Tagging Guide A Framework for digital asset management



This document lays out a framework for tagging visual assets.

It aims to assist digital asset managers and librarians in tagging those assets (images, videos and other graphics files) by providing a basic framework to start with and build upon.

Each digital asset library or digital asset management system (DAM) will differ, but by adopting a common base framework of tags to start with, users and librarians who will often work across multiple libraries in their career, will save time and be able to deliver better quality outcomes.

For example, the framework presented here is adapted from a framework promoted by iStock, a division of Getty, one of the world's largest stock image libraries. As a consequence, there are a number of users out in the world who are already exposed to this framework, who will feel at home applying or searching for assets using the tags and approaches, suggested in this document.


Why a Tagging Framework?

Why does good tagging matter?

Thorough, accurate tagging across ever-growing content libraries provides the best possible search experience for your users, which will keep them coming back with a superior search experience.

Furthermore, organizations are making ever-increasing investments in visual content, to feed modern day marketing machines. The ability to find and use, the appropriate content efficiently is, therefore, becoming a vital activity in marketing.

There is a lot to consider when tagging an asset for Brandkit (or any other library): subject, setting, composition, themes, technical information and more.

It can be easy to miss the forest for the trees, fleshing out less important information while overlooking tags that are more important to the user (and to your sales). This document will take you through a step-by-step process to ensure all the important information is covered.

Tagging can be likened to the “5 Ws” of journalism:

  1. Who
  2. What
  3. When
  4. Where
  5. and Why.

Four of these five basic questions will help you gather just about all the information you want to make sure is covered in your Tags, and we'll talk about the Whys at the end. However, we're going to blur the borders of the 5 Ws somewhat, in order to make the tagging process more intuitive.

One thing many Tags types have in common is that there are both broad and specific ways to present the information, for example, "Male With Group Of Females" vs. "Group Of People."


Okay, let's get started.


Your Subject: Who & What

What kind of asset do you have? A portrait of an artist in her studio? A useful editorial product shot of the latest iWidget? Maybe a sunrise over a gorgeous misty landscape? The broader question is, what is the subject of your asset?


Most of the time, the asset subject is one or more of the following: a person, animal or object. This means that a lot of the time, your What is also your Who. Let's start with tagging photos of people.

Tagging People

Surprisingly, the most common mistake made when tagging photos of people is not including the “people” tag. Seems obvious, but it can be easy to overlook what's staring you right in the face. Start broadly, by including “people” in any assets that contain people. Then, move on to the specifics:

  • How many people?
  • What are their ages, genders, and ethnicities?
  • What role do they serve, in society and to each other?
  • What activities are they performing?
  • What emotions are they displaying?

What do they look like? What sort of clothing are they wearing? What other interesting or unusual details about their physical appearance are worth noting?

How Many People?

A single person, or a group of people? No people?

Broad people-grouping terms: Small Group Of People (3-5), Medium Group Of People (6-10), Large Group Of People (11+)

Small Group Of People, Four People, Female With Group Of Males

Specific people-grouping terms:

One Person, Two People, Three People, Four People, Five People



One Person, One Man


The tag “No People“ should be included on any file that doesn't contain people, in order to help refine searches.



No People, Avenue, Autumn, etc

“Incidental People” or “Background People” should be used in Assets where people appear in the background, out of focus, or otherwise are not the main subject of the photo.

If an asset includes Incidental People as well as People who are the main subject, only apply the Group/Ethnicity/Role/Age etc. tags to the people who are the main subject.


European Man, Young Man, etc

Age and Gender

For each featured person in the file, an Age Range, as well as a Specific Age, should be included. Often these age terms are combined with the subject's gender. We'll start broadly, and refine further as we go down the list.

Baby - Only for images that contain baby-age subjects
  • 0-6 Months
    • 0-3 Months
      • 0-1 Months
        • Newborn
        • Premature
      • 1-2 Months
      • 2-3 Months
    • 3-6 Months
      • 3-4 Months
      • 5-6 Months
  • 6-12 Months
    • 6-9 Months
      • 6-7 Months
      • 8-9 Months
    • 9-10 Months
    • 11-12 Months
  • 12-18 Months
    • 12-15 Months
    • 15-18 Months

Child- Only for images that contain child-age subjects.

  • Toddler
    • 18-24 Months
  • Preschooler
    • 2-4 years
  • Elementary or Primary School Age
    • 4-9 years
  • Pre-adolescent Child
    • 10-13 years

Teenager- Only for images that contain teenage subjects.

