If you are a photographer who submits your artwork to online image libraries such as istockphoto.com, Shutterstock, Getty Images or Dreamstime, you will know that there are a few key things you can do to increase your chances of success. Firstly, take a brilliant photograph; secondly, manage to get it accepted into the aforementioned library; and thirdly, keyword it effectively so that buyers will find it amongst the many thousands of other images competing with yours in the library. Plant Curator cannot help you with numbers one and two, but if that image is of a plant, or else plants feature significantly in the photograph, we can offer a number of suggestions for achieving the third.
1. Keyword broad to specific names
There are many image buyers out there who will only search using a generic description of plants, such as: ‘tree in front of house’, ‘woman sniffing flowers’, ‘beautiful landscape’. There are others who will be more specific: ‘Sycamore tree in front of house’, ‘woman sniffing Chamomile’, ‘beautiful forest landscape’. Lastly, there are those with exact requirements: ‘Acer pseudoplatanus in front of house’, ‘woman sniffing Camaemelum nobile’, ‘beautiful boreal landscape’. To maximise your chance of appearing in all three search results, it is necessary to keyword your photographs with not only broad vegetative terms but also individual plant names. These names can be either common or scientific, but ideally you want to include both. Each plant will have a least one of each and is almost certain to have many more.
2. Pay attention to your potential international market
It is important to remember the following: Scientific names, by which we mean biological species names, are unique across regions and countries, whereas common names (or vernacular names) are not. A Sycamore tree in the UK will be a different plant from that called a Sycamore in the US. An Autumn Gentian in the UK will be a Northern Gentian in Canada, and a Pissenlit in France will be a Dandelion in the UK. For plants with widespread distribution, multiple common names if known should be added along with the scientific species name and family classification. Wikipedia and Wikispecies are great for picking up additional common names, usually listed at the start of an article in Wikipedia and at the end for Wikispecies. Use as many as you feel are appropriate (i.e. if available, Plant Curator would probably use names from the US, Canada, France and Spain and leave the rest). For ordinary descriptive words that you keyword your image with, the image library will do automatic translation for their non-english speaking markets, but they certainly do not have the ability to translate plant names from one country to another, so this is down to you.
3. Make sure the scientific name is currently accepted
Scientific names can change, and have done so fairly frequently in the last 20 years with the impact of molecular analysis highlighting earlier mistakes, so it is always wise to check that you have the currently accepted (to science) species and family names. To do this you need to cross-check the following two websites:
Type the species name into the name search box of the Catalogue of Life’s Dynamic Checklist and see if it returns anything. If it doesn’t, which it may not, as not all species are covered, go to The Plant List. If it does return details about your species, check that it is an ‘accepted name’ and if it is, use this name. It will also tell you the family classification of the plant and may supply you with a list of international common names to use or cross-check with the one you already have.
If you can not find it in the Catalogue of Life, paste your name in the search box on this website. It will also tell you if what you have is an ‘accepted name’, or a synonym, or neither (probably a spelling mistake!). If the name you have is a synonym, use both the accepted name and the synonym in your keywords.
4. If you don’t know what the plant is ask around
There are many organisation and enthusiasts willing to help you identify your plant. If growing wild in the UK, try the The Natural History Museum’s Nature Plus ID forums. If you found it in a garden, ask the owner or if that fails, try the Royal Horticultural Society Forums. If no luck anywhere, send your digital image to your nearest herbarium (UK or abroad) where you’re sure to find a plant expert. Even if they are not able to tell the species from the photograph they will probably be able to give you a genus and a family name, both good keywords.
5. Don’t be bullied by the image library’s controlled vocabulary
When you return to the image library to enter all your hard earned plant name keywords, you are likely to find that many of them are not recognised by the data entry system, or else it returns a suggested alternative that you may not want. If it alerts you to this fact (i.e. term not known), don’t worry, add it anyway. For more on the issue of controlled vocabularies within image libraries see this post.
Finally an example! Suggested plant name keywords for the plant below are as follow: common bluebell, English bluebell, British bluebell, wild hyacinth, wood bell, fairy flower, bell bottle, Hyacinthoides non-scripta, Asparagaceae. Of course you will also add all your other descriptive words too, like flower, plant, purple, beautiful, sunny etc. Just don’t forget those plant names!