “DCSF” type of title. But even if no-one ever asked to use my pictures it wouldn’t bother me. The reason I post anything at all is so that I can share them with anyone who cares to look. Hopefully they bring a little pleasure to someone, somewhere.

© 2013. All images copyright Grahame Hall and may not be used without written permission of the copyright owner. Please respect the rights of others.

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