  • Early Teens
    • 13-15 Years
  • Late Teens
    • 16-17 years


  • Young Adult
    • 18-29 Years
  • Gendered Terms: Young Men, Young Women
  • Mid Adult
    • 30s
    • Gendered Terms: Mid Adult Men, Mid Adult Women
  • Mature Adult
    • 40s
    • 50s
    • Gendered Terms: Mature Men, Mature Women
  • Senior Adult
    • 60s
    • 70s
    • 80+ years
    • Over 100
    • Gendered Terms: Senior Men, Senior Women




It is extremely important that the ethnicity declared in the tags be backed up by a model release. Do not guess or assume a subject's ethnicity.

For multi-ethnic people, include the relevant ethnicities as well as the tag “Mixed Race Person”.

For assets that depict a group of subjects of varying ethnicities, include the tag “Multi-Ethnic Group”.

Relationship and Role

What is the subject's occupation or other social roles, if depicted? If there are multiple subjects, what relationship (social or familial) do they have to each other?

Include the “Couple” tag when the subjects are depicted in a romantic relationship, but not for friendships or working relationships.

Differentiate between heterosexual and homosexual couples using the appropriate tags. Include an age tag (“Teenage Couple”, “Senior Couple”) for couples from the same age range.

The “Husband” and “Wife” tags should be included for couples in wedding attire, or where a ring is visible. They should not overlap with the “Boyfriend” and “Girlfriend” tags.

Family relationships should be included when depicted in the image. For parents, “One Parent” or “Two Parents”, as well as Mother/Father/Daughter/Son. For two-generation families (one set of parents and children, including older families with adult children), include the relevant “Family With X Children” tag, where X is the number of children.

For families that span three or more generations, use the "Multi-Generation Family" tag instead of the above two-generation family tags.

More on Tagging People


When an activity is a key to conveying what the asset is "about," please include it. Most of the time these will be verb-type tags.


When a mood or feeling is strongly depicted in an asset, please include it.

Clothing and Appearance

Include details about the person's physical appearance, traits, and clothing, especially where it'skey to the photo (fashion-type shots) or atypical (a child wearing an adult's clothing, for instance).


Amongst the other types of composition/technical tags (see relevant section), include any people-specific ones such as Waist Up, Head And Shoulders, Rear View, Full Length, Looking Over Shoulder, Portrait, Looking At Camera, etc.

Tagging Animals

Tagging assets with animals isn’t dissimilar to tagging assets with people: in both cases, it’s important to cover criteria like the number, gender, age, activities, physical description, and most importantly, species.


Be specific AND general when tagging species. Including the general animal type, as well as species and subspecies, maximizes customers’ ability to find your file.

For example, including Amphibian, Frog and Poison Dart Frog on this image.

Number of Animals

Groupings are broken down similarly to the Number of People terms:

Broad Animal-grouping terms: Small Group Of Animals (3-5), Medium Group Of Animals (6-10), Large Group Of Animals (11+)

Specific Animal-grouping terms: One Animal, Two Animals

Additionally, some types of animals have species-specific terms for groupings, like Herd, Flock, Swarm, School, etc. Include these where relevant.

Animal Gender

Many animals are sexually dimorphic (the male and female have a different appearance or features), and some also have gendered nouns. Where this is the case (doe/buck, cock/hen), include the specific noun as well as the generic Male Animal/Female Animal, and when it’s not, use the generic nouns.

Animal Age

Like with the gendered nouns, some species have age-specific nouns, include these when relevant (kitten, calf, lamb, foal, silverback).

Animal Activity

Where activity is key to the file, please include it. Oftentimes, these are more broad verbs that can also apply to human activity, but occasionally are animal-specific (rutting, shedding, bucking).

Animal Appearance

Patterns, colours, texture, and other physical characteristics can help customers looking for specific types of images.

Animal Viewpoint/Composition

How much of the animal is included in the file? These terms often overlap with the ones used for people (Full-Length, Rear View, Side View) but terms like Animal Eye or Animal Tail should be included where specific parts are the focus.

Animal Themes

Some concept terms overlap for all types of imagery, but there are also some animal-specific ones to be used where appropriate, such as Working Animals, Pets, Livestock, Captivity, Endangered Species, etc.


Tagging Objects

There are fewer criteria to worry about when tagging objects, just type, number, and description.

Object Type

Very straightforward: what is it? As with animals, it is helpful to include general and specific types of object.

For example, a basketball can be tagged with Sporting Equipment, Ball and Basketball.

Object Number

As with People and Animals, it breaks down into broader groupings and precise numbers. Note that these grouping terms should be used when the objects have a relationship of sorts, or are the focus of the image (a closet full of shirts, the ingredients for a recipe, a workman’s tools).

Broad Object-grouping terms: Small Group Of Objects (3-5), Medium Group Of Objects (6-10), Large Group Of Objects (11+)

Specific Object-grouping terms: One Object, Two Objects.

Object Description

Adjectives or verbs that contain information about the object in question. Is it Big, Small, Dirty, Clean, Shiny, Dull, Round, Flat? Is it Bouncing, Floating, Falling, Hanging? For groups of objects, are they Organized, Stacked, Heaped, Bundled?


Your Setting: Where & When

After capturing the essence of your subject with tags, the next thing to do is capture its environment. Whether you’re shooting a white-background isolation of a laptop or a high-octane motocross race, describing the setting accurately will help drive traffic to your asset. Key components to doing this well, are geographical region, location, season, and time of day.

Geographical Region

Place name, City, State/Province/Region, and Country are essential for many assets, especially lifestyle-type images and anything shot outdoors.

However, certain types of shots in a truly generic setting (studio shots, object isolations, etc.) should forego geographical tagging, unless there is something to tie that studio shot to a particular location, such as a regional-specific electrical socket, a snow globe with Calgary in it, or a map.

Non-geographical Region

Now that we can pinpoint the geographical “where” of your image on Google Earth, we still need to know what kind of “where” the action is taking place. A synagogue, an auto body shop, a state park, a squash court? An apartment balcony, a bakery kitchen, a church confessional, the produce section at a supermarket, a particular venue, park, stadium, geographical landmark, etc?

Setting as Subject

When the setting is the focus of the image, as with landscapes, building photos, landmarks, and city skylines, be sure to include both the specific location, as well as the type of location. For example, St. Peter’s Basilica AND Church. Include the architectural style or aesthetic for these type of images as well. Additionally, where the setting is the subject, consider tags like Skyline, Cityscape, Rural Scene, Extreme Terrain, etc.

Other Setting Tags to Consider

Time of day

Noon, Day, Night, Dusk, etc.

Time of year

Summer, Autumn, Winter, Spring. Best applied to images where the season is the subject of the image.


Arid Climate, Tropical Climate

Concepts & Themes

Concept and theme Tags are some of the broadest, fuzziest tags, and also the most consistently over-applied. We encourage you to shoot material with concepts in mind at the outset, rather than over-tagging for tenuously related concepts after the fact.

Tangential and speculative tagging doesn't help your users and ultimately takes up space in your file that could be used to include more valuable information about what's going on the asset.

We have seen many, many assets in the past that are piled high with unrelated concept tags, and missing the most basic terms to convey what's going on in the asset (for example, a file of a dog on a street with "pound" and "vet," neither of which were in the photo, but missing the "dog" tag).

A lot of these issues come down to "end-use tagging," or tagging for possible uses of the file, rather than the content of the file itself. The thought process goes something like this: "someone might want this mountain landscape to use on a postcard, therefore I will add the tag 'postcard.'" Or, "red wine has documented benefits for cardiovascular health, therefore I will add the tag 'heart' to this picture of wine." We strongly discourage this kind of tangential tagging, as it dilutes search results for users.

Good concept vs. Bad concept tagging

Consider the examples below.

relevant: recreation, travel, hiking, healthy lifestyle

irrelevant: retirement home, parents

relevant: history, nostalgia, old-fashioned

irrelevant: girlfriend, housewife


relevant: happiness, adolescence, responsibility

irrelevant: insurance, accident

Composition and Technical Aspects

We've put these last in the list because, while they are useful to users who "speak the language" of photography and video, they generate less traffic than the more straightforward tags involving the subject, action, setting, themes etc. After covering all your bases on these items, it's useful to round out your tags with some of these when applicable.

Viewpoint Tags

What point of view is depicted?

Front View Rear View

Side View Distant

Surface Level High Angle View

Directly Above Aerial View

Unusual angle Directly Below

Low Angle View Profile

Over the Shoulder

Technique Tags

What sort of compositional, in-camera or post-processing techniques were used to create the image?
Long Exposure Defocused

Backlit Sepia Toned

Pixelated Silhouette

Copy Space Focus on Foreground

Digitally Generated Image Seamless

Cross-Processed Multiple Exposure

Desaturated Monochrome

Series Tags

Is the image part of a set of assets that are strongly related, by model, setting or theme? Subsets of this category include things like Day In The Life Series and Day And Night Image Series.



Possibly the sole contentious composition tag, what is and isn't a background image has been a point of debate for a long time now.

The most useful Background assets (usefulness in this case referring to the most downloaded) are almost all full-frame images centred around colour, pattern, texture, or all three.

Video-Specific Tagging

Many video techniques are motion-specific and don't overlap with still asset types. These typically describe camera movement, focus changes, and other factors such as whether a clip is loopable. Crane Shot, Dolly Shot, Dissolve, Handheld, Lockdown, Loopable, Panning, Rack Focus, Reverse Motion, Slow Motion, Tilt Up, Tracking Shot, Zoom In, Shaky, Time Lapse.

The tag Implied People should be used in videos (not still photography) where someone is implied by the action (moving vehicles, the pages of a book turning where the page-turner is out of frame, etc.) but not explicitly visible in the clip.

Audio-Specific Tagging

We have a separate audio-specific vocabulary that contains tags applicable to Audio assets only, mostly audio-specific meanings of already existing tags. However, the majority of tags applicable to audio assets overlap with other media types as well.

When tagging music, it's important to cover the following:

  • Genre (Blues, Salsa, Heavy Metal, Big Beat, etc)
  • Main instruments used (guitar, marimba, snare drum, zither, etc)
  • Themes and concepts presented in the lyrics, if present
  • Emotions or mood conveyed by the music (spooky, mournful, relaxed, cheerful, etc)
  • Musical techniques used in the composition (arpeggio, crescendo, rapping, counterpoint, etc)

When tagging non-musical types of audio assets, typically tagging for the types of objects/subjects generating the sound, and a verb (jangling, rattling, barking etc.) will be enough. However, some sounds have no specific "real-world" counterpart. For these, onomatopoeia (whoosh, thud, beep, buzzing) can be useful, as well as industry terms (cut, stinger).

Other Tips

How many tags should an asset have?

There is no perfect or right number but generally:

  • More tags are better than fewer
  • Ideally between 10 and 20 tags per asset
  • No more than 50 tags per asset
  • Don’t forget synonyms of your tags (you don’t know which synonym your user will search for - so more is generally better)

Should I capitalize my tags?

In Brandkit we respect the capitalization of your tags (in displaying results) and we encourage to use capitalize the first letter of your tags like you would a noun. This enables you to use abbreviations for example.

Some DAM software doesn’t allow this and forces lowercase or uppercase.

However (in Brandkit) and most systems, your search for an asset will pick up the tags whatever the case, so the case is really more for display purposes.

Should I add alternative spelling of tags?

We generally discourage this because there would be no end to the number of tags.

In Brandkit, we give users a Typeahead list of tags, as they type a search - which generally alleviates the need for alternative spelling.

However, if you have evidence of constant misspelling of a tag, it would be a good idea to include alternative spelling. In this case, don’t forget to consider localisations depending on where your users are located (e.g. Colour and Color)

Tag/Tagging = Keyword/Keywording

For the purposes of clarity, a Tag and a Keyword are exactly the same things.


Who Should Tag?

It’s common for organizations to hire interns or students to tag images. However, while this is convenient, often these folk have limited experience with, or knowledge of your image content.

Typically the best people to Tag images are the people that can quickly recognize image content, such as the people, locations, customers, businesses and processes that are relevant to your business. These are often senior or experienced people within your organization or business.

Naturally, these more senior people have better things to do than Tag images - so you’ll have to find an appropriate level of involvement. We recommend that you keep senior people involved in the process and break up image tagging tasks into digestible chunks.

At the same time develop an Approved Tag list for your organization that everyone can apply (This document is designed to help you do that).


Good luck and Happy Tagging :)



This guide was adapted from the iStock/Getty Image Library Keywording Guide authored by Jordan Lane.

Images used were sourced from http://nzstory.govt.nz and the portfolios of the following iStock Contributors:

Angelafoto | HeroImages | Moodboard_Images | hocus-focus | Bim| diane555 | Alija | Thomas_EyeDesign | Fotonen | Pro-syanov | IS_ImageSource | Dean Mitchell | Yuri_Arcurs | powerofforever | DaydreamsGirl | ZoneCreative | aldomurillo | GlobalStock | Lokibaho | CEFutcher | Kontrec | mammuth | Rubberball | caracterdesign | okeyphotos | mediaphotos | Snowleopard1 | mbbirdy | nullplus | volschenkh | gui00878 | Andyworks | KeithSzafranski | predrag1 | EMPPhotography | perets | cjp | WLDavies | titlezpix | KenCanning | apomares | RobertoGennaro | skhoward | mattjeacock | helenecanada | ollo | evirgen | LifesizeImages | franckreporter | xavierarnau | Clicknique | bluecinema | gioadventures | Young777 | Deejpilot | shaunl | Grafissimo | titlezpix | ewg3D | Lisa-Blue HultonArchive | sam74100 | gollykim | vgajic | Casarsa | vuk8691 | aqualandphotography | Alphotographic | cglade | craftvision | millann | DavidCallan| AlexSava | photovideostock | XiXinXing | nesharm | LeoPatrizi | Wicki58 | luoman | iconeer | ImagineGolf | pixdeluxe | andresrimaging| s-cphoto | mxtama | andrearoad | real444 | pictore | OJO_Images | JGould | jahtik | myshkovsky | andipantz | wragg

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Tagging Guide A Framework for digital asset management

This document lays out a framework for tagging visual assets. It aims to assist digital asset managers and librarians in tagging those assets (images, videos and other graphic files) by providing a basic framework to start with and build upon.

Asset type post
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Word count 3464 words


